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In-Camera Effects

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In-Camera Effects are special effects achieved by manipulating the camera or its parts. The effect exists on the original camera negative or video recording before it is sent to a lab or modified. In-Camera effects include using filters like the Gaussian Girl effect, mattes, or lighting artifacts, like lens flares; Camera Tricks like zooms, pans, Forced Perspective, and dolly shots; time/speed effects like time-lapse, slow- or fast-motion, reverse motion, stop-tricks or speed ramping; or specialty films like infrared or negative image.

A number of in-camera tricks were developed in the early days of film when there was not only the obvious lack of CGI but also a lack of film manipulating technology. Of course, then a number will have been replaced by easier, more technologically advanced means but some also died out because they were only applicable to black and white. Coloured filters, for instance, could be used to block out light from red or green, rendering some objects or makeup hidden to the monochrome camera until the filters were removed, creating a reveal.

Many older techniques still remain. Filters are now used but for shifts to the infrared to create surreal lighting effects. Over- or undercranking (where the film is moved faster or slower through the reels) is still used to produce slow or sped up motion.

Some other interesting in-camera effects:

  1. With older, non-digital cameras, using a black screen or cover so that only part of the film is exposed (and thus the rest can have something else filmed onto it, for instance the image on a TV screen.
  2. A dark filter could be used to simulate night-time while shooting in daytime. Unfortunately it does nothing to eliminate shadows caused by sunlight, leading to the slightly hilarious effect of having obvious sun-shadow at night.
  3. A filmmaker could create a "ghost" by exposing the film to the same scene twice, once with and once without the actor.
  4. Matte paintings were often used as backdrops with the focus kept off them. Bipacking was a method where instead footage was shot of just the matte and then was placed in the camera, overlayed on top of the unexposed film. When the camera ran and the film was exposed, the image of the matte would be imprinted on it.

Super-Trope of Miniature Effects, which is when a small replica of the scene is used when filming the real-sized version is not an option, and Crystal Clear Picture, fixing the de-sync between In-Universe screens and the camera to avoid Raster Vision.


Fan Works

Films — Live-Action

  • 1776: During the "He Plays The Violin" dance in the garden, seen here, with the dolly shot starting at 3:25.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey:
    • The long shot of astronauts in the lunar excavation is achieved by bipacking, i.e., simultaneously using two reels in the same camera so two specific colors can be elevated (in saturation) above the rest. In fact, most, if not all, of the film's visual effects are composited on the original negative. This sometimes required that a piece of film with one exposed element be placed in a refrigerator for months before the second element was added.
    • The Dawn of Man sections were all filmed using 8 ft x 10 ft transparencies of backgrounds shot in Africa by the 2nd Camera Unit (with test shots faxed back to Kubrick for approval). These were front-projected on a screen made out of a 3M-made reflective material, which would wash out the image projected on actors, making for a more realistic appearance. In addition, a semi-silvered prism was inserted between the screen projector and the camera, to ensure perfect optical alignment and hide actors' shadows on the screen.
    • The scene where Dave and Frank are recording instruments on the Bridge is actually not bipacked. The "hole" in the bridge set was taken up by a mirror at 45°, and the HAL's room exterior was placed below and offset from the Bridge set, allowing the appearance of gravity-defying sets.
    • The moon shuttle stewardess walking in a circle and the scene of Dave and Frank entering the centrifuge used the same technique of rotating the set whilst locking down the camera to simulate rotation of the actors (if one looks closely at the moon shuttle scene, you can actually see a brief change in brightness as the camera locks down on its mounting). You can see the same technique used in films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Inception.
  • 28 Days Later: All of the scenes of the infected were shot with the shutter speed of the Canon XL-1 camera set very high, resulting in an unsettling and "jumpy" look.
  • The Big Boss: There's a couple of reverse motion effects (e.g. when the Boss gets his knife kicked back into his stomach).
  • Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992): Every single effect, including some quite complicated shots.
  • Hot Fuzz: A hand-cranked camera was used during part of the shootout, therefore allowing both undercranking and overcranking to be used for added dramatic effect.
  • Jaws: The Tracking Zoom is made by having a camera on a dolly zoom in while the dolly moves away. The subject, Sheriff Brody's face, stays in the same place but the perspective of everything around it changes, generating a distorting zoom-in.
  • Guy Maddin: The low-fi look of his films is achieved by Practical Effects rather than alterations in post-production.
    • He shoots on old film stock and with old lenses which they would scratch to make little gashes appear on the film throughout, then rotate the lens so that gashes appeared in different places during the course of the film.
    • Vaseline was put on the lenses which makes the films appear "fuzzy" in places.
    • Some of the films are shot with black and white Super 8 film, then blown up to 35mm.
    • Guy Maddin also uses one direct light source (or at least the illusion of one light source) which blanches the actors' faces and gives his films a very shadowy feel.
  • Quintet: Most of the film was shot through a custom-made filter that only kept an O-shape in the center of the frame focused and the rest of the shot blurred (often incorrectly assumed to be Vaseline smeared on the lens). Even people who like the film find it distracting.
  • Karl Struss:
    • As a cinematographer, he made pioneering work with filters. He would have actors' makeup be done in red or green and then put red or green filters to take them out of the picture. The filter could be slowly changed and the make-up would be changed.
    • Ben-Hur (1925): Jesus healing the Hur Women is done by color filters removing the color-contrasting red makeup.
    • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931): After Jekyll takes the potion, the camera holds on to his face in an unbroken take for several seconds, during which his face visibly begins to change, before he staggers out of the shot (and over to the makeup table to get his fangs and wig applied). The effect was done using colored makeup and matching camera filters/lighting which rendered the Hyde makeup invisible but could be dialed down as the camera was running, resulting in Hyde's facial features gradually gaining prominence.
  • The Terminator: Traditional matte paintings are used in the last shot when Sarah drives off into the desert and A Storm Is Coming.
  • Vampyr: Dreyer wanted to achieve a mysterious, dream-like quality to the film, and to do so he, at the advice of his cinematographer, held a thin piece of gauss three inches from the camera lens for most shots. Especially noticeable in exterior scenes, which are frequently so blurry that modern audiences often mistake them for a poor-quality transfer.

