The illusions used in the
film, television, theater, or entertainmentindustries to simulate the imagined events in a story are traditionally called special effects (a.k.a. SFX, SPFX, or simply FX).
Special effects are traditionally divided into the categories of optical effects and mechanical effects. With the emergence of digital film-making tools a greater distinction between special effects and
visual effectshas been recognized, with "visual effects" referring to digital post-production and "special effects" referring to on-set mechanical effects and in-camera optical effects.
Optical effects (also called photographic effects), are techniques in which images or film frames are created photographically, either "in-camera" using
multiple exposure, mattes, or the Schüfftan process, or in post-production processes using an optical printer. An optical effect might be used to place actors or sets against a different background.
Mechanical effects (also called practical or physical effects), are usually accomplished during the live-action shooting. This includes the use of mechanized props,
scenery, scale models, pyrotechnicsand Atmospheric Effects: creating physical wind, rain, fog, snow, clouds etc. Making a car appear to drive by itself, or blowing up a building are examples of mechanical effects. Mechanical effects are often incorporated into set design and makeup. For example, a set may be built with break-away doors or walls, or prosthetic makeupcan be used to make an actor look like a monster.
Since the 1990s,
computer generated imagery(CGI) has come to the forefront of special effects technologies. CGI gives film-makers greater control, and allows many effects to be accomplished more safely and convincingly -- and even, as technology marches on, at lower costs. As a result, many optical and mechanical effects techniques have been superseded by CGI.
Oscar Gustave Rejlandercreated the world's first "trick photograph" by combining different regions of 32 other photographs into a single image. In 1895, Alfred Clark created what is commonly accepted as the first-ever special effect on film. While filming a reenactment of the beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots, Clarke instructed an actor to step up to the block in Mary's costume. As the executioner brought the axe above his head, Clarke stopped the camera, had all of the actors freeze, and had the person playing Mary step off the set. He placed a Mary dummy in the actor's place, restarted filming, and allowed the executioner to bring the axe down, severing the dummy's head. “Such… techniques would remain at the heart of special effects production for the next century” (Rickitt, 10).
This was not only the first use of trickery in the cinema, it was the first type of photographic trickery that could only be done in a motion picture, i.e. the "stop trick".
In 1896, French magician
Georges Mélièsaccidentally discovered the same "stop trick." According to Melies, his camera jammed while filming a street scene in Paris. When he screened the film, he found that the "stop trick" had caused a truck to turn into a hearse, pedestrians to change direction, and men turn into women. Melies, the stage manager at the Theatre Robert-Houdin, was inspired to develop a series of more than 500 short films, between 1914, in the process developing or inventing such techniques as multiple exposures, time-lapsephotography, dissolves, and hand painted colour. Because of his ability to seemingly manipulate and transform reality with the cinematograph, the prolific Méliès is sometimes referred to as the "Cinemagician." His most famous film, "Le Voyage dans la lune" (1902), a whimsical parody of Jules Verne's " From the Earth to the Moon", featured a combination of live action and animation, and also incorporated extensive miniatureand matte paintingwork.
During the 1920s and 1930s, special effects techniques were improved and refined by the motion picture industry. Many techniques were modifications of illusions from the theater (such as
pepper's ghost) and still photography (such as double exposure and mattecompositing). Rear projectionwas a refinement of the use of painted backgrounds in the theater – only substituting moving pictures to create moving backgrounds.
But several techniques soon developed that, like the "stop trick", were wholly original to motion pictures.
Animation, creating the illusion of motion, was accomplished with drawings (most notably by Winsor McCayin " Gertie the Dinosaur") and with three-dimensional models (most notably by Willis O'Brienin "The Lost World" and "King Kong"). Many studios established in-house "special effects" departments, which were responsible for nearly all optical and mechanical aspects of motion-picture trickery.
Also, the challenge of simulating spectacle in motion encouraged the development of the use of
miniatures. Naval battles could be depicted with models in studio tanks, and airplanes could be flown (and crashed) without risk of life and limb. Most impressively, miniatures and matte paintingscould be used to depict worlds that never existed. Fritz Lang's film "Metropolis" was an early special effects spectacular, with innovative use of miniatures, matte paintings, the Schüfftan process, and complex compositing.
An important innovation in special-effects photography was the development of the
optical printer. Essentially, an optical printer is a projector aiming into a camera lens, and it was developed to make copies of films for distribution. Until Linwood G. Dunn, A.S.C. refined the design and use of the optical printer, effects shots were accomplished as in-camera effects. Dunn demonstrating that it could be used to combine images in novel ways and create new illusions. One early showcase for Dunn was Orson Welles' " Citizen Kane", where such locations as Xanadu (and some of Gregg Toland, A.S.C.'s famous ' deep focus' shots) were essentially created by Dunn's optical printer.
