Google celebrated the life and work of pioneering French filmmaker and illusionist Georges Méliès on Thursday – the release date of his masterpiece À la Conquête du Pôle (The Conquest of the Pole) – with the first ever virtual reality doodle. The movie was released in 1912.
Méliès introduced a number of technical and narrative film techniques in the early days of cinema, primarily in the use of special effects. He also directed some of the earliest science-fiction films.
Méliès was born in Paris on December 8, 1861. His parents ran a successful shoe-making business. He joined his brothers in the family business after completing his education, but after three years of mandatory military service, his father sent him to London to work as a clerk for a family friend. There he saw the stage performances of illusionist John Nevil Maskelyne, and developed a lifelong passion for stage magic.
Méliès went on to develop a passion for other art forms, and throughout his career he was a cartoonist, painter, caricaturist, magician, set designer, comedian, writer, actor, technician. He was also the director of the Robert-Houdin theatre. “In a time when cinematography was nascent and almost exclusively documentary-style, Méliès single-handedly opened the doors of the dream, the magic, and the fiction,” said Laurent Manonni, the director of Heritage at the Cinémathèque Française. “He accomplished this fundamental act by uniting the universes of Robert-Houdin with the chronophotography and cinematography of Marey and the Lumière brothers.”
Méliès was a visionary of sorts. His 1902 film Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) predicted the landing of man on the moon, which would take place 67 years later. Similarly, Le Tunnel sous la Manche ou le Cauchemar franco-anglais (Tunnelling the English Channel), which was released in 1907, predicted the Channel Tunnel, a 50.45-km rail tunnel connecting England and France. Méliès developed cinematic techniques that utilised pyrotechnics, optical effects, horizontal and vertical dropouts, camera stops, crossfades, overprints, conjuring, editing effects, and colour effects.