Talk:Special effect

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Former featured article candidate Special effect is a former featured article candidate. Please view the links under Article milestones below to see why the nomination failed. For older candidates, please check the archive.
January 20, 2007 Featured article candidate Not promoted

It is now possible to create any image and have it look completely realistic to an audience.[edit]

I have a few problems with this sentence. First of all, while an image might look realistic by itself it may still stand out when placed next to a real object due to the potential differences in light and resolution. Second, this mostly applies to static images as moving object is a lot hardly to pull of convincingly.

Thirdly, there is no mention of the fact that the resulting image would have to be created digitally as it is hardly possible to create any image by other means.

My last problem is with the words completely and any. These days most people are still able to tell CGI from real thing in most movies. There is a difference between an image being convincing enough (for suspension of disbelief) and completely realisitic. I would argue that we are not at a point yet when an CGI animated film could fool anyone into believing they are watching a live action film. As for the word "any", it makes it seem like the entire process is relatively easy and isn't bound by budgetary and other constraints. I think using the words "virtually any" would be better.

At the same time I understand what the person who wrote this is trying to say and, perhaps, in theory perhaps, it is possible to do something like that.

Any feedback and suggestions on how to improve/rewrite this sentence would be really appreciated. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:43, 7 September 2007 (UTC)

I wrote the sentence. I agree that it's pretty awkward, but I disagree on several of your points.

Some of your points rest on the fact that there are a lot of CGI shots that simply don't work, for many reasons (poor compositing, mismatch of color and contrast, cheapness of the studio, etc.) And I'm not at all sure what you mean by "the resulting image would have to be created digitally as it is hardly possible to create any image by other means," as painting and photography managed to create some dandy images without digital technology.

Maybe we're talking about a distinction between realism and 'photorealism.' If we're watching Aslan talking to some kids, it may look _real_ in the photographic sense, but we'd still know it was a fake because, well, lions don't do that. Or, if we're watching the _Titanic_ glide past the Liverpool docks, we know that the ship can't really be there, even if the shot has no photographic flaws. In that sense, people aren't fooled anymore than they're 'fooled' into thinking that Russell Crowe is an 18th century ship captain or that Tom Hanks is a 1930s hitman.

But it is possible to take something you're unable to photograph for real-- say, an 18th century naval battle-- and create a moving image that looks as though you _did_ photograph it for real. CGI enables filmmakers to render motion-picture images of almost anything with photographic realism. (Maybe that's what the sentence ought to say. I'll replace it.) Brian Siano 16:47, 10 September 2007 (UTC)

Never mind replacing it. I took it out entirely. Given what else is said about CGI, that sentence was just gilding the lily. Brian Siano 16:49, 10 September 2007 (UTC)


Sept. 2: Girolamo Casanova undid the redirect, so the entry is now under "Special effects" again. I'm OK with this so long as the "visual effects" entry is redirected here. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Brian Siano (talkcontribs) 23:29, 2 September 2007 (UTC)

Addendum August 2007:

I had a look at the "visual effects" page as well. It's not a very good entry. But some of its editors are lobbying to have the term "vfx" redirect there.

I'm going to propose redirecting the entry on "Special Effects" to a new, more comprehensive title: "Special Visual Effects." This seems right to me because it eliminates over-splitting the topic, and it's in line with the Academy Award category. If it's good enough for the Oscars, it's good enough for Wikipedia. I'll suggest redirecting terms a=such as "sfx," and "vfx" and the like to this new page, and I'll incorporate as much of the "visual effects" page as seems neccessary. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Brian Siano (talkcontribs) 18:13, August 24, 2007 (UTC)

I'm looking over the article, and I think there are some serious changes to be made. The first two sections, the Introduction and Developmental History, are fine as they are.

But we then have two paragraphs on what could be called specific techniques (Compositing and Animation), while actual techniques such as bluescreen are links to other articles. The section on Audio Effects isn't really needed: the term "special effects" almost always refers to visual or mechanical effects in motion pictures or television, so the inclusion of _audio_ effects is a bit misleading.

The section on "live" effects ought to be expanded-- or an article on Stage Effects ought to be created or linked to.

