Make no mistake about it, Georges Méliès is one of the most influential filmmakers in cinema history. Just a few years after the birth of filmmaking in the 1890s, the French filmmaker began releasing his own minutes-long silent shorts in 1896. However, it wasn’t until the groundbreaking 1902 short A Trip to the Moon that Méliès became a bona fide international star.
In addition to being one of Méliès’s longest works, A Trip to the Moon was also an astonishing accomplishment in animation and special effects unheard of in 1902. In fact, the film’s widely popular image of a spaceship crashing into the moon’s eye turned Méliès into a legend, one that Martin Scorsese would eventually pay tribute to with his 2011 3-D adventure, Hugo. By the time of his death in 1938, the prolific talent had starred in, written, produced, and directed almost all of his 500 films.
Today, as Google celebrates Méliès with a Google Doodle, get to know more about the film pioneer with these five facts.
1. GEORGES MÉLIÈS WAS AN ILLUSIONIST BEFORE HE WAS A FILMMAKER.
Méliès’s background in magic undoubtedly aided him in becoming the first master of special effects in cinema. According to Turner Classic Movies, after finishing his studies, Méliès moved to London to work for a family friend, and there he frequented the magic shows of illusionist John Nevil Maskelyne. He began practicing tricks himself, and eventually started performing in public back in Paris.
2. HE PIONEERED SOME OF TODAY’S MOST COMMON FILM TECHNIQUES.
According to Méliès’s official website, the director is responsible for three still widely-used techniques: the first double exposure (which he used in 1898's The Cave of Demons), the first split screen with performers acting opposite themselves (in 1898's Four Heads are Better Than One), and the first dissolve (in Cinderella in 1899). He first discovered that cameras could manipulate images in the fall of 1896, when he developed the footage he took after his camera jammed filming a basic street scene.
3. HE BUILT THE FIRST MOVIE STUDIO IN EUROPE.
As one of the earliest film pioneers, Méliès had a hand in all facets of developing the film industry in Europe. According to World Film Directors: Volume I, 1890–1945, in 1896, Méliès ordered the construction of Studio A in the vegetable garden of his property outside of Paris. The building was made entirely of glass walls, with a shed used as a dressing room. However, according to his official website, Méliès was forced to turn his studio into a variety theater in 1915 (which was then turned into a hospital for wounded soldiers during the war) once the novelty of his films began to wear off. Bankrupt, he eventually abandoned filmmaking altogether.
4. MÉLIÈS TEAMED UP WITH YOUNGER BROTHER GASTON TO BRING HIS MOVIES TO THE UNITED STATES.
As piracy of his films increased overseas, Méliès needed to protect his work. As noted in Georges Méliès, by Elizabeth Ezra, Georges sent Gaston to set up shop in the U.S. to guard his copyrights and distribute his films to the American market. Eventually, Gaston himself began making his own films under Georges's Star Films banner. First based in New Jersey, Gaston relocated to San Antonio, where he started making westerns and changed the company’s branch name to American West.
5. MÉLIÈS DIRECTED THE EARLIEST ADAPTATION OF CINDERELLA.
Although the most famous adaptation of the fairytale is Disney's 1950 animated version, Méliès first brought it to the big screen as a short in 1899. The film starred Jeanne d’Alcy (as the Fairy Godmother), Méliès' second wife, who appeared in most of his works.