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Conceptualizing and creating special effects for home movies

Today’s technology already makes it practical to create special effects work even for home movies.

This typically requires generating graphics and animation in image-editing, video-editing, special effects, and animation programs. Many of these effects are combined with live-action footage to produce shots that are not practical, too expensive, or impossible to shoot. Some of the most popular effects include big explosions, blizzards, tidal waves, space backgrounds, magical or surreal environments, and morphing and shape-shifting elements.

Format and Software Requirements

The format you need should be clear early on in the production. Will your film’s special effects be in 2D or 3D? This readily influences the software you use. For instance, 2D effects can be done using Adobe Flash or After Effects. Meanwhile, 3D effects can be done using Autodesk Maya, 3ds Max, or Blender.

You may also use other programs meant for more specific effects like ParticleIllusion, which concentrates on the production of particle effects popularly used in movies with fantastic, surreal, and even action elements. Moreover, you can find a variety of programs that are best used on effects and textures for smoke, fire, explosion, and underwater scenes.

Creative and Other Technical Requirements

All technical specifications of the film should also be clear before starting the production. A number of questions should be readily answered even during the conceptualization stage. Would the effects you need require you to shoot some live-action parts on a green screen? Would you use some in-camera techniques and art requirements (makeup, prosthetics, 3D models, puppets, animatronics, etc.) to create visual effects?

Would you rather do frame-by-frame alteration of the images that comprise the video footage? Would you use stop-motion animation, or do you want to create all visual elements using the computer? Should your movie’s effects look photorealistic, surreal, or cartoony? All these affect your initial plans and decisions on which programs and production workflow to use.


Like in a professional production, incorporating special effects in a movie requires conceptualizing how the visual elements would exactly look onscreen. Without a distinct vision, your movie’s special effects would have no direction and would most likely not work. This concept must be implemented using the tools and resources you have — primarily the software available to you and your mastery in using it.

Feasibility and “Previs”

Before finalizing your movie’s special effects, checking and confirming the feasibility, practicality, and other workflow requirements helps you avoid wasting time and effort in completing a particular concept only to find out by the end of the production that it just doesn’t work. Through planning, visualizing, making concept studies, and exploring different options, you can better decide which production workflow, visual style, and resources to use for your project’s special effects. In line with this, conducting tests and creating previsualization (previs) materials allow you to have a better glimpse of how the final movie would look.

Making the Special Effects

Making movie special effects always requires mastery of the software program. Before officially starting, make sure you familiarize yourself with your chosen program, then explore its different features. For professional works and even cutting edge amateur works, the best options are the more technical programs. When doing a home movie, it is actually possible to make special effects shots using more user-friendly consumer programs, but these options generally don’t provide enough control over the final look of the effects.

Rianne Hill Soriano
Rianne is a director, writer, educator, and consultant in film and commercial productions. From mainstream essentials to independent flair, she knows the drill in making entertaining and well-meaning productions. She can lead a pack passionate about extreme action and technological edge; she can breathe an endearing and sentimental style for a team with a sweet disposition.

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