In summary, I'd cut out everything between the Developmental History and the list of techniques. (Brian Siano)

Addendum: It seems to me that this article works best as a general overview and historical summary, with links to separate entries about particular techniques. Keeping that in mind, I cut the sections titled "Compositing," "Special Effects Animation," and "Audio Effects." "Compositing" was incoherent; it addressed something that's accomplished with many complex techniques, and focused solely on the use of computer compositing. The "special effects animation" section didn't fit, as it was a discussion of a particular special effects technique: it would be as a section under the entry on "Animation." "Audio effects" simply didn't belong, as "special effects" is commonly recognized as the creation of visuals.

It seems to me that this article works best as a general overview and historical summary, with links to separate entries about particular techniques. (Brian Siano)

We need to organize articles related to this one to make them more consistent in titling, wording, and structure, and maybe consolidate some (like practical effect and physical effect). --Tysto 20:58, 11 January 2006 (UTC)

Merger Complete[edit]

A Brief History of Special effects was merged with this page. Judgesurreal777 22:22, 4 March 2006 (UTC) Special Effects Animation was also merged with this article Judgesurreal777 22:36, 4 March 2006 (UTC)

I am not very happy with the mergers because it is merging two subjects that are not necessarily related. Also being redirected from a search on "trick photography" to this entry on hollywood SPFX, or SFX or whatever the author thinks its supposed to be called, is not very helpful if I want to know some specific history about 19centruy photography techniques. sorry but I dont have any positive suggestions.


In my free time I can add to this article. I have spent years studying special effects. I was the one who wrote the developmental history, (or BRIEF history, as I titled it) and many additions. I can expand it when given time. -Mountnbiker310

To clarify the Star Wars effects, Spaceship shots were done using a motion control gimble, not stop motion. Stop motion was used in most of the creature and land-based model effects, but motion control and blue/green screen was used for 99% of the 'in space' shots. The two techniques are completely different. Bigpinkthing 15:24, 2 May 2006 (UTC)

Okay, I just did a fairly extensive rewrite of the entry. It needed it: frankly, any history of effects that doesn't mention Georges Melies isn't worth considering. I can't say that my version's perfect, but I think it's an improvement.

I would _strongly_ suggest that y'all seek out John Brosnan's history _Movie Magic_. It was published in 1974, just before the new wave created by Lucas and friends, and it is _the_ definitive history of effects up to that point. I'll be glad to come back and see what I can contribute.

(August 2006)Brian Siano (

Removed HDV section[edit]

Here is the removed section. I found it to be confusing, poorly written and not particularly relevant. Audiodude 17:43, 25 May 2006 (UTC)

The era of high-definition The newest film format on the rise, High Def (or HD) is a way of watching flm/tv that is much better quality, due to the fact that it utilizes hundreds of thousands more pixles than standard DV. This format is well on its way to achieving the holy grail of film making (making digital video look like film) and with HDDVD and Blu-Ray formats of HD soon to be on the market, it seems unstoppable. It is now commercially avalible for under $3,000. As new as HD is, a new format has spawned off of it, "HDV." This format, although much less expensive (avalible for about $1,000), has several problems. Many major brands use different subdivisons of HDV (HDV1, HDV2.) HDV2 cameras are not compatible with footage shot in HDV1, and conversions are not possible. Low-budget filmmakers are having to confine themselves to shooting, editing, and printing to tape all on one type of camera.

Wow, I don't find it so confusing or poorly written; it just has nothing to do with the entry whatsoever. Binba 17:55, 11 November 2007 (UTC)

Search term[edit]

Can a search on "vfx" be redirected to the Visual effects page, instead of the Special effects page?

Thanks, --JT 19:19, 12 August 2006 (UTC)

"Landmark" movies[edit]

The oldest "landmark" movie listed is The Birds, from 1963. Special effects have been around for a long time, though. The list focuses mainly on advances in animatronics and CG, and ignores movies like The Invisible Man (1933 film), The Ten Commandments (1956 film), the original King Kong, and The Lost World (for the matte process and for stop motion animation developments). In fact, I'm not even sure why they bothered listing the new King Kong for "Motion Capture". Hadn't that already been done in Lord of the Rings with the Gollum character?

