Film TEDTalks

10 talks about the making of movie magic

“Movies have proved to be the ultimate medium for magic,” says Don Levy in today’s talk.

A member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and former senior vice president of marketing and communications at Sony Pictures, Levy has always been fascinated by the sleights of hand that filmmakers use to create illusions. And he knows he is far from alone. In the 117 years since the Lumière Brothers terrified audiences with their Train Pulling Into a Station (1896), Levy explores how visual effects have evolved.

“With complete control of everything the audience can see, movie makers have created an arsenal of techniques to further their deceptions,” says Levy. “Playing with the world and our perception of it really is the essence of visual effects.”

But Levy knows that words cannot capture the goosebump-raising experience of seeing something wonderful on a big screen. So, with the help of the Academy, he created an exclusive video for TED showing the evolution of effects. This thrilling montage pairs similar clips from different points in the history of film — George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon (1902) compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968’s Academy Award winner for Visual Effects) and Avatar (Visual Effects Oscar winner in 2009), and the crowd scenes of Ben Hur (1925) contrasted with those in Gladiator (which won the 2000 Oscar for Visual Effects).

Watch Levy’s talk, which is a feast for the eyes and imagination. Here, see nine more talks about movie magic.

Rob Legato: The art of creating awe Rob Legato: The art of creating awe Rob Legato: The art of creating awe
Rob Legato is the visual effects master behind Apollo 13, Titanic and Hugo. In this clip-filled talk from TEDGlobal 2012, he shares how he recreates events that actually happened — making them both more fantastical and more authentic at the same time. (Bonus: want to know Legato’s favorite visual effects? Check out the TED Blog post “An Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor picks the 5 movies that floored him visually.”)
Ed Ulbrich: How Benjamin Button got his face Ed Ulbrich: How Benjamin Button got his face Ed Ulbrich: How Benjamin Button got his face
Most movies that portray the same character at wildly different ages opt to use different actors for the roles. But not The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Digital effects master Ed Ulbrich, from Digital Domain, shares how his team dramatically aged Brad Pitt 45 years for the film. While their initial reaction upon the greenlighting of the film was panic, they went on to win an Oscar for the work.
Beeban Kidron: The shared wonder of film Beeban Kidron: The shared wonder of film Beeban Kidron: The shared wonder of film
Human beings create identities through narratives. In this talk from TEDSalon London Spring 2012, British filmmaker Beeban Kidron — director of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason — shares why she thinks it’s important for children to watch films, both new and old. “Cinema is arguably the 20th century’s most influential art form … [But] we are increasingly offered a diet in which sensation, not story, is king,” says Kidron. “If we could raid the annals of 100 years of film, maybe we could build a narrative that would deliver meaning to the fragmented and restless world of the young.”
James Cameron: Before Avatar ... a curious boy James Cameron: Before Avatar ... a curious boy James Cameron: Before Avatar … a curious boy
Director James Cameron created the incredible alien world of Avatar, and brought us all back to Titanic. In this talk from TED2010, he shares how a childhood filled with curiosity — at both the news of the late ‘60s and the science-fiction of the day — shaped the realities he’s creating now.
Jeff Skoll: My journey into movies that matter Jeff Skoll: My journey into movies that matter Jeff Skoll makes movies that matter
In this talk from TED2007, producer Jeff Skoll shines a light on another type of movie magic — the ability to make social issues come to life. He shares the vision of his film company, Participant Productions, behind An Inconvenient Truth, and why he’s compelled to use this medium for good.
J.J. Abrams: The mystery box J.J. Abrams: The mystery box JJ Abrams: The mystery box
Writer, director and producer JJ Abrams layers mysteries in his television series Alias and Lost, and in his big-screen reimagining of Star Trek. At TED2007, Abrams credits his imagination to his grandfather, who he calls the “ultimate deconstructor,” always intent on figuring out how things work.
Jehane Noujaim: My wish: A global day of film Jehane Noujaim: My wish: A global day of film Jehane Noujaim wishes for a global day of film
Can movies bring us all together? Yes, says filmmaker Jehane Noujaim, who made the powerful documentary Control Room. In this talk from TED2006, she accepts the TED Prize and shares her wish: for the world to learn more about each other through a day of collective movie-watching.
Franco Sacchi: A tour of Nollywood, Nigeria's booming film industry Franco Sacchi: A tour of Nollywood, Nigeria's booming film industry Franco Sacchi tours Nigeria’s booming Nollywood
Hollywood isn’t the only game in town when it comes to creating spectacle on film. In this talk from TEDGlobal 2007, Franco Sacchi shares the story of Nollywood, Nigeria’s booming film industry. These filmmakers, often with budgets of less than $10K, shoot their features guerilla-style, sometimes in as little as a week.
Martin Villeneuve: How I made an impossible film Martin Villeneuve: How I made an impossible film Martin Villeneuve: How I made an impossible film
Filmmaker Martin Villeneuve made a sci-fi spectacular, complete with a hologram character and a realistic looking Mars at the end of a train line, for the low sum of $2.3 million. In this talk from TED2013, he shares how he did it — by going slowly, being creative and embracing limitations as challenges. The result: the incredible film Mars et Avril.