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'Downsizing': A Brief History of Putting Small Things in Movies

Hobbits, fairies, Dr. Septimus Pretorius’ people in bell jars—Hollywood has been miniaturizing things in movies for decades.

But ever since Pretorius put ballerinas and kings behind glass in Bride of Frankenstein in 1935, filmmakers have used many different methods to make people appear small onscreen. Back in the 1930s, it was done by filming two different sets of shots that were composited together. By the time Steven Spielberg made Hook in 1991, visual effects artists were able to use composites and blue-screen tech to place Julia Roberts’ Tinkerbell in the movie. Now, like with Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, directors and their effects departments can use everything from green-screen technology to rotoscoping to make humans look much smaller than they really are.

“I think what’s most exciting about the trajectory that visual effects technology has taken is how much freedom filmmakers have now,” says Jamie Price, who handled the VFX for Downsizing. “There are a lot fewer limitations being placed on filmmakers because of technology and because of visual effects, and that allows their imagination to really take flight.”

Learn more about the history of miniaturizing actors for the big screen from Price himself in the video above.


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