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We may proudly proclaim that we are impartial to the use of special effects in a movie, and value more that the movie have a brain (and presumably also a heart, lungs, stomach, and other major organs, but let's not go there or the metaphor might spleen away). But we all know the truth: special effects can make or break a movie faster than a Serial Killer can cut the Plucky Comic Relief in two with a machete in a shower of High-Pressure Blood.

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So, here are some of the ways movies fool us (or don't) with the Spectacle of fiction.

Special effects can be classed into subgroups depending on how they were achieved:


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Gathered here are some cool and corny special effects, for your reading pleasure.

Blood

  • In old black and white films, chocolate syrup was used to simulate blood. Its dark color and viscosity made for pretty convincing texture.
    • For color films, Karo-brand sugar syrup plus red food coloring became the standard, and is still used today.
    • Cheaper productions can use a combination of chocolate and strawberry syrups as a quick shortcut.

Camera Effects

  • 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).
  • A dark cover 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.
  • A filmmaker could create a "ghost" by exposing the film to the same scene twice, once with and once without the actor.
  • The Rotoscope is a device which projects film images downward onto a table, where the image can be traced by hand. Although the Rotoscope machine has been superceded by Photoshop-type software, the techniques remain largely the same.
    • By tracing the outline of an object in the frame, a custom-shaped traveling matte can be created. This is how the (models of) Imperial Walkers in Return of the Jedi were able to walk behind (real) trees.
    • A less common usage is to actually trace the entire film image, creating a completely hand-drawn frame. Ralph Bakshi's adaptation of The Lord of the Rings used this technique, and it was also used for spaceship shots in the 70s/80s Flash Gordon cartoon.
    • Chroma Key (more commonly known as green/blue screen) is an evolution of the same concept. Only by using a vibrant and bright color the computer can automatically know where to rotoscope for you.

Environmental Effects

  • Backlighting is used for rain scenes, as rain doesn't show on camera otherwise.

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