Special effect

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Lasers were used in the 2005 Classical Spectacular concert
Special effects (abbreviated SPFX or SFX) are used in the film, television, and entertainment industry to realize scenes that cannot be achieved by normal means, such as space travel.

They are also used when creating the effect by normal means is prohibitively expensive; for example, it would be extremely expensive to construct a 16th century castle or to sink a 20th century ocean liner, but these can be simulated with special effects. With the advent of computer graphics imaging, special effects are also used to enhance previously filmed elements, by adding, removing or enhancing objects within the scene.

Many different special effects techniques exist, ranging from traditional theater effects or elaborately staged as in the "machine plays" of the Restoration spectacular, through classic film techniques invented in the early 20th century, such as aerial image photography and optical printers, to modern computer graphics imagery (CGI). Often several different techniques are used together in a single scene or shot to achieve the desired effect.

Generally, special effects are traditionally divided into two types. The first is optical effects (also called visual or photographic effects), which rely on manipulation of a photographed image. Optical effects can be produced with either photographic (i.e. optical printer) or visual (i.e. CGI) technology. A good example of an optical effect would be a scene in Star Trek depicting the USS Enterprise flying through space.

The second type is mechanical effects (also called practical or physical effects), which are accomplished during the live-action shooting. These include mechanized props, scenery, and pyrotechnics. Good examples would be the ejector seat of James Bond's Aston Martin, R2D2 in the Star Wars films, or the zero-gravity effects employed in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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[edit] Developmental history

In 1895, Alfred Clarke created what is commonly accepted as the first-ever special effect. While filming a reenactment of the beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots, Clarke instructed an actor to step up to the block in Mary's costume. As the executioner brought the axe above his head, Clarke stopped the camera, had all of the actors freeze, and had the person playing Mary step off the set. He placed a Mary dummy in the actor's place, restarted filming, and allowed the executioner to bring the axe down, severing the dummy's head. “Such… techniques would remain at the heart of special effects production for the next century” (Rickitt, 10).

This was not only the first use of trickery in the cinema. It was the first development of trickery that could only be done in a motion picture, i.e., the "stop trick."

In 1896, French magician Georges Melies accidentally discovered the same "stop trick." According to Melies, his camera jammed while filming a street scene in Paris. When he screened the film, he found that the "stop trick" had caused a truck to turn into a hearse, pedestrians to change direction, and men turn into women. Melies, the stage manager at the Theatre Robert-Houdin, was inspired to develop a series of more than 500 short films, between 1896 and 1914, in the process developing or inventing such techniques as multiple exposures, time-lapse photography, dissolves, and hand-painted colour. Because of his ability to seemingly manipulate and transform reality with the cinematograph, the prolific Méliès is sometimes referred to as the "Cinemagician."

During the 1920's and 1930's, special effects techniques were improved and refined by the motion picture industry. Many techniques were modifications of illusions from the theater (such as Pepper's Ghost) and still photography (such as double exposure and matte compositing). Rear projection was a refinement of the use of painted backgrounds in the theater – only substituting moving pictures to create moving backgrounds.

But several techniques soon developed that, like the "stop trick," were wholly original to motion pictures. Animation creates the illusion of motion, and was quickly accomplished with drawings (most notably by Winsor McCay in Gertie the Dinosaur) and with three-dimensional models (most notably by Willis O'Brien in The Lost World and King Kong).

Also, the challenge of simulating spectacle in motion encouraged to develop considerable skill in the use of miniatures. Naval battles could be depicted with models in studio tanks, and airplanes could be flown (and crashed) without risk of life and limb. Most impressively, miniatures and matte paintings could be used to depict worlds that never existed, such as the massive city of Fritz Lang's film Metropolis.

An important innovation in special-effects photography was the development of the optical printer. Essentially, an optical printer is a projector aiming into a camera lens, and it was developed to make copies of films for distribution. Until its refinement by Linwood Dunn, effects shots were accomplished as an in-camera effect, but Dunn expanded on the device, demonstrating that it could be used to combine images in novel ways and create new illusions. One early showcase for Dunn was Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, where such locations as Xanadu (and some of Gregg Toland's famous 'deep focus' shots) were essentially created by Dunn's optical printer.

As the industry progressed, special effects techniques kept pace. The development of color photography required greater refinement of effects techniques. Also, color enabled the development of such travelling matte techniques as bluescreen and the sodium vapor process. Many films include landmark scenes in special-effects accomplishments: Forbidden Planet used matte paintings, animation, and miniature work to create spectacular alien worlds. In The Ten Commandments, Paramount's John P. Fulton multiplied the crowds of extras in the Exodus scenes, depicted the massive constructions of Rameses, and split the Red Sea in a still-impressive combination of travelling mattes and water tanks.

