May 13, 2021

There are a lot of movies that we remember because they have the best visual effects.

VFX (visual effects) is a process of manipulating live-action film. A lot of people immediately think of CGI (computer-generated imagery) as synonymous with VFX when in reality it’s just a subcategory. It was first used in 1895 by Alfred Clark to depict the beheading of the infamous Mary, Queen of Scots. This was simply done by cutting the film right before the axe reached the actress’s head and filming the rest with a dummy. Yes it’s ridiculously easy to do nowadays, but it’s still manipulation of live-action film.

Mechanical effects (better known as practical effects) go hand-in-hand with visual effects since they’re utilized during the shooting. Due to ever-evolving technology, these often age much better when it comes to films created during and after the digital revolution. Kubrick’s magnificent work on 2001: A Space Odyssey looks as good as new even though it was released over fifty years ago. Be it makeup or pyrotechnics, mechanical effects will be forever timeless.

Motion capture is an extremely popular VFX technique that records the movement of real objects or people. These recordings are then translated into computer animation. If you see some weird CGI creature moving just like a human in a film, that’s motion capture.

Compositing involves combining several different images into one clear picture. Greenscreen is the most well-known use of compositing, since it directly involves a background being projected behind items and people in front of it. There are some extremely old compositing methods that go back as far as the films of Georges Melies, and most modern films just use digital image manipulation.

Landscaping is done through either 2D or CGI modeling, although CGI modeling is far more common nowadays. Although I’ll always love the beautiful aesthetic of hand-painted backdrops in films such as Black Narcissus, CGI modeling has gotten so inexpensive and sophisticated with incredible lighting and detail. From a technological standpoint, they’re extremely impressive.

Finally, animation! Yes, animation in general is considered a visual effect. Animated films are 100% visual effects, technically. It is common for animators to utilize both 2D and 3D in modern works, tracing all the way back to the visually spectacular Akira. Both CG animation and its older, flatter brother have always been improving and continue to improve, with incredible feats such as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, The Garden of Words, and the Kizumonogatari trilogy.


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