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Coconut Superpowers

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There was a time, not so very long ago, when a fantastic fiction television program could get away with low-budget (and sometimes cheesy) special effects to show that the characters had special powers. Think of all those "flying" Props suspended in mid-air on fishing wire and you have the idea. Unfortunately, today's audiences are much more sophisticated. The days of sending a flying character jumping out of the set's window and then cutting to a cheap Chroma Key effect to show him flying around are long gone.

But here's the rub: the more sophisticated the special effect, the more expensive it is. And that is why, in series that center on people with extraordinary abilities, you'll see a lot of characters saying that they can do amazing things... but you won't often actually see them doing them. The opposite of Mundane Utility in many ways, Coconut Superpowers are any obviously budget-restrained Informed Ability.

Despite the silly connotations, though, it can often spark very interesting workarounds, as it often forces the creators to play things subtle or save the powers for a big moment. Truly inventive uses of this trope can captivate the audience as well as any Visual Effects of Awesome, and certainly more than Special Effect Failure; the Willing Suspension of Disbelief has a lot more flexibility than one would take for granted.

Common variants of this include:

  • Mind-reading, Mind Control, future sight, Super-Senses, and emotion-sensing are almost completely free of this trope, as all they really require is a decent actor to react to the power doing its work, perhaps aided by the Pstandard Psychic Pstance and an occasional Psychic Nosebleed to communicate extreme effort. Telepathy is also mostly free of this, since it can be expressed through voiceover. Because of this, communication-based Psychic Powers are very common in sci-fi. In the case of future sight, it might also require you to film an additional scene, possibly with a filter over it.
  • Teleportation shows up very frequently, because the plain effect of Stealthy Teleportation is as simple as doing a cut, and if the writers want to get Flashy, they just need a light effect or fade-in while the object or person appears.
  • Characters with Super-Strength are usually depicted as easily overwhelming others, as it's easy to pretend that someone is Cherry Tapping everyone in sight. Overt displays of strength will have them rarely lift anything that the actor couldn't lift even if it was made of foam rubber. For a long time, telekinesis-wielders were even more susceptible (can't lift anything that can't be carried by piano wires), but CGI models have taken a lot of the edge off.
  • Conversely, in video games, giving the player telekinesis can be a way to avoid having to animate the character holding items or moving things around.
  • Flight is becoming more common, but before the advent of CGI, it would usually require an actor to sit in a harness and overlay them on a moving background, which is really hard to have looking good. Super-Speed is much the same, minus the harness, though it can also be portrayed by having the character be too fast for the audience to see them move except for a vague blur.
  • Characters with some kind of energy-related ability (fire, lightning, most variants of Pure Energy) are becoming much more common due to energy effects being some of the easier CGI tricks. Prior to that point, they would usually be portrayed via squibs and simplistic overlaid animation, or maybe a flame or Tesla coil effect if the show is particularly daring.
  • Characters with ice powers will rarely use their powers to freeze people or objects solid, turning their powers into "shoot blue beams." They will even more rarely use their powers to create large amounts of ice.
  • Characters with an Imagination-Based Superpower will only create simple props. Sometimes those props have a glow effect.
  • Shapeshifter characters have their work cut out for them, because along with the shapeshifting effect, this power also requires whatever they turned into to be moving around on set. Because of this, a lot of shapeshifters stick with turning into humans, and often only turn into existing characters who can then solve the problem by Acting for Two. Characters who can turn into animals deal with the problems of having trained animals on set, so the ones that do tend to turn into only one or two different animals (just use the same trained one). Characters who turn into something monstrous tend to spend as much time as possible as a human. The shapeshifting effect itself may be obscured or offscreen, and when it isn't, it will usually be a quick "morph" effect.
  • Robotic characters tend to fit the Ridiculously Human Robot or Tin-Can Robot molds, with very little in between. Characters who are clearly robotic but still clearly sophisticated and not a prop or a man in a chunky costume are very rare.
  • Many 80's schlock fantasy films have their great and powerful sorcerers limited to squibs or firepots for fights, and images superimposed on birdbaths for scrying. If they're really trying, you might get some splotches in those colors you see when you look at a lightbulb too closely.
  • In Space Opera shows, you tend to see many encounters with Human Aliens or Rubber-Forehead Aliens, which are the easiest for a human to pull off. Not far down from that is Energy Beings, which can be rendered as a simple glowing blob. Spaceship models also have a tendency to be recycled.
  • Invisibility can be simulated by dubbing the character's voice over the scene, combined with the aforementioned limited "telekinesis" when they pick something up. Additionally, an Invisible Monster can be a good way to ramp up the Paranoia Fuel without needing to actually design a creature. You can just have the actors mime attacking and being attacked. The best part is that despite costing zero dollars, it can end up being really scary and effective if done right.
  • A form of Plot-Demanded Manual Mode, the character IS capable of any of the flashy special effects but due to external circumstances is forced to restrain themselves. This could be due to a Power Nullifier or Kryptonite Factor, though Kryptonite Is Everywhere becomes suspect. It could also be due to a Cover-Blowing Superpower in a Bruce Wayne Held Hostage scenario, keeping them from ending everything quickly to avoid complicated discussions.

Coconut Superpowers are for the most part only averted successfully in fully 2D-animated shows and films, which instead face issues where a given thing can prove hard to draw (i.e. realistic finger movements or horses). It's often not a concern in films, as they usually have larger budgets (though it can still happen; some actions are still hard to animate).

A Sub-Trope of Obscured Special Effects. Compare with Informed Ability. Contrast Useless Superpowers, where the characters could show off and use their powers but they aren't allowed to because it'd resolve the conflicts too easily, and Misapplied Phlebotinum, where the characters do use their special powers but in stupid or unimaginative ways. See also Offscreen Moment of Awesome and Fight Unscene.

The name is a tribute to Monty Python, who couldn't afford the horses or the time to train them and teach the actors how to ride them for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, so they used The Coconut Effect as a joke. This trope has nothing to do with superpowers actually relating to coconuts. Not that kind, either, weirdoes.


