November 3, 2013

A Few Techniques That Can Help You Create Effects on a Budget

Paranormal ActivityFor filmmakers who enjoy making effects-heavy movies, be it a horror, sci-fi, or any genre variant really, it can be challenging to find ways that make those effects more believable to your audience. And when getting really good VFX often means having access to expensive software and/or a talented effects artist, the no/low-budget filmmaker who can't afford them needs to get creative, even a little magical when putting together a film. MovieMaker Magazine shares a few tips that will help blend, hide, and solidify the special and visual effects in your film.

The foundation of a good effects-driven film is a good story. I think that kind of goes without saying, right? But, if your story calls for some effects, whether filmed in-camera or created in post, there are a few things that need to happen in order to make sure your audience doesn't laugh themselves to death as they stop watching 30 minutes in.

A good effect should be so well-done that it's believable, and part of that means weaving together what's real and what's not in such a way that the beginning and end of an effect is invisible. So, here are some helpful things, courtesy of MovieMaker, to think about as you plan your attack.

Distract and Hide

The earliest cinematic special effects were done by Georges Méliès, who interestingly enough was also an illusionist. Méliès used his mastery of illusion to create convincing special effects in similar ways that the filmmakers of today do. One technique that will help you create believable effects is using distractions to hide them. VFX specialist, Zach Lipovsky, talks about how the shaky-cam work, natural light, whip pans, and lens flares common in found-footage films help "hide the seams."

These things distract the eye from the things we’re so used to being able to pick apart, thus helping a computer-generated image merge into the fabric of the film -- If you’re doing a long take, you can whip pan amongst subjects, and within those jolts you can hide the beginning and ends of your visual effects.”

In-camera Effects

Creating effects in post is essential if you want to transport your audience into a supernatural world. However, achieving as many effects in-camera as you can will help sell them to your viewer. MovieMaker describes one creative effect Lipovsky uses that to give the illusion that one of his characters is running extremely fast:

To create the effect, Lipovsky first films a running actor while driving next to him on a scooter. He then films the same shot while driving faster, but this time sans actor with only the background in the frame. His team then takes this second shot (of the background filmed while driving faster) and composites it behind the shot of the actor running, to increase the apparent speed.

Pick your Shots

Just because you have a small budget doesn't mean that the impact of your special/visual effects is destined to be small as well. The key here is quality over quantity. In other words, spreading sub par effects throughout your entire movie may not be as beneficial to your film as picking a few important scenes and bolstering the effects in them. Lipovsky says, "By far the most important thing is picking the right shots and doing them as close to perfectly as possible."

Surely finding a workaround for making an engaging film with believable effects with no budget is just as creative as creating big budget effects! And in a time when there is no lack of big budget effects in movies, your audience might actually enjoy subtle, well-integrated effects anyway. Less might actually be more!

Be sure to check out MovieMaker's article for more tips on creating effects on a budget here.

What  do you think? Do you have any low-budget effects tips/techniques to share? Let us know in the comments.

Link: Halloween Retro-SPOOK-Tive: Cheap Effects -- MoveMaker Magazine

Your Comment

38 Comments

The example used for "in-camera effects" is one the requires compositing... I mean, really?

November 3, 2013 at 8:34PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Robert

LOL

November 3, 2013 at 8:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Tyler

Not only that but also rotoscoping a running character is very labor intensive and a bit challenging for somebody who's not experienced. Bad example for a shot that doesn't need "access to expensive software and/or a talented effects artist," This article is full of bad info and borders on useless.

November 3, 2013 at 9:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Mitch

Is being rude really necessary? It's a free blog. You don't pay a cent to view these articles. If you don't like them, move on. Or add comments that educate and build up those involved in an appropriate and kind way.

I would like to thank those involved in the many great articles on this website for their time and efforts. Keep it coming. :)

November 4, 2013 at 12:55AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Jonesy

They are being constructive though - they're pointing out that a paragraph/example specifically about 'in-camera effects' describes something which isn't an in-camera effect. It's basic stuff, and even that error isn't redeemed by having any images/video or further description to demonstrate how the effect was achieved and how effective it was.

Just because somebody points out flaws doesn't mean they're being horrible.

