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  • Kanishka Prabhu

Top 5 Visual Effects Techniques in film

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

Often, it’s important to have knowledge of the VFX services we desire to impose. This helps in easier and faster negotiations and also mitigates a lapse of awareness.

The VFX industry has lots to offer. Be it to numerous technologies coexisting or a host of techniques applied to manipulate reality into any form, it welcomes with its many levels of intricacies. Therefore, knowing the basics of animation, visual effects and 3D manipulation is imperative to navigate your way while negotiating with VFX specialists. This also has an added advantage of being aware of the dos and don’ts while preparing a shot for post-production.  

VFX took off initially during the early 1900s in Hollywood. Since then, it’s paved its way into one of the most evolving industries. Under laid by dynamic technologies, VFX has become the face of modern, budget-friendly and engaging media content. With the key role played by VFX in movies and other streams, it’s important to garner information on it simply to bridge the void between pre-production and post-production related negligence and hacks, and also to remain foolproof in today’s world.

We’ve listed a few technologies pre-dominantly used in the VFX discipline.


Rotoscopy - before and after

Rotoscopy is one of the widely used VFX services and it’s also one of the most basic constructs in the VFX discipline. It encompasses the steps of tracing out the motion of an object of interest over a series of cascading frames. This can be understood as the act of flipping pages of a book at a quick pace where each page of the book represents a still or a frame of an event occurring or happening. The result of the flipping action tricks us into witnessing an action or relative motion taking place. GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format) essentially use this technique.

The definition of Rotoscopy is much wider than just detecting and outlining subjects in motion. The object of interest now is cut out from the pre-production footage and composited over another background to attain the final post-production footage. The transition in this process happens by exporting the footage that goes through Rotoscopy. The intermediate file is a black and white form of the footage called Matte, where the black part of the footage is meant to be discarded and the white part of it is obtained. This footage can now be superimposed onto an image or video to get the desired result.

Prep/ Paint:

Prep/ Paint before and after

Imagine playing your post-production footage and having an ‘Oops!’ moment when an eagle-eyed viewer spots erroneous inclusions of production tools like wires, mikes, etc. That’s where the Prep artistes come into the frame, well, not literally. Their job, in fact, is to clean unwanted production tools and other hindrances that were included while filming the footage. Sometimes, they may be able to sort out dropped frames that may have not been recorded resulting in little jerks in the film flow. The footage Prep artistes work on is known as Plates. Plates are treated before passing it to the actual graphics guys. Though a small role played by them, some nasty work by Prep artistes can be a deal-breaker resulting in a lack of professional finesse and mounting to negative publicity.


matchmove tracking

Matchmove concerns with integrating fantasy elements with the real world. Who doesn’t love to see the Primes and Decepticons fight on the Pyramids of Giza! The concept of Matchmove revolves around shooting a scene with two different cameras at the exact angles. The first one is done by a virtual camera to capture the motion and expressions of an actor who is to be replaced by the 3D object. This footage is known as a live action footage. The second one is shot with a 3D camera. The 3D camera replicates the perception of the live-action or virtual camera to accommodate the 3D object in the real world.

Once the 3D camera footage matches the angles of the live-action camera, VFX artistes use the latest software and advanced computer system to integrate the 3D element into the rendered output footage. Thus, an imaginary friend can be befriended in our real world.


rotomation tracking

Once the 3D element is placed into the scene of interest, it has to be blessed with the breath of life. Rotomation takes care of manifesting an actor’s action onto the 3D model. The model then acquires every nuance of the actor’s demeanor and exhibits it. The final footage consists of a 3D object in motion or action that has been fed to it by matching the movements of an actor enacting it.

 Rotomation makes it possible for the 3D model to inherit the abilities of the actor to create the 3D object using relevant software and technical devices by VFX artistes in a shorter span of time and cheaper rates.

Chroma Keying and Green Screen:

green screen - object removal before and after

Last but certainly the most basic and important service rendered is Chroma Keying and the usage of the green green in parallel. A green screen simply put is a green screen draped behind the shooting spot, but without “Chroma Keying”, the green screen is of no use. Chroma Keying is the process by which a specific color element (chroma) is removed from a video scene and replaced (keyed) with a different element. This is used to achieve the accommodation of any desired background be it of a varying or steady nature. You will have seen hundreds of examples of this in films, such as the kids cycling across the sky in ET, and in TV, as it’s the process used when you see someone presenting the weather in front of a moving map.

It’s always wiser to know a little about the chores we want to outsource. Using appropriate jargons while negotiating can thrust us forth as being aware and intuitive. It also lets us be more vigilant in our business conduct and keeps at bay very smart fraudsters.

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1 Comment

Murali Madhav K P
Murali Madhav K P
Mar 24, 2023

Things in VFX are made crystal clear! Very well written article.

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