Image of the day: Escape from New York's not-so-special effects, courtesy of James Cameron

Many of us know James Cameron as the director of Avatar, Aliens and The Terminator. But before he was giving Linda Hamilton her motivation, he was working a tad lower on the filmmaking food chain, as a "director of photography: special visual effects." And while he was there, he helped make John Carpenter's Escape From New York awesome.

Escape From New York was a 1981 film about a former special forces operative dropped into a futuristic walled-off Manhattan island to save the president. The film was high on style but low on special-effects budget. So Cameron created the effect the old-fashioned way: by hand and sleight of hand.


In other words, it may have looked like computer graphics, but Cameron got the effects he needed from the 1981 equivalent of Staples. 

According to Redditor ImagesofNetwork

"Escape from New York" didn't have the budget for digital effects, so the "futuristic" computer rendering of the city skyline we see when Plissken is gliding into Manhattan was created using painted black model buildings and reflective white tape created by James Cameron, the DP for visual effects.” (AMC concurs with Image’s story.)

Computer effects were wallet-swallowingly expensive back in the day, so filmmakers had to stretch their creativity when the budget wasn't all that elastic. For example, there was only 20 minutes' worth of computer animation in the 1982 movie Tron.

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