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    Film — Animated 
  • Parodied in a The Incredibles DVD Extra, with a horribly low-budget in-universe animated show in which most superpower use is just off-screen. Made even funnier in the commentary on the DVD, which is made by Frozone and Mr. Incredible themselves. Frozone is less than impressed. That cartoon was a parody of Clutch Cargo, a series from the late 1950s which also used Synchro-Vox.
    • In a funny inversion, fantastic superpowers and gigantic explosions are generally a lot easier for computers to render than more mundane, everyday movements like shirt grabs or brushing one's hair. The latter actions occur only a few times over the course of the movie - Pixar's animators pointed to the shot where Bob pokes a finger through a hole in his old suit as the single hardest shot to pull off in the entire film by far. This is at least partly because everyone knows exactly what brushing your hair looks like, and when done wrong it looks jarring. By contrast, how many times have you seen a woman turn into a rubber raft or giant parachute in Real Life?
    • This is also why so many early Pixar films deal with subjects that are easier to animate than humans with normal proportions, hair, and clothing. Toys are supposed to look like plastic, bugs and fish are cartoonish and shiny-skinned, the vast majority of monsters (with one or two big exceptions; many articles of the time talked about the work gone into rendering Sully) are hairless and look completely unrealistic anyway. Even The Incredibles is steeped in a genre that basically goes hand-in-hand with exaggerated designs and tight spandex. It wasn't until their eighth film that they felt comfortable doing an almost entirely human cast (with the only exceptions being covered in fur) wearing normal clothing and in a realistic urban setting for the entire film.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Captain Sindbad (not to be confused with the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad movies), Sinbad must fight an invisible beast in an arena.
  • Supergirl (1984) used the gimmick of having the titular heroine fight an invisible demon. We do get a few brief glimpses of the monster, though.
  • Cat People was a B-movie that had to contend with a werebeast plot. The filmmakers cleverly got around this by not showing the monster, and implying it could be anywhere with camera tricks and sound effects (with the odd shadow thrown in there). For one scene where the animal is stalking two characters in a large room, the studio insisted an animal be seen on camera. They used a panther but shot it in shadow and it never shared the screen with the other two actors. There are other scenes with a panther...that's kept safely in a zoo cage except for one scene towards the end. The film ended up pioneering the Nothing Is Scarier trope that Jaws later popularized.
  • The Darkest Hour takes this to new heights, depicting a massive invasion of the Earth by invisible aliens.
  • In Dreamscape, Dennis Quaid's psychic character is said to have telekinesis, and we see a still movie slide of him levitating a small metal ball bearing. If viewers were expecting him to use this at any point in the film to save himself from a dangerous situation, they were disappointed because the movie focuses on his ability to enter dreams instead.
  • In the adaptation of Generation X, Chamber (who expels hot plasma from his chest) was replaced with Canon Foreigner Refrax (who melts things with his eyes), Husk (who can shed her skin and make new skin out of different materials) became Buff (a teenage girl with an Arnold Schwarzenegger physique; conveniently, her clothing hides all of this supposed muscle), and Mondo's power to take on the texture of materials through physical contact had no corresponding change in his body's appearance. Even M no longer has the ability to fly.
  • Godzilla: Final Wars has the Xilians (aliens from Planet X) disguised as humans for the express purpose of looking less threatening to Earth's native population. When they inevitably turn on the humans, they keep their human disguises, with one character simply remarking that he likes the outfit. That said, the movie had Godzilla fighting almost every monster that's ever appeared in a Showa-era Godzilla film one after another, so no one really cared.
    • Later Heisei-era films showed monsters mostly relying on beam attacks, as their impressive-looking suit designs became too bulky to do any physical moves more complex than "clumsy shuffle" and "wave tiny T-rex arms." Easier to just add some laser effects over the footage than find someone capable of fighting in a two-hundred-pound costume.
  • Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn: Being a web series, the creators had to work with a limited effects budget. Fortunately for them, the games most iconic enemy, the Elites, have invibility as a signature ability. As a result, they were able to create a very tense scene where the cadets hide from an unseen Elite just by periodically knocking over various objects.
  • The Justice League of America pilot movie does this for a lot of the characters, but especially Green Lantern. In the comics, his Power Ring is capable of conjuring up anything he can imagine, while in the film, he conveniently sticks to creating easy-to-render items like chainsaws and umbrellas. Yes. Umbrellas. These are expressed by having the actor hold something and then it being given a green glow effect.
  • In The Scorpion King 2, Mathayus fights an invisible giant scorpion in the climax.
  • The low-budget superhero spoof film The Specials went all the way to the end without showing any powers in use by anyone, reserving those expensive effects for the final moments of the movie (which were more like a curtain call than anything having to do with the plot). This was partially lampshaded by turning the question of just what the new girl's powers actually were into something of a Running Gag.
  • Star Wars:
    • Jedi have harnessed the Force that binds the universe together, but their powers are still limited by what was cheap and easy in the 1970s and 1980s, such as making actors repeat things, speaking in voice-over to each other, and "sensing" things. More budget-heavy feats like moving objects and jumping were still pretty affordable. All of this makes the Emperor's Force lightning that much more of a shock (no pun intended) when he breaks it out in Return of the Jedi.
    • There's a bit of Early-Installment Weirdness at play as well. The Force in the original Star Wars was very different from what it later became. Jedi were more like the Bene Gesserit of Dune, with a bunch of mental tricks to enhance their own performance and influence the minds of others, but with no overt power over the physical world. Even Darth Vader choking Admiral Motti was supposed to be a mental compulsion to stop breathing rather than physical strangulation. This is why people like Han Solo think the Force is 'simple tricks and nonsense'. It wasn't until The Empire Strikes Back that things like telekinesis and physical enhancement started being added to the Jedi repertoire, making Han's statement seem more out of place with each installment.
    • The original Star Wars also featured very little lightsaber content: there's only four scenes with a lightsaber, and in only one does the lightsaber actually cut something (which also lacks the since-common effect of lightsabers burning their wounds). Pretty much every account claims the original lightsaber props were really fragile and known to crack in two, hence why you have Obi-Wan and Vader's rather stiff kendo-style duel instead of the acrobatic Flynning of later films.
  • The Terminator: In the early 80s, an aspiring Canadian director wanted to make a movie about a Robot War in a post-apocalyptic future after seeing a burning metal skeleton in a nightmare. He couldn't get the necessary budget, so he decided to move the action into the present (saving lots of money on the sets) and clothe the robot in human skin (saving lots of money on animatronics). The rest is Future History.
  • Storm and Jean Grey both used their powers far more cautiously in the 2000-2006 X-Men trilogy than in their animated or comic versions. Prolonged flight and telekinesis are still very difficult to film. Not to mention beings made of living ice or metal. Iceman doesn't become a full-fledged X-Man until the third film, likely just so he won't have to use his powers to their fullest, with ice slides, ice projectiles, and ice armor. (He does learn how to do the ice armor at the end of the third film, but it's only shown for about ten seconds.) Also, Colossus only takes on his metal form just as something is about to hit him or he needs to use his strength. Tellingly by the time of X-Men: Days of Future Past and Deadpool (2016), CGI technology had advanced enough to show all the X-Men really cutting loose with their powers.
  • In a non-powers case of this, Deadpool ends up losing his guns and ammo in time for the final battle in Deadpool (2016). By some accounts, this is because the film had a pretty low budget, enough that a big gunfight at the end would blow it.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
    • Tim the Enchanter never gets to show off any of his mighty wizardry powers after his first scene, and vanishes from the plot not long after. By some accounts, that scene (where he causes a bunch of explosions) was the most expensive one in the whole film.
    • Arthur's power and status as a king is limited by the film's minuscule budget; he travels with a small retinue, we only see his castle in a brief musical number, he only calls upon his army at the very end of the film, and so on. This is written into the film's plot itself, as it's made abundantly clear that few people really respect Arthur's claim as king and they mostly just see him as a bossy weirdo with nice clothing. Of course, this all works to the film's benefit—it's absolutely hilarious to see a man in full kingly regalia pretending to ride a horse while another man follows behind him banging halves of a coconut together.
  • Carrie
    • The 1976 film - Carrie in the prom massacre mainly uses her powers to close the doors on their own and control the fire hose. Miss Collins's death by falling basketball board was probably the riskiest stunt in the film. The book notably has the whole town get destroyed in Carrie's rampage, but they didn't have the budget for that, and so she only destroys the school. They ironically did plan to have a more action-packed ending than the book - having the White residence buried in a fall of boulders - but the machine that would have helped with that malfunctioned and so they had to just burn the house down instead.
    • The 2002 film was made after the innovation of CGI, and utilised it for the prom scene. Still though, a good portion of the deaths happen when Carrie drops an electronic scoreboard onto a wet floor and electrocutes everyone. The town's destruction is used in this version...with extremely bad CGI.
    • The 2013 film had modern special effects to benefit from, and adds in things like Carrie knocking everyone down with a psychic shockwave, crushing one student in the bleachers, whipping Tina with floating cables and setting her on fire, and even flying out of the gym. There are also other scenes involving characters being levitated and thrown around by Carrie's powers.
  • The War of the Worlds: Variation: The Fighting-Machines are said to stand on "electromagnetic" legs. In their first appearance onscreen, these legs are visible, but in every subsequent appearance, the effect is implied with flashes of light and camera angles which leave the machines' lower parts just out of frame.
  • Both of Arnie's Conan the Barbarian films contain wizard characters of immense power, who are nonetheless rather non-flashy.
    • In Conan the Barbarian (1982), Thulsa Doom's power repertoire include hypnotic mind control, which he achieves by staring intensely at the victim, turning snakes into arrows, which just requires the actor to handle a snake in one shot and an arrow in the other, and finally turning into a snake, which is a montage of short close-ups of the actor wearing consecutively more make-up and then of an actual snake.
    • In Conan the Destroyer, Thoth-Amn turns into a huge beast, while Akiro the wizard gets into a Wizard Duel with an evil wizard. The first scene simply requires a costumed man to step in, while the second, a telekinetic contest for the control over a door too heavy to lift otherwise, is a montage of actors squinting and the door repeatedly lifting and shutting.
    • That said, neither film was made on a shoe-string budget, nor involves no special effects — but especially in the first one, this arguably adds to the mystique better than flashier scenes would, akin to the lack of actual shark in Jaws.
  • The comedy Miranda (1948) is about a mermaid who wishes to see London. The plot rather conveniently calls for her to keep her tail hidden, which is achieved by just wrapping it up under normal clothes and then being wheeled about in a wheelchair. Thus it minimises the amount of time required Glynis Johns to spend in a prop tail.
  • The oldest Sherlock Holmes film, made in 1900 and called Sherlock Holmes Baffled, one minute long and originally made for the mutoscope, features a teleporting thief who simply disappears and reappears. It's notable for being an early use of teleportation special effects. In this case the effect wasn't achieved by cutting, but by using a technique that had been invented only four years before and what was the first ever motion picture effect: Physically stopping the camera recording, having the actor playing the thief leave or reenter the set while the actor playing Holmes froze in place for a moment, then having the camera start recording again and the actor(s) start moving again.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The 4400. The vast majority of characters had really, really cheap powers. This got really bad with Isabel. She had all possible abilities... and only really used one, telekinesis. Minor powers used include changing her eye color and making a pool warmer. Yet they kept saying she had many amazing powers. Somewhat compensated for by how original and cool many of these cheap powers were, such as a b-movie director who could see the events of the past exactly, so he figured out the Kennedy assassination and a powerful conspiracy... but channeled them solely into horrible, cheesy, low-budget films.
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is an odd place with this, since it's explicitly set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, yet lacks the massive budget those films usually receive:
    • Donnie Gill a.k.a. Blizzard still has ice powers, but they're not nearly as strong as they are in the comics. While his comic counterpart can generate cold blasts, fire ice projectiles, and conjure massive ice slides, the show's version of Donnie mostly sticks to the old "Freeze N' Shatter" technique. Oh, and he now needs to be touching his target in order for his powers to work.
    • In the comics, Calvin Zabo/Mister Hyde possesses the ability to transform into a massive, muscular beast à la The Incredible Hulk. The show has downplayed any of his physical abilities in favor of making him a Badass Normal and Deadpan Snarker. He does transform at the end of Season 2, but the transformation is a relatively minor one.
    • The show did a pretty good job on the Absorbing Man, but with one change: The comic version of Absorbing Man is capable of growing to gigantic heights depending on how much mass the object he's absorbed has. The show downplays the Sizeshifter aspect by having him mostly absorb smaller objects.
    • Thanks to the limited casting and special effects budget (as well as contract and scheduling stuff), none of The Avengers ever show up, despite being referenced constantly. The show was sharply criticized for the Red Skies Crossover with Thor: The Dark World, which despite TV spots to the contrary, had almost nothing to do with the movie. Fans and viewers were expecting to see Coulson and the gang fighting off Dark Elves and CGI beasts; what they got was Coulson and the gang cleaning up some rubble and making a dumb joke about how superheroes never pick up after themselves.
