In our modern age of filmmaking, most ambitious scenes can be attributed to the use of CGI. Whether our hero is dangling off a cliff or narrowly escaping a car explosion, we can assume that a lot of the action is filled in during post-production. But back in the 1920s and 1930s, the filmmakers didn't have the luxury of sophisticated computer technology. Instead, they had to get creative.

Thanks to the Instagram account historyinmemes, we can get an in-depth look at how some classic black-and-white films pulled off their impressive stunts. It was a combination of camera tricks, clever angles, and custom-designed set pieces — as well as a convincing performance from the actor.

Watch the video below, which breaks down three iconic shots from silent films:

The first setup is from Safety Last!, a 1923 romantic comedy film starring Harold Lloyd. In this iconic scene, Lloyd clutches the hands of a large clock, suspended outside of a skyscraper above moving traffic. But the video reveals that Lloyd wasn’t in any danger at all — the only thing he was suspended above was a mattress.

Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 film Modern Times features a scene in which Chaplin’s Little Tramp character roller skates across the upper level of a department store. He catches himself before he rolls straight off the balcony, but as the video reveals, there was no chance of him actually falling. The optical illusion was achieved through the use of matte painting, a technique in which an illustrated tableau gives the effect of added dimension.

Finally, a short clip of Colleen Moore in 1926’s Ella Cinders depicts the actress doing a series of wacky eye movements. One eye flutters while the other rolls, something that would be near-impossible for a regular human being to pull off. As it turns out, the filmmakers used a split-screen technique, allowing Moore to focus on just one eye at a time.

If you've always wondered about how Hollywood’s earliest filmmakers pulled off such show-stopping stunts, now you can see for yourself.

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