November 4, 2013 at 6:35AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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wilx

seriously. and what they're describing wouldn't even look right, no matter how many hours of work you put into rotoscoping the guy out and compositing him in! i mean his feet would be hitting the pavement at the wrong speed!

November 4, 2013 at 6:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Allen

That comment made my day.

November 4, 2013 at 1:11PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Michael Hawk

Sorry V Renée, but could we start having some quality over quantity? As pointed out, your point of this article (in camera effects) isn't even in camera, and you just seem to be copy out of other articles and blurring it here. Could you perhaps mount a few different articles to create new content with interesting ideas?

November 3, 2013 at 8:45PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Tyler

Your comments remind me of a certain level of high school hellishness that I don't wish to return to -- ever.

November 3, 2013 at 11:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

I know what you mean.
This comment made my day.

November 4, 2013 at 3:03AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Raphael Wood

But he is kinda right... It's not a good article, if you would have read it a couple of times after you wrote it, you would see that too.

November 4, 2013 at 8:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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henri108

But the article does have a decent link for further information. Groundbreaking or anticipated things (stand up GH4 !) tend to come in like a tide rather than every single day, so surely there's a balance to maintain between keeping interest in the site active or people drifting off due to inaction ?

November 4, 2013 at 10:11AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Saied

Insult the "customer" by referring to him as a high school bully, when he's only providing constructive criticism-- because that's always a good plan. Blogging 101: Don't piss off your readers.

November 4, 2013 at 11:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Rob

she's perfect!!! she writes everything perfectly!! how somedare to tell her that her article is not that good??? Oh my god!!! He surelly was a high school bully.... ¬¬

November 4, 2013 at 12:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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jesuan

Guys, the customer adage doesn't hold up since no goods are being sold and the service is free. When articles don't interest me I skip them. There are options here; maybe submit your own articles or tips for consideration as guest posts, otherwise you budding Eisensteins and Lynchs are free to put the finishing touches on that "masterpiece". I'll wrap this last post on the matter, but I am a bit surprised at the reaction.

November 4, 2013 at 2:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Saied

Being a Human Being 101: Don't tolerate people's impudence.

I don't mind when people don't like an article. At the end of the day, constructive criticism helps me grow as a writer. Snarky comments, alternately, do not.

November 4, 2013 at 3:30PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

Being a writer - rule 101: research your material thoroughly

November 18, 2013 at 3:33PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Jules

Be Kind Rewind comes to mind id like to film like that one day and make the behind the scenes footage... also if people dont have anything nice or productive to instead of being snide they should shut it guess troll are going to keep trolling

November 3, 2013 at 9:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Whispers

I could point out the fallacy of your comments... but then I would have to explain what fallacy means. Also, you're dumb.

November 3, 2013 at 10:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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M. Dizzy

If you go to YouTube and search for Film Riot, they just did an episode that showed how to get a ghost character on screen, all in camera. It was great!

November 3, 2013 at 10:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Michael H

I do have to say...this post wasn't as good as I thought it should be. But thanks anyway!

November 4, 2013 at 2:36AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Meji

Criticism a bit cruel. You wouldn't watch The Making of ....(insert James Cameron title) and say "Oh no, I don't have the budget". Would that stop you making a film ? Your own hard work is saving money anyway by not having someone else do it for you, and the article is inspiring us not to be afraid of some original thought to tackle effects problems too. After all, we are supposed to be "glass half full" kinda people.

November 4, 2013 at 4:33AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Saied

Sorry, but I'm in agreement with the people who aren't impressed with this - there's no actual content of any use...

I know it's a free site, I know people are taking the time to write these
articles... But this used to be the first site I'd look at each morning because a lot of thought and attention went into the content. There are still great articles on here, but there's also far too many like this - and it's killing my love for the site, wading through this sort of thing.

If I remember rightly, Hollywood Camera Work has some good tutorials (to buy) on effects and compositing, and VideoCopilot should be in everyone's bookmarks folder for tutorials that are actually useful...

November 4, 2013 at 4:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Needless to say I am disappointed with this article and NFS...

November 4, 2013 at 1:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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James

A lot of people woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. The article isn't brilliant, but it's also written just fine. Now try posting actually useful comments instead of attacking content creators in an immature style reminiscent of YouTube.

