The Art of Subtle Visual Effects

When people think of visual effects, they think of Jurassic Park, Star Wars or any Marvel film, but CGI can serve to do more than just annihilate buildings or have T-Rex’s eat Jeff Goldblum’s mates; it can be used in a more subtle way.

My favourite example of a subtle use of visual effects is this scene in Forrest Gump:

Most people, myself included, would conclude that this was filmed in a football stadium with hundreds of people, because let’s be honest, America isn’t really lacking in multi-thousand person arenas and people willing to stand around all day; but in fact, that scene was shot with just this (they did a few other takes):

And then the rest of the stadium was composited in later, because groups of people (especially when far away) are really easy to create, which is why the film industry isn’t hiring nearly as many extras as they used to.

Everything I’ve mentioned this far has been a cinema blockbuster, but visual effects can also serve to help us as film makers, even though our budgets are a fraction of a percentage of Hollywood.

Visual Effects in Corporate Video

A day on location for a corporate video is often busy, with a tight schedule and a long to-do list, so circumstances aren’t always in our favour, especially when it comes to the weather. Thankfully, as long as there is nothing raining from the sky, this can be quite easy to fix.

As an example, see this shot from a recent project we did the LCM Engineering. Due to how they operate, we had a very limited calendar window to film, all of which ended up being overcast. As the majority of the shots were inside, this wasn’t an issue apart from for the establishing shot, which came off the camera feeling a bit moody:

I’m not a psychologist, but I think people are more attracted to brighter, happier ideas than they are to dark moody ones, so we thought we’d turn this dark moody shot into one that was bright and happy. The first step is to remove the sky, giving you a plate, which is just the building and content of the shot.

After this, you composite a sky scene behind it, creating what looks like a sunny day.
Visual effects are truly done well when they aren’t noticed (see Forrest Gump shot above), so you have to think about things from all angles, sometimes literally. As this shot is a slider shot, the perspective changes, and with the sky being so far behind the foreground, there is perspective to consider. As the building moves, the visual areas of the sky behind adjust, so to balance we use a slight position change in the sky image.

The final finishing touch comes during grading where the foreground layer is colour-corrected to reflect how it would look if it was shot on the day it now looks like.

Another time we’ve used subtle visual effects is for a local company called Crowe Property Services. During editing, our projects team wanted to emphasise key points of Nigel Crowe’s interview, so we decided to add in subtle graphics to enforce the detail in text.

During filming, we hadn’t accounted for this, so the framing of the shot gave us limited possibilities when it came to design of the graphics.

Thankfully, the background to the left of Nigel wasn’t intricate, meaning we could ‘extend’ his cabinet further than it was, having the result of making the shot look wider than it was by duplicating folders and the curtain.
And as the CGI was distorted not long after coming on screen, it hid the change whilst still allowing us to reap the benefits of having it.

Honourable Mention

Finally, I’d just like to end with an honourable mention for this video by Rocket Jump who talk about good and bad visual effects.

Daniel Harker Barnes

Daniel Harker Barnes

Operations Director, EpicTech Media

I run all of the day to day operations at EpicTech, and also manage the Post Production department overseeing our team of editors and animators.

I've always been interested in the technical side of production, and often work on event production in my spare time, usually doing something techy like being a broadcast engineer or radio frequency technician.

Away from my desk, I enjoy a great TV show and a good run.

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