Live-Action TV

  • The Book of Boba Fett: In "Return of the Mandalorian", The Oner in which Din takes the elevator up to the bar and goes back down shows off the capabilities of the ILM StageCraft volume. Instead of building a working elevator, the crew can build a one-level set and animate the entire background to simulate the elevator going to different floors.
  • The Brady Bunch: In "The Ununderground Movie", Greg uses several effects, such as undercranking and overcranking, to make his film more "artsy".
  • Doctor Who used many of these during the Classic era:
    • The Hartnell, Troughton, and first Pertwee title sequences are made employing 'howlaround' feedback —pointing a film camera at a monitor of its own output. The initial light patterns are created with a pen light.
    • The TARDIS teleportation is the Stop Trick and a dissolve.
    • "The Keys of Marinus": For the teleportation effect, part of the lens blacked out with a filter and then the footage refilmed. A similar effect is used for the shrinking grain in "Planet of the Giants". Attentive viewers may notice that before teleporting the TARDIS crew will always move in front of a completely black object.
    • "The Web Planet": The misty atmosphere is created by means of copious filters on the lens. It also helps obscure some of the more obvious screw holes and bits of operator t-shirt on the Zarbi.
    • The second Pertwee and first Tom Baker title sequences were generated with slit-scan photography, inspired by the travel effect used in 2001: A Space Odyssey. They are also ridiculously beautiful even after years of the season's release.
    • The second Tom Baker title sequence and those of Davison and Colin Baker (the 'starfield') were generated using similar slit-scan techniques and a camera filter that gave the light a prismatic, rainbow look.
    • From the new series, when Bill holds a mirror and the camera pans to reveal to her that she's a Mondasian Cyberman.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1981): Zaphod's color-changing sunglasses were made out of polarizing filters, with another polarizer on the camera lens. When all three were oriented the same way, the light passed through freely and the glasses were clear. When the one on the camera was turned, it blocked the light that the glasses let through, turning them black while everything else appeared unchanged.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: The series would achieve the shaking of the bridge when under attack by simply shaking the camera and getting the crew to wobble about. Later SF productions with a bigger budget, such as the Trek films, replaced the cheesy effect with Practical Effects: sets would be placed on top of a large platform and the camera would be still while the entire set was shaken. That would be counted as Practical Effects.
  • Top Gear (UK): Spoofed when Jeremy Clarkson attempted to get a 'dramatic soft focus' effect by smearing petroleum jelly on the camera lens. Didn't go well.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In "The Howling Man", a version of the filter technique is employed to depict the title character's transformation.

Real Life — Digital Cameras

  • Even inexpensive video cameras from 2015 and possibly earlier supported selecting sepia (all shades of brown) and black-and-white through a menu on the camera's viewscreen.
  • As of 2019, Sub-$100 video cameras producing 2.7K video can provide sepia, black and white, cool (increased bluing), warm (increased yellowing) as well as shades of all blue, all red, all green, and all purple, plus a black-and-white "blur" effect. A YouTube video demonstrating all of these and some others can be found here.

Alternative Title(s): In Camera