Also, how come no one here mentions Fritz Lang's Metropolis?! His use of extremely detailed drawings and models and camera manipulation was extraordinary for the time. I wish I knew enough to really do it justice in this article--anyone else know more than me? --Torie

I removed several films from the list because they really didn't qualify as "landmark effects" films. Many are fine films, but the "landmarks" are either trivial or inflated. I clarified what a 'landmark' film might be, and here are the cuts:

(I reduced this to "Motion control photography": the Dykstraflex was the film's main innovation.)

—The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk) 02:58, August 23, 2007 (UTC)

I propose adding another film at the end of "Introduction of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI)": Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Since it's the first film in history with fully-animated photorealistic CGI, it deserves its place alongside Toy Story. The fact that it was also the biggest box office bomb in history at the time doesn't make it sound good, but isn't relevant :) Binba 18:21, 11 November 2007 (UTC)

There really shouldn't be any list, because whatever is included ultimately comes down to WP:NPOV and WP:NOR violations. If someone is serious about cleaning the article up, then relevant and notable films should be discussed within the context of the article - in other words, within the body text. Girolamo Savonarola (talk) 22:58, 19 November 2007 (UTC)

May I suggest that the character of the pirate Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean is indeed a landmark effect? It is by far the most advanced digital character ever created, and it is extraordinarily good for its time. In itself the motion capture technique used is not necessarily that advanced, but the relization of Davy Jones (and somehow his mates) certainly is. (I say this with some competence, as I work for Weta Digital, and I have written myself software related to a similar task) (talk) 20:36, 6 April 2009 (UTC)

Types of SFX & CGI[edit]

I recently clarified the definitions on the two types of SFX: optical and mechanical. I added "(also called visual or photographic effects)" after optical effects and "(also called physical or practical effects)" after mechanical effects. (See Special Effects: Titanic and Beyonds online glossary) I've been working on a school research project over SFX and, judging from my research, these terms do indeed seem to be synonymous.

Also, I pretty much entirely reversed the "CGI versus SFX" section (now called "CGI and SFX"). Before, the article stated that CGI effects were NOT special effects because they are not produced on-set during filming. This was inconsistent with the definition of SFX both within and outside of the article. It did establish that CGI effects are not mechanical effects, but they are indeed SFX because they fit into the category of optical effects - which involves altering a photographic image.

Oh, and lastly, sorry about not filling in the Edit Summary field on some of my changes. I'm kind of a Wikipedia editing newbie. Jedimatt 05:17, 1 October 2006 (UTC)

I removed the "CGI and SFX" section entirely (but I copied it here for reference). It doesn't make any substantive point. I've never heard anyone assert that CGI effects are not special effects: this section seems to address an argument that nobody of any importance ever makes. Here's the section I cut:

"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, effects produced during filming on-set are a different subset of SFX known as mechanical or practical effects. Other categories of SFX do exist, and CGI effects are still SFX." (Brian Siano (

List of special effects houses[edit]

Does Wikipedia have any kind of list of the major special effects houses? If so, can it be linked to from this article? Robert K S 05:20, 5 October 2006 (UTC)

There is a list of visual effects houses in the visual effects article. Jedimatt 21:46, 8 October 2006 (UTC)
Thanks. Robert K S 04:10, 9 October 2006 (UTC)

Probably a few more comments should be added to the list. Phil Tippet's importance in stop motion should probably be recognized, together with Stan Winston's contributions. (talk) 20:39, 6 April 2009 (UTC)

Special effects vs. visual effects[edit]

Right now this is horribly managed, and the two articles have overlap - often misplaced overlap! Someone with more expertise in this field needs to go over the two articles separate their content out more appropriately. Girolamo Savonarola 19:30, 1 September 2007 (UTC)

I posted this elsewhere, but my position is this: the current "Special Effects" article ought to be the article, with "visual effects" redirecting here. I've outlined my reasons above. Brian Siano 23:31, 2 September 2007 (UTC)

