film making, Visual Effects means creating a processed image with a brand new
environment outside the context of a live shot, because VFX allow to create a
unique world or places that may be impossible to capture, expensive to reach,
impractical for acting or just dangerous.
Furthermore, Visual Effects help to give a realistic look to the live action
footage, as well as a brand new world totally integrated in it.
According to the history, we can say that Visual Effects have been used in
films almost from the beginning of film creation: it’s easy to remember George Méliès,
a French magician and film director who used Visual Effects extensively around the
1900s and 1910s.
In those years he released one of his most famous films, the well-known “A trip
to the moon” in which he used almost every kind of special and visual effects
tricks that are still used today.
He is considered the one who invented the fantasy and sci-fi cinema, and he is
universally recognised as the “father” of special and visual effects,
the one who accidentally discovered the substitution trick, using for the first
time multiple exposure, the fading and hand-painted color directly on the film.
From those years, Visual Effects started an evolution, becoming very elaborate,
more specifically it was around the 1920s that things started to change: on the
1926 Fritz Lang’s Metropolis influenced a lot the VFX industry with its “Schüfftan
Process” (also used in other movies), an effect which consisted in using
various forced perspective techniques in order to create a kind of optical illusion
related to measurement parameters such as distance, size and orientation.
From the 1950s, thanks to the development of technology and tools such as the
Motion Control Rig and the Blue Screen technique, very sophisticated footage
became to be a reality.
The first was developed by Paramount and allowed to obtain a precise control of camera movements even with repetition,
and the second allowed to extract and composite a person or an object previously
recorded against a blue or green background, in order to replace it with a
Computer graphics evolution led to the development of the Bezier Curves in
1970s as well as the creation of the famous CG teapot, a recognised computer
With the beginning of the 80s the industry saw a wide range of new emerging
graphics software houses, as well as the release of new products like the
famous AutoCAD by Autodesk in 1982.
Around those years the company LucasFilm changed its name to Pixar Animation
Studios (1986) and the company released Renderman, a famous rendering software always
used for 3D animated movies such as Toy Story or A Bug’s Life, and especially
for in-house productions: moreover it is used with Maya by Autodesk.
It is in the 90s that the industry felt the significant explosion, especially
in CG movies such as The Mask, Forrest Gump, Casper, Jumanji or Jurassic Park.
In this period, and in the early 2000s, we saw the development of a new
exciting technology, the motion capture, which was used to record the movement
of people or objects, in order to put computer graphics elements into
live-action scenes (match moving), for example in the new Beauty And The Beast
movie published in 2017.
Other movies like The Lord of The Rings literally took this new match moving technology
to a new advanced level, as we have seen with the character Gollum, a creature
which required a heavy usage of motion capture, since the production team was
successfully able to merge the actor’s movement into a CG creature. This encouraged
many others to study and perfect this tool even further for new movies, like
Pirates of the Caribbean, in which there is a wide usage of facial motion
capture, a feature that was used again in James Cameron’s Avatar, also with new
advancements related to the body motion.
Starting from the 2000s we can proudly say that Visual Effects break the
boundaries of imagination thanks to the advent of digital, computer graphics
and its related tools, making possible for writers, directors and production
team to tell any story they like with infinite possibilities, and so the
artists are finally able to better control their images in a way never thought
It’s a fact that even inexpert people can clearly see that film companies are
constantly trying to achieve realistic effects and a believable look for their
films, as well as is well known that almost all the movies are being shot (and
so entirely made) on big green screen stages, totally leaving the creation of
the film into the hands of VFX artists.
On the other hand we have to consider the heavy, and sometimes risky, economic
Visual Effects production is a complicated business that it’s not always
thriving: the most popular example is the 2013’s episode when the award for the
best VFX was given to the film Life of Pi meanwhile the main VFX studio hired
for this movie went bankrupt, it was Rhythm and Hues Studios.
For this reason it’s important to always keep in mind that the VFX industry is a
part of globalisation and so it is dependent on the behaviour of government
initiatives, after all.
In the past ten years we have seen Visual Effects become a must in many films,
this industry also had great awards for the Best Visual Effects category, since
almost every film published in the past few years contained at least a little
bit of VFX.
In these years, especially from 2010 onwards, film companies are able to create
and manage CG objects, scenarios and particularly characters so good that they
are so realistic and good looking to the point that we can’t exactly say which
performances is due to a real human and which by the digital reproduction.
All this statement leads us to spontaneously ask ourselves a question: how will
the future of this particular industry be?
Might companies be able to replace human actors completely?
Might they be capable to create a brand-new believable cast made of fully
digital actors? Maybe in the future we will be able to replicate human emotions,
if emotions will be realistically captured, digitised and processed.
It is clear that at the moment we are not at that stage yet, since every single
CG character we see (in movies, games and animations in which gives a truly
realistic emotional performance) it’s how it is thanks to a real actor who was
there and who fully created the emotions, expressions and movements appositely for
the 3D model.
But, again, what’s next? We are in an era where VFX’s propagation is
unstoppable, the audience is getting used to seeing spectacular effects on big
and small screens, so there is the real and concrete possibility that Visual Effects
will change films beyond the things we imagine and recognise today.
Try to visualise it in 20 years time from now, perhaps films will undergo an
evolution from confined cinema screens to a fully immersive experience or, idealistically
speaking, to a real interactive experience, that’s because we are of course at
the height of the Virtual Reality revolution.
To mention the economic argument made before, we are investing a lot of money
on this brand-new technology available for home entertainment, gaming, cinema
and advertising, and we are spending money to support VFX artists too, since
they need to have solved problems that affect 360 degree shots and its related compositing,
HDR lighting, stereo dealing and digital assets.
Film companies and VFX industry might seriously take advantage of the power and
potential of Virtual Reality in the future, in order to create something that pushes
spectators into the action with a complete 360° view of the surrounding, giving
to people the possibility to literally be present alongside the characters as the
story goes on.