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Visual Effects in Film and TV

written by: Shawn S. Lealos•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 2/16/2010

There are a variety of visual effects used in film and TV today.

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    Visual Effects Used in Film and TV

    Although visual effects (VFX and Visual FX) are most often carried out in post-production (versus special effects which are created on set while in production. e.g. such as a real-life car explosion or the use of a squib devise), visual effects still must be carefully planned during pre-production and even considered during production, especially if they’re going to be integrated with live-action scenes and/or shots (e.g. use of a greenscreen).

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    Types of Visual Effects Include:

    Digital Animation/ CGI

    Matte Paintings

    Live-action effects (such as keying actors and/or models by the use of a blue/green screen)

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    Digital Animation

    These includes effects such as CGI (computer generated imagery), particle effects, ray tracing, and modeling (e.g. designing a 3-D structure in a visual effects software program). These effects are placed either alone or in the shot with the consideration of the live-action subject(s). Other digital animation/ CGI visual effects include titles (both motion titles and printed media), transitions (fades and dissolves), and morphing, to name a few.

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    Matte Paintings

    Matte Paintings (now may be digitally rendered) are considered a visual effect since certain areas of the shot/ scene are composited with other subjects in its place during post-production. Mattes have been used since the beginning of filmmaking, a technique used in special effects, known as an in-camera effect since mattes were used while shooting. Today, digitally rendered matte paintings may be used in backgrounds that would otherwise cost more than the budget could allow, such as a completely rebuilt Roman Empire with an endless horizon line of its architectural structures. Layers of matte paintings may be used interchangeably with other visual effects as well, such as CGI characters and/or subjects. Also, matte paintings may be layered on top of one another to achieve the desired set and to make the shot appear as realistic and believable and without going over budget.

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    Live-action effects

    These are those effects commonly used with a blue/ green screen(s) and live-action. In post-production, the blue/ green screen is chroma keyed and replaced with another image, such as a location, subject, characters, etc. (News stations use this technology. e.g. weather forecast.)

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    Visual Effects Software

    Today, a variety of visual effects software programs are available for any filmmaker, whether the creator is a professional or an amateur. The possibilities of what digital technology can do in order to create any visual effect seems endless; plus, it's now more cost-effective than ever!

    The following are only a few visual fx software programs (links will open in new window):

    Adobe’s After Effects is one of the best and well-known applications on the market today.

    Apple Motion

    Autodesk® MotionBuilder® and Autodesk® Maya® software (used in Avatar (2010) )

    Boris FX (offers several different types of visual effects software)

    Sci-Fi Movie Kit