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Filmmaking Guide: Key special effects techniques done during the shoot

Aside from basic in-camera techniques like stop-motion shooting and time-lapse photography and old school special effects techniques like dolly-zoom, miniature, and rear and front projection effects, there are other techniques you can use during the shoot to create special effects shots.

These options are now typically accessible not only to professional filmmakers but amateurs as well.

Speed-ramping Effect

Speed ramping refers to a long take involving any combination of the following: parts that move slowly, parts that move quickly, and parts that move at normal speed. This technique primarily works when the camera and the elements onscreen are in motion. Speed ramping typically appears in action-packed moments to provide dynamic and kinetic energy to the scene. Popular examples include the extensive back-to-back fight scene of Stelios and Astinos in “300” and a number of scenes of Sherlock Holmes analyzing his opponent’s moves in “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.”

The speed ramping technique is a feature available in select professional and consumer cameras. It is mainly called the camera’s variable-speed shooting feature, which allows the changing of the speed of the camera while filming. For technical reasons, this effect renders a much better effect onscreen compared to simply applying speed-ramping during post-production. This is because of the specific technical process the variable-speed function of the camera applies to the footage, something you can’t replicate while editing.


Animatronics is a technology used to create any small or large machine with robotic anatomy that replicates organic or animated motion in real time. This is mostly used in creating creatures that have lifelike physical presence as they move onscreen. An animatronic creature can move using a remote control or may need human intervention to aid its movement. Examples of animatronics used in popular movies include the fantasy creatures in “Where the Wild Things Are,” a couple of dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park,” the creepy doll Chucky in “Child’s Play,” and the hairy beast Ludo in “Labyrinth.”

There are different types of animatronic systems available, from the simplest ones that work more like puppets to ones powered by pneumatics, hydraulics, or electricity. Sophisticated animatronics used in Hollywood combine computer and human controls. For low-budget and amateur filmmaking projects, there are also cheaper systems reliant more on manual and mechanical operations using one or more people.

Makeup and Prosthetic Effects

Makeup and prosthetics are essential to make a character look convincing. Sometimes, simple makeup on the face can be combined with corn syrup, food coloring, or liquid latex to create blood, wounds, and other effects for a variety of purposes on the actor’s body. Distinct examples of makeup and prosthetic effects in movies include Leonardo diCaprio’s face as an old J. Edgar Hoover in “J. Edgar,” Zachary Quinto’s ears in “Star Trek,” and Gwyneth Paltrow’s face and body in “Shallow Hal.”

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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