The real problem is that there is a misconception of the use of term, combined with inconsistent usage in the past. Special effects originally referred to all out-of-the ordinary shots that required the use of specialized technicians to execute the shot. This varied from pyrotechnics to model work to matte paintings. While some of this was post-intensive, most of it was in-camera. As processes like bluescreen advanced, the general field continued to be called special effects until the late 80's-early 90's, when the more post-intensive departments began to distinguish themselves as "visual effects" to differentiate themselves from on-set special effects. This is the current practice and can be evidenced by a credits list of any recent effect-intensive film; special effects now tends to refer to things like pyrotechnics, artificial weather, and other unusual processes done during the shooting of the film. Visual effects usually is considered post-work. Special effects, however, can also still be considered the umbrella term encompassing both departments, although this is now more historical than in practice. Girolamo Savonarola 01:50, 3 September 2007 (UTC)

This brings us back to your earlier point-- namely, what's the most commonly used term? There may be distinctions "within the field." But in terms of genuinely common usage, "special effects" encompasses nearly every method of achieving illusions on film.

(For a time, I tried to come up with a really good set of "types" of special effects. The list included four broad categories: opticals, derived from photography; mechanicals, derived from stagecraft; animation and editing, which are unique to motion pictures; and CGI, which has superseded the above. Thing is, with any set of distinctions, one could always find exceptions (are forced perspective and the Schufftan process mechanical, as they're live on set, or optical, as they're derived from the conventions of photography?). And there's the question of mechanics in make-up, like Rick Baker's and Rob Bottin's early 1980s work: is that make-up, or special effects? So I abandoned the idea of trying to classify things too much, and stuck to a general overview.)

So how do you feel about bringing the visual effects entry under "special effects?"

Oh, I reinstated the revisions I made last night-- some relatively minor bits on _2001_, a reference to make-up effects, etc. Frankly, I didn't see any reason why these had been removed, and I don't think they're particularly controversial.

Brian Siano 19:52, 3 September 2007 (UTC)

I agree with your reversions and apologize for their initial removal; must have gotten lost in the mix. As for the topic issues, I think that it would be good to discuss the historical circumstances and eventual splitting of visual effects and link to the article. By giving a quick summary and link, it allows the user to decide if they want to explore it in depth at its own article page. Since this page is about all special effects, its not really going to go into much depth, and such instead discuss all of the types and subtypes and give links for each. Girolamo Savonarola 20:16, 3 September 2007 (UTC)

I'm not certain that I _agree_ with this distinction of visual versus special effects, but I think I have a good compromise. The article is an historical overview, so perhaps we can insert a sentence to the effect that, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, "the more post-intensive departments began to distinguish themselves as "visual effects" to differentiate themselves from on-set special effects."

As a side note: this may be due to the explosion of special effects companies in the post-_Star Wars_ era. Prior to 1977, effects staffs worked within studios, and that's probably why "special effects" became such an umbrella term. And the early 1970s were a time when studios were shutting down their effects departments. But after 1977, we started seeing more and more independent effects houses starting up, with attendant specialization (models, opticals, etc.) If this seems accurate to you, then maybe describing the distinction in this historical context might be worthwhile. Brian Siano 02:49, 4 September 2007 (UTC)

I'm simply pointing out what has happened and why. It is confusing, I agree. But if you look at the credits list for any major film in recent years that employs visual effects, you will almost certainly also find a section of the credits devoted to a separate special effects team. This is what the modern special effects team does - on-set effects. Anything done in post is a visual effects shot. Of course, some shots will be both - for instance, a shot made on a bluescreen which requires on-set effects will have a special effects team and a visual effects team each contributing to the final shot.
Discussion of the subject, IMO, should be historical and summarized as best as possible. When the "visual effects" era is broached, it would be best to use that space to discuss the splitting of that part of the SFX department into it's own breakaway department, and leave it to the visual effects article to cover that topic in more depth. Then it can be explained that "modern" special effects departments continue to do the rest of the "bag of tricks", as well as discussing any recent developments with modern SFX. Sound good? :) Girolamo Savonarola 06:26, 4 September 2007 (UTC)

The point needs to be addressed, at least. How's this for a general outline (and not the final text) of this point: "Special effects" was the term used when studios had in-house effects shops that had to do more or less everything-- models, pyrotechnics, opticals and the like. During the 1970s and 1980s, the major studios closed down their effects shops, and free-lance shops such as IL&M emerged. Greater refinements in effects processes, and greater specialization among effects companies (models, makeup, opticals) has led a greater distinction within the industry, where the term "visual effects" refers to post-production work and "special effects" refers to live, on-set and mechanical effects.

