Special effects for cinema: the definitive guide to the amazing process of creating effects


Modern cinema is striking in its visual range – sometimes it seems that their creators can do anything at all! But how do they do it ?! We invite you for a stroll through the office of one of the world’s best visual effects (CG) specialist companies!

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In 2016, London-based studio MPC (Moving Picture Company) received an Oscar for their work on visual effects for Disney’s The Jungle Book. All jungle and animation are created by British specialists.

In the meantime, there is no need to worry about it. ”

The only “real” character in the film is a young actor playing Mowgli. It needed to be carefully “synchronized” with moving objects around it. How to do it? In this photo, Mowgli is holding a model of one of the heroes of the picture and is standing against the background of a blue screen (“chromakey”).

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Further (at the stage of post-production), instead of a blue background and “blank”, computer graphics and a background are added.

How special effects are made for cinema: a detailed guide to the amazing process

And here is the final shot.

How special effects are made for cinema: a detailed guide to the amazing process

After the film is shot, 3D modeling specialists, animators and other experts from the field take over. They work on each frame using specialized software like Maya and Nuke.

video effects studio

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The process of creating special effects requires both technical knowledge and creativity. The software uses complex algorithms, and character creation is impossible without serious expertise in various fields of knowledge – from anatomy to the physics of water. As a result, the MPC office is literally packed with specialized literature and newsreels.

MPC Visual Effects Video Studio

The footage is constantly shown to the “big shots”: supervisors, department heads, the chief supervisor in charge of special effects in the film and the director. For this, the office is equipped with cozy rooms with projectors. The result of the preliminary work is shown to the bosses until absolutely everyone is satisfied – after all, the rendering of the final versions of each frame takes a lot of time and processing power.

How special effects are made for cinema: a detailed guide to the amazing process

The MPC office is filled with posters of past successes and concepts for upcoming projects. This is how, for example, Prometheus projects dominate on one of the walls.

How special effects were made for the movie Prometheus

Some of the images are even signed by the actors themselves.

MPC Studio

The walls are hung with T-shirts with prints dedicated to individual MPC projects – for example, the same “The Jungle Book”. In this case, it is designed to remind employees of the won “Oscar”.

How special effects are made for cinema: a detailed guide to the amazing process

Even when it seems to you that “well, this film was definitely filmed in real terrain” – do not believe your eyes. For example, the same “Pirates of the Caribbean” was made against the background of an ordinary blue (as an option, green) chromakey.

How special effects were created for the movie Pirates of the Caribbean

And here is the final image. There is no chromakey, the sea has taken its place.

How special effects were created for the movie Pirates of the Caribbean

A short video about the creation of the sea scenes of the film:

When combining live action and CG elements, it is very important to perfectly “fit” all the elements of the picture to each other so that it looks authentic.

How special effects were created for the movie Pirates of the Caribbean

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Computer graphics specialists take into account a variety of parameters in their work on the background and characters: lighting, reflection, camera movement, and even distortion from its lens.

How special effects were created for the movie Pirates of the Caribbean

Visual effects are most often added after the shooting of the picture itself, but due to extremely complex modern technologies, the same heads of computer graphics departments are required to be present at the shooting of films like Prometheus in order to make sure that one frame will “dock” with next.

How special effects were created for the film Prometheus

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In order to synchronize two shots like these, the special effects team collects a ton of background information. They photograph silver and chrome balls to capture lighting conditions and use lidar 3D scanning to capture the entire area.

How special effects were created for the film Prometheus

Detailed “reference” photos were taken in India, but during the filming of “The Jungle Book” none of its participants came close to the real jungle.

How the Jungle Book special effects were created

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Nature was created on a computer – from trees and animals that went through 3D modeling and “generated” water.

How the Jungle Book special effects were created

Special software is used to simulate effects such as water, smoke, flames and large groups of people. For example, in this scene with a lot of people from the action movie “War of the Worlds Z” the real person is only the pilot in the foreground.

How special effects were created for the film War of the Worlds Z

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The software simulates the behavior of real people, so in the case of a crowd of zombies from the movie “War of the Worlds Z” the algorithms, of course, had to be slightly corrected :).

How special effects were created for the film War of the Worlds Z

More details here:

In the meantime, there is no need to worry about it. ”

Visual effects are often used to create fantastic characters – for example, creatures from the Planet of the Apes. But in “Terminator Genesis” the computer artists have surpassed themselves – with the help of their technologies they “returned youth” to the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger! The rejuvenated Arnie looked more than natural – the CG specialists made him “ordinary” down to the smallest detail. Because they can!

How special effects were created for the film Terminator Genesis

Another “rejuvenating” operation was performed by MPC specialists with Rachel from Blade Runner 2049. They spent a year on the CG model – but it was worth it, because the actress looked exactly the same as in the original 1982 film. The image shows Rachel’s incredibly live computer model from the 2017 tape.

How Blade Runner 2049 special effects were created

The appearance of “live” Rachel in the new film (2017). Pay attention – special points are clearly visible on the actress’s face. They “shoot” information about her facial expressions.

How Blade Runner 2049 special effects were created

Further, her face changes to “computer” from the CG model.

How Blade Runner 2049 special effects were created

The final result. There is a complete feeling that Rachel has not aged a day.

How Blade Runner 2049 special effects were created

When creating a computer model, everything starts with a 3D skeleton, each bone in which moves realistically. Then another level is applied to it – the muscles.

How Blade Runner 2049 special effects were created

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And only then does the skin appear on the model.

How Blade Runner 2049 special effects were created

The lighting specialists are the last to get involved – they make the lighting conditions the same as on the set. To do this, they use large collections of reference photographs and information collected earlier in the process of “normal” work on the film.

How Blade Runner 2049 special effects were created

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