November 4, 2013 at 2:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Yes. This site has been getting very YouTube comment-y lately; annoying trolls, unnecessarily aggressive/rude comments etc. Everyday it's becoming easier to see why the admin are planning to go for a compulsory real name situation.

November 4, 2013 at 3:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Mak

but calling something an in-camera trick that clearly isn't, isn't trolling. it's simply calling out a point in the article that's blatantly false.

you call that written just fine?

November 4, 2013 at 3:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Allen

You have to take tone into account too; some critiques are more equal than others. One in the comments here was just downright obnoxious. Re trolls: I was referring to a commenter spamming every article a few days ago with an irrelevant camera promotion.
Ehhh... seriously considering taking the YouTube Feather approach to the entire blogosphere and just becoming a lurker. Too much energy is being wasted on stuff like this.

November 4, 2013 at 5:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Mak

fair enough

November 4, 2013 at 5:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Allen

You know, I probably shouldn't have titled that section "In-Camera Effects" -- or at least elaborated and shared a few, but my point in that section was this: "...achieving as many effects in-camera as you can will help sell them to your viewer." Getting things in the camera as opposed to in post might help no/low-budget filmmakers who 1.) don't have money, and 2.) don't know After Effects or similar programs to create something cool.

Honestly, the heart of the article was to encourage anyone who thinks that the money they don't have is keeping them from making the movie they want to make. That's all, guys. If the article sucked, that's fine. Just know my intention was to be an encouragement.

November 5, 2013 at 2:50AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

The article was fine. You contribute more to the online filmmaking community in a week than most people angrily complaining and moaning (which I am often guilty of) in comments sections will in their entire lives. Just keep doing your thing.

November 5, 2013 at 3:17AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Mak

absolutely, and the tone of encouragement definitely comes through. didn't mean to be 'mean' or anything, because I do like this website and have enjoyed your other articles.

i for one am a big proponent of in-camera effects, and having done my fair share of post production and knowing just how tedious and time consuming it cane be, that one section just kind of rubbed me the wrong way since it was completely contradictory. but no big deal. we're all adults here, right? this site is awesome and i encourage you guys to keep up the good work!

November 5, 2013 at 7:21AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Allen

Wow. Tough room.

November 4, 2013 at 4:25PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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ronn

man you guys are mean i wonder what these people with the rude comments have achieved in their lives

November 4, 2013 at 7:45PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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hazem abdulrab

Oh gosh. I suppose I've caused quite a ruckus with my initial post, huh? I merely made a reactionary comment, and in no way intended to 'troll'. Additionally, my words are not a reflection of the author who has churned out some helpful articles in the past. That being said, I do agree that quantity seems to have taken precedence over quality here on NFS, but that should not yet take away from a lot of the positive resources they provide.

November 4, 2013 at 11:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Robert

Ok, so I agree with the rotoscoping hell idea. That's stupid. That's the first thing I though of when presented with this scenario...I am picturing my self spending all day cutting out the running guy against the other background for a 3 second shot or so. Wow, no...not the way I would do that. How would I do it?

I'm serious when I say it would actually take less time to set up a green screen and a treadmill. Please do not ask me to rotoscope anything unless it's one of those absolute necessary things to save the film in post.

November 10, 2013 at 7:33PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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I'd also like to take deference to the fact that in-camera effects are only good if you can pull them off, but it you don't, then the actors/scene has to be taken again and again until you get it right.

HOWEVER... the distract and hide techniques definitely DO work well. It also helps to do several takes with these kinds of effects, to make sure your timing is right, but SPEED is everything with this kind of work. For a good example of that, you can see the "group" scene in my video where we had to do 4 different takes, but you will not know it because of the camera movements in between people and the editing: https://vimeo.com/14679994
time: 1:17 thru 2:50.
Also hot tricks are virtual zooming and stretching: Look at my use of that in the same video, but this section: 2:50 thru 2:60

November 10, 2013 at 7:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Great program, very structured, but I couldn't find RGB Curves the most important RAW control. Let me know when curves are added to the program.
J.

December 6, 2013 at 6:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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