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    Are SFX and VFX really poles apart?

    If you take a look at the special effects used in the last century you may find them absurd or humorous, however, those special effects have been the milestones of world cinema at that time. These effects have emerged as smoother and more realistic as time passed, all thanks to technological advancement. 

    Viewers frequently mention “special effects,” “visual effects,” and even “visual special effects” to describe any frames of a film that appear unrealistic to them. However, there may be a considerable distinction between the concepts of “visual effects” and “special effects,” and the combination of “visual special effects” does not exist at all.

    First, we will briefly understand what these effects are. 

    What are special effects?

    Special effects are illusions or visual tricks used to simulate the imagined events in a story or virtual world. Special effects are traditionally divided into the types of mechanical effects and optical effects. With the emergence of virtual film-making, a difference between special effects and visual effects has grown, with the latter relating to digital post-production and optical effects, while “special effects” refers to mechanical effects.

    Mechanical effects (additionally referred to as practical or physical effects) are typically accomplished during the live-action shooting. This consists of using mechanized props, scenery, scale models, animatronics, pyrotechnics and atmospheric effects: creating physical wind, rain, fog, snow, clouds, creating a car that appears to drive by itself and blowing up a building, etc. Mechanical effects also are frequently incorporated into set design and makeup. For example, prosthetic makeup can be used to make an actor look like a non-human creature.

    Optical effects (also referred to as photographic effects) are techniques wherein pictures or film frames are created photographically, either “in-camera” using more than one exposure, mattes or the Schüfftan process or in post-manufacturing the usage of an optical printer. An optical effect might be used to place actors or sets against a distinct background.

    Since the 1990s, computer-generated imagery (CGI) has come to the forefront of special effects technologies. It offers filmmakers greater control and allows many effects to be carried out more accurately and convincingly and—as technology improves—at lower costs. As a result, many optical and mechanical effects strategies have been superseded by CGI.

    Live special effects are effects that are used in front of a live audience, such as in theatre, sporting events, live shows and corporate shows. Types of effects that are commonly used consist of flying effects, laser lighting, theatrical smoke and fog, CO2 effects, and pyrotechnics. Other atmospheric effects can consist of flame, confetti, bubbles, and snow.

    What are visual effects?

    The term is used to describe imagery created, Visual effects (VFX) is a term used to describe imagery created, manipulated, or improved for any film, or other moving media that does not take place during live-action shooting. VFX often includes the integration of real footage and this manipulated imagery to create realistic looking environments for the context. These environments created are either too dangerous to actually shoot, or worlds that just don’t exist. They use computer-generated imagery (CGI), and precise VFX software to make it happen.

    Visual effects are often integral to a movie’s story and appeal. Although most visual effects work is completed during post-production, it usually must be carefully planned and choreographed in pre-production and production. While special effects such as explosions and car chases are made on set, visual effects are primarily executed in post-production with the use of multiple tools and technologies such as graphic design, modelling, animation and similar software. A visual effects supervisor is usually involved with the production from an early stage to work closely with production and the film’s director design, guide and lead the teams required to achieve the desired effects.

    What’s the difference between SFX and VFX?

    Special Effects and VFX; to the uninitiated, they might appear like identical things. After all, visual effects are special and special effects are visual. But regardless of what humans think, the two terms are far from interchangeable. Each speaks to a distinct aspect of modern-day film and television production.

    The special effects are all “on set”, which happen in reality, in a physical and tangible way, to create a condition that would not occur naturally or spontaneously. For example, When you throw a match into a can of gasoline and record the resulting explosion, or when you build a fake arm and attach it to the actor and then be able to detach it with the burst of blood, it is producing a special effect. The same goes for false gunshot wounds, blank projectiles, stage knives and so on. Visual effects (or VFX), on the other hand, are added at a later time, thanks to the power of a computer. When you create a digital model of a spaceship and fly it against the backdrop of a scene painted with matte painting, or thanks to chromakey you create the illusion that the actor is crashing from an aeroplane, those are visual effects. 

    So, in short, special effects are the effects that are put in manually by using materialistic props, and visual effects are the effects that are made post-production. 

    SFX and VFX are both often used together in production when discussions arise about when it is better to use one approach over another, or whether to use both approaches to achieve an effect in a shot. Both SFX and VFX are methods of enabling you to enhance the narrative of your story. Most likely, your production will need one or both of the above solutions. But how do you know which is right for your project? 


    When to use what? 


    SFX was and often still are used to enhance a scene or set-piece. An explosion or a fire, a rainy moment in a love story, things that might happen spontaneously in life however require real planning on set. Common examples of onset SFX is probably snowmaking, rainmaking, or the adding of smoke to create an atmosphere. Other elements of the SFX skill set consist of adding fire, either to dress into sets or to be used as a part of a stunt with people. 


    Although SFX is so effective, we still need to create rain, snow, fire, etc digitally on VFX. The reason might be because you have a bigger canvas to cover and more shots to capture. If you want to create a snowy landscape with wide shots, it will be easier and cheaper to do this using VFX. The same applies to rain. 


    This isn’t to say that SFX should be thrown away but both SFX and VFX can be used for good production and exist together. 


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