When Sabrina the Teenage Witch premiered 20 years ago, special effects weren’t up to today’s standards. Life & Style goes behind the scenes of the beloved series to see how the real magic was made.

When Melissa Joan Hart’s title character, a high school student who discovers she’s a witch, gossiped with her wisecracking cat, Salem, the shoot wasn’t exactly speedy. “A lot of that magic was very painstaking to achieve,” Beth Broderick, who played Aunt Zelda, says of their 17-hour days. “It wasn’t like today with CGI!”

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Life & Style also learned that it took a great deal of work to bring Salem, a sarcastic witch who was turned into a cat for trying to take over the world, to life. Voice actor Nick Bakay would stand just off camera reading witty lines from the script while three pros controlled an animatronic Salem puppet.

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“I was the head and body,” puppeteer Mauri Bernstein, who was often crammed into cabinets and under furniture for her job, explains. “Thom Fountain did the face by remote, and Jim Greenall controlled the ears and tail by cable.”

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As for the action shots? There were 12 live cats for that.

“Each had its specialty,” Mauri says. “One was really good at lying around. Another was great at ripping stuff apart, others were great at running and jumping.” And they all got their own costumes.

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“The cats were different sizes,” series stylist Kimberly Engelman tells Life & Style. “So sometimes we’d have seven cat fireman costumes or wizard costumes. That cat was a lot of work.”

For more set secrets, pick up the latest issue of Life & Style, on newsstands now. And scroll through the gallery below to see the cast of Sabrina the Teenage Witch today!