Before CGI and computer graphics, Hollywood had to get creative to make special effects work. A lot of the stunts in early films look downright dangerous, especially when you can’t imagine how they were pulled off, like this scene starring Buster Keaton in Sherlock, Jr.
Nothing was as dangerous as it looked, however. There were several tricks that cinematographers created to give the illusion of realistic danger without hurting stars like Keaton or Charlie Chaplin. The fascinating Twitter account Silent Movie Gifs shows behind-the-scenes footage on how they pulled these off.
For example, the above stunt was pulled off by doing this:
Knowing these simple tricks actually adds to the allure of movie magic. Since we rely so heavily on computer technology in making motion pictures today, the quaint tricks of yesteryear seem even more incredible. Check out this special effect for the classic Modern Times that was done using a picture of the set painted on glass that played upon camera perspective. Take a look at how Chaplin faked almost falling down several stories in roller skates:
Silent Movie Gifs even honors queen of the silent film era Mary Pickford, one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood at the time, with this interesting behind-the-scenes look at a seemingly simple stunt from Little Lord Fauntleroy. This quick scene used double exposure to show Mary kissing herself, but the stunt took 15 hours to create.
Technology has certainly made filmmaking easier, but these GIFs do a good job celebrating the pioneer spirit of the silent era.