    • Also, despite being a show about S.H.I.E.L.D., the organization's trademark Helicarriers were off-limits due to being too expensive to show onscreen. The only Helicarrier we ever see is some recycled Stock Footage of one of the ones brought down by Captain America and The Falcon during Captain America: The Winter Soldier and a brief shot of a static Helicarrier under construction.
  • For the Animorphs TV series, the producers decided to adapt the very imaginative sci-fi book series into a live action series with the minimum budget of a half hour cable kids' show. As a result, the main characters rarely used their Voluntary Shapeshifting abilities - even staying in their normal forms around the Yeerks, who they are supposed to be hiding their identities from. On the opposite end, the andalite characters, Ax and Visser Three, spent nearly all of their screen time disguised as humans, even when there was no clear reason for them to do this.
  • Arrow: Damien Darhk is an Evil Sorcerer. His powers were typically limited to telekinetically immobilizing people and performing a Psychic Strangle. Both of which require no real special effects and can instead be done solely by the actors. Another trick, telekinetically stopping projectiles in midair, is also fairly cheap; as opposed to fireballs or lightning anyway.
  • Due to budget limitations, Marcus's telescoping fighting staff in Babylon 5 was opened and closed mostly off-screen, although they did take care to actually show it open up when it was used for the first time.
  • There were plot-critical reasons for the main Cylons in the retooled Battlestar Galactica (2003) being human-looking, but there was still an element of "save frakloads of money on having to make CGI robots for every episode". Indeed, this trope took place in the very planning stages; the Cylons were redesigned as human-looking because the creators counted that they could only afford one Cylon suit good enough to convince modern audiences, while CGI was still too expensive to rely on constantly. However, as the miniseries was past and it was time to start filming the main series, the CGI prices had fallen significantly, and they managed to squeeze in more Centurions than they had initially thought possible.
  • Related: 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.
    • 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.
    • The Big Bad of the seventh season 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. Likewise since Spike is technically dead as a vampire, James Marsters could play the First more than once too.
  • Charmed (1998):
    • The first three seasons had numerous stunts involving Prue's telekinesis, but budget cuts lead to her replacement Paige having the ability to remotely teleport objects instead, which turns out to be more efficient given that it's easier to add a few CGI effects than to set up and insure stunts that involve flying through the air. Chris, introduced in the sixth season, also had telekinesis, but rarely used it. Billie, in season eight, ALSO had telekinesis, but rarely threw demons into walls the way Prue did.
    • This is also supposedly the reason why Piper kept her initial molecular control powers while Prue gained astral projection and Phoebe gained levitation — her special effects were costlier than anyone else's.
    • This is also why Phoebe lost her levitation power, as the harness and insurance for the stunts ended up being too costly. She regains her budget-friendly premonitions and empathy, but never levitation.
    • Demons in general became more and more human-looking as the series went on, to save on costuming and make-up.
    • Whitelighter healing was actually done with practical effects - the actor would have lightbulbs stuck to their palms that would glow when the healing happened. But there were times when the hands were conveniently hidden by a prop or furniture, allowing them to get away with just using a sound effect. Plus, Leo lost his powers midway through Season 7 and Paige didn't learn to heal until mid-Season 8.
  • Daredevil: In the comics, Daredevil is a Spider-Man style acrobat, often soaring through the air and using the cable in his billy club to swing from rooftops. While the series still has a number of parkour stunts, the expense and complexity of depicting swinging and other aerial maneuvers meant that the character's acrobatic talents were rarely depicted. Tellingly, Daredevil was given a new billy club that included a grappling hook in the Season 2 finale (finally allowing him to do a rooftop swing), only for it to get lost during the Defenders mini-series, conveniently meaning the show didn't have to utilize it at all in Season 3. It wasn't until the character guest-starred on She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (which has a larger budget due to being a Disney+ production) that he was finally allowed to cut loose and show off his acrobatic skills.
  • Doctor Who is usually contending with low budgets and was, for much of its history, done for desperately small amounts of money. So this tends to come up a lot:
    • The TARDIS only ever materialized in place in the early days because they didn't have the budget to show their space ship traveling in space (except for a few times) or actually flying. The new series has fixed this somewhat and we've gotten many more scenes of the TARDIS flying, including one where it speeds along next to a car on a highway. The writers do note that that sort of thing "puts a strain on the engines", thus explaining the rarity.
    • The TARDIS' chameleon circuit is a great example. The BBC didn't have the technology in 1963 to make the spaceship invisible, and didn't have the budget to actually show it transforming into things that weren't 1963 police boxes. As you know, this resulted in one of the most iconic science fiction spaceships in the whole of the genre.
    • The Doctor's few special powers are things that can be conveyed easily with solid acting and some basic camera tricks (even live camera tricks, if necessary) — Super-Intelligence, a kind of Hyper-Awareness-like sense that allows him to know if he can change the outcome of an event or not, and some limited telepathy, hypnosis and Emotion Control Psychic Powers that he only uses once in a blue moon, which are usually conveyed by him grabbing someone else's head and looking into their eyes intensely. His most expensive ability is his regeneration ability, which has been achieved in various ways over the show's history such as a malfunctioning visual mixing desk, mixing together shots of actors' faces or CGI. He's also a Human Alien, with his inhumanness generally conveyed by picking slightly otherworldly-looking actors who play him with lots of eccentric little Character Tics, and his two hearts, probably the most famous part of his alien biology, is obviously part of his internal anatomy and therefore not directly shown for the most part.
    • The First Doctor encountered two separate species of invisible aliens at various points when some element of peril was needed and yet too much money had been blown on a serial by that point — notably the Visians on Mira in "The Daleks' Master Plan" (a very expensive 12-part Space Opera serial) and the Refusians in "The Ark" (the first part of which involved live toucans and elephants and some simply gorgeous Matte Shots). Neither is shown physically interacting with anything, save for the Visian being shown in Invisibility Flicker when the Daleks exterminate it. A related invisibility sequence concerns the fate befalling the Doctor in "The Celestial Toymaker", in which the Toymaker is explained to be able to phase the Doctor in and out of tangibility for his amusement — William Hartnell's health was suffering by that time, and the conceit allowed Hartnell to have more time off if he needed it. Then there's "The Edge of Destruction", a Bottle Episode in which the Negative Space Wedgie is represented by the TARDIS doors opening and closing, leading to the crew to speculate there might be an invisible monster in the TARDIS.
    • The first appearance of the Daleks in the second serial was an early version of this trope. Only two actual moving Daleks are shown at any point, the rest are painted backdrops.
    • In "The Power of the Daleks", there is a short scene of the Daleks agreeing that (despite the massive army of hundreds and hundreds of Daleks that they have built) they will travel around only in groups of three. This obviously saved the BBC a lot of money on building Dalek props.
    • "Galaxy 4" ends with the planet that the story takes place on disintegrating. "Can we see the disintegration of the planet on the scanner, Doctor?" asks the companion, Steven. The Doctor answers, "No." No explanation as to why is even given.
    • A common criticism of "The Enemy of the World" is that the climactic defeat of the villain is a very rushed sequence of him getting sucked out of the TARDIS into the Vortex. The sequence was intended to go on longer, but the villain is played by Patrick Troughton Acting for Two and the early split-screen effects needed to put both of them on screen at once turned out to be harder and more expensive than the BBC had thought. (Of course, technology has now improved to the point that Clara can talk to a whole army of time-looped versions of herself in a No Budget online minisode.)
    • In "The Mutants", an alien transforms through several stages from a humanoid, through a lobster-like creature, to a glowing, floating alien. For most of the transformation, the camera shows a close-up of his hand, only requiring work from makeup and costumes for the hand rather than full-body work that would only be seen for a few seconds.
    • The TARDIS is at the very least the size of a city but is likely infinite, and shifts around from time to time depending on its own whims. We spent very little time there in the old series, only visiting some corridors ("played" by an abandoned hospital) and a handful of rooms. Even in the new series, we rarely see much further than the main control room — we've seen some corridors, a swimming pool, a wardrobe, a library and part of its processors, but not much else. Most of what we know about its insides comes from the dialogue and from the Expanded Universe, which has no budget constraints and thus can be The Wonderland — the novelisation of "Shada", for example, contained a scene where Chris spends a night in the TARDIS guest suite and discovers that his "bath" is an Olympic-sized swimming pool with clawed feet on the end.
    • Kamelion the shapeshifting robot in Season 21 is an interesting example; in this case they had the special effect (an actual remote controlled robot of apparently hideous complexity), but following the death of its inventor, they'd no idea how to use it. As a result, Kamelion either took human form or just didn't appear. Usually the latter.
    • Season 26 of the original series usually began episodes with the Doctor and Ace coming out of the TARDIS. One episode did show them inside working at the console, but the rest of the console room was in darkness. The reason is they'd scrapped the set and didn't want to pay for a new one.
    • "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood" gives its villains an invisible spaceship, convenient for both camouflage and the FX budget.
  • Partially due to the series' age and also because of its budget, El Chapulín Colorado features several examples of this trope:
    • The titular character shrinking due to the Chiquitolina pills is shown through Chroma Key. In earlier seasons, you didn't even see El Chapulín shrinking - he'd rapidly crouch so that he'd get off-screen, and then he appears when fully shrunk. The opposite also applied in whenever he returned to his regular size.
    • Super-Strength is shown through Styrofoam Props. The same happens in an episode featuring a liquid that made objects much weaker. In the Beach Episode, an actor poses for a photo by lifting a styrofoam rock in one hand, as if he did have Super-Strength.
    • Other situations such as teleportation, objects popping into existence or multiple people getting out of a place way too small for them happen through very obvious Stop Tricks.
    • Characters being frozen by El Chapulín's Chicharra Paralizadora is made by the actors actually standing still.
  • Doom Patrol (2019):
    • Rita Farr doesn't use her powers to turn gigantic like she does in the comics, and instead mostly sticks to stretching her limbs. She finally manages to morph into her giant form in the Season 3 finale, but it remains to be seen how frequently she'll utilize this transformation going forward.
    • Unlike in the comics, where he's essentially "naked," Cyborg usually wears tracksuits or hoodies in the show. This means that it's not unusual for his face and hands to be the only robotic parts of his body that are visible to the audience, presumably saving time and money for the makeup and costuming departments. This gets taken further in the fourth season, where Cyborg undergoes a surgical procedure to restore his humanity and, as a result, gives an excuse for his actor to not bother with costuming and special effects for the majority of the show's final season.
    • The third season episode "Vacay Patrol" has Rita reduced to an amorphous blob for most of the episode. To save money on CGI, there are only two shots where her amorphous form is visible (the second obviously being reused footage) and much of her screentime later in the episode before she finally reconstitutes consists of her hiding in a bag the other characters carry around.
  • Forever Knight actually used on-screen flying effects in the first season, but because of safety and budget issues, decided to imply Nick's flight by just having him lifted up before cutting to an in-flight viewpoint and then to him "landing" at his destination.
  • Janet from The Good Place is a construct with the most extraordinary powers a sitcom can buy: she knows literally everything (as easy as writing dialogue), can teleport to anyone who says her name (she appears between cuts with a little bing), and can conjure up any object (the object appears in her hands between cuts). Downplayed with Michael's powers, reflected as holograms with smartphone-like interfaces, and averted with Shawn, whose cocooning and uncocooning is shown in full. As the series continues, this trope appears less and less; Janet usually still appears between cuts for tradition's sake, but there are a few shots where she visibly disappears or her objects pop out of thin air.
  • H₂O: Just Add Water doesn't ever show Emma actually freezing something. She points her hands at whatever she's freezing and squints really hard. Then we get a CGI shot of ice molecules appearing (the same one is used each time) and it cuts to the object already frozen. Rikki's power is also very easy to simulate since it involves boiling water done via smoke effects. Cleo's power on the other hand does require plenty of CGI effects which is probably why you rarely see her using her water manipulation to lift objects unless they're inside the water. Also they do have a CGI effect for the girls turning into mermaids - their body turns to water and then you see them with the tails but more often you'll either just see them jumping into the water and they'll already be in mermaid form when it cuts to an underwater shot or they'll fall to the floor out of shot (with the transformation sound effect) and it'll cut to them on the floor with the tail. By the time of the second season, the show's international popularity led to an increased budget, and the girls' powers growing; the finale features lighting storms, snakes being formed out of water, and the girls even levitating.
  • Heroes inspired the creation of this page from its relentless use of the trope. One of the suggested names for this page was a takeoff on the Heroes tagline: "Ordinary People, Budget-Straining Abilities".
    • Nathan Petrelli only did supersonic flight twice in all of season 1, and once in season 2. This is odd, since West (who also flies) has taken off more than once in season 2. It may be possible that they assigned one of the most expensive ones to Nathan because he is somewhat embarrassed by them. West really floats instead of flies, which is a much cheaper special effect than Nathan's supersonic flight.
