Effects for the Movie "The Wizard of Oz"

by Adele Burney
The Wizard of Oz is still a top draw for theater goers today

The Wizard of Oz is still a top draw for theater goers today

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

The Wizard of Oz remains one of the most endearing movies of all times. Its appeal is timeless and spans generations and races. It is the story of Dorothy Gale from Kansas, who wishes to go "somewhere over the rainbow" and upon finding herself there realizes that there "is no place like home." Unlike the blockbuster films of today, the Wizard of Oz did not rely on heavy special effects. Instead much of the action is dependent on the viewer's imagination. Despite the lack of computer-generated special effects, the movie manages to create quite an impact with the effects that are used.

The Tornado Scene

The tornado scene in the Wizard of Oz ranks as one of the most realistic storm sequences in movie history, yet its creation is rather simple. After attempting to create a funnel using a rubber cone, the special effects coordinator eventually settled on using a muslin windsock. The sock, measuring thirty-five feet long, was suspended from the top of a sound stage and moved from side to side to simulate the movements of a tornado. The spraying of brown dust around the base of the sock helps to make the scene more authentic. A miniature set takes the place of Kansas during the storm scene.

Technicolor Wizardry

In 1939, most films were shot in black and white, and colorization was relatively new. The Kansas scenes of Dorothy's farm are shot in sepia tone, which is a hazy brown and white color. Upon opening the door to Oz, the scenery takes on the brilliance of Technicolor. Since Technicolor filming was still relatively new at the time, the heat on the set would reach 100 degrees due to the lighting needed for the filming process.

The Land of Oz

In Oz, the yellow brick road leads to an obvious matte painting in the background. In the film, these bricks appear as sparkling yellow. In reality they were painted with paint purchased from the hardware store located a couple of blocks from the studio. As the witch tries to remove the ruby slippers, sparks of fire burn her hands. In reality these sparks were made by pumping apple juice out of the shoes and recording at a higher film speed so that the liquid shooting out simulates sparks. The flying monkeys were simply actors suspended from wires. The sparkling horses in the Emerald City were actually coated in Jell-O to achieve the effect.

Effects Gone Awry

Some of the special effects were difficult to create and caused problems on the set. Originally, Buddy Ebsen, a popular actor at the time, was cast as the Tin Man; however, an allergic reaction to the silver paint prevented him from playing the role, and Jack Haley portrayed the Tin Man. The actress playing the wicked witch was burned badly during a scene in which she disappears in a cloud of smoke. The same actress, Margaret Hamilton, had to endure a liquid diet during much of the filming to avoid digesting any of her green makeup. Injuries were sustained by the actors playing the flying monkeys when the piano wires holding them up snapped. In some of the scenes, shadows from the stage equipment are visible in the shots of Oz.

Photo Credits

  • Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images