The development of color photography required greater refinement of effects techniques. Also, color enabled the development of such "travelling matte" techniques as
bluescreenand the sodium vapor process. Many films became landmarks in special-effects accomplishments: " Forbidden Planet" used matte paintings, animation, and miniature work to create spectacular alien environments. In "The Ten Commandments", Paramount's John P. Fulton, A.S.C., multiplied the crowds of extras in the Exodus scenes with careful compositing, depicted the massive constructions of Rameses with models, and split the Red Seain a still-impressive combination of travelling mattes and water tanks. Ray Harryhausenextended the art of stop-motion animation with his special techniques of compositing to create spectacular fantasy adventures such as Jason and the Argonauts(whose climax, a sword battle with seven animated skeletons, is considered a landmark in special effects).
The Science Fiction Boom
If one film could be said to have established a new high-water mark for special effects, it would be 1968's "", directed by
Stanley Kubrick, who assembled his own effects team ( Douglas Trumbull, Tom Howard, Con Pedersen and Wally Veevers) rather than use an in-house effects unit. In this film, the spaceship miniatures were highly detailed and carefully photographed for a realistic depth of field. The shots of spaceships were combined through hand-drawn rotoscopes and careful motion-control work, ensuring that the elements were precisely combined in the camera-- a surprising throwback to the silent era, but with spectacular results. Backgrounds of the African vistas in the "Dawn of Man" sequence were combined with soundstage photography via the then-new front projectiontechnique. Scenes set in zero-gravity environments were staged with hidden wires, mirror shots, and large-scale rotating sets. The finale, a voyage through hallucinogenic scenery, was created by Douglas Trumbullusing a new technique termed slit-scan. Even today, the effects scenes remain impressive, realistic, and awe-inspiring.
The 1970s provided two profound changes in the special effects trade. The first was economic: during the industry's recession in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many studios closed down their in-house effects houses. Many technicians became freelancers or founded their own effects companies, sometimes specializing on particular techniques (opticals, animation, etc.).
The second was precipitated by the blockbuster success of two science fiction and fantasy films in 1977.
George Lucas's "" ushered in an era of fantasy films with expensive and impressive special-effects. Effects supervisor John Dykstra, A.S.C. and crew developed many improvements in existing effects technology. They developed a computer-controlled camera rig called the "Dykstraflex" that allowed precise repeatability of camera motion, greatly facilitating travelling-matte compositing. Degradation of film images during compositing was minimized by other innovations: the Dykstraflex used VistaVisioncameras that photographed widescreenimages horizontally along stock, using far more of the film per frame, and thinner-emulsion filmstocks were used in the compositing process. The effects crew assembled by Lucas and Dykstra was dubbed Industrial Light and Magic, and since 1977 has spearheaded most effects innovations.
That same year,
Steven Spielberg's film " Close Encounters of the Third Kind" boasted a finale with impressive special effects by 2001 veteran Douglas Trumbull. In addition to developing his own motion-control system, Trumbull also developed techniques for creating intentional " lens flare" (the shapes created by light reflecting in camera lenses) to provide the film's undefinable shapes of flying saucers.
The success of these films, and others since, has prompted massive studio investment in effects-heavy fantasy films. This has fuelled the establishment of many independent effects houses, a tremendous degree of refinement of existing techniques, and the development of new techniques such as CGI. It has also encouraged within the industry a greater distinction between special effects and
visual effects; the latter is used to characterize post-production and optical work, while "special effects" refers more often to on-set and mechanical effects.
Introduction of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI)
A recent and profound innovation in special effects has been the development of
computer generated imagery, or CGI, which has changed nearly every aspect of motion picture special effects. Digital compositing allows far more control and creative freedom than optical compositing, and does not degrade the image like analog (optical) processes. Digital imagery has enabled technicians to create detailed models, matte "paintings," and even fully-realized characters with the malleability of computer software.
The most spectacular use of CGI has been the creation of photographically-realistic images of fantasy creations. Images could be created in a computer using the techniques of animated cartoons or model animation. (In 1993, stop-motion animators working on the realistic dinosaurs of
Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park" were retrained in the use of computer input devices.) By 1995, films such as " Toy Story" underscored that the distinction between live-action films and animated films was no longer clear. Other landmark examples include a moving stained-glass window in " Young Sherlock Holmes", a tentacle of water in " The Abyss", the remastered Yodafrom Attack of the Clones, a 'liquid metal' villain in "", and hordes of armies of fantastic creatures in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
Planning and use
Although most special effects work is completed during
post-production, it must be carefully planned and choreographed in pre-productionand production. A Visual effects supervisoris usually involved with the production from an early stage to work closely with the Director and all related personnel to achieve the desired effects.