    • Niki/Jessica has super strength, but viewers more often just see the results of her strength, and not her using it.
    • By far, the most commonly used power on the show is telepathy. It just requires Matt Parkman to squint, give somebody the crazy eyes, or tilt his head and stare off into space. As said by the actor who plays him, "I have the power... of LEANING".
    • Micah gets to use his Technopath abilities every few episodes. He puts his hand on a prop and squints.
    • The plots always seem to demand readily available precogs, most of whom just have to paint (with white out eyes), and some of whom just get odd dreams which is as easy as shooting another scene and screwing with the filter.
    • This is the main reason why we hardly ever see Hiro perform short teleports — longer ones let them change the whole scene, which is easier to do believably.
    • Sylar and Peter both had lots and lots of powers, but you'd usually just see telekinesis from Sylar and a smattering of cheaper powers (such as teleports, mind reading, floating) from Peter. The expensive ones, like radiation and freezing, were usually saved for big-budget finales and premieres. Showdowns between Peter and Sylar consist of flashing lights seen through the cracks around a closed door.
    • It's extremely telling that the characters use their powers far more often and more creatively in the online comics. We also see many more new characters in the comics with more (for want of a better word) "trippy" abilities that'd be hard to visualize with the show's budget (a plant-man, a woman who can literally rearrange your face, a guy who clones himself through "budding", and so on).
  • Inhumans:
    • Black Bolt is made into an Adaptational Wimp. While he still has his trademark sonic scream, his Super-Strength is greatly reduced (taking him down from being a Flying Brick to a guy who gets overpowered by human police officers) and he cannot fly or fire electron blasts.
    • Medusa still has Prehensile Hair, but her head is forcibly shaved in the first episode, effectively leaving her powerless for the remainder of the series.
    • Auran has yellow skin and large, bat-like ears in the comics, neither of which are retained for her TV design. This results in her looking exactly like a normal human woman, and thus eliminates the need for makeup or pricey facial prosthetics.
  • Iron Fist (2017) did not have the CGI budget necessary to properly depict Shou-Lao the Undying, the massive dragon Danny Rand defeated in his comic book origin story. Instead, the only glimpse of Shou-Lao the audience ever gets are a pair of red eyes glowing inside a shadowy cave, and his fight with Danny takes place entirely offscreen.
  • Jekyll: Hyde's Super-Speed ability requires very little in the way of effects except perhaps for the odd cut to reveal that, while a character's back was turned, Hyde has warped in front of him. The one scene where he demonstrates it by daring an Asshole Victim to attack him with a knife consists of the camera spinning around him real fast and ending with him behind the victim.
  • Jessica Jones (2015) changes the titular heroine's ability to fly to powerful jumps, which she compares to "guided falling." Even then, this ability doesn't get a ton of play, saving money on the rigging and CGI that would be required to depict prolonged flight.
  • Kaamelott:
    • Given an In-Universe justification: Kaamelott's enchanter Merlin is an Inept Mage extraordinaire, so every time he uses his powers, it's as underwhelming as the special effects can make it. The show isn't entirely run on Coconut Effects — Excalibur always glows when held by someone with an exceptional destiny — but they are so sparingly used as to be forgivable.
    • Giant monsters are often just offscreen. One episode has a dragon flying around at treetop level, its only onscreen presence manifesting by taking a dump on two of the knights.
  • Present in several Kamen Rider series. There is almost always at least one attack, form, or series gimmick that's too CG intensive to be used more than once or twice throughout the entire show (and the movies, where the budget is less tight); meanwhile, forms that require little to no additional SFX budget, like sword and unarmed combat-based ones, get most of the screentime. Examples of this trope across the franchise include:
    • The Hover Board mode of Kamen Rider Agito's Cool Bike.
    • Kamen Rider Kabuto gives all of the Riders and Worms the ability to Clock Up, which is actually a pretty good special effect during the first quarter of the show, but is almost completely forgotten in its last 20 episodes or so.
    • Kamen Rider OOO's Gatakiriba Combo, whose main power is a Doppelgänger Attack, is only used twice in the show.
    • Kamen Rider Wizard manages to actually avoid this for the most part, including making frequent use of effects like Copy that just two years previously were devastating to a budget. However, even Wizard can't handle the expense and difficulty of filming fights using All Dragon Style, a part-costume part-CGI form that's only used twice.
    • Kamen Rider Gaim gives Suika Arms, a watermelon-themed Mini-Mecha, a recharge period with no clear timer to justify not using it often.
    • Kamen Rider Drive gains the ability to use all 27 of his previous powers in sets of three in his Type Tridoron form, of which he only uses 9. Most of the individual powers themselves only appear once, or in some cases never get used at all.
    • Kamen Rider Ghost's Riders and their opponents all tend to forget that they have the ability to fly and become intangible. On top of this, Beethoven Damashii, which fights with music, usually gets sidelined in favor of forms that use weapons.
    • Kamen Rider Build uses his TurtleWatch Best Match entirely offscreen to avoid the expense of having to make a costume and effects for it. His later Genius Form is similarly supposed to be able to use all 60 powers of his previous forms, but during the show only uses Diamond, and that only a single time. Even some of his Best Matches either see no actual use or if they do get used, one or two episodes before they're never seen again with Trial Forms getting it worse.
  • Legends of the Superheroes suffered this badly, given that it was produced in the late 1970's and had its special effects hindered by the inherent limitations of live-action media at the time when compared to what was easier to depict in comics and cartoons. Characters flying was simulated by having a static image of the actor floating across the screen and Green Lantern and Sinestro never created constructs with their rings and were only shown using their rings to fire energy blasts or turn themselves invisible/teleport.
  • Legends of Tomorrow has already served up a number of examples, most notably in the effects for Firestorm and the mysterious way the winged characters' wings appear and disappear depending on the angle of the shot.
    • Firestorm and Vixen are the hardest hit. Stein and Jax are almost always separated so they can't fuse into the expensive (and overpowered) Firestorm. Meanwhile, Vixen pretty exclusively uses her ability to channel the power of any and all animals to punch things with gorilla strength. (Her case is worst when compared to the animated web series, where her granddaughter, who has the same powers, switches from one animal ability to another in rapid succession throughout any battle.)
    • Captain Cold's cold gun usually sends people flying back, but only leaves people or things visibly frozen if the plot needs for a frozen person or object to be interacted with.
  • Legion (2017) got creative with this. Most of the characters' powers don't require extensive FX or are entirely mental (Syd's body swapping, Cary and Kerry's Synchronization, Ptonomy's memory), so when David Haller needs to go head-to-head with a psychic of similar stature, how do you depict a proper Battle in the Center of the Mind without blowing up the budget? The answer: Depict the psychic struggles metaphorically through Dance Battles.
  • Lois & Clark became notorious for one aspect of this around the time of its second series. The show's about Superman, right? And how does he get around? He flies... except that flying is FX-heavy to depict on screen and can involve actors literally hanging around in uncomfortable harnesses for hours. So the L&C production team tried to save money by depicting Superman flying away from a location by having the actor swirl his cape around to fill the camera view and adding a stock sound effect. Later, they stopped bothering with the cape swirl and just had him leave the shot, followed by the sound. It worked much better.
  • The Magicians: In the first episode, Eliot tells Quentin that most of the Physical Kids (student-magicians whose special aptitudes concern the physical world, rather than e.g. telepathy; these include Eliot, Margo, Todd, Alice) can fly. Out of 65 episodes, human levitation is shown at least twice.
  • The hero of Manimal could (implicitly) turn into any animal. Unfortunately, Stan Winston only made Transformation Sequence effects for a hawk and a panther. He also made a large snake transformation, which was seen on-screen a big total of once. Any other transformations happened off-screen.
  • The series finale of M.A.N.T.I.S. pitted the Powered Armor-clad hero against an INVISIBLE giant killer dinosaur.
  • Merlin:
    • In the first episode, Merlin can use his magic to slow down time fairly easily. Since then, however, he's only been shown to do it once. This is presumably because it is hard to film. (It's also illegal in-universe, so it's not going to happen a whole lot anyway.)
    • Another example is when two assassins use shape-shifting amulets to impersonate a pair of knights and enter a tournament. After they are killed, Gaius removes the amulets before removing their helmets and revealing their true identities, preventing the need for any face-changing special effects.
  • Misfits thrives on this trope. Of the five main characters, four of them have abilities that require practically no effects (time-rewinding and telepathy only need a rewound camera shot and a voiceover, respectively; sex pheromones and immortality need even less effort) and the fifth (invisibility) only needs a brief effect to show it happening, which usually occurs off-screen. Other powers featured so far include mind control, really fast-acting alopecia, de-aging, uncontrollable rage and becoming a dog (who still looks human), none of which require any effects whatsoever.
    • Furthermore, the invisibility is almost always shown from Simon's perspective, and he can still see himself. So far there's been one instance of the other characters perceiving objects moving on their own.
    • Not to mention most only used their power once per four episodes. In the alternate Nazi reality episode, we only got to see one using and had to guess if the others even had theirs.
  • Mocked in the "Mr Neutron is Missing" episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus, where the episode ends before the story is resolved because the studio runs out of money. Shortly before the credits run, the narrator tries to explain what was going to happen, and how expensive the various scenes were going to be. For a more conventional usage, the only thing Mr Neutron does with superpowers that allegedly could be used to destroy the world is turn a frumpy middle-aged housewife into a slightly better dressed middle-aged housewife.
  • No Heroics is about heroes sitting around and chatting instead of using their powers to fight crime.
  • Once Upon a Time only has the Wicked Witch of the West fly on her broom once, the rest of the time appearing out of thin air. Presumably because this is easier to set up with a CGI smoke effect rather than using green screen and insure Zelena flying through the air. Other than that, other characters use their powers freely and easily.
    • Played with in the musical episode "The Song in Your Heart." During her solo song, "Wicked Always Wins," Zelina hops on her broom and rides around the set, clearly in a pre-set arc but quickly hops off and carries it around the set.
  • Though most of the effects work in One Piece isn't much more frugal than the original manga and anime, one case where this does manifest is Zoro. In the manga, Zoro uses Three Sword Style in just about every fight, and usually continuously. In the live-action series, he uses it much more sparingly (usually only as a finishing move), and spends most of his fights doing standard Dual Wielding. In this case, it's less to save on effects and more because shooting a fight scene where one of your actors holds a prop katana in their mouth is rather difficult.
  • In Power Rangers, one question even the show's youngest fans frequently asked during Megazord battles is why the rangers didn't disassemble the Megazord and fight individually more often (this was especially prevalent when they were fighting multiple monsters at once or an individual Zord had a useful ability that the Megazord itself didn't, such as the ability to fly.) The obvious reason is that it's easier to film with a guy in a foam rubber suit than to design and work with multiple props for each individual Zord (some seasons only showed individual zords through a few repeated scenes of Stock Footage.) It's telling that, on the odd occasion where the Zords had individual humanoid forms (such as the Shogunzords, Super Zeo Zords, or the RescueZords), we saw the rangers fighting individually a lot more.
    • This also applies to other bipedal Zords that could be portrayed by a human in a rubber suit such as the Dragonzord and the Mighty Morphin T-Rex.
    • Especially blatant in Power Rangers Beast Morphers. The main three machines are the Cheetah Zord (totally humanoid but with a cheetah head on its chest), the Gorilla Zord (apelike, requires a suit actor to hunch over and sometimes uses inhuman CGI-assisted agility) and the Rabbit Zord (all CGI when in motion.) If you think the first gets a ton of solo battles, the second much fewer, and the third practically never, then you would be exactly right. Credit where it's due, though: you see much more of the individual zords and their beast modes than in any other series, despite them being much more complex with more moving parts then the models/props of most seasons, and using their unique abilities and tools.
    • The bigger the Zord is (combined or not), the more likely that it has to move with wheels if it can move more than a few steps at all. This is because the foam rubber suit just becomes too heavy for any singular stuntman to move around in and the producers don't want to spend money on CGI.
    • Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger shows the alternative. Watch the series and you'll notice that, for a Super Sentai parody/installment, there are very few instances where they use the show's zord, the Itassha Robo. Not only does the Itassha Robo have a very odd design that'd be challenging for a suit actor, but it's very small by the standards of sentai mecha, meaning that model cities are off-limits (and would probably blow the budget even if the zord were larger). As a result, it's always portrayed with CGI, which is expensive enough that it's only showed in a couple episodes.
    • Although it hasn't affected Power Rangers much yet, as the show has yet to adapt these series, many recent Super Sentai shows have had Robot formations that are entirely CGI, no suit. Which often means these formations are rarely used, even if they are the more powerful or even ultimate formations, because of the show's turn around time and budget. In Sentai, it used to be standard that once more advanced robots (and newer toys) were introduced, they would always be the go to robot from then on. The early season one would only being called on in special occasions, such as the other being damaged or major battles where they needed to use both at once.note  This is not the case in later shows. In Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger, for example, the ultimate formation is entirely CG and only used a few times with them instead breaking out the basic ZenkaiOh formations in the last batch of episodes simply because that is the one they have the physical suits for and their Ultimate formation is notably not even used in the final battle at all. Avataro Sentai Donbrothers has the interesting plot point of starting with a more basic robot for the first batch of episodes until the true team one is earned and the basic robot is entirely CGI. This means that for the first 10 episodes only 3 have giant monster battles, and in all the others the monster is just destroyed the first time and does not grow, which is almost unheard of. Once the team gets Don Onitaijin, a robot with a traditional suit, however, the show moveed back to having a giant monster fight every episode since they no longer needed extensive CGI.
