Have you ever seen a cool shot on film or TV and thought: "How'd they do that?"

Most of the time, it is achieved using a variety of visual effects, or VFX.

Read on to find out what VFX is and how it is used.

What is VFX?

Visual Effects (VFX) is the process through which videos or images are altered or enhanced for live-action media.

They are effects that could not be captured during live filming since they are too dangerous, expensive, or simply impossible to do.

VFX allows for the integration of realistic-looking environments, characters, and occurrences.

VFX definition

What is the difference between VFX, SFX, and special effects?

These terms are often used interchangeably, but all denote different meanings.

VFX uses a combination of live footage with post-production digital imagery, whereas CGI are images created 100% digitally.

CGI can be used on its own in a movie or be integrated into live-action shots.

Special effects are captured without the aid of a computer: think animatronics or prosthetics makeup.

5 Types of visual effects

1. CGI

Computer-generated imagery (CGI) is used to describe digitally created VFX in media. They can be 2D or 3D but are usually 3D VFX.

CGI is most commonly used when creating a creature, mythical or extinct, like dragons or dinosaurs.

CGI can also be used more subtly, making older actors appear younger.

2. Compositing

"Chroma Keying" or Compositing is when artists combine visual effects from different origins to make it appear like they are in the same place. This involves using a green or blue screen which is later replaced with various elements using compositing software.

An example of this is using live footage with matte paintings- illustrated backgrounds or settings composited with live footage.

3. Motion capture

VFX in films

Mocap, or motion capture, is when an actor's actions are digitally recorded and transferred to a computer-generated 3D model. This also involves 'performance capture' when facial expressions are recorded—a common way of putting the actor in a motion-capture suit covered in markers that cameras can track.

Think of Andy Serkis' performance as Gollum in Lord of the Rings.

4. Matte painting

Matte painting is a kind of Compositing VFX. It involves using a still background, such as a matte painting, and later composited with live footage.

Think The Wizard of Oz (1939).

5. Animation

This is where figures are manipulated to appear as moving images. Back in the day, these figures were hand-drawn. These days CGI is used more often to make animation sequences.

Stop-motion animation is also popular: Think Wallace and Gromit or Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs.

VFX

3 Famous examples of VFX in movies

1. Dumbo (2019)

Disney's live-action remakes are taking the world by storm. The live remake of Dumbo in 2019 is a perfect example of VFX: It started as a bunch of clay models that were scanned into computers for animation.

2. Dawn of the Planet of Apes (2014)

The Planet of the Apes saga uses a mixture of motion capture and hand-drawn animation to make it come to life.

In this way, the performances look photorealistic.

3. The Matrix (1999)

The Matrix revolutionized cinematography in many ways. Think of the scene where Keanu Reeves dodges a bullet.

They used something here called 'bullet-time,' where 122 cameras were carefully placed around Reeves and then triggered in sequence. This was all done on a green screen so the background could later composite over the cameras.

Learn more. Become a better filmmaker

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What is VFX?

VFX or Visual effects is a process through which videos or images are changed for digital media since the sequence itself is too costly, dangerous, or impossible to make.

What does VFX stand for?

VFX stands for Visual Effects.

What is VFX animation?

VFX is the manipulation of scenes to show images that haven’t happened in real life. Animation is a kind of VFX where figures are animated to appear as moving images.

What is VFX and CGI?

VFX or visual effects is an umbrella term for creating effects for media that don’t exist in real life. CGI, or computer-generated image, involves creating these effects on a computer.