You can make pretty much anything with visual effects software: other worlds, new creatures, even sharknadoes. With so much creative power at our digital fingertips, it's easy to forget the incredible effects that we can pull off in the real world with real objects. About a year ago, we shared a few practical effects tutorials by Shanks FX (aka Joe Schenkenberg or Joey Shanks,) which showed how to create warp speed effects with steel wool, as well as alien atmospheres with a fish tank. In this demonstration, Shanks shows us how to create the cosmos with a few dirt cheap household items.
In the video below, Shanks demonstrates how to "create the cosmos" with just a few inexpensive items. A sheet of glass and a black backdrop form the stage, or the "space" of your universe. Mixing food coloring with sweetened condensed milk (the demo doesn't mention this, but it looks as though the milk has been reduced to be made thinner,) as well as other "assorted liquids" will form the "galaxies", while fibers from paper towels form the stars. The key ingredient, however, is hydrogen peroxide. Put some into a syringe, distribute it onto the glass, and watch the cosmos you created come to life.
I have nothing against creating effects in post (how else could I create a skateboarding dinosaur for my new film Kickflipasaurus 2: Juraskin For Trouble?) However, there's something so attractive about creating them with my bare hands. With so many opting for CGI and post-production methods, you don't come by these in-camera techniques nearly as often, which means many don't realize the incredible effects you can create with real stuff.
That's what Shanks' tutorials and demos do so well. He takes everyday household items (fish tanks, sheets of glass, food coloring, eye droppers, rope,) some professional equipment (stands, lights, a DSLR) and creates images that you would've never thought were possible outside of post -- effects that could work just as well for title sequences as they would in the body of your film.
Be sure to check out Shanks FX's YouTube channel for other tutorials and video demonstrations on how to create practical effects, like making planets out of dry ice, using blood cannons, and painting with light. I mean -- if you're making an experimental film, his channel is essentially the bible.
What do you think of Shanks' practical approach to creating effects? Do you have any tips you'd like to share?