      • Speaking on Donbrothers, it's the first show to have entirely CGI Rangers with Inubrother and Kijibrother who are CG (except for extreme close up shots of which they have a physical puppet and partial suit). To the surprise of no one, these two characters are often singled out to either be conveniently off screen for most of the fight (if not taken out before they can transform at all) or have an odd number of very tight close up shots where they can use the physical props, while the rest of the team, who are portrayed using the standard suits the franchise has always used, are filmed as normal.
  • Later seasons of Quantum Leap's budget cuts caused the famous mirror reveal to be a one-camera, Sam-to-mirror-to-Sam panned shot.
  • A few episodes of Red Dwarf would feature effects of this variety, most notably with the Polymorph from its debut episode which shape-shifted via jump cuts. This proved popular with fans so much so that the revival series (with a better effects budget) reused the jump-cutting for its Polymorph-centric episode.
  • Smallville was guilty of this where Clark was concerned. While his powers were mostly physical, so not too budget straining, there was a reason that he very rarely flew and didn't actually master the power until the finale.
    • This also had an effect on which characters they could use or what they could do with them. Darkseid was famously reimagined as a non-corporeal entity that possessed others since the show didn't have the budget to satisfyingly depict him as a Serkis Folk or a practical rubber monster.
    • This is why the sequel comic, Smallville Season 11, proved so popular. It not only featured Clark finally cutting loose and using his powers in ways the show couldn't afford, but also had him interact with characters who could not have been done properly on television, like John Stewart and the Green Lantern Corps, or the Monitors.
  • Not quite a superpower, but watch Stargate SG-1 enough, and you'll notice almost every time the Gate is opened on Earth, it's either just off screen, behind the iris, or one of the stock shots they probably filmed a decade ago.
    • The "kawoosh" was made by hanging an airplane turbine over a pool and filming the resulting effect underwater. Not the cheapest effect to reproduce repeatedly. By later episodes, they could've CGIed it, but had no reason to, as the thing ends so quickly that no one notices it's the same effect. The crew did, however, make sure they set up multiple cameras and got many shots of the "kawoosh" to maximize their use of a hard-to-reproduce effect.
    • Also, for some reason, you would almost never see the gate close. Again, it was usually stock footage of one of the times we saw it in the premiere, but you don't even see that every day. The overwhelming majority of the time, the gate closing consists of the sound being heard an instant after the camera cuts away from the open gate.
    • There are also only two "full" Stargates built for the show; every other one seen is made of laminated cardboard and thus shown face on at all times.
    • The transforming helmets Ra and his soldiers used in the movie also received a significant downgrade in the show — while in the movie they were fully articulated masks that could fold up and disappear into the rest of the headdress, in the show they were big, mostly-hollow helmets that "transformed" by a little slot opening up to let you see the character's eyes while the ENTIRE snake head just pointed up awkwardly into the air. On the few occasions the full transformation happened, it was entirely offscreen. That could also have been the reason they went with the more spacious serpent helmets instead of the Horus (eagle) helmets. (Mind you, we did get to see the Horus guard helmets' full transformation on rare occasion - as in, exactly twice ever.)
    • Also, in the film, the helmets had a lot of moving parts, such as the "ears" and beak making small movements that further illustrated how they were never even suspected as being people in masks - everything about the masked faces moved as if alive. In the show, even the Horus masks are perfectly still.
    • This is parodied in the Show Within a Show Wormhole X-Treme!, where the producer keeps clamping down on the writers' great ideas by pointing out how expensive they are to film. When the script calls for the shot of a large spaceship descending, the producer demands that they simply show a Reaction Shot from the actors. This ends up being subverted when an actual spaceship majestically descends through the clouds right in the middle of the shoot. Martin tells the stunned cameraman to keep shooting.
  • While Star Trek tries to avoid this kind of thing as often as it can, a few exceptions stand out:
    • Over the course of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the ship's ability to separate the drive section from the saucer section was seldom seen after the first few episodes, even though there were numerous times it might have come in handy for various reasons. In addition to money and pacing issues, it was also not such a hot idea to change the iconic shape of the series's Cool Ship.
    • Gene Roddenberry pre-empted this trope by deliberately adding a scene in the Enterprise's engine room in the premiere. He did this to justify the large expense in building the set. Otherwise, the engine room set might never have been built.
    • Odo from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and other shapeshifting creatures constantly hang around in humanoid form and rarely seem to change their shape in moments when it would be helpful. Most of Odo's transformations take place off-screen, obviously because the special effects cost a small fortune at the time. Odo even spends most of a season without the ability to shapechange, and was given a backstory that made him understandably reluctant to use the ability in front of others. Peter David acknowledges the problem in the introduction of his DS9 novel The Siege and notes that he's unrestrained by special effects budgets. As promised, the novel itself features Odo in a crazy mad number of shapeshifting instances.
    • The eponymous character from the DS9 episode "Melora" is an alien from a low gravity world and can float and self-propel in a low gravity environment. She was originally intended to be the primary science officer for DS9, but this was canceled due to the difficulty and expense it would take for her to be in every episode. She was turned into a one-shot crewman and we instead got Lieutenant Jadzia Dax. Notably, Melora did become a regular character in the book series Star Trek: Titan, which didn't have to worry about budgetary constraints.
    • Occasionally, this can work out for the best: The iconic Star Trek transporter itself was invented to save on doing expensive landing sequences every episode. Ironically enough, and truer to the spirit of this trope, it was still the most expensive visual effect to do on the show. So in the final season, the camera panned away from the transporter effect while the noise was still being played so that the audience would still be clued in on what was going on. Although digital effects and bigger budgets made costs more trivial, this was still done in the Spin-Off series all the way to Voyager from time to time. Enterprise's final season returned to the "off-screen transport" effect (even though these episodes often used visual effects much more complicated and expensive) as a subtle hint to the viewership that this was indeed the final season, mirroring the final season of the original series.
      • In "Is There In Truth No Beauty?" Spock dons the red anti-Medusan visor when beaming the ambassador and Miranda Jones off the ship despite there being no in-story reason for it. Why? So they can re-use the expensive red-shifted transporter shot from when they beamed aboard.
    • By a similar count, it's not hard to peg that phasers were designed with the settings of "person slumps over unharmed" and "person vanishes in flash of light" due to this trope. Later shows often have them acting like more traditional sci-fi beam weapons.
    • And then, because disintegration had gained a considerably cooler (and more expensive) look in the TOS movies as well as other franchises by the time TNG came around, phasers' disintegration ability is suddenly relegated to this trope. Only the maximum setting can vaporize and it's seldom set that high.
    • In the original Trek episode "Let This Be Your Last Battlefield," Bele arrives to the Enterprise via invisible ship (no, they didn't say "cloaked" or anything that'd make it sound less silly) so it wouldn't have to be shown.
    • Every version of Trek has done space battles where the camera stays on the bridge, and we hear the weapons being fired and a report about damage done to the enemy ship, without seeing it on the viewscreen or an exterior shot (and only a Star Trek Shake or two to signify the damage done to the Enterprise).
    • The first series had Coconut politics. The reason that Klingons were a more frequent problem for the crew of the Enterprise than the Romulans is because the pointy ear tips made the Romulan costumes significantly more expensive than the Klingon ones. Ironically, the later alteration of Klingons into Rubber-Forehead Aliens made them into the more expensive choice—but due to their more frequent use making them a more iconic Trek alien, they still saw more screen time than Romulans.
    • The Enterprise Incident had an off-hand mention of the Romulans being reported to use Klingon ships to get more mileage out of the rather expensive D7-class model.
    • Wrath of Khan does a good job of integrating into the plot why Khan spends most of the movie in a stolen Starfleet ship, but it certainly didn't hurt that it meant they could reuse the already-built Enterprise bridge set by just moving some chairs around, especially after the preceding film had proved so notoriously expensive.
  • Many Disney shows have similarly "special" effects, even the non-fantasy genre ones. The Suite Life on Deck had the owner of the ship drugged and sent in a balloon. And then later someone got away in a plastic bubble. The plastic bubble was a giant beach ball rolled off stage with nobody in it, and the flying balloon appeared to be done with a blue-screen chair and with characters looking up a lot and voiceover.
  • In Supergirl (2015), Kara takes to the skies frequently but Martian shapeshifting gets the coconut treatment. You'll never see the Martian Manhunter use his shapeshifting powers to the same extent he does in comics or animation, taking on forms like dinosaurs and giant snakes and such. Instead, he's strictly a Flying Brick in combat, with shapeshifting used exclusively to allow him to spend most of his time looking like his actor (even in scenes with only people who know who he is.) At one point, he and Supergirl are helping some renegade White Martians who want to overthrow their genocidal kin. Kara is the only non-Martian present and yet everyone takes on human forms because... reasons. The biggest instance of this is probably in a scene where Dreamer is helping Jonn figure out some of his family baggage by letting him revist an old memory of his childhood on Mars and everyone there looks like human children. He even rightfully points out that they didn't use human forms on Mars so that couldn't be accurate and Dreamer's justification is that her brain is projecting the dream and she doesn't know what a Martian child looks like so that's the best her subconsious can do.
  • Supernatural gets around a lot of budget problems by giving practically every creature the ability to transform into or possess a human. Angels apparently have enormous inhuman forms, but humans are incapable of perceiving them without their eyes burning out, and to interact with things on Earth they have to take human hosts. Demons are occasionally briefly seen as black smoke, but mostly possess humans and give them weird eye colors. Then there are the more obtrusive examples, like werewolves who look like humans with long nails, fangs, and weird eyes, some kind of spider monster that somehow looked like a human with a messed up face, and most notably the time they fought dragons with the convenient ability to look human almost all the time (although their draconic forms did appear briefly).
  • That Mitchell and Webb Look has this in the "Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit" sketch, where Angel Summoner's powers are depicted as him raising his arms and staff while half the screen is covered in a glow effect. The angels he summons are never actually shown onscreen, unless you count the invisible angels he uses to try to make BMX Bandit feel useful. Each time he uses his powers, they just cut to the end, with all the criminals having been easily captured. Of course, the fact that Angel Summoner easily winning the day is a Foregone Conclusion to the point that the audience doesn't even need to see it is a big part of the joke.
  • Extremely apparent in the Live-Action Adaptation of The Tick (2001). Because of budget constraints, the show was not allowed to actually show any of the superhero characters ever doing anything superheroic. They would just stand around and talk about it later or do everything offscreen. This made it seem less like a superhero sitcom and more like a bizarre Seinfeld spinoff where everyone was constantly in gaudy costumes.
  • Titans:
    • Starfire is changed so that she only gains her iconic comic appearance (Flaming Hair, golden-orange skin and glowing green eyes) when she's actively using her Starbolt powers. Conveniently, this means that she looks exactly like a normal human woman for the majority of each episode's runtime (with some episodes not having her transform at all), saving the show from having to constantly spend money on costly CGI or makeup effects. She also lacks her trademark ability to fly.
    • Beast Boy suffers from the same problem as Odo from Deep Space 9. His comic counterpart is a Shapeshifter who can transform into any animal he can think of, while the TV version of Beast Boy could only morph into a tiger for the entirety of the first season. He later gained the ability to also turn into a snake in the Season 2 and a bat in Season 3, but still mostly just uses his tiger form for budgetary reasons. Also, like Starfire, he has a normal human skin tone rather than the green skin of his comic counterpart.
  • The 1980s miniseries/series V (1983) has reptilian aliens who wear clever disguises to pass as human. And, since reptile-face makeup is expensive and hard on the actors, the aliens wear their clever disguises even aboard their spaceships when no humans are around to see. Also, in V: The Series, the Visitors lost the reverb effect added to their voices in both mini-series.
  • Wizards of Waverly Place somehow manages to have the worst of both worlds. Despite centering around a trio of wizards in training, who you'd think would be using magic as often as possible to practice, they generally only use a couple of effects per episode, and those effects due to budget constraints look very very cheap.
    • In episode 8, the cast get a dragon which has been made to look like a dog so that he is allowed to be seen in the mortal world. He does occasionally fly and breathe fire, but always appears as a dog and is never shown as a dragon, even when only among wizards.
  • Episode one of The Worst Witch has Ethel talking to Mildred from her broomstick, which is only hovering a couple of feet off the ground - and the end of the broom just offscreen so it could be pushed by a trailer. Elsewhere a lot of the show's spells involve Involuntary Shapeshifting or things appearing out of thin air. Though they do have rather obvious green screen effects to show the girls flying on their brooms.

