TV Fact #224 – June 5th, 2015:

While considered simple by today’s standards, the “flying” effects on “The Adventures of Superman” (1952-1958) were advanced for the period. Admittedly, during season one, it was apparent that, for distance flight shots, Superman (Played by George Reeves) was lying on a flat surface, his torso and thighs noticeably flattened between elbows and knees. However, it was beginning with season two that it got complex.

Superman’s “flying” involved three phases which were take-off, flight, and landing. Cables and wires were used for Superman’s take-offs early in filming and, in early episodes, stuntmen sometimes replaced Reeves for Superman’s wire-assisted take-offs. The cables and wires were discarded and a springboard was brought in after Reeves came close to suffering a concussion in the episode “Ghost Wolf” when the supporting wires snapped and he fell to the studio floor. The springboard was designed by Thol “Si” Simonson, who remained with the series until its end.

To perform with Simonson’s creation, Reeves would run into frame and hit the out-of-frame springboard, which would boost him out of frame, sometimes over the camera, and onto padding. The springboard had enough force to make it look as though he was actually taking off along with help from subtle camera manipulation. The flying scenes then on were accomplished through a relatively few number of repeated shots with the typical technique having footage of Reeves stretched out on a spatula-like device formed to his torso and leg, operated on a counterweight like a boom microphone which allowed him to bank as if in flight. In a couple of later episodes such as the episode “The Atomic Secret”, Reeves opted to lie on the device without the molded form to support his legs, which are seen to hang from the waist in those episodes in marked contrast to the stock footage of Superman in flight, to simulate flying

In the two final seasons of the show that were monochrome (colored), Reeves was occasionally filmed in front of aerial footage on back-projection screen or against a neutral background. The latter would provide a matte which would be optically combined with a swish-pan or aerial shot. Anyway that footage Reeves shot was matted onto various backgrounds depending on the needs of the episode. These various backgrounds, which Reeves would appear to fly by, obviously included clouds, buildings, the ocean, mountain forests, etc. Those color episodes would be a godsend budget-wise as the simpler and cheaper technique of a neutral cyclorama backing was used which was usually sky-blue or black for night shots.

Finally, the techniques for landings involved Reeves jumping off a ladder or holding an off-camera horizontal bar and swinging down into frame. I mean all these techniques were pretty basic compared to now, but at the time this was what allowed audiences to experience imagination and the idea of seeing a man fly. Every great idea starts somewhere…and then soar high from there.

Published in: on June 6, 2015 at 2:39 AM  Leave a Comment  

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