Visual Effects Vs. Special Effects

Visual Effects Vs. Special Effects: –

In the last 50 years Visual Effects and Special Effects have had a very close line according to a large number of the public who don’t work or spend a lot of time indulging films; to the rest of us it’s fairly simple:

  • Visual Effects = computer generated.
  • Special Effects = real life effects.

In a recent workshop with Jon Holmes, we delved into VFX and its uses, when to use it and what VFX can’t do. Myself and the rest of the class looked at applying a texture onto a moving object within 3D space which is one of the basic steps that opens up many doors to you. This sort of knowledge is what can really help the convergence task flourish, the only limit is your imagination.


History of VFX: –

Voyage Dans La Lune, is one of the oldest examples of VFX, it’s incredible that the following video was created nearly over 115 years ago. As dated as the film looks I personally feel that it still really holds up and does’t spoil the film or feel like a cheap gimmick. At the time this would have been something to get exited about, however now-a-days computer generated visual effects seems to be infesting movies; however we will look at why CGI has a negative stigma surrounding it and why it really isn’t that bad.

I won’t lie to you, I am guilty of being swept up by the uneducated public of just spewing all sorts about CGI and why its the worst thing to happen since sliced bread. Wait, that’s not how it goes… Anyway, CGI has this really negative image at the moment that it’s only used to create stupid looking gopher’s in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or to throw a Transform across a city in the latest Michael Bay blockbuster. I don’t see that the case anymore; after dicussing VFX, creating some of my own and watching behind the scenes of various movies I have seen the true power of CGI and why we went to hate it. Because bad CGI is all we see, where as good CGI you barely notice, which to be fair is doing its job correctly but to the uneducated the word ‘CGI’ just reminds them of all the crappy 3D models we have seen over the years. The following video by Freddie Wong, over at RocketJump explains this in more detail.

Pros / Cons: –


  • Inexpensive
  • Allows more control
  • Allows creation of sets & characters that otherwise would be impossible


  • Too much noticeable CGI can resort in audience feels a lack of authenticity
  • Time consuming
  • Can risk alienating your audience


Creating VFX: –

The first thing you are taught when it comes to VFX is motion tracking as its a fundemental skill that is needed to progress – it’s like trying to run without learning how to walk. It’s common knowledge to use a high shutter speed when filming your shots that will include visual effects, this is due to it allowing you to remove motion blur from fast movements helping keep tracking points visible for After Effects. Motion blur can then be re-added through the program where as removing blur from these fast movements is a lot harder to do. The following example shows the high shutter speed in action:

2D Motion Tracking Test ::: After Effects CC ::: The Grid on the Box from The Curious Engine on Vimeo.


I explored further with this method of working and began tracking a notification on an Android device, a new composition was created where I created a ‘WARNING’ graphic that would be displayed on the device. The same 4 point pin tracking process was used, helping show its expanding uses.



Tracking can also be used to stick images to other images, for example the following video by Jon Holmes, showcases a sky image that was replaced and then tracked onto a building near the horizon – another processes is used to help the houses and trees not be removed but instead be cut out and allow the sky to be placed behind creating the illusion of the sky being fully replaced.

Workshop1 ::: 2D Tracking ::: Sky Replace from The Curious Engine on Vimeo.

 Uses in the Convergence Task: –

I feel that VFX will be used a lot within the future of my one minute wonder short film, I will discuss this in the next VFX blog post.

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