Stairway to Heaven (1946)
Frequently Asked Questions
The message at the beginning says:
This is the story of two worlds, the one we know and another which exists only in the mind of a young airman whose life and imagination have been violently shaped by war.
Which then scrolls up to reveal:
Any resemblance to any other world, known or unknown, is purely coincidental.
That is the get-out clause. They're leaving it up to you.
On the Special Features of the "A Matter of Life and Death" DVD disc, Martin Scorsese says, "the unique thing about the picture is that it's based on a true the story of a pilot who fell out of a plane, landed in the ocean, and lived..." So, that, at least, really happened.
In 1946? No, the effects in this film were all done the hard way. But they are done so cleverly that it's sometimes hard to tell.
CGI stands for "Computer-Generated Imagery." Electronic computers were invented only a few years before, and the first programmable computer was invented the year of this movie. Programmable computer graphics (as opposed to just blips on an oscilloscope screen) didn't exist until the 60's, and those consisted of mere lines and shapes. Cinematic quality computer imagery finally arrived in the 70's and was used most notably in Disney's "The Black Hole" and "Tron".These films broke new ground firstly in "The Black Hole" where the entire opening animation is first completely cgi sequence in a major release while Tron was the first film to contain entire scenes created and printed to film using cgi technology. It is said that the average 1990's home PC was more powerful than the computers used in these films. Note that the effects in this 1946 movie were imprecise images ofstar fields and explosions. Making realistic well-defined images, i.e. human characters, that were indistinguishable from reality required the computing power of the 1990s.
The answer is then, no, computers were not used to generate the special effects in this movie. They were achieved using double exposures, matte composites, reverse motion and traditional animation, i.e. by actually drawing the images. My guess is that the scene where David Niven walks through the glass-paned door (approx 74 mins) was done with ink. The door was probably partially drawn, with parts gradually added or deleted in each frame as he walks through.