Imagine what you could do with superhuman speed. Travel is a non-issue, you would never be tardy, and you could snag a gold medal and become a national hero. Super speed would be super sweet.
And that’s why it’s been an indelible special effect in movies and television for decades. From Looney Tunes to prime-time sci-fi television, running a million miles an hour has been achieved in several ways. Whether or not it’s convincing is a separate matter, but for the most part, it’s only gotten better over time.
Below is a brief history of how super speed has been executed.
Looney Toons introduced Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner in Fast and Furry-ous: The iconic pair of an unlucky predator forever chasing his feathered prey, directed by Chuck Jones. (Sadly, it doesn’t star Vin Diesel in a furry costume.)
To achieve Road Runner’s speed, Fast and Furry-ous simply animated the bird moving fast with his legs turned a blur, emphasized with the sound effect of a zooming race car. This would with the look and shape of super speed in cartoons for years to come.
Probably less concerned with speed and more about how to pull off a dude in tights who can fly, the producers of Adventures of Superman — starring George Reeves — had the Son of Krypton hoisted with wires, posing with a changing background and in front of a fan. Campy, but it worked.
Using the same techniques to make the Road Runner blaze, Warner Bros. once again went fast with the Mexican mouse, Speedy Gonzales — which, yeah, it’s totally racist. The same blurs used for Road Runner were used for the little guy in his debut short, Cattails for Two.
When Richard Donner took on the task of adapting Superman to the big screen, of course he had to figure out how to make Clark Kent faster than a speeding bullet. And for a generation, he certainly did.
Over twenty years before The Flash on the CW, John Wesley Shipp played DC’s speedster on CBS’ The Flash, which ran for one season. The cheaply produced series used every trick in the book they could, from speeding up the frame to masking Barry Allen in a red blur.
In a a film adaptation of the Dark Horse Comics series The Mask, Stanley Ipkiss (Jim Carrey) is granted superhuman abilities — among them super speed — when he dons the cursed mask of the Norse god Loki (not the Marvel guy, technically).
Since his powers turn him into a living cartoon, The Mask borrowed from Looney Toons — and its cheap ricochet sound effects — and CBS’ss The Flash by fading him into a blur.
Keanu Reeves’ Neo, who became a digital messiah capable of manipulating the “real” world, flew at breakneck speeds in the second installment of the franchise, The Matrix Reloaded. The Wachowskis emphasized his speed by slowing down the environment, which is a pretty revolutionary method.
Pixar and Disney crafted a finely tuned sequence in their superhero homage, The Incredibles, with Dash, the fast rascal of the film’s super family.
One of the great things Pixar achieved was moving the camera with Dash, which advanced the illusion and blurred the lush greenery. It’s a technique ripped straight from Return of the Jedi, but perfected right here.
That same year on the WB’s Smallville, Bart Allen — who went by the hero name Impulse instead of The Flash — made his debut in the Season 4 episode,, “Run.” Since the Golden Age of TV was just on the horizon, Smallville made super speed look super cheesy, having its actors jogging in front of a green screen. The acoustic pop rock doesn’t help matters.
Since he could be anywhere at any moment, Quicksilver in Fox’s X-Men: Days of Future Past feels as light as a feather. You never hear his footsteps or a heavy whoooosh, just a faint fwhip. The end result: he feels more like a rubber band than an actual speedster.
When he breaks Magneto out from underneath the Pentagon, it’s a show-stopper through his perspective,, and arguably the best part of the film. See how it was broken down here:
And oAnd of course, The Flash on the CW: While it’s still on a TV budget, both technology and the techniques have vastly improved. While Barry Allen still looks like a videogame, it doesn’t detract from the experience.
There’s a noticeable effect on his environment and passersby when Flash dashes off. Papers and long hair flies, and there’s a heavy wind when he takes off.
While Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron also had Quicksilver (these character/studio ownership deals are complicated), it approached the superpower differently than X-Men. Using blurs like in The Flash shows and a more “realistic” ricochet sound than Looney Toons, Pietro practically teleports across the screen.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. introduced another quickster very recently, although her limit is that she snaps “back” to he tarting pointrting point within a heartbeat. Codenamed YoYo (and Slingshot in the comics), Elena Rodriguez may become a recurring character as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. slowly assembles the Secret Warriors.
She practically fades when she runs,, and she causes jackets and hair to flop, so it looks like Marvel has taken a page out of DC’s playbook,, for once.