  • In the script for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1978), the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Complaints Department company song is described as being performed by "a choir of over two million robots... exactly a flattened fifth [tritone] out of tune" and the FX description suggests "IT WILL SOUND MORE GHASTLY THAN YOU COULD POSSIBLY IMAGINE". The version in the radio omits the exact number of robots and instead is just six people from the Radiophonic Workshop corridor singing quite poorly through a vocoder with a slightly detuned backing. It is pretty ghastly, but nowhere near as bad as Douglas Adams wanted, on the grounds that it's simply impossible for a choir of two million to sound intelligible, and that's before you process it with Robo Speak effects and detune it by a tritone.
    • Similarly, when the radio series was adapted to television, the large battle fleet and the shapeshifting admiral who became a copy of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, became a single ship that's going to dive into a sun as part of a rock band's pyrotechnics. Despite being unencumbered by the limitations of a special-effects budget, Douglas Adams decided to go with the latter version in the novel continuity, presumably because it was funnier. (And also, according to some sources, because the whole Haggunenon sequence was largely John Lloyd's, and Adams didn't want to use it in a book with just his name on the cover.)

  • In BIONICLE, the characters seem to use their Elemental Powers in far more elaborate and interesting ways in the written media than they do in the Direct-to-DVD movies. For example, Gali performing a Nova Blast and crushing the entire realm of Kharzani with a Giant Wall of Watery Doom in a written web serial, but only doing a bit of Floating Water and Healing Hands in The Movie.
    • In Bionicle 2, none of the Toa can be seen using their elemental powers (save for the ending, when they focus them into an unspectacular but shiny beam), because they've depleted them off-screen, while in Bionicle 3, they don't use any kind of power (element or mask-related), because they have been mutated into forms that don't support these powers. Again, the only way they do use their elemental powers is via colored energy spinners, which are far easier to animate.

