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.
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:
- In-Camera Effects - achieved by manipulating the camera or its parts
- Practical Effects - achieved by the manipulation of the set itself, or by use of props on the set
- Miniature Effects - a particular kind of practical effect, often credited separately, using minature models.
- Computer-Generated Images or CGI - utilizing graphics generated and manipulated by computer
Special Effect Tropes
- The Coconut Effect
- Digital Head Swap
- Dramatic Spotlight
- Evolutionary Retcon
- Fantastic Fireworks
- Fat Suit
- Gratuitous Special Effects
- High-Pressure Blood
- Ludicrous Gibs
- Natural Spotlight
- Obscured Special Effects
- Obvious Stunt Double
- Off-the-Shelf FX
- Ominous Visual Glitch
- Rubber-Forehead Aliens
- Special Effect Branding
- Special Effects Evolution
- Special Effect Failure
- Styrofoam Rocks
- When Props Attack
- Video Inside, Film Outside
- Fanservice (Often said to be the "cheapest special effect.")
- Take Our Word for It and Coconut Superpowers (Often even cheaper!)
Gathered here are some cool and corny special effects, for your reading pleasure.
- 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.
- WikiHow has a whole article on alternative ways to make fake blood.
- 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.
- Backlighting is used for rain scenes, as rain doesn't show on camera otherwise.