Created By: Abodos on December 23, 2013 Last Edited By: Abodos on December 31, 2013

Obscured Special Effects

Partially concealing special effects to avoid noticeable Special Effects Failure.

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Let's say the crew behind some movie or TV episode is in charge of portraying a creature, vehicle or object through Special Effects. However, the effects budget, effects technology and/or the skill of the effects team are somewhat lacking. They can't show their special effects asset too often or openly without running into Special Effects Failure, but the nature of the story means that they can't not show the asset and hope the audience will just use their imagination either.

So the solution is to find ways of showing only glimpses of what the special effects team has come up with. This can range from positioning the camera to only show small portions of the object to cloaking the object in heavy rain, fog, smoke or shadow. That way, the audience can get a good idea of what is on-screen without the effects budget being depleted. Furthermore, when the time comes to show the asset fully, the team will have conserved their money for that crucial shot.

This can be a double-edged sword. Done properly, the concealed special effects can build suspense and mystique around the portrayed object while keeping on budget. Done poorly, this can work a lot like the Streisand Effect, in that the concealment can call attention to the fact that the effects aren't up to snuff.

See also Nothing Is Scarier (a trope that shows how using this in horror works especially well). Coconut Superpowers is a Sub-Trope.


Film — Animation

Film — Live-Action
  • Many critics have noted how Godzilla (1998) had all of its New York scenes filmed at night and/or in heavy rain as a means of obscuring the CGI-heavy Godzilla himself.
  • The mechanical shark in Jaws was used sparingly, not so much because it was unconvincing, but because it was malfunctioning all the time. Therefore, Steven Spielberg cut out the parts where the shark was constantly malfunctioning. This decision helped rack up the suspense, making the film all the more effective.
  • The first take of the giant squid fight in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was filmed on a clear day in calm waters, which made the hydraulics moving the squid evident. It was reshot with rain and wind effects to simulate a storm, which along with hiding the mechanisms, also made it more dramatic.
  • Only brief, partial glimpses of the wompa in The Empire Strikes Back were shown, as it let the guy portraying it just have to wear portions of a suit at a time. But for the Special Edition, George Lucas decided to include shots showing the whole creature.

Live-Action Television
  • Many times in Doctor Who:
    • Any time the Sontarans are seen, we only see the faces of a handful of them, while the larger majority are shown wearing their large helmets that imply the presence of their large heads. Same thing with the rhinoceros-headed Judoon, who travel in groups of three or more but only one has his helmet off.
    • "Dinosaurs On A Spaceship" mainly shows its eponymous dinosaurs lurching through the dark, foggy halls of its eponymous spaceship.
    • 'Cold War' mainly portrays Ice Warrior Skaldak in a suit of armor made with practical effects. But when the time comes for scenes where he sneaks through the submarine without his armor, only his arm reaching down from the ceiling is shown most of the time, while a close-up of his face is done in the shadows. Only near the end is his unarmored, unconcealed face seen, and then not even for more than half a minute.
  • A common complaint about Heroes. Many characters had Coconut Superpowers, but others had very flashy powers that they... happened to use just off-screen. Most notably, a fight between the two most powerful characters was shown as just flashes of light visible below a closed door.

Web Original
  • In order to contribute to the Nothing Is Scarier atmosphere, Marble Hornets and other video series in The Slender Man Mythos generally portray Slender Man at night, at a distance, and/or filtered through some Ominous Visual Glitch (the visual and audio glitches are also used to imply his presence even if he isn't actually in the shot). This also helps to hide the fact that Slendy is actually a guy wearing white gloves and a featureless white mask. In fact, one early Marble Hornets entry became somewhat controversial among fans because it didn't try to conceal him and gave viewers too good of a look at him.

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