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What are 'Visual Effects' (VFX) and what could it mean to your film?

The words 'Visual Effects' (VFX) can be confusing to many filmmakers. Well, maybe not confusing, but many more misunderstood, with a little confusion rolled in.

For a lot of people, VFX means films with CGI or explosions or sci-fi scenes etc. And they wouldnt be wrong. They are the VFX of a film.


They are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what VFX are in films. And it's quite likely that many of the films over the last 10 or so years have had small VFX in some scenes, or even a lot of VFX in many of the scenes. And it's highly probable that you never noticed them.

This type of VFX is called Invisible VFX.

Types of invisible VFX include, but not limited to:

Trees and bushes
Rustling leaves
flapping flags
moving birds and animals
clean-up work
matte paintings
cheering crowds
CG cars
digital insertion of features like lampposts, bushes, cars, planes, buildings

Basically, invisible VFX enhance a scene/shot to make it look more believable where using the real 'thing' would not be acheiveable.

There are many times that a scene is shot and only later it is discovered that there is something wrong with the shot. A reflection in a mirror of a crew member, for example, or cables/track/rigging etc is visible. These can be easily fixed with VFX and the viewer will never know it. Invisible VFX.

One of the trickest shots I ever had to fix, as an invisible VFX shot, was a drone flying following the characters being filmed, and it's shadow was inshot. Once fixed, hidden, no one ever knew there had been a shadow of the drone.

So, I just wanted to highlight to filmmakers that they should not be scared of the word VFX and think that it's not relevant to their film, it's quite likely to be of great value at the end of the day.


  • Spot on post Wozy. VFX or Virtual reality is becoming better and cheaper all the time. Huge aspirations can be achieved on smaller budgets. We can thank a billion gamers for that.

    But the ability to apply VR subtlety within the photographic domain, as you explained, extends the tools of grading, colouring and finishing way further.

    As well as VFX being available for photo enhancement throughout I'm certainly thinking about photo realistic recreations of history for our long aspired to semi dramatised feature documentary project. A hundred million look on a one million budget would be lovely:-)

    2 months ago
  • Great insight, John.

    My first foray into VFX was way back in the early 1980s when shooting on actual celluloid film was the only real option. It was expensive, time-consuming but exciting as hell :)

    We had shot a short Star Wars spoof and after the film wrapped, negative was developed and edited, the VFX of laser blasts were needed.

    We considered purchasing a rotoscope type device to try and achieve the desired effects and so went to see one of the only people I knew who could possibly help; Roy Field who did the VFX flying effects for Superman The Movie (1978). Roy and I talked about his rotoscope device option as well as various other options over lunch at Pinewood Studios. And after several hours of humorous, insightful, animated and fascinating conversation, it was time for me to leave, complete with a pounding, yet exciting head full of options to consider.

    After a month or two had passed and a number of hours of research into a reduced list of possible solutions, it became obvious that the vast majority, if not all, were going to be price prohibitive. All except for one!

    We needed laser blasts and lots of them.

    So the only solution left open to us was to scratch the laser blast lines directly into the film positive, frame by frame, for every single blaster fire needed.

    Hundreds and hundreds of frames. Hours, in fact, days and days of painstaking work. And frames that once affected, we would not be able to erase and started again. Well, other than striking a new positive from the master Neg.

    Fast forward 40 odd years... That same challenge can now be accomplished in mear minutes, or hours at most, without even touching the master Neg or struck Pos. In fact, the chance of the actual camera being a film camera is almost Zero!

    For VFX production work, we use an array of industry-standard high-end products from: Foundry - Nuke, NukeX and NukeStudio. Combined with standalone products like Adobe's After Effects, SideFX's Houdini and AutoDesk's Maya, BorisFX's Mocha Pro, PixelFarm's PFTrack, and workflow, project management and review software FTrack Studio. Having this wide toolbox of solutions to choose from, we can then select the right tool for the right job. And we can do it in a highly cost-effective way so as to be able to support filmmakers even on a relatively low budget without having to forego the usual quality requirements.

    So, waffle aside, VFX are available to all filmmakers nowadays for a small fraction of the cost even 10 years ago, let alone 40 odd. And not also forgetting that the important aspect of a fast delivery schedule also being easily achievable in many scenarios.


    Don't be afraid to consider utilising the wide array of solutions that come under the umbrella title, VFX. The previously out of reach £1m or so budget for a films VFX are now available for pennies to the pound.


    2 months ago
  • Scratching laser blasts into each film frame. Love it. Classic

    2 months ago