    Web Original 
  • Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog includes several instances of potentially expensive stuff happening offscreen, most notably the disastrous Freeze Ray test run during which Captain Hammer throws a car at the title character's head. Fortunately, the writing and Neil Patrick Harris' performance make Dr. Horrible commenting on these events much more entertaining than actually seeing them would have been. In Act III the "Freeze Ray" stops time, so it consists, essentially, of Nathan Fillion holding very, very still. The Death Ray presumably would have been the target slumping over dead (however, since it explodes rather than actually operating as intended, this effect probably was considerably more expensive). Neither of these is a particularly expensive effect; you just need to have the actor point the prop and add some beam effects. This also applies to Moist's superpower of, well, making things wet.
  • Used to great effect in A Very Potter Musical and its sequel. Floo Powder consists of running in a circle shouting "Floo Powder Power!", while Portkeys are running in a circle shouting "Portkey!" Disapparating involves shouting "Disapparate!" and running offstage while everyone looks confused about where you went.
    "Magic. Ahh." (shields eyes)
    • The Jelly-Legs Jinx works similarly.
    • In the films, the conjoined Voldemort/Quirrell was portrayed using CGI. In this show, it's portrayed by... the two actors standing back-to-back beneath a gigantic robe.
  • Holy Musical B@man!: In the great Star Kid tradition, Batman's jet is represented by a small model that goes over his shoulders, and Superman's flight is achieved either through Jim Povolo carrying him or Brian Holden sticking his arms out and making whooshing noises like a five-year-old.
  • Most of the CGI in Noob is made by a single person, which basically means all magic users are mostly seen using some variation of shooting balls of light and/or producing force fields, no matter what their class is supposed to be. There's notably a summoner that never summons the creatures that she has under her command according to other media.
  • Used in the Skullduggery episode of The Spoony Experiment, with a magician (played by Spoony) breaking into the room, preparing a magic trick, only to cut to Spoony reacting with horror as it cuts to the magician, now in the form of the Headless from Ultima Underworld. It's a means of parodying the use of cuts, both regular and jump, to facilitate the "magic acts" by the magician in the film.
  • Ultra Fast Pony. The episode "The Cheesen One" introduces the superhero Mutation, who never speaks and has the ability to silence everyone and everything around her. The Stinger lampshades the fact that she's really just making the editor's job a lot easier.
    [Mutation rescues a bunch of ponies in complete silence.]
    Rainbow Dash: Wow. I'm not sure if we're getting worse at editing these videos, or we're just getting lazier. Probably both.
  • Carmilla the Series depicts Carmilla's Super-Strength by the reactions of other characters (Kirsch brought to his knees after a light hit, Laura unable to move a bag Carmilla lifted effortlessly, etc.), and Super-Speed is done with the same "sped-up footage of a character walking" that shows like True Blood use. There's also a neat little teleportation that Carmilla does once, but because the lights are out all the audience sees is a puff of black smoke. It's all rather nicely done, considering the near-nonexistent budget.
  • An essay on jokingly discusses the difference between how a Star Trek battle scenario would play out in a fanboyish fantasy, a realistic outcome, and an actual episode of Deep Space Nine. When dealing with one scenario (a pitched battle with a ground-based invasion, smaller craft dogfighting each other, Imperial walkers, and legions of troops), it notes that the "actual episode" solution would be to simply not show the battle at all, since a huge battle scene would blow the budget to smithereens. Therefore, the episode plot would be rewritten to instead have the USS Defiant clear the way for the ground invasion by having it face off against an easier-to-model orbital weapons platform, and then toss in a throwaway line about Klingon transports handling the ground invasion (which isn't too far off from the actual episode "Tears of the Prophets").

