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So you’re ready for the cool stuff, but what are VFX? FX are visual or sound effects used in film, TV or music. There are many different types and flavors, and they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The important thing is to know your lingo and when in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask questions.

Even though FX is a very broad department encompassing several types of effects, its main goal is to make things look as if they were governed by real life rules. Computer VFX can extend your cinematic world, creating extensions of sets, adding assets like people or vehicles, or creating characters in 2D or 3D – sometimes using images that get projected on set, so all the elements are integrated with one another.

Today some simple VFX are available on popular editing packages. You need to determine if what you need for your production can be handled in this way or if you need a VFX vendor to help. Remember many productions today have 300 or more VFX shots even when the subject matter isn’t something you would expect to be VFX heavy.

You may not realize that there are alternatives regardless of your budget. Remember some VFX techniques were developed in the early years of 35mm film. Some effects may be available to you in your editing software. Image editing software is also available.

The pre-viz stage is very important when designing a film. FX sequences should be story boarded and even made into animatics, if possible. This will save you time and money in the long run.

There are many different categories of VFX:

Simulation: Making a computer rendition of an object or scene act as if it was in the real world.

Dynamics: Different types of software are used to recreate materials and apply them to shots, so that elements act as they would in the real world for example, water, snow, explosions, earthquakes, etc.
Dynamics can also be referred to as FX animation where objects are animated through controlled forces called fields. Animations take place in the virtual world of the computer software. Solvers are mathematical code that tell these forces how to interact with and move objects.

If you are involved in pre-production, you may need to make choices as to the best most cost effective way to create the FX you need. When in doubt ask the experts and don’t hesitate to get multiple quotes.

A note on Dimensions: 2D or 3D?
Remember 2D is only x and y coordinates so objects move along a plane. 3D is xyz coordinates, so you’re working along x, y and z coordinates. Sometimes you can make 2D look like 3D and fool the eye. For example, calligraphy type can easily be achieved in non-linear editing systems today. By making fonts or objects larger or smaller you can make them look like they’re changing depth through three dimensional space.

CGI

CGI (computer-generated imagery) is the creation of still or animated visual content with imaging software. CGI is used to produce images for many purposes including visual art, advertising, anatomical modeling, architectural design, engineering, television shows, video game art and film special effects, as well as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) applications.

CGI is accomplished through various methods. For example, using algorithms to generate fractals can produce complex visual patterns. Another method is painting in a 2D pixel-based image editor and creating shapes to make images, as in a vector-based image editor.

Animation

Animation is the process of by which images are used to create the illusion of motion by the rapid movement of those images in a sequence. Animations can be recorded or stored in various equipment and formats.

There are several different kinds of Animation.
Traditional Animation
In traditional animation, originally in the 18th and 19th centuries, pictures were drawn in sequence and “flipped” to make it look like they moved. In the 20th century, images were created on transparent acetate sheets and photographed by keeping them against a background in the 20th century for motion picture films.
Stop Motion Animation
This type of animation refers to using real world objects and physically manipulating them to create the illusion of movement, frame by frame photography is sometimes used. Examples of stop motion films you may have seen include The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Corpse Bride, Wallace and Gromit, and Coraline.
Computer Animation
As the name suggests these are animations made via the use of computers and software. Computer animation is divided into 2 segments:

2D Animation – Animations like this refer to the manipulation of images and 2d vector graphics.

3D Animation –This animation refers to creating of 3 dimensional graphics. The animator gets a rigged model and works to make the illusion of movement.
Matte Painting – A representation of a landscape, set, or location that allows filmmakers to create the illusion of an environment that is not present on the live action set. Various techniques can be used to combine a matte-painted image with live-action footage. Hopefully, the effect is “seamless” and creates environments that would otherwise be impossible or too expensive to film.

Modeling – Using a specialized software to mathematically render a 3D model of props or characters.

Compositing – Combining visual elements from different sources to create the illusion that all those elements are parts of the same scene. When shooting live action, it can also be referred to as “chroma key”, “blue screen” or “green screen.” Before the digital age, filmmakers had to get creative and composite a shot physically by filming two layers of images at the same time, often using glass paintings and partial sets. A glass painting was a large pane of glass with parts of the scene painted on it and the rest of the glass left blank and held in front of the camera in front of the background in the shot. Another old fashioned method of compositing is to create a multiple exposure. This is done by recording on only one part of each film frame, rewinding the film to exactly the same start point, and exposing a second part. The resulting negative is a composite of both exposures. I need to add how it is done today.

Match-moving – Match-moving allows the insertion of computer graphics into a live action shot, correct position, scale, orientation, and motion relative to the photographed objects in the shot. It can also be referred to as motion tracking or camera solving. A common example is the yellow virtual down line you see on the field of a live football game.

Chroma Key Compositing – “Blue screen” and “green screen” are forms of chroma key compositing used to position subjects in front of a projected background. The subject(s) is filmed in front of a large green or blue backdrop, then the background is added in during post production. Blue and green are used because they have the most difference from the color of skin, because the color of the screen cannot be the same as the subject in the shot. Green has become more popular in recent years than blue for several reasons. Green has the least similarities to skin tone, so it tends to be the more popular choice, but if a green prop or piece of clothing is necessary, then blue is used instead.

Front Projection Effects – An in-camera visual effects process in film production used for combining foreground performance with pre-filmed background footage.

Rear Projection – Also known as process photography, it is part of many in-camera effects cinematic techniques in film production for combining foreground performances with pre-filmed backgrounds. It was widely used for many years in driving scenes, or to show other forms of “distant” background motion.

Physical Effects- A special effect produced physically, without computer-generated imagery or other post production techniques. In some contexts, “special effect” is used as a synonym of “practical effect”, in contrast to “visual effects” which are created in post-production through photographic manipulation or computer generation. Many of the staples of action movies such as gunfire, bullet wounds, rain, wind, fire, and explosions can all be produced on a movie set by someone skilled in practical effects. Other examples include non-human characters and creatures produced with makeup, prosthetics, masks, and puppets, in contrast to computer-generated images.

Optical Flow – Started as a tool for re-timing shots without producing strobing, and today optical flow is used for tracking, 3D reconstruction, motion blur, auto roto, and dirt removal.

Summary

VFX is generally understood as the combination of live-action footage and imagery created outside the context of a live action shot, such as computer-generated imagery (CGI). VFX shots range from basic image manipulation and compositing to integration of live action with CG to full CG environments, which look realistic. Visual Effects commonly aim to create photo-realistic believable images.

VFX Gotchas

Make sure you watch out for things that could delay your schedule or increase your budget.

Do you have enough storage?
Have you built in time for file transfers?
It’s always great to test in advance. Send a sample file from one vendor to another to make sure there are no problems.
Security – make sure someone can’t steal your files, people love putting stuff up on the internet.
In terms of coverage, do you have everything you need? Shots? Files? Edit lists?

Remember…

Back it up, organize it, learning never stops.