How they created the tornado in the Wizard of Oz (video)

Speaking of tornados, with all the news focused on Oklahoma, a reader sent in a fascinating video, and story, about how the tornado was created  for the beginning of the Wizard of Oz.

There’s also a great original video of them testing the tornado, below.  It doesn’t have audio, but it’s still amazing how real-life it looks, especially now that everyone is familiar with tornado videos the past few days.

Here’s the test tornado versus the actual final movie.  Test tornado:


And final clip of the movie:


There’s also a great article from Tim Marshall about how the tornado was created, and what struck me was that it’s not dust and wind.  Or at least not most of it. The tornado is a thirty-five foot long muslin sock, inspired by those wind socks they have (or had) at airports.  And then they threw a lot of wind and dirt at it.  I’m stunned it’s cloth.  And keep in mind, this film was made in 1938, so special effects were nothing like they are today. It’s incredibly well done for it’s time.

Check out the video of the test of the tornado, it’s great:

And here’s the actual clip from the film of the twister as Dorothy tries to get home.  God it looks real:

The other neat thing that I learned, via Marshall’s article, is that in a number of the tornado scenes, you see Dorothy running around with her house in the backyard, the house and the fields are in miniature.

Once the tornado had been filmed, there was still plenty of work to be done. Rear- projection was used to transfer the previously shot tornado image onto a translucent screen while actors such as Dorothy were placed in front of it. Wind machines provided the big blow while stage hands threw dried leaves and other debris in the air. When the tornado came real close to the house at the end of the scene, more debris and dirt were added in the foreground to obscure the fake tornado while providing more realism. The tornado scene in the Wizard of Oz ended up costing more money than any other special effect in the movie.

Remember the first scene where Dorothy was running home to Aunty Em after visiting the traveling medicine man? There was a fence in the foreground and she hurries to open it as the tornado appears in the background. Dorothy’s house can be seen in the background with the barn to the right. These structures were actually minatures scaled at three quarter of an inch to the foot. The house was not more than three feet high and adjacent cornfields were about three inches tall! The tornado swayed back and forth as fullers earth, carbon, and sulfer drift downward appearing like bursts of rain. Of course, the loud wind sound really makes this scene too!

As Dorothy ran to the tornado cellar at the back of the house, the tornado bent and swept to the right over the three inch tall corn stalks. Fullers earth was shot up the base of the tornado making it appear that the ground was being dug up.

Pretty neat stuff.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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