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Special Effect Failure
aka: Special Effects Failure

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"Godzilla is either breaking the laws of physics or he's throwing around an empty rubber suit!"

When special effects look really cheap and dodgy, to the point of pulling the audience out of the narrative, you have a Special Effect Failure. All-too-common prior to 1980, and still with us today despite relatively inexpensive digital effects that can be very convincing and realistic... but often aren't.

The audience's expectations for effects have grown up with the media. For example, it is obviously a dummy being thrown from a train in The Great Train Robbery — but since it was filmed when filmmaking itself was in its infancy, people forgave it. If a modern remake had done that, however, they would not have been nearly as kind unless it was for other reasons. Star Wars raised the bar for visual effects so high that only the most advanced pre-1977 effects can measure up. It should also be noted that the modern push to update everything to HD can also result in a retroactive form of this, as a matte painting in a 1980s VHS release looks fine, but on the cleaned up, "remastered" Blu-ray looks like, well, a cheap matte painting in the background. Same for video games when prerendered backgrounds look weird.

Sometimes a Special Effect Failure is caused by resorting to Off-the-Shelf FX. Many examples are just plain Bloopers (a literal failure of the effects). In a video game it can be because of Model Dissonance being revealed by a glitch or oversight. In animation, it can be lumped in with Off-Model.

Sometimes cheesy FX are regarded as part of the So Bad, It's Good charm of a work. Sometimes authors will intentionally aim for this as a form of Stylistic Suck. See also Prop. Compare Fight Scene Failure.

Note that, despite the name, many newer examples may actually be visual effect failures, the difference being special effects are created practically while computer generated imagery are visual effects.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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    Asian Animation 
  • The Chinese animated series The Adventures of Kiki and Qeqe have several animation errors; for example, one of the titular characters in the air appears frozen.
  • Motu Patlu: In "Motu Banega Don", Motu and Patlu hide in one of the containers in a container yard to hide from John the Don's gang, who are chasing after them. Inspector Chingum notices John's gang entering the container and goes in as well. In the dark insides of the container, the characters can only be seen By the Lights of Their Eyes... but then they start to beat each other up, creating visible hit stars that light up the inside of the container just enough to make it noticeable that their eyes are actually the only part of their bodies that they animated for that scene, with the rest of their bodies nowhere to be seen.

    Fan Works 

  • In-universe example in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down, where Greg and Rowley try to create a homemade horror movie on No Budget:
    • Rowley is the only actor, and has to act for many. Since Greg has no video editing skills, this means that no scene in the movie can feature more than one character.
    • Rowley plays an unnnamed woman. Unfortunately, he refuses to wear a dress, and they don't have a wig for him. He ends up wearing yoga pants and a hooded sweater, and having the character never show her face.
    Woman: I hope you don't mind if I don't turn around but I am really concentrating on doing these dishes.
    • They try to make a scene in which an unnamed man tries to take a shower, but worms come out instead of water. Greg can't find a way to make it look natural, and settles for throwing gummy worms at Rowley's face and hoping it'll look realistic once they make the final cut.
    • They use ketchup as fake blood.
    • Discussed when Greg points out that he still hasn't figured out how to film the climax of the movie, which would feature a battle against a giant worm. Sadly, they never get around to attempting this scene at all.

  • Mom Can't Cook!: Special Effects in Disney Channel Original Movies are often mocked as being very obvious, although they are occasionally more congratulatory to the creators.
    • In Halloweentown, they make quite a few mentions of the "monsters of varying levels of attention to detail", which range from people in decent costumes to "person in a Shrek mask" and "man in a hat".
    • After Get a Clue has a newspaper article as a plot point, Luke starts looking closely at newspapers shown in other DCOMs to see what the articles say. The one from Get A Clue turns out to feature the same text repeated 3 times, while one from Ready to Run, with a headline about a horse coming to an inspiring finish in a race, has text about the disappearance of a couple in Hawai'i from an area notorious for its drug dealers!
    • One of the podcast's more notable Running Gags is to refer to wonky special effects as "[effect]_notfinal.png" being wiggled around in the shot. The Merch even includes a black T-shirt reading "tshirt-design-NOT-FINAL.png".

