Filmmaking Tips: Homemade Special Effects

December 21, 2009 at 2:56 pm Leave a comment

The media and the Internet are abuzz with ideas for a variety of fascinating, project-enhancing effects that will easily bring new life to your films. These effects can be simple and inexpensive; your options are not limited.

You can implement some effects during filming, such as makeup and camera techniques, and create others during the editing process. The links below will take you to further demonstrations and how-to lessons to achieve these effects in your own films.

Makeup for the Screen: Countless tutorials online show you how to apply makeup that will result in a certain effect. Whether you are creating a sci-fi creature, a frozen actor, or a super hero, expensive makeup and prosthetics are not necessary.

For example, you can purchase basic makeup from your local drug store to create Hollywood worthy ghouls and zombies, both of which are favorites at the box office this year. Yellows, greens and browns can darken eye sockets and blend away lips or brows. Taking out color from the skin with even a simple pale foundation gives a quick sickly appearance perfect for the screen.

Camera Tricks: For sweeping camera movements, try using a camera mount. This trick was invented during the filming of the 1981 cult classic film, “The Evil Dead.” Director Sam Raimi wanted to create an effect that would realistically depict “Evil’s” point of view while chasing his actors. Raimi ordered Tim Philo, his cinematographer, to bolt a camera to a two-by-four-inch piece of lumber.

Then, having two strong grips (lighting and rigging technicians) hold the board, the cinematographer ran with the camera pointed forward near ground level to track the actor’s feet, and the final shot literally looked as if Evil was right on the victim’s heels. Duplicated in hundreds of films since, the Shaky Cam technique is a simple trick to achieve a great effect.

Reverse It: Another option for giving those daring scenes a realistic touch is to have your talent perform the actions slowly –– and backwards. When you’re editing, reverse the scene to move “forward” and speed it up as you did with the slow motion effect. The result is something a Jedi Master would be proud of.

For example, you want to use “The Force” to summon an object. Start with the object in your hand and then drop or toss the object away from you. In post-production, reverse the footage and voilà, the magic works. The object will look as though it flies to your hand at will.

Disappearing and Ghostly Characters: Making your actors vanish is a snap. Secure your camera with a tripod or on a table top –– a shaking hand will not make this look realistic. In order to make your actor “disappear,” shoot a scene with the actor, stop the camera, and have the actor move out of the shot before restarting the camera. When you play the scene back, you’ll see terrific results. You can also achieve this effect in post-production by editing the footage.

You can also try the classic “ghost effect” with the same secured camera and a screen shot. This trick layers footage and makes your actors look as if they are transparent.

Resources: These are only a few of the possibilities when it comes to creating your own special effects. You can find resources online, in countless books and also on television. Airing for its second season is Science of the Movies — “where art and science meet at the movies” on the Science Channel.

Host Nar Williams, self proclaimed movie geek, provides an inside view of the unbelievable workings behind the screens of our favorite films. In each episode, Nar gives step-by-step directions on how to use some of these techniques in his own short film creations through interviews with innovative artists.

Another great resource on film how-to’s is the site Indy Mogul, where each week, new tips on inventive, cheap filmmaking techniques and effects are unveiled to the moviemaking public.

Making your own film effects can be fun and doesn’t have to be expensive. If you add these simple suggestions to your repertoire, you’ll be making your own eye-catching, independent films in no time.

If you are still unsure about adding effects to your film, check out the first place winner of the Summer Short Film Contest, Tyler, age 13. With his family and friends he created his own version of The Final Destination franchise, complete with simple and low budget special effects to create a big budget feel.

Film effects just take a little creativity and some know-how. Experiment and have fun!


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