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Visual effects

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Visual effects (abbreviated VFX) is the process by which imagery is created or manipulated outside the context of a live action shot in film making.

Visual effects involve in the integration of live-action footage (special effects) and generated imagery (digital effects) to create environments which look realistic, but would be dangerous, expensive, impractical, time consuming or impossible to capture on film. Visual effects using computer-generated imagery (CGI) have recently become accessible to the independent filmmaker with the introduction of affordable and easy-to-use animation and compositing software.

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Hollywood blockbusters have become increasingly reliant on visual effects over the past few decades, and recent advances in technology have made it so feats in VFX work that were considered impossible just a few years ago are now well within reach. More and more studios are using CGI in films, mostly because it's often cheaper than the alternative. In fact, many modern blockbusters are covered in so many digital layers that the original footage looks unrecognizable—and more often than not, completely ridiculous. Here's what these movies really looked like before special effects were added. 300: Rise of an Empire Zack Snyder's 300 made heavy use of CGI, and the technology used to create it had advanced immensely by the time its sequel, Rise of an Empire, came around. Which, of course, meant squeezing every ounce of that tech into the movie. Director Noam Murro told Forbes: "It's amazing how the tools available eight years later continue to develop. A major difference is CGI and the ability to create things in post that are convincing and complex and three-dimensional. The idea of creating a water movie without a drop of water on the set is remarkable." The filmmaker also revealed they relied on some of the same techniques used in the Oscar-winning CGI blockbuster Gravity. Elysium Neill Blomkamp's follow-up to his acclaimed debut District 9 didn't exactly go as planned, despite the star power of Matt Damon. The blockbuster sci-fi film cost a whopping $115 million to make, but only returned $93 million at the domestic box office. But while Blomkamp took full responsibility for the film's failings, the South African director didn't have any complaints about the special effects team, which had to put together over three times as many VFX shots as they had for District 9. Jurassic World When Steven Spielberg decided to adapt Michael Crichton's novel Jurassic Park, CGI as we know it today didn't really exist. Spielberg brought on Industrial Light and Magic and tasked them with creating living, breathing dinosaurs using computer-generated graphics, and their efforts proved revolutionary. Of course, it wasn't just CGI that brought the inhabitants of Jurassic Park to life. There were a number of practical effects used too, and ILM mixed it up in the same way for Jurassic World. The fourth film in the franchise used detailed white casts of dinosaur heads that would later be layered with CGI for close-up shots, and they used actors in motion capture suits to make sure their movement seemed real. VFX supervisor Tim Alexander told Below the Line: "It gave us a new natural look for the animation. We ended up casting a person to give us a consistency in the performance. There were individual people being that raptor. We had suits that they would put on with a tail." Mad Max: Fury Road When George Miller returned to the world of Mad Max with his critically acclaimed Fury Road in 2015, audiences were blown away by the sequel's frenetic pace and visceral action—much of which was achieved through the hard work of inventive mechanics who built the vehicles used in the movie from scratch. The chase scenes were all shot for real, but the final product wouldn't have looked anywhere near as eye-popping if it weren't for the VFX team. Led by supervisor Andrew Jackson, hundreds of CGI artists enhanced over 2000 shots in Fury Road, from adding characters to creating an epic toxic storm. The Avengers When Earth's Mightiest Heroes teamed up on the big screen in 2012, the stakes were high for Marvel Studios and their team of visual effects artists. Jeff White, the film's VFX supervisor, told MTV: "With Avengers, there were so many things to get right. We created a lot of New York City for the film and needed to build flying shots of Iron Man all from photography. We had to build a new Iron Man suit—the Mark VII—and Stark Tower. We had to build the alien race. When you add all of those things up, there are quite a few challenges there." Green screens were used during most of the film's action sequences, so the cast spent a good chunk of time reacting to invisible threats and taking cover from fake explosions. The biggest hurdle they faced was inserting the Hulk into group situations. White explained: "We wanted it to feel very natural when he's sitting in that circle of Avengers. We spent a lot of time working on his skin and his hair and his teeth, just to make sure that all of that was believable." Man of Steel To create the illusion of flight, Richard Donner's Superman employed wire rigs to hang leading man Christopher Reeve in front of different projected backgrounds. The film is a classic, and the effects looked great in the '70s, but watching it today it feels as though you're flying with Superman as opposed to him flying past you—something Man of Steel director Zack Snyder wanted to avoid when he set out to make Superman soar. Snyder decided to use a handheld approach to filming Clark's flying scenes, which meant adding in most of the effects in post. Wire rigs and gimbals were used to suspend Henry Cavill in front of green screens, and the CGI team did the rest. Iron Man 3 When the first Iron Man movie dropped in 2008, director Jon Favreau wasn't known for CGI-heavy features, but advances in technology had convinced him to change his stance. "I've always steered away from using visual effects whenever possible… That being said, in the last few years there have been a lot of wonderful visual effects movies where it's beginning to become seamless even to me." Favreau returned for the sequel, but Shane Black took the reins for Iron Man 3, which contained some of the most challenging visual effects yet. Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige explained: "We wanted the ability to be able to suit up anywhere, anyhow, without a giant gantry." The answer was having Tony Stark design outlets he injects just below the skin, not unlike the comics, allowing him to call the Iron Man suit from anywhere. To pull off the effect, each individual piece had to be digitally added to Robert Downey Jr.'s body after the fact. Spider-Man: Homecoming Years of gymnastics training really paid off for Tom Holland on the set of Spider-Man: Homecoming, the character's eagerly anticipated introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even with the advances in CGI in recent years, it helps to have an actor who feels comfortable jumping around in tights and doesn't mind hanging around on wires all day long. This was the case with the film's Washington Monument scene—but while that was indeed Holland under the Spidey mask, the monument itself was a fake, erected on a studio sound stage. "We couldn't film at the real Washington Monument, but we built very impressive, very large chunks of the monument for filming." Holland got up the structure with the aid of a wire rig, though even with his background it was far from a walk in the park. "We did two weeks and every single shot was upside down. And my head just took a pounding, man, from all the blood that was rushing to it." The Jungle Book The CGI Jon Favreau used for Iron Man was nothing compared to what he did for his 2016 live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book. To create an entire jungle around a human actor, they needed to pull out all the stops. The lighting was particularly difficult. The director explained: "It's very hard to fake light and shadow. So everything became about using panels of LEDs to project light so if we had the kid bowing before the elephants, you have panels where we actually would pre-animate the elephants and they would cast the shadows on the kid in the exact right way." This meant that 12-year-old star Neel Sethi had to imagine the animals he was interacting with, though Favreau was on hand to make the experience as real as possible for the young actor via puppets and actors in blue suits. RoboCop Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop got the most out of the special effects available in the '80s, using a combination of stop-motion and prosthetic builds to create a movie that was disturbingly realistic at times. In the 2014 reboot, Murphy gets his injuries in an explosion that was created digitally, but the suit he dons afterward was actually real. "And there was a philosophy from the start that we were going to have a head-to-toe suit." The challenge was building a suit that was mobile and easy for the digital department to add onto. The Martian Ridley Scott is no stranger to special effects, but creating the red planet onscreen for The Martian may have been his biggest challenge as a director. While some practical effects were used, a huge amount of digital work was required to give The Martian Scott's desired look. VFX supervisor Anders Langlands told Gizmodo: "[Ridley Scott] is famous for doing his little sketches which are sort of really cool Ridley-grams. We'd ask 'What do you want the background mountains to look like in this shot?' And he'd sketch out a little diagram of what they wanted. So you just literally match that and he'd be happy." A lot of time was spent finding the right hue for the skies and arid landscapes of Mars, though in the end it was a simple thing that caused the VFX team the most problems: the helmet visors. "But of course glass visors would reflect the crew, and the lights, and the sound stage, so all the helmet visors you see in the film are actually added in digitally." Suicide Squad David Ayer's anti-hero ensemble Suicide Squad definitely had its flaws, but few of those were the fault of the many visual effects houses—18 companies in total—that worked tirelessly on it. Imageworks were the ones who handled the Squad's final battle with Enchantress, and the movie's villain proved to be a huge challenge, according to VFX supervisor Mark Breakspear. He told ARTofVFX: "Enchantress was a unique challenge as the actress had been shot without a costume as we had to add it in later to allow it to behave in a way that normal cloth or materials couldn't." Breakspear later told AWN that of the 300 shots they enhanced for the film's third act, dealing with the Enchantress' tattoos proved the most difficult. "That was amazingly tricky to make sure it looked like skin, but also had the translucency that we needed to see the sub-surface tattoos." The Wolf of Wall Street Watching Martin Scorsese's ode to excess The Wolf of Wall Street, the only scenes that stick out as being possibly computer-generated are the one during which Jordan Belfort's yacht sinks and the one when a lion wanders freely through his office. But a visual effects reel released by Brainstorm Digital revealed that some of the most basic shots in the movie were rendered with CGI. From sun loungers to tennis courts, Brainstorm made plenty of subtle touches to bring the film in line with the director's vision. VFX producer Mark Russell told Digital Arts: "Working with Martin Scorsese, everything is about propelling a story forward and contributing to the film. I feel that with his movies, there's a kind of stylized realism to them that we have to integrate with." San Andreas The amount of destruction on show in this Dwayne Johnson-led blockbuster definitely doesn't come cheap, but San Andreas actually cost a lot less to make than many of the big natural disaster flicks that came before it. According to Variety, the production budget was only $114 million—roughly half the amount needed to bring Roland Emmerich's 2012 to the big screen. The film's visual effects supervisor, Colin Strause, was able to keep costs down by employing practical solutions to problems that most visual effects companies would solve with only computers today. As he explained it: "You can make a $100 million movie look like a $200 million movie. You can make movies way smarter. CG for the sake of CG is always a mistake." They still had their work cut out for them, though. Seven different companies worked together to render 1,300 VFX shots for the movie. Thanks for watching! Click the Looper icon to subscribe to our YouTube channel. 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Visual effects are often integral to a movie's story and appeal. Although most visual effects work is completed during post-production, it usually must be carefully planned and choreographed in pre-production and production. Visual effects primarily executed in post-production with the use of multiple tools and technologies such as graphic design, modeling, animation and similar software, while special effects such as explosions and car chases are made on set. A visual effects supervisor is usually involved with the production from an early stage to work closely with production and the film's director design, guide and lead the teams required to achieve the desired effects.


