When most people think about visual effects in films, their minds jump to the big blockbusters produced by companies like Marvel, Lionsgate and Lucas Films. The films and often franchises that are known for their stellar effects are generally huge commercial successes and sit in cinemas for weeks after their initial release. However, visual effects are not just for action flicks and many believe that the best use of Visual Effects (VFX) technology is when it’s barely noticeable. Visual effects can add value and setting to scenes as well as help increase production quality on low-budget or independent films.
By incorporating visual effects into a film, many makers are able to add elements to the shot itself. For many filmmakers, budget and scheduling becomes an issue when shooting on location. It’s often impossible to control the conditions we shoot in. Any on-location director has suffered weather that’s completely indifferent to what the shoot is trying to capture, and this will affect not only the narrative but also continuity. With elements like snow and rain, visual effects often save the day when hiring equipment is too expensive or a change in the forecast affects the desired outcome of your shoot.
VFX can help add elements and features to locations which better represent a director’s vision, for example with the use of a green screen. A long loved secret of the film industry, green screens are not only used in both commercial and independent cinema but also for television commercials and the ever growing creative community of YouTube. Whether you’re using a green screen to create an otherworldly landscape or to give a stationary car the illusion of movement, a visual effect supervisor can help add value to what is otherwise a far poorer shot.
Besides being able to add elements to a shot, visual effects can also help eliminate mistakes made during filming. Whether it’s a boom mic that shouldn’t be in frame or a lamp that throws off a period narrative, visual effects can help remove any imperfections and film mistakes in post-production.
Visual effects can therefore be flashy and grandiose or subtle and barely noticeable both in large and low budget films. 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story shocked viewers by digitally manipulating the appearances of two actors to resemble the late Peter Cushing as well as Carrie Fisher as a young Princess Leia. It was a subtle and almost unnoticeable use of visual effects in a franchise that has been Oscar-nominated repeatedly for Best Visual Effects. Similarly, lower budget films like 2012’s Chronicle, a found footage sci-fi superhero film, work with seamless visual effects that mirror those of large-scale action films without being too flashy.
While indie films like District 9 manage to snag Oscars from blockbuster films for their detailed and in-your-face VFX, many big commercial films use visual effects in an additional, subtle way. You can bet that almost every film you’ve seen in the last decade has used visual effects, whether you may have picked up on them or not. Often VFX supervisors are brought on simply to adjust the temperature of a shot or eliminate the elbow of a crew member that was inadvertently captured. Visual effects are no longer just for Hollywood heavy hitters and digital technology is now available to filmmaking productions of every size. So, ANY production that needs them can take advantage of the benefits VFX bring.