When it comes to visual effects, computers are great and can help us do a lot of things, from adding a few extra bodies to a crowd to creating worlds and creatures that don't exist in real life. However, we haven't always had powerful machines and software to do these things for us. We talk about CGI so much that we forget that some of the best effects can be done (and have been done) through visual trickery and sheer gumption.
Sometimes it's not what you show the audience, but what you don't show them. Sometimes the best cuts are a special effect on their own.
In this video, director David F. Sandberg, a.k.a. ponysmasher, goes over a bunch of ways you can create sweet effects using a few editing tricks, not only saving you money but allowing you to put things in your film that you might've thought were only possible with CGI.
How to Use Cuts as a Visual Effect
There's nothing better than a long take. They're beautiful and really steep you in the world of the movie. Sometimes I see a long take so wonderful it's impossible for me to look away. And movies like Birdman and 1917 take it a step further and appear as though they were shot in one single take...appear being the operative word. These films and others like them use hidden cuts to assemble the story.
How? Well, a foreground object obscuring the frame or a quick whip pan can give you enough cover to cut to the next shot without the edit being noticed.
The benefit of cutting, even in frame, allows you to switch an important prop to fool the camera. So if you need to put a fake sword through someone's head, a cut allows you to do that. If you keep the camera static, you can use editing techniques like reverse playback and quick cutting to give the illusion of movement. Ridley Scott did this in Alien during the scene in which Ripley gets attacked by the face-hugger.
Cutting between angles, as John Landis did in American Werewolf in London, can allow you to put more makeup on the guy changing between shots, which makes that transformation feel more real. If you don't have the money or computing power to make your monster, do what Landis did: change up the angles, add makeup, and enjoy your very believable werewolf.
What are some of your favorite cuts used to mimic VFX? Are they stunts like a Texas switch (which doesn't always use a cut) or maybe in movies like Dead Alive where someone's face is yanked off?
Let us know in the comments.
When you’re starting out as a filmmaker, making your very first independent film, you’re up against a lot of expectations from the one critic who matters most: yourself. There's a lot of pressure to get it right at any cost. You want it to be amazing to showcase your talents, ideas, and perspective. And to validate your abilities in your own mind.