Special Effects on a Shoestring

Our creative team at Fluid love tinkering around with motion graphics, video and animation, and are always looking to really push what can be achieved with limited budgets without resorting to stock footage. Stock video is great and all, but sometimes you need a very specific result, and the stuff you can find online just isn’t quite right.

Recently we added a zombiefied, disembodied hand as a creepy addition to our homepage (we were getting into the Halloween spirit). We did this in the studio, with zero budget, with some very basic equipment and a bit of a Blue Peter approach.

Here’s a little bit of an insight into how you can achieve some pretty cool special effects with some nice software, and a trip to your local Focus DIY.

The key to most digital special effects is taking your subject, and seamlessly combining it with other filmed elements to make one scene. Imagine you want to have a scene of an actor running away from a giant marauding robot. Rather than spend the next 10 years building said giant robot that can physically chase down a person through the streets of Manchester (though that may be fun) – you could film a miniature robot, or create a robot digitally. You could then film the actor running away, and reacting to the robot. These two pieces of footage are then combined, or “composited” together digitally to create a finished scene.

Hollywood uses lots of complex techniques in order to achieve these effects that can be seen in many modern blockbusters – where actors are shot against blue or green backgrounds.  These green screens allow for seamless compositing to happen, as the green / blue background can be removed, or “keyed out” later in post production, allowing the cast to be transported to other worlds or put in mortal danger.

For the kind of composite effects we wanted to achieve at Fluid, we needed a green screen. This was created by our team from several sheets of scrap wood paneling and an outing to the local Focus DIY for the correct coloured paint (a bright, lime green colour was the nearest fit. Think the colour of cheap mushy peas and you can’t go far wrong). We then shot our willing hand model, Scott, against this makeshift green screen.

We even shot our footage on an iPhone4 camera as an exercise in low budget production (and also because our HD camera was in use).

hand shot against green screen ready for compositing

With a bit of tinkering in After Effects (you can find a load of powerful plug-ins designed to make this keying process pretty simple) we composited the footage into our digitally created scene, removing the green background on the footage so it could be seamlessly pasted into the environment.

Here are some examples where we have used this technique on our in house acting department!

As you can see, whilst this is a pretty low-fi approach, you can achieve some pretty cool little effects with a limited amount of equipment. Have a go and experiment with this approach next time you are trawling through boring stock footage, you may be surprised with the results.

If you want to find out a bit more some of the techniques we used, give us a shout on twitter @fluidcreativity

  • Written by on 12th November 2010 at 10:08
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