  • Digitally-overlaid graphics can often go awry;
    • One time, ESPN's 1st down line during a football game rendered on an angle.
    • During game 2 of the 2017 World Series, a Masterpass sign was digitally added to the outfield wall with a chroma key, but at one point, it accidentally overlaid on top of a player's head.
    • The 2017 Army vs. Navy football game was played on a very snowy day in Philadelphia, leaving the field continuously covered in snow. The production crew must have changed the "greenscreen" effect of the play lines to white. This lead to the first down and line of scrimmage overlays to appear on the jerseys, gloves, and wrist tape of players.
    • Sometimes Australian sports broadcasters superimpose advertisements onto the grass beside the field or over other advertisements on billboards. The flat, jittering graphics tend to be unconvincing to say the least.

    Theme Parks 
  • Disney Theme Parks:
    • The Hatbox Ghost from The Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland remained a legend for decades due to this. He was a skeletal old man with a hatbox in his hand, placed in the attic with the Bride figure, whose heart beat and glowed. Promotional materials said that in the story, the Hatbox Ghost was the groom, whose head faded from his shoulders and reappeared in his box in sync with his bride's heartbeat. (There is evidence that this was part of a murder story in the attic scene, with other hatbox heads in the attic, and the Hatbox Ghost exposing the Bride as the killer with his trick.) The effect was meant to be done with careful lighting- the light would go off above his shoulders, making his head seem to vanish, and go on in his box, revealing the second head inside. However, proximity of the figure to riders made the first part of the illusion fail and the Hatbox Ghost was removed very early in the ride's operation, never made it to the Walt Disney World version, and most riders never saw it, to the point that it was considered a myth until photos of the figure in situ emerged. After, the Attic scene was retooled to make the Bride a lonely, mournful character due to the lack of a victim. After several decades, during which a new murderous Bride story was implemented with more detail, the Hatbox Ghost was finally brought back to Disneyland in 2015 with much more complex effects, with fluid animation, a projected, animated face, and a head-traveling effect that worked while the character was placed right next to the riders' vehicles. (Part of this is due to the new figure being hollow and the head being pulled into the body when the "switch" occurs.) While the new Bride is more obviously murderous, the Hatbox Ghost assumes a similar narrative role to before, likely showing what's in the attic hatboxes, as the hats are on a rack.
    • One Man's Dream II: The Magic Lives On at Tokyo Disneyland ended with a musical number where the company sings the praises of Mickey Mouse, complete with Mickey himself rising from the stage via an elevator. One performance had the elevator get stuck midway, causing the show to end abruptly. Mickey's performer is visibly confused at the malfunction, and some of the dancers can be seen booking it off the stage and behind the curtain when they realize what happened.
    • Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros originally featured an animated sequence of the title characters singing their theme song as part of the finale. When the Mickey Mouse Revue ended its run at Tokyo Disneyland, however, the Imagineers decided to fix up the animatronics of Donald, Jose, and Panchito used in the old show to enhance the finale of Gran Fiesta Tour. While a good idea in theory, the transition was anything but smooth; the animatronics were in their forties by that point and had a very hard time standing up on their own. In one notorious instance, Jose completely fell over during normal operating hours, forcing the park to replace him with a mock "memorial" while he underwent repairs (the same fate later befell Donald despite efforts to keep him propped up with poorly disguised boxes). Eventually the Imagineers decided all three animatronics were long overdue for a refurbishment, so as a temporary measure, they replaced the finale... not with the original animated sequence, but with cheap-looking, static cardboard cutouts of the characters. Soon afterward, the animatronics would return with more fluid movements.

    TV News 
  • Quite a few examples exist of two main failures: putting up the wrong headline or accompanying image (the small pics appearing next to a news anchor's head for each story) and someone who decided to wear the wrong shade of blue or green, causing the clothing to pick up images or video meant for the green/blue screen behind the anchor. Weather forecasters are particularly prone to the second one, given all the use of this type of imaging in their segments.
  • People responsible for news graphics are only human, and sometimes they put up a picture of the wrong person. Or in one case, show a hamster instead of a murder suspect.



Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Special Effects Failure


My Pet Monster

Critic calls out the movie on not having the titular monster in the movie look anything like the cover of the cassette

How well does it match the trope?

4.11 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / CoversAlwaysLie

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