Live special effects
Live special effects are effects that are used in front of a live audience. Mostly during sporting events, concerts and corporate shows. Types of effects that are commonly used include a laser lighting, CO2 effects,
pyrotechnics, confettiand other atmospheric effects such as bubbles and snow.
Visual special effects techniques in rough order of invention
* matte paintings
* optical printing
motion control photography
* Audio-Animatronic models
Notable special effects companies
* [http://www.HollywoodSnowFX.com/ "Hollywood SnowFX] (Hollywood, USA | Karachi, Pakistan | Dubai, UAE | Macau, China)
* [http://www.RPIEntertainment.com/ "RPI Entertainment & Media Group] (Hollywood, USA | Karachi, Pakistan | Dubai, UAE | Macau, China)
* [http://www.airmagicfx.com/ "Airmagic Special Effects"] (Toronto, ON, Canada)
Animal Logic" (Sydney, AU and Venice, CA)
* [http://www.artofconfusion.be/ "Art of Confusion] (BE)
Bird Studios" (London UK)
BUF Compagny" (Paris FR)
CA Scanline" (München, DE)
Digital Domain" (Venice, LA, CA, US)
Double Negative (VFX)" (London, UK)
DreamWorks" (LA, CA, US)
Flash Film Works" (LA, CA, US)
Framestore CFC" (London, UK)
Giantsteps" (Venice, CA)
Hydraulx" (Santa Monica, LA, US)
Image Engine" (Vancouver, BC, CA)
Industrial Light and Magic", founded by George Lucas to bring his StarWars saga to the silver screen. ILM is a pioneer in various Fx disciplines and is one of the oldest and most respected effects companies in the world.
Intelligent Creatures" (Toronto, ON, CA)
Intrigue FX" Canada
* [http://www.keyspecialeffects.co.uk/ "Key Special Effects] (UK)
M5 Industries" (San Francisco)
Mac Guff" (LA, CA, US; Paris, FR)
MagicSnow Systems" (Hollywood, CA, US)
*"The Mill" (London, UK; NY and LA, US)
Moving Picture Company" (Soho, London, UK)
* [http://www.nimbacreations.com/ "Nimba Creations"] (UK)
Rhythm and Hues Studios" (LA, CA, US)
RIOT" (Santa Monica, CA and Manhattan, NY, USA)
Rising Sun Pictures" (Adelaide and Sydney, AU)
Sony Pictures Imageworks" (Culver City, CA, USA)
Strictly FX" - live special effects company
Surreal World" (Melbourne, AU)
Tippett Studio" (Berkeley, CA, US)
Vision Crew Unlimited"
Weta Digital", a New Zealand-based company that has worked on such films as King Kong and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Zoic Studios" (Culver City, CA, US)
* [http://www.cinefex.com/ "Cinefex"] magazine
* [http://www.ascmag.com/magazine_includes/index.php "American Cinematographer"] magazine
* "Special Effects: The History and Technique" by Richard Rickitt
* "Movie Magic: The History of Special Effects in the Cinema" by
*"Techniques of Special Effects Cinematography" by
Raymond Fielding(For many years, the standard technical reference. Current edition 1985)
* [http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/specialfx2/ Special Effects: Titanic and Beyond] The online companion site to the NOVA documentary (especially notable are the [http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/specialfx2/timeline.html timeline] and [http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/specialfx2/glossary.html glossary] )
* 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)
*cite book |first=Shilo T.|last=McClean| title=Digital Storytelling: The Narrative Power of Visual Effects in Film | year=2007 | publisher=
The MIT Press| id=ISBN 0-262-13465-9
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Look at other dictionaries:
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special effect — specialusis efektas statusas T sritis radioelektronika atitikmenys: angl. special effect vok. Trickeffekt, m rus. специальный эффект, m pranc. effet spécial, m … Radioelektronikos terminų žodynas
special effect — special effects N COUNT: usu pl In film, special effects are unusual pictures or sounds that are created by using special techniques. ...a Hollywood horror film with special effects that are not for the nervous. Syn: SFX … English dictionary
special effect — special ef fect n [C usually plural] an unusual image or sound that has been produced artificially to be used in a film or television programme … Dictionary of contemporary English
special effect — special ef fect noun count usually plural an unusual image or sound in a movie, created artificially using various technical methods … Usage of the words and phrases in modern English
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