I’d say that most TV shows and movies these days have shots that require some sort of visual effect – that is, some sort of digital manipulation to the image to make it different than how it was shot. This could be as simple as removing a distracting object from the background or an actor’s particularly bad zit, or it could be as complicated as fully animating the full on destruction of a city by a kaiju creature.
Before we dig into the details of how everything is done, let’s talk about some of the different kinds of visual effects – because it’s a huge industry and there are a lot of different things that it tries to accomplish!
The majority of what’s done in film and television isn’t actually the big budget crazy stuff you see in your favourite superhero or apocalypse movie. Instead, it’s little adjustments here and there – removing objects or safety rigs, adding clouds to a clear blue sky, amplifying explosions, or weapon, blood, and weather effects that weren’t shot practically.
Most of this type of VFX is barely noticeable, which is the intent. If it doesn’t look like it’s supposed to be there, then it will likely take the viewer out of the experience of watching. You’d probably be surprised at how much digital manipulation you’re actually seeing – even in something that you wouldn’t expect.
At an editing panel I attended last year, for example, the editor for the latest season of Will and Grace explained that up to half of an episode might include VFX shots! And this is a sitcom that’s filmed in front of a live studio audience!
Green Screen, Blue Screen (We All Screen!)
The next most common VFX shot that you’ll run into is something that’s shot on a chroma key backdrop. Doing this allows for the background (or other thing) to be removed quite easily if done correctly. Most of the time, the background colours that they’ll use are chroma key green or chroma key blue – as these colours don’t typically appear in nature, and therefore are easy to isolate.
However, doing it well can be a bit tricky, as it requires even lighting on the entire background, and the ability to match motion, blend, and colour correct into the new background. I’d actually say from experience, that this is one of the hardest things in VFX to do well.
If you’ve seen movies like Terminator: Genisys, Star Wars Episode 8, or Bladerunner 2049, then you’ve seen how amazing digital doubles can get.
For example, in Bladerunner 2049, I originally thought that they had just de-aged the original actress, Sean Young, for her reprisal of her character Rachel in the original Bladerunner. But it turns out that it was actually a completely different actress, who’s head was digitally removed and replaced by a fully animated model. Check out the breakdown here: https://vimeo.com/249369342
You’ve probably also seen a similar concept in movies like X-Men 3 or Ant-Man and the Wasp, where an actor has been de-aged using these same kinds of techniques.
Fully CG Shots
A lot of the *big* budget VFX being done these days is basically full on CG (or, Computer Generated) animation. This means that in many cases, nothing is actually shot with a real camera on a set for certain shots, which is pretty mind boggling considering how hyper realistic they can get.
Virtual Production – The Future
On the live action version of the Jungle Book, almost everything was VFX! They shot the boy actor on blue screen and animated the environments and other characters later. But how can you really know what you’re shooting when you don’t have any sets or practical actors in the shot?
Here’s where Virtual Production came in – they used a virtual camera to do something called simulcam in order to superimpose the actor into a virtual environment in real time. I’ll be talking more about some of these techniques in future videos, so stay tuned…