In The Invisible Man (1933), The Invisible Man gets encountered by a cop and seven people behind him. The cop attempts to convince him to come to the police station, but the Invisible Man gets in an angry fit and reveals that he is invisible.

How did they do this in 1933? It couldn't have been done with a computer or CGI.

A scene of this in action:


4 Answers 4


The short documentary The Invisible Man - Revealed! provides details of how they achieved the invisibility effects. For shots where the character was partially clothed they filmed the actor, Claude Rains, wearing black velvet over the portions of his body that had to appear invisible, against a black velvet background. That footage was then composited with footage of the rest of the scene, making him appear invisible.

  • 37
    So it's basically a monochrome version of bluescreen?
    – AJFaraday
    Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 14:47
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    @AJFaraday similar effect, but an even more primitive method to achieve the results, effectively relying on 'just not recording anything' to the film in some parts of the shot. [Technically can also be done in colour, but is a pain to control the black well enough to work as a practical tool.] Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 15:56
  • But I suppose they could not just make a double exposure for the background as that would bleed into the visible clothes. I suppose they created a matte from an overexposed inverted copy of the foreground? Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 21:22
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    Was the composition done with the negatives? That would make sense, since when you film something black, the negative will be transparent, so you can just lay it on top of the film you took of the background. Commented Jun 28, 2019 at 16:39
  • In the first part of the clip where you can see through his eyeholes and noseholes as he takes off the fake nose and glasses, I assume a separate practical effect is used? The double compositing technique only seems to take over when they switch to the shot where he's taking off the bandages from behind and you can see the top of his head is missing.
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Jul 20, 2023 at 13:47

This is explained in The Invisible Man - Revealed!, in short they did two shots, one with the main scene and one where the actor wore all black against a black background and combined the two.

Any portion of the actor that was to disappear was covered in black velvet. Then photographed against a black velvet backdrop. When combined with a separate shot of the normal set the illusion of invisibility was startling.

The Invisible Man - Revealed!

This is further explained in the essay below which also mentions a patent being filed for the technique.

John P. Fulton and Frank D. Williams are the men directly responsible for creating the ground breaking effects seen in the ‘The Invisible Man’ film. On the 23th of July 1916 F. D. Williams filed a US patent entitled ‘Method of Taking Motion Pictures’ which detailed a method of “taking motion pictures, and is especially adapted to produce a picture showing two or more objects in relative positions in which they have not actually been placed”

(F. D. Williams, 1916. Method of taking motion pictures. U.S. Pat.1,273,435)

This process was used and adapted as a base to create the majority of effects which illustrated a partly clothed or bandaged invisible character in the film. To achieve these effect sequences Rains or a double wore a tight fitting black velvet suit underneath any clothes which were to remain visible moving around the scene. The actor’s performance was then filmed on a black velvet backdrop; a second background plate was filmed and a double exposure was then used to seamlessly combine the two shoots together, this resulted in the black elements from the first shot, the valet suit and backdrop being replaced by the background film in the second shoot. This is a very early version of an effect today know as ‘green screen’, in modern times an array of different colours, most commonly green, blue and black are used depending on the backdrop and the colour of other elements in the scene for example if the screen is green heavy or an actor’s costume includes green, a blue backdrop can be used.

UK Essays, Technology In Invisible Man And Hollow Man Film Studies Essay

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    The essay is inaccurate. Double-exposure compositing will only work if the mask is black. Green and blue masking are achieved with different techniques.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Jun 26, 2019 at 18:17
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    @OrangeDog: The essay does not state that they used different colors in double-exposure compositing. But you are right that it's not exactly the same technique being used in both cases, just kind of similar.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Jun 26, 2019 at 18:23
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    Compare "Chroma key" and "Multiple exposure".
    – DavidW
    Commented Jun 26, 2019 at 18:23
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    There are two misspellings in the essay. It is not, "the valet suit and backdrop," but "the velvet suit and backdrop." Also, not "if the screen is green heavy," but "if the scene is green-heavy." Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 12:06

According to Wikipedia:

The film is known for its clever and groundbreaking visual effects by John P. Fulton, John J. Mescall and Frank D. Williams, whose work is often credited for the success of the film. When the Invisible Man had no clothes on, the effect was achieved through the use of wires, but when he had some of his clothes on or was taking his clothes off, the effect was achieved by shooting Claude Rains in a completely black velvet suit against a black velvet background and then combining this shot with another shot of the location the scene took place in using a matte process. Claude Rains was claustrophobic and it was hard to breathe through the suit. Consequently, the work was especially difficult for him, and a double, who was somewhat shorter than Rains, was sometimes used.

The effect of Rains seeming to disappear was created by making a head and body cast of the actor, from which a mask was made. The mask was then photographed against a specially prepared background, and the film was treated in the laboratory to complete the effect.


A simple double exposure would ghost through the actor's clothing. All of these matting techniques depend on manipulating contrast. The next step was to take the camera element with the clothing over black and make a high contrast negative matte where the clothing is black(opaque) over a clear background. First pass is printing a positive of the cloths with a black background. Second pass is printing a sandwich of the clothing matte over the background. Only the area outside of the cloths will print onto the receiving film

  • 1
    Is this a comment to AJFaraday's comment?
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 22:39

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