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Georges Méliès biography

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Biography of Georges Méliès (1868 - 1938) magician and father of motion picture special effects
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Biography of Georges Méliès, the French magician who created the art of special effects for the movies. He’s best known for his iconic film, “A Trip to the Moon”

Biography of Georges Méliès (1868 – 1938) magician and father of motion picture special effects

Georges Méliès has the distinction of being one of the few magicians to create a brand-new branch of the art of magic.  He is commonly thought of as the father of special effects in motion pictures.

Born as Marie-Georges-Jean Méliès in Paris, France on December 8, 1861, to a family of shoe manufacturers.  He grew up to become a professional stage magician, performing at the Theatre Robert-Houdin.  His life took an unexpected turn in 1895. He saw his first motion picture, at a demonstration by the Lumière Brothers.  He was so impressed by the possibilities that he wanted to license the camera equipment from them. But they refused—so he hired people to build cameras for him.

Making movies – and special effects

He began making simple movies, including some showing him performing magic on the stage. But one day an accident led to a discovery.  While shooting one of his real-life motion pictures in Paris, the camera jammed. It took about a minute to clear the problem and resume shooting. But later when watching the processed film, Melies saw a bus suddenly turn into a hearse; people in the scene suddenly appeared or disappeared. This camera jam led to his discovery of stop motion photography, which became his first special effects technique. This stop motion technique had already been discovered and used by Thomas Edison. But Georges Melies made extensive use of it in his short films, as well as other special effects that he discovered.

He went on to make over 500 films from 1896 to 1913. The most iconic of them was A Trip to the Moon / Le Voyage dans la Lune where a spaceship crashes into the eye of the Man in the Moo. Only to eventually go out of business.  Georges became a toy salesman at the Montparnasse station, with the assistance of funds collected by other filmmakers. Eventually Georges Méliès was awarded the Légion d’honneur (Legion of honor) which was presented to him in 1931 by Louis Lumière. In 1932, the Cinema Society arranged a place for Georges Méliès at La Maison du Retrait du Cinéma, the film industry’s retirement home, in Orly.

Georges Méliès died in Paris on January 21st, 1938 and was buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Trivia about Georges Méliès

  • D.W. Griffith said about Melies, “I owe him everything.”
  • Charlie Chaplin said he was “the alchemist of light.”
  • He built the first movie studio in Europe.
  • Is regarded as “The Father of Special Effects.”
  • He was the first to use production sketches and storyboards.
  • On December 28, 1895, he was a member of the first audience in the world to see the Lumiere brothers’ Cinematographe.
  • He tried to buy Cinematographe equipment from the Lumieres but they refused to sell to him. He got into the film business by buying a projector from R. W. Paul and buying a Bioscope camera.
  • His first films, like those of the Lumieres, were simple life scenes which he added to the program at his theatre, the Theatre Robert-Houdin. He later filmed scenes of himself doing magic tricks.
  • Georges Melies worked with two engineers at his theatre workshop to build a camera of his own. The first prototype weighed over 75 pounds.
  • World War I closed the Theatre Robert-Houdin in 1914. This sent him into bankruptcy.
  • The French surrealist movement in the 1920s brought about a rediscovery of ‘George Méliès’ surviving films, and the acknowledgment of his contributions to the art and the industry of motion pictures. Eventually, this led to his being awarded the Legion of Honor in 1931.
  • The animated film “Hugo” is based on his life story.

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