If you’ve seen a movie where a wizard fights a fiery demon, spaceships soar between planets, or superheroes assemble to battle a universe-threatening villain, you’ve seen special effects in action.
Perhaps you’ve wondered how they did it. Maybe you assumed it required tremendous amounts of time, technology, and money.
That’s not always the case. Some special effects are easy to achieve and have been used by filmmakers throughout the past century. Here are a few tricks Hollywood uses to create movie magic.
Filming a fantasy world with giants, elves, and leprechauns, but none showed up when you put out a casting call? That’s okay because forced perspective can fill your movie with creatures of all sizes through the camera and prop placement.
For instance, whenever you saw a human interacting with a hobbit in the Lord of the Rings movies, the latter was an actor seated several feet behind and away from the former, with the camera set at an angle to give the impression of a face-to-face discussion.
Done right, it’s a cheap and impressive special effect.
- Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
- Viggo Mortensen, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis (Actors)
Green Screen/Blue Screen
Green screen and blue screen are omnipresent in movies and TV, allowing directors to shoot in any setting, realistic or otherwise.
Both depend on a postproduction technique called chroma key, which relies on a process known as compositing.
In this process, the filmmaker shoots two separate films. One involves a subject, filmed in front of a flat, vibrant green or dark blue screen, and the other features a separate backdrop image or series of images.
These are combined with a computer program that removes anything green or blue.
The newly blank space can be replaced with anything—still or moving images or computer-generated imagery.
That’s how you end up with superheroes soaring through space or a weatherperson standing in front of a map.
The term bullet time was originally coined for the movie that made the technique famous, The Matrix.
Another term is time slicing, which describes the way the camera (which can be real or virtual) pans around a subject in normal time while normally unfilmable events (such as speeding bullets, rushing vehicles, and other too-fast objects) standstill.
- Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
- Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss (Actors)
Originally, bullet time was achieved with a series of cameras positioned around a subject and activated simultaneously or sequentially.
Today, computer programs can provide the same effect, as well as other classic tricks Hollywood uses to create movie magic, without shooting a single foot of film.
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