Obscured Special Effects
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
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.
Sometimes this approach is executed intentionally for artistic reasons. Budget may not be the issue, but audience expectations and prejudices may be, especially when it comes to certain genres. This may be a drama story which just happens to include fantastic elements that the creator wishes to minimize, at least onscreen. As a result, the focus remains on the acting, characters, and story. It also serves to avoid having the film or show be categorized as just another science fiction or fantasy, genres that many viewers and critics view negatively
. This approach is often found in Fantastic Romance
, frequently those involving time travel
See also Nothing Is Scarier
(a trope that shows how using this in horror works especially well). Coconut Superpowers
is a Sub-Trope
. Contrast Gratuitous Special Effects
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.
- Star Wars:
- The above is the same reason why so little is seen of the garbage compactor monster in A New Hope. A full animatronic was built and primed for the creature, but it ended up looking so dumb and fake that in the final cut, we don't see much more of it than bunch of flailing tentacles.
- Only brief, partial glimpses of the wampa in The Empire Strikes Back were shown, as it let the guy portraying it just wear portions of a suit at a time. But for the Special Edition, George Lucas decided to include shots showing the whole creature. Same thing with the aquatic creature that swallows and spits out R2-D2 on Dagobah.
- The first take of the giant squid fight in Twenty Thousand 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.
- Most of the time the aliens are shown in Monsters, at least one of several things occurs: we see small portions of them, they are shown through blurry amateur video or night vision, or they are seen when it is very dark. This was done to conserve the very low budget for the few shots where we do see the whole creature unobscured. Plus, anything more elaborate would have been a nightmare for director Gareth Edwards, who did all the special effects by himself with off-the-shelf software.
- The 1988 film adaptation of Heart of a Dog only shows Sharik in his initial dog form and in the later stages of his transformation into a human, where he could be portrayed by human actors in makeup. The way he appears in the initial stages of his transformation, which the original novel describes as him looking like a freakishly-proportioned dog beginning to walk on its hind legs, were obscured by the curtain around his hospital bed to avoid having to show anything other than a furry arm.
- The Xenomorphs in the Alien movies are often shown in the dark or not shown in full at all, allowing the audience to fill in the blanks themselves. Alien: Resurrection makes the Conspicuous CG of the otherwise practical creatures obvious by having them do things such as swimming or climbing ladders.
- One major action scene near the midpoint of Alone in the Dark (2005) has the heroes fighting off a wave of superpowered humans and Xenomorph-like monsters. While the human foes are shown unobscured, the monsters are only seen when gunfire flashes briefly illuminate the unlit room.
- The Terminator has the title character wear his iconic Cool Shades in part so the movie doesn't have to use the practical effects to portray his exposed red robot eye in the latter half of the movie.
- This was done for The Thing (1982), not because the effects were unconvincing, but because it was scarier. The complete lack of this obscurity in the prequel was cited as one of its weaker points.
- Most of the conjuration (Coffee summoning) and transformation (Bruce changing clothes, transforming his car and enlarging his girlfriend's boobs) in Bruce Almighty takes place off-screen, presumably to avoid the infinite power of God looking like bad CGI.
- When we do finally see the yeti in The Abominable Snowman, they're mostly in shadow.
- The Signal (2014): Nic covers up his transparent legs with tape and sheets so he doesn't have to look at them. Of course this saves on the special effects costs, too - considering he's a main character. Also note that while Nic's legs are cool and see-through, Jonah's hands are not. This allows for them to be simply practical-effect gloves for the actor to wear. Note they even save on him wearing those by having him wear the biosuit gloves even after the reveal.
- In The Hunt for Red October, the underwater shots of the subs never take place in shallow or well-lit water so the CGI could be masked.
- In The Troll Hunter, the trolls are primarily seen in the dark and through a night-vision camera.
- Done for the opposite reason in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: When the filmmakers saw the footage of the animatronic human sacrifice being lowered into the flames, they decided it looked too real, and added some flames to the foreground to make it harder to see.
- Many times in Doctor Who:
- Classic series:
- In "The Daleks", we never get to see the creature inside the Dalek casing, save for a blink-and-you-miss-it shot of a dark hand-like organ twitching underneath a coat. This was because they'd already blown all the budget on building loads of Daleks, but it fortunately worked as Nothing Is Scarier horror as well. The "Dalekmania" tie-in media intentionally censored the appearance of the mutant in its Dalek cross-section diagrams for these reasons.
- We very rarely see the TARDIS materialise in the Hartnell stories, because the special effect (a Stop Trick with a fade) was incredibly difficult to do at that time (the BBC could only afford two edits per episode, and the effect required an edit). Usually, we see the crew in the TARDIS interior while the sound effect plays, the Doctor confirms that it's safe outside and opens the doors, we see a glimpse of the new location through the doors from the crew's perspective, and we then cut to the characters emerging outside, seeing the TARDIS already standing wherever it is. Eventually, as technology improved, the effect became easy and cheap to do to the point where the effect could be used to introduce Doctor Who actors appearing on chat shows or Blue Peter and so on — the TARDIS is shown materialising and dematerialising whenever necessary with no fanfare by Tom Baker's tenure. Even reconstructions of Missing Episodes can animate this one with a bit of clever Photoshop and a fade...
- In "The Web Planet", scenes with the Zarbi are shot through a greased lens in an attempt to obscure how unconvincing the cheap ant costumes are. It doesn't work, mostly because they have a pair of hilariously human legs in trousers and shoes sticking out.
