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Filmmaking Guide: Basic in-camera techniques for homemade special effects

Putting special effects in your home movies doesn’t always require complicated post-production work and special effects software. You can create visual magic in-camera without using any special equipment through simple techniques that allow you to readily record the actual effects from the camera. These options apply similar concepts and basic camera adjustments to create specific effects for your movie projects. All of these techniques utilize continuous cut-to-cut filming processes that result in the production of special effects shots.

Jump Cut Magic

A jump cut is a very old camera trick used since the early days of cinema. It is usually described as the appear-disappear effect, as it allows a certain element on frame to show up and magically disappear onscreen without cutting.

Actually, this camera technique requires shooting a first shot with the element seen onscreen, then another shot without the element onscreen. The camera and other essential elements left on screen must not move in both shots. Once these shots are played together, it seems like the first and second shots comprise a single shot with the necessary appearing and disappearing effect visible onscreen.

Stop-Motion Shoot

A stop-motion shoot, often done in stop-motion animation movies, follows the same idea as a jump cut effect but is utilized for another, more specific purpose. Instead of the magical effect of an element appearing and disappearing onscreen, the stop-motion effect provides a different, imperfect, or organic look to how the elements on the video move.

This can also be very useful in scenes that require an inanimate object to move on its own, such as a doll, stuffed toy, or puppet. For instance, making a doll walk requires incrementally moving every part of its body for each photo taken. After dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of sequential shots, once the series of photos is played back, it provides the illusion of the doll moving onscreen.

Time-Lapse Photography

Like in jump cuts and stop-motion effects, time-lapse photography simply follows the basic idea of a movie (moving picture) being composed of a series of still pictures played back in sequence to promote the illusion of movement. Unlike in a video camera that makes the recording automated, a time-lapse effect generally utilizes a still camera to manually shoot photos of the subject at specific intervals. This causes lapse of time with how the subject moves on the final video, which means a subject like the sun can move significantly faster onscreen using this technique. It is also possible to use a video camera with a special function called the intervalometer to create a smooth time-lapse effect.

Whether manually shooting photos or using an intervalometer, time-lapse photography makes a certain action look faster, such as clouds moving across the sky, the blooming of a flower, or the construction of a building. A time-lapse effect is a popularly used device to suggest passage of time in movies and other types of video presentations. The camera is preferably locked in a tripod to ensure that it doesn’t unintentionally move for the entire duration of the shoot.

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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