Georges Méliès (1861-1938)

Georges Méliès was an illusionist and an innovative filmmaker. He became famous for leading many technical and narrative developments in the earliest years of Cinema.

A scene from Georges Méliès‘s 1902 film A Trip to the Moon.

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Early life

Georges Méliès was born in Paris in 1861. His family had a shoe factory on Boulevard Saint-Martin. Though he had a classical education, his artistic interests overshadowed his intellectual ones.

As a young man studying in London, he was greatly fascinated with stage illusion, visiting the Egyptian hall regularly run by the famous illusionist John Nevil Maskelyne.

Georges Méliès

After returning to Paris in 1885, pressured by his father, he joined the family business. After his father retired in 1888, he sold his share of his family business to his brothers.

Profoundly inspired by the Lumière brothers works, he offered to buy one of their Cinématographe devices. Unfazed by the brother’s refusal of his generous offer,  in 1897 Méliès constructed a glass studio at Montreuil-sous-Bois, in which he was able to elaborate his own works using an animatograph film projector.

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Méliès was an especially prolific innovator in the use of special effects, popularizing such techniques as substitution splices, multiple exposures, time-lapse photography, dissolves, and hand-painted colour.

He created the basic vocabulary of special effects, manipulating and distorting time and space to create illusions of appearances, disappearances, using jump cuts and other complex special effects such as the first double exposure, the first split-screen, the first overlapping dissolve, fade in fade out, stop motion photography and much more. He even added colour to many of his films, hand painting each frame.

The Mermaid (1904)
Georges Méliès – The Mermaid (1904)

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His films include A Trip To The Moon (1902) and The Impossible Voyage (1904), both involving strange, surreal journeys that are considered among the most important early science fiction films.

By the end of World War I, Méliès was a forgotten man: in his last years, he lived in misery working in Montparnasse station, until he was moved to the Leopold-Bellan hospital where he died in 1938.

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