- The Knockout Gas used by the Atlanteans in "The Underwater Menace" is invisible — although this overlaps with Fridge Brilliance, because the Doctor explains it's high-pressure nitrogen, presumably to invoke the famous diving hazard of "the bends" where nitrogen under high pressure begins to act on the body like laughing gas (of course, in reality you'd probably just suffocate, but it goes with the undersea theme of the episode quite well).
- In "The Spearhead from Space", the enemies are Autons, sapient and malevolent shop window dummies. The BBC didn't have the budget at the time to show the dummies breaking the glass, so instead we just cut to the faces of shocked onlookers while the sound effect plays. This was gleefully played with in the New series Auton episode ("Rose"), in which they did have the budget to break the glass, and so we got several pornographic, slow-motion shots showing the Autons doing it again and again...
- In "The Mind of Evil", a hallucination of a woman transforming into a dragon is only shown in an extreme closeup of her face. The intention was to show more but the dragon costume was absolute Nightmare Retardant, forcing the director to rely on showing only its decent-looking head. Similarly, the Skarasen in "Terror of the Zygons" was obscured as much as it possibly could be due to the awful prop used, shown only in quick flashes of its scales or head closeups.
- New series:
- 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.
- The New Paradigm Daleks are rarely shown moving, because the awkward design made them very difficult for the operators - too small to stand up in, too big to sit down in without being blind.
- "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.
- Vastra, a lizard-like humanoid, wears a long face-covering black veil most of the time. This makes sense from a story perspective, but has the upshot that she doesn't have to wear her extensive makeup in those shots.
- In "Flatline", Clara busts up a wall using a sledgehammer - only the wall is *just* out-of-shot and we never see any actual damage.
- 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.
- The "Vampires Exploding into Dust After Being Staked" effect on Buffy the Vampire Slayer cost $5,000 per use. As a result, the majority of vampires (especially in the first few seasons) are staked just off-screen, with the disintegration sound-effect playing. By the time the show's budget had been raised to a point where they could afford to use it every time (and the cost of CGI had been reduced by a significant figure), vampires had long ceased to be the main threat on the show—which, naturally, let Buffy kill scads of them when they infrequently showed up.
- In earlier episodes, when vampires shifted to vamp face, the actual shift usually occurred off-screen. As the show's budget increased, vamping out onscreen became more common. Furthermore, in many cases you can tell the shift is something of a "jump cut" between pre-makeup and post-makeup; once Season 2 comes around, the "game face" effect is a more gradual, CGI-based shift.
- There's an episode of the spinoff Angel, where Wesley and Gunn fight a two-headed, fire-breathing, twenty-foot tall monster. Neither it nor the battle is shown on screen. This might be because it wasn't particularly crucial to the plot. An earlier episode featured the Haxil Beast, a huge demon that was nonetheless shown on-screen for quite a while.
- This is done with invisibility in one episode early on in the show's run. We get one quick CGI shot of a floating baseball bat and at one point the invisible character hits another character with a baseball bat... the hand of which is just off-screen.
- Another one relating to the seventh season. The Big Bad can take the form of anyone that has died and its true form is only seen a couple of times. Quite lucky that Buffy herself has died twice in the show's continuity, which means that Sarah Michelle Gellar could easily double up and appear as the First when they didn't want to stretch the budget by bringing back old cast members for every episode.
- Fairly often in Metal Gear, a shot will be done in a slightly strange way to avoid showing something difficult to animate in a game, usually things that involve textures or models changing gradually, when the easiest way to do it is with the textural equivalent of the Stop Trick -
- In Metal Gear Solid, Meryl's gunshot wounds are obscured with white flashes as the texture switches.
- In Metal Gear Solid 2, there's a part where Vamp slices himself across the chest in closeup. The actual 'slicing' is obscured cleverly by his arm as the sound effect plays. It's actually really difficult to tell it's hidden unless you're looking for it.
- In Metal Gear Solid 3, the Boss pulling her shirt open is shown from behind, before cutting to her front to show her scar.
- In Metal Gear Solid 4, when Drebin writes 'RAT PT 01' on the floor in chalk, we only see his face while he's writing, and then cut to the completed text.
- In Doc Louis's Punch-Out!!, if you knock Doc's chocolate bar out of his hands, he'll take off his red jacket, revealing a leopart-print shirt. Of course, we only see Doc opening up his jacket before cutting to Little Mac's reaction. When we cut back to Doc, he's already tossing his jacket away.
- Whenever one character hands another character something in Star Wars: The Old Republic, expect the cutscene to be framed shoulders-up. The player can see just enough body language to get the "one person gives the other an item; the other accepts it" gesture without at any point seeing the item they're supposedly exchanging. (Which, needless to say, is because the item isn't rendered and often doesn't have a world model in the first place.)
- Transformation effects, like the "cybernecrotic" infection on Tatooine, are commonly shown either offscreen or in violent bursts of light to conceal the exact moment of the transition, allowing the developers to use a "before" and "after" model without any complicated blending.
- If an item exchange is occurring in Mass Effect, there's a 99% chance it will have this in effect, to the same degree as in the above example (which isn't surprising as they were both made by Bioware). A frequent example is a character giving another a Datapad, as well as items in the first game that are given but only implied, yet are given vector icons in the Missions screen. The Prothean Trinket given to you by the Consort is another notable example.
- In Starcraft II Heart Of The Swarm, one of the cinematics involves a Dominion Battlecruiser launching Drop Pods. The part of the ship from which they are launched is covered in fog, most likely because on the stock model used for the cinematics, the pods are much smaller.
- 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.
- Noob is set in a fantasy video game, but any enemy that can't be rendered by putting someone in a costume will not be seen and happen to be a fire-breather with only its attack showing onscreen.