VFX Tips and Tricks: Intro to Special Effects

Forums Resources VFX VFX Tips and Tricks: Intro to Special Effects

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    Green Screen/Chromakey

    The most important thing about using green screens is getting the lighting just right. Subjects should be 6 to 10 feet away from the screen to avoid cast shadows. Make sure the green screen is lit evenly to avoid hotspots or shadows. The lighting in the source image should match the source of lighting in the replaced background.

    A blue screen works better with blonde hair or subjects covered in green. Try out multi-layer keying and mattes if the filter leaves an undesirable green edge around the subject. Garbage mattes can be used to block out extra information.

    To remove the background in post-production, use the Keylight plugin in After Effects.

    VideoFort: Advanced Green Screen Tutorial

    Movie Scenes green screen counterparts

    FilmmakerIQ: History of Faking it- The Evolution of Greenscreen Compositing

    GamesRadar: Movies without the special effects

    Motion Capture

    It takes a truly dedicated actor to perform while dressed up in a skintight leotard covered in ping pong balls. The two main types of motion capture are facial performance capture and full body motion capture. Cameras and sensors track the dots, which are then plugged into a computer program. Animators are able to use the dots attached to the actors to correlate with rigging points set up on a rigged 3D model. Some software programs can apply the actors motion to the model in real time, which signinficantly decreases the amount of work to animate.

    Some actors do not like motion capture, since it is perceived as covering up the acting with CGI to the point where the live performance is not seen on screen. There is also controversy caused by the lack of Academy recognition for voice actors and performance capture actors, since the post-work of animators causes the trade to categorized under special effects. Proponents of motion traking hope that as the technology continues to advance, more subtle nuances in expressions can be tracked, and more of the actor’s performance will show through the digital makeup.

    Realtime Performance Capture: Hellblade

    Slashfilm: World of Warcraft Groundbreaking Facial Performance Capture

    Avatar facial performance capture technology

    Weta Digital: VFX of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    Fresh Movie Trailers: GRAVITY “From Script to Screen” Making-Of Featurette

    Interview with Ahmed Best


    Foleys are the industry term for artificially created sound effects recorded in a sound studio. Foley artists recreate the background noise for every single shot in a movie. Footsteps, doors closing, rain, wind, etc. Foley artists use a wide variety of common objects to recreate sounds. The sound of a horse running might be recreated using coconut halves and a shallow pit filled with gravel. An alien exploding could be a watermelon getting smashed with a baseball bat.

    Wired: Foley Art- Where the Sounds From the World’s Favorite Movies Are Born

    Batman: Arkham City Behind-the-Scenes

    Mental Floss: The Wilhelm Scream

    Ben Burtt

    Cami Alys

    Gary Hecker


    Compositing is one of the final steps in post-production that brings together all the elements that will be seen in the final cut. Due to an increase in effects-heavy movies and the tendency for studios to hire less assistant compositors than needed, the crunch of deadlines tends to be fall heavily on the post-production staff. As a result, post-production crews have had to adapt and become familiar with a number of film disciplines and rendering software. A compositor is typically responsible for removing green screen backgrounds, editing, ADR, and adding multiple mattes, lighting layers, and color correction filters.

    No Film School: VFX Post Work

    Behind the scenes of The Avengers

    Behind the scenes of The Avengers: Part 2

    ILM: Hal Hickel, Pirates of the Caribbean III

    Walt Disney: The MultiPlane Camera

    Color Grading

    Color grading differs from color correction, which is intended to fix basic over/under exposure. Color grading is a stylistic choice. Color grading works kind of like a lens filter, except all of the effects are done in post-production. Color levels, saturation, temperature, contrast, white balance, and other settings can be adjusted to achieve the desired look.

    Film Noir set the standard for atmospheric mood by emphasizing high contrast shadows and lighting. Color grading attempts to recreate that moody presence on screen. Dark movies have a lot of desaturated greys and muddy brown colors to appear gritty. A lighthearted movie would use bright highly saturated colors.

    The best special effects are said to be the ones that go unnoticed by the audience. People can sometimes spot when footage has been edited with digital overlays, especially the overused blue and orange palette. This will cause people to pay more attention to why the sky always seems so overcast rather than focusing on the important subjects in a scene.

    FX Guide: A graphic tale: the visual effects of Mad Max: Fury Road

    The Verge: How filmmakers manipulate our emotions using color

    Priceonomics: Why Every Movie Looks Sort of Orange and Blue

    DSLR Guide: The Art of Color Grading

    ZY Productions: How to Color Grade Video Footage

    Particle Effects and Fluid Dynamics

    Flames, water, explosions, dust, and light are difficult for animators and 3D modelers to simulate digitally, so there are tools that will automatically generate these effects using mathematical algorithms. Control settings allow the animator to manipulate speed, size, number of particles, and path of motion. These effects take up a lot of computing power and render extremely slowly without a powerful render farm.

    Khan Academy: Pixar in a Box Introduction to Particle Systems


    Rotoscoping is an animation technique that involves tracing or hand painting over footage, one frame at a time. It was used to create the glowing lightsaber effect before digital technology. Sometimes compositors will still have to do a little corrective rotoscoping to get rid of edge artifacts. Rotoscoping is an extremely painstaking and boring process usually reserved for interns and entry-level positions.

    AWN: A Scanner Darkly- An Animated Illusion

    Forbidden Planet, Id Monster Scene

    Stunt Doubles

    A-list actors are not allowed to risk injuring themselves on set, since this can negatively delay production or cause bad publicity for a movie. The film industry’s solution to this dilemma is to use stunt doubles.

    Stunt doubles are usually cast based on physical body similarities rather than facial features, though there are some uncanny doppelgangers out there. Stunts are usually edited or shot in a manner that the stunt double’s face is not directly seen on camera. When an actor has to wear an elaborate costume or full body makeup, the double undergoes the same procedure.

    Although compositing and editing often makes certain scenes appear far more dangerous than the sets actually were behind the scenes, the amount of practical stunts has not decreased or become less dangerous. Stuntmen and stuntwomen will go through multiple practice blocking passes before going on camera. There are also many rules, safeguards, and procedures in place to ensure stunt crew members are not recklessly endangered.

    Many actors appreciate what stunt doubles do and often form lasting friendships with their on-screen counterparts.

    Heidi Moneymaker

    Bored Panda: 20+ Actors With Their Body Doubles


    Stunts involving actors tethered to cables is commonly called wire-fu, due to the iconic usage in many martial arts movies. Wires can easily be deleted in post-editing.

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