“Make believe”: Cinematic twisters through the years…

For nearly a century, filmmakers have attempted to capture the power of a tornado. Perhaps the most famous example is the “Wizard of Oz” (1939). The tornado featured in the film remains eerily effective today, even though it was created with a simple muslin “sock”.

By the 1980’s, special effects techniques had improved- but still relied heavily on “practical” effects. Ink/gel tanks were often used to create cloud or tornado effects. Sometimes, simple animation (by hand) was used in composite shots. There were several examples of storm effects in 80’s films, including the following scene from “Superman III”.

By the 1990’s, computer animation became better refined. This lead to better modeling of the complex wind patterns associated with tornadoes. And of course, the widespread use of camcorders provided special effects crews with a library of “real-life” tornado images for reference.

Today, high-resolution video of tornadoes is widely available from storm chasers. Combined with the improved processing power of modern computers and animation software, this rich artistic toolbox has allowed a greater degree of complexity in modern tornado movies. The following image from the 2014 film “Into the Storm” shows a level of realism far greater than earlier films.

And with each new piece of tornado fiction, a new generation of storm chasers is inspired.

 Chief Meteorologist Jerry Jackson

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