If one film could be said to have established the high-water mark for special effects, it would be 1968's 2001:A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick. In this film, the spaceship miniatures were highly detailed and carefully photographed for a realistic depth of field. The shots of spaceships were combined through hand-drawn rotocscopes and careful motion-control work, ensuring that the elements were combined in the camera-- a surprising throwback to the silent era, but with spectacular results. Backgrounds of the African vistas in the Dawn of Man sequence were created with the then-new front projection technique. The finale, a voyage through hallucinogenic scenery, was created by Douglas Trumbull using a new technique termed slit-scan. Even today, the effects scenes remain impressive, realistic, and awe-inspiring.

1977 was a watershed year in the special effects industry, because of two blockbuster films. George Lucas's film Star Wars ushered in an era of fantasy films with expensive and impressive special-effects. Effects supervisor John Dykstra and crew developed many improvements in existing effects technology. They developed a computer-controlled camera called the "Dykstraflex" that allowed precise repeatability of camera motion. This greatly facilitated travelling matte compositing. Degradation of film images after compositing was minimized by other innovations: the Dykstraflex used VistaVision cameras that photographed widescreen images horizontally along 35mm film stock, using far more of the film per frame, and thinner-emulsion filmstocks were used in the compositing process.

That same year, Steven Spielberg's film Close Encounters of the Third Kind boasted a finale with impressive special effects by 2001 veteran Douglas Trumbull. In addition to developing his own motion-control system, Trumbull also developed techniques for creating intentional "lens flare" (the shapes created by light reflecting in camera lenses) to create undefinable shapes of flying saucers.

These two films reflected a new sensibility among special effects technicians. Previously, studios were content to use the old techniques to achieve serviceable illusions. But a generation of technicians who weren't fooled by the old techniques now had the means (i.e., massive studio investment in effects-heavy films) to improve every tool in the special effects arsenal. Lucas, after the success of Star Wars, founded an innovative effects house called Industrial Light and Magic which has spearheaded most effects innovations over the last few decades.

The single greatest innovation was the development of computer generated imagery (CGI). Although it had been used to striking effect in such films as Young Sherlock Holmes, its most impressive early use has come in films by James Cameron (The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day).

In 1993 Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park used CGI to create realistic dinosaurs-- an indication that many of the older effects techniques would be changed radically if not rendered obsolete. Stop-motion animators working on the film were quickly retrained in the use of computer input devices. Digital compositing avoided the inherent graininess of optical compositing. Digital imagery enabled technicians to create detailed matte "paintings," miniatures, and even crowds of computer-generated people.

By 1995, films such as Toy Story underscored that the distinction between live-action films and animated films was no longer clear. Images could be created in a computer, using the techniques of animated cartoons. It is now possible to create any image and have it look completely realistic to an audience.

[edit] Special Effects Animation

Also known as effects animation, special effects animation is a specialization of the traditional animation and computer animation processes. Anything that moves in an animated film and is not a character (handled by character animators) is considered a special effect, and is left up to the special effects animators to create. Effects animation tasks can include animating cars, trains, rain, snow, fire, magic, shadows, or other non-character entities, objects, and phenomena. A classic case of this would be the lightsabres and laser-bolts in the original Star Wars, or the Monster from the ID from Forbidden Planet, both of which were created by rotoscopy.

Sometimes, special processes are used to produce effects animation instead of drawing or rendering. Rain, for example, has been created in Walt Disney Feature Animation/Disney films since the late-1930s by filming slow-motion footage of water in front of a black background, with the resulting film superimposed over the animation.

Among the most notable effects animators in history are A.C. Gamer from Termite Terrace/Warner Bros.; and Joshua Meador, Cy Young, Mark Dindal, and Randy Fullmer from the Walt Disney animation studio.

Special effects animation is also common in live-action films to create certain images that cannot be traditionally filmed. In that respect, special effects animation is more commonplace than character animation, since special effects of many different types and varieties have been used in film for a century.

[edit] Visual special effects techniques in rough order of invention

[edit] Special effects artists

[edit] CGI and SFX

Effects that are created via computers are known as CGI (Computer generated Imagery) effects and they fit into the category of optical effects - a subset of SFX - because they involve altering a photographic image. Some people claim that because CGI effects are not produced during filming on-set (as in bullet hits, fire, flame, and explosions, wind, rain, etc.) that they are not SFX at all. However, as discussed above in the introduction to this article, effects produced during filming on-set are a different subset of SFX known as mechanical effects. CGI effects, while not mechanical in nature, still fit into the category of SFX.

[edit] Landmark movies

[edit] References

de:Spezialeffekt fr:Effets spéciaux it:Effetti speciali he:אפקטים מיוחדים בקולנוע lt:Specialieji efektai ja:SFX pl:Efekty specjalne ru:Спецэффект fi:Erikoistehoste tr:Özel efekt

Special effect

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