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied also in Freakazoid!, in "Tomb of Invisibo", featuring an invisible bad guy with a not-invisible staff. The announcer even let the audience know that the following segment was made when low on budget. Then the villain's staff appeared suspended on a fishing line for a while. ("The following special effects are not scary, please pretend that they are"). After a few scenes of this, the announcer declares that the executives were shamed into raising the budget, and the invisibility is done "properly" from that point on.
  • Green Lantern: The Animated Series tends to re-use the same constructs over and over, such as Kilowog's trusty hammer, or the sword used by both Hal Jordan and Salakk. This is because making new constructs requires that the animators model them, while re-using existing ones is about as easy as using an existing prop in a live-action production.
  • Superman gained his trademark ability of flight in the Superman Theatrical Cartoons because they didn't want to have to animate him running and jumping to get around, and even when they did, it looked kinda silly seeing him bounce all over the place. This carries over to all other media, including the comics. This is why his famed listing of powers mentions leaping tall buildings in a single bound, but not the presumably more impressive flight. Later on, it was changed to "Able to soar higher than any plane!", but this didn't catch on as well.
  • Parodied in the Teen Titans Go! episode "Classic Titans", which lampoons old-school Hanna-Barbera and Filmation superhero cartoons, where Beast Boy can only change into a donkey inside the retro cartoon Control Freak zapped the Titans into for budget purposes.
  • Transformers: Prime has some of this going on in its depictions of transformation. In most shows barring G1, characters visibly change their designs upon scanning a vehicle mode, but in Prime, they tend to have the same design before-and-after, which results in things like Airachnid having helicopter chunks on her shoulders before she gets a helicopter mode. They also never display their Cybertronian altmodes until they can scan an Earth vehicle. Obviously, creating a tweaked model with its signature design elements removed would be a bit problematic when it'd likely be around for only one scene—detailed CGI models ain't cheap or easy to make. (This was also a reason behind the show's smaller cast compared to various 2D productions, something that also plagued fellow CGI series Beast Wars.) There's also Makeshift, who is an outright shapeshifter with the ability to take nearly any form. Outside of one brief still shot where he's little more than a silhouette, he spends all his appearances in his sole episode impersonating Wheeljack, meaning they could just use Wheeljack's model for him before killing him off.
    • Speaking of Beast Wars, we see the Maximals in the earliest scenes of the first episode in very close-up shots so they wouldn't have to have full pre-Earth designs that would only be seen for minutes. We do get a shot of a pre-T-rex Megatron in shadowy lighting, whose model was quickly cobbled together using parts from sister series Reboot.
  • In Steven Universe, Peridot started out with robotic hands with levitating fingers that could take on a variety of shapes. Right when she became a regular character, her "limb enhancers" were destroyed, which, though serving a useful storyline purpose (bringing her to her lowest point and giving her room to build herself back up), had the benefit of making her much easier to animate.



Frozone is NOT amused with the cartoon's lack of budget.

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