Visual effects primarily divides into two groups of:

  1. Special effects: It covers any visual effects that take place in live action, e.g. on set explosions or stunt performances.
  2. Digital effects (commonly shortened to digital FX or FX): It covers the various processes by which imagery is created or manipulated with or from photographic assets. Digital Effects often involve the integration of still photography and computer-generated imagery (CGI) to create environments which look realistic but would be dangerous, costly, or impossible to capture in camera. FX is usually associated with the still photography world in contrast to visual effects which is associated with motion film production. Digital FX also divides into different subgroups of professions such as:
  • Matte paintings and stills: digital or traditional paintings or photographs which serve as background plates for 3D characters, particle effects, digital sets, backgrounds.
  • Motion capture (Mo-Cap for short): The process of recording the movements of objects and or people. In a session of motion capture, the subject whose motion is being captured is recorded and sampled many times per second by different scanners placed all over the environment. There are different types of systems that read the actor's movement. One of which is the optical method that uses tracking cameras that lock onto specialized markers placed over the actor's motion capture suit. The other type of method is called the non-optical method where instead of capturing the markers location in space, it recorders and measures the inertia and mechanical motion in the area. This type of motion capture doesn’t just apply to the body, but can be used to track the facial movements and expressions of an actor and transfer them to a 3d model later on in the pipeline. The same type of concept of using markers to track motion is used, but more often than not, the actor's face will have painted dots on their face rather than ball shaped markers. Not only is the actor's movements recorded in this process, but the movement of the camera is also recorded, which allows editors to use this data to enhance the environment the motion captured set is imagined in. Once all of this is captured, the motion captured data is mapped to a virtual skeleton using software such as Autodesk's MotionBuilder or other software of choice.
  • Modelling: Creating 3D models of props or characters using specialised software.
  • Animation: Assign movements for any objects and characters in 2D or 3D.
  • Compositing: Combining visual elements from different sources to create the illusion that all those elements are parts of the same scene.


VFX can be categorized into:

See also

Further reading

  • The VES Handbook of Visual Effects: Industry Standard VFX Practices and Procedures, Jeffrey A. Okun & Susan Zwerman, Publisher: Focal Press 2010
  • T. Porter and T. Duff, "Compositing Digital Images", Proceedings of SIGGRAPH '84, 18 (1984).
  • The Art and Science of Digital Compositing (ISBN 0-12-133960-2)
  • McClean, Shilo T. (2007). Digital Storytelling: The Narrative Power of Visual Effects in Film. The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-13465-9.
  • Mark Cotta Vaz; Craig Barron: The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting. San Francisco, Cal.: Chronicle Books, 2002; ISBN 0-8118-3136-1
  • Peter Ellenshaw; Ellenshaw Under Glass – Going to the Matte for Disney
  • Richard Rickitt: Special Effects: The History and Technique. Billboard Books; 2nd edition, 2007; ISBN 0-8230-8408-6.
  • Patel, Mayur (2009). The Digital Visual Effects Studio: The Artists and Their Work Revealed. ISBN 1-4486-6547-7.

External links

This page was last edited on 7 December 2018, at 21:10
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