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Filmmaking Guide: Making movie special effects

There are many ways to create special effects for movie projects.

For most live-action movies, people can do this using a green or blue screen background. Some productions use the challenging process called rotoscoping, which requires a frame-by-frame alteration of the movie. Most filmmaking works actually use professional image-editing, special effects, animation, and video-editing programs to create video effects and computer-generated imagery (CGI).

Mastery of software programs is crucial when making special effects in movies. However, the opportunity to create these effects is not just for those who have proficient technical skills in professional programs. For home movies, it is also possible to incorporate special effects using user-friendly and non-technical programs, but their downside involves the inability to have enough control on the effects generated for the movie.

General Guide to Making Special Effects Using Software Programs
  1. Choose a program to use for making the movie’s special effects. For many requirements, especially if they involve demanding scenes with a variety of visual changes, you will most likely need more than one program. For instance, you can create an initial image in Adobe Photoshop, make particle effects in ParticleIllusion, and make 3D models or animation works in Maya or 3ds Max.
  2. Gather the separate visual elements you have, then import them into the video-editing, special effects, or animation program you will use to combine these elements. Sometimes these elements work as individual visual effects shots that will serve as the movie’s final footage. Often times they are placed over other live-action or animated footage.
  3. Create the special effects you need through the tools and menus of the program. These tools and menus may vary per program, but essentially all of them involve using special effects functions to create new still or moving images or alter an existing image. They may require using very technical steps, but there are some you can readily apply to your edited footage by simply clicking a program tool or menu. Popular functions include smoke; rain; fire; animated texts; motion graphics; and alterations to shape, color, and other image attributes.
  4. View your work in the program’s “Preview Window.” Make any change in your effects as needed. You may also experiment on the timing and pacing of your effects at this stage.
  5. Render your effects using your program’s “Render” button. This is usually found under the menu options. Rendering is the process of producing the final video based on the edits, alterations, or effects applied to it.
  6. Export your rendered effects into a compatible video file format for your video-editing program, like Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere, and Avid Media Composer. If the effects or animation program you use has interconnected functionality with your video-editing program, it is possible to skip the exporting process; the rendered work can be readily transferred into the video-editing program where the movie is being finalized.
  7. Use the finalized effects in your video-editing program so you can integrate these effects with your edited movie.
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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