21 Jan 2021
Top Visual Effects (VFX) Techniques
When it comes to discussing visual effects, people tend to think about Daenerys petting her dragons or Tony Stark crushing his enemies. Actually, visual effects production has engrained in today’s video content creation, overstepping the boundaries of movie-making. VFX are everywhere now, from commercials to product presentation, from music videos to games.
Visual effects are special techniques used to create non-existent objects, fictional creatures, imaginary landscapes, and even bone-rattling actions negating the universal laws of physics. They are usually combined with live-action footage to produce realistic video content. In old films, imaginary scenes were made with the help of tricky physical methods like a multiple exposure or rear projection (used in 2001: A Space Odyssey, for example). However, the digital revolution boiled it down to computer-generated imaginary integrated into footage in the post-production stage.
VFX production is brought into play when actual shooting on a filming location is too expensive, dangerous, time-consuming, or even impossible. Yes, you can shoot a real tornado if you don’t mind chasing one while risking your life. And you can build a copy of Titanic if you are James Cameron with the initial budget of over $ 100 million. But you can have both tornado and Titanic created with computer graphics and then embedded in your video. And that is the key aspect behind VFX – it allows for the implementation of creative ideas in the most suitable way to grab the modern audience’s attention. And today’s audience is rather visually demanding of any type of video content, be it a music clip, a promotional video, or a feature film.
Yet, VFX services aren’t cheap, though they do save money in many scenarios. The costs may range from $25,000 to $35,000 for a 5-minute video, depending on the scope of work. Hollywood producersinclude tens of millions in the VFX budgets, with dozens of studios working on one project. For example, Avengers: Infinity War was created by 15 studios, with the total number of VFX artists reaching 2,080 people. So, many dedicated specialists are involved in the process of creating visual effects, and you will understand which and why as you will proceed with the article.
In the first place, let’s sort out where video visual effects start and special effects end. And no, they are not the same, though they often go hand in hand. Here is a simple example illustrating the difference. Say, you need rain in your video. You have several options:
to wait for a rainy day – no effects;
to create rain with the help of a hose – special effects;
to ask a visual effects artist for the rendering of rain in computer graphics – visual effects;
to use a hose on a production set and add computer-generated clouds to the footage later for a more realistic feel – SFX+VFX.
So, SFX is filmed right on set with real stage props or actors. VFX is a combination of real-life footage with added CGI.
Well, VFX is mostly associated with post-production, but it doesn’t mean you need to think of it only after filming is completed. Quite the contrary – you should start choosing a VFX outsourcing service provider right after your project is green-lighted. If you fail to do it, you are likely to face many problems with incorporating visual effects into your video coupled with time-wasting and going over your budget. That’s because the process of creating visual effects accompanies the whole video production flow, from the preparatory stage to the final result. We have collected seven techniques showing how VFX is integrated into the different stages and what outcomes you can get from them.
Making a storyboard is an old good method to get prepared for shooting. Nevertheless, computer-generated simulation of scenes provides even more opportunities to convert ideas into realization without a hitch. It is especially true for complex scenes with SFX and VFX, which require careful planning. Previsualization allows experimenting with staging, lighting, camera movement, and other aspects at the pre-production stage to reduce costs and time expenditures while ensuring the best possible result. Some of the finest pre-visualized sequences were created for Avatar, Life of Pi, and World War Z.
This technology serves to combine live-action footage with a painted environment when it is impossible to shoot real-life objects or too costly to recreate them through set construction.VFX graphics help depict a castle of elves or landscapes of Mars using 2D or 3D digital tools. Modern matte painting allows for any manipulations with background images and any combination of shooting on location with computer graphics. It is perfectly demonstrated by the example of Martin Scorsese's Casino, where it was necessary to reproduce the neon street lighting of Las Vegas in the 1970s.
When there are actors filmed on set and a computer-generated background from the previous passage, how are they blended together for a viewer to perceive the whole scene as real? Here is where compositingsteps forward to glue multiple layers together and deliver a seamless, realistic image that, in fact, has never existed. A compositing artist from a VFX production house will use various technologies like chroma key, camera tracking, or match moving to ensure the perfect consistency of final visuals, similar to that we all enjoy in Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter movies.
Any object that is supposed to move somehow in your video needs to be animated (if it is not a live creature, of course). The animation is a diverse world of techniques, starting from motion graphics used to add movement to text or abstract shapes and ending with motion capture for creating highly realistic computer-generated images. You can get snow or explosion thanks to particle VFX simulation or insert a 3D dragon into your footage – after the creature is digitally modeled, rigged, skinned, textured, and set in motion to look just like in How to Train Your Dragon.
It is a famous technique of combining several images where an object filmed is located on a monochromatic background replaced by another image in post-production. This term is also used to refer to the background itself, which is usually green or blue. The choice is explained by the fact that these colors don’t match human skin tones. However, the background can be red or yellow as well, depending on the task set by the director, the equipment characteristics, and the colors of clothes and objects to be caught on camera. Objects are separated from a green or blue screen during the process called keying, with the results seen in Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber’s I Don't Care.
Hello, The Matrix! The now-iconic scenes with “frozen” bullets gave the name to this technique for creating the illusion of transformed time and space. A VFX studio can create the effect of the camera and the viewer hovering around an object that seems to stop or slow down while actually rapidly moving. It doesn’t need to be a bullet but the moment of a jump or fall, for example.The effect can be obtained by replacing a video camera with several dozen still cameras following the trajectory of planned shooting and firing sequentially.The resulting set of single shots is combined into a video sequence, creating the illusion of continuous movement.
While moving from one scene to another can be implemented through a trivial cut, transition effects are great for adding spice to your VFX motion graphics, a music clip, or any other video content. Transitions have the power to create a certain mood, bring in dynamics, or control the pace of your film – everything depends on the director’s idea and VFX artists’ skills. The result of their work is shown through the Do What You Can promo for Samsung crafted by Frender.
To better understand some of the techniques described above, see how they are implemented in the Planet of the Apes series:
Over 1,500 shots were pre-visualized for Rise.
Matte painting allowed adding a computer-generated model of the Golden Gate Bridge to a physical set.
The apes, horses, and other minor objects were created digitally through motion capture and hand animation.
The fur and snow required plenty of particle simulation.
Surely, it is not the whole story, but we hope you’ve got the idea behind visual effects production.