Okay, that's the point, but where should it go in the article? Here's my suggestion. We put in a single sentence about the modern distinction after the opticals-and-mechanicals passages. A fuller paragraph like my draft above can go before the passage on CGI.

I'll work up a better draft sometime this week. Brian Siano 18:44, 4 September 2007 (UTC)

Okay, I've added the copy about the distinction of special vs. visual effects. It required a little rejiggering of the 1970s stuff, but I think it reads well.

I'm still not exactly sold on why 'visual effects' has to be a separate Wikipedia entry. For one thing, people still use the umbrella term of 'special effects'; not exclusively, but it's still used. Also, everything said under 'visual effects' is said under 'special effects.' I figure, as long as we explain the distinction between 'visual effects' and 'special effects,' it could be one really good article. Brian Siano 16:21, 10 September 2007 (UTC)

Well, to be quite honest, I think the topic would be best served by each of the disciplines (pyro, modelmaking, matte painting, bluescreen, visual effects, et al) having their own pages wherein they can discuss their individual history in depth. As you've said, this is an umbrella term, so the page should cover the field in a summarized manner, and leave the in-depth stuff to the different disciplines' articles. Sound good? Girolamo Savonarola 22:35, 10 September 2007 (UTC)

Sounds like what we have right now, actually. ;-) Are you OK with the copy I put in? Brian Siano 19:28, 11 September 2007 (UTC)

Yeah, I am. :) Look forward to seeing how it develops! Girolamo Savonarola 22:46, 11 September 2007 (UTC)

September 2007 revisions, and upgrading the content[edit]

I undid the last two revisions, back to Girolamo's last version; the ones I deleted seemed to have added irrelevant names to the list of effects arists.

I'm wondering about the notice that's just appeared, about needing to upgrade this article's content. I think the aricle is in decent shape up to and including the passage on CGI. The sections titled "Planning and use" and "Live special effects" really seem like afterthoughts in the rest of the article.

But maybe the term "special effects" really does require addressing the term in the theater as well as for cinema (which buttresses Girolamo's point re the distinctions of visual versus 'special' effects). Is there a Wikipedia article on theatrical special effects? I couldn't write it, but it may be worth reorganizing this article to address the theater.

On a side note, I looked over some other articles on specific effects techniques, and they're a wild mix of excellent material. I wish I could reorganize the entire subject, but that'd step on a lot of toes of people writing the other articles. Brian Siano 23:49, 17 September 2007 (UTC)

I think that if you are willing to wrangle the articles on this subfield, then you should be bold! Girolamo Savonarola 03:18, 18 September 2007 (UTC)

It's tempting. But it'd run roughshod over a lot of other peoples' work, and I'd rather stategize with them before that kind of project.

Oh, another thing. the list of Special Effects artists has expanded, with a number of people listed who seem pretty obscure to me. It might be worth revising it to "Notable special effects artists," and including a sentence as to what makes these individuals notable. For example, "Douglas Trumbull: developed slit-scan system for _2001_, and effects for _Close Encounters_ and _Blade Runner._" I'll try a few as an experiment: it might keep the list short and focused. Brian Siano 15:00, 21 September 2007 (UTC)

I'd be very wary about the lists - the problem is that there's an ever-looming threat of name-creep. It would be better to discuss notable names in the context of the article, with citable sources. Girolamo Savonarola 19:23, 21 September 2007 (UTC)
The name-creep thing is definitely true; we have it already. but it might be difficult to get most notable names into the actual article without seeming like we're shoehorning them in. I figure, if we include single-sentence statements as to why these names are important or notable, it might put people on notice to not include everyone effects supervisor in the business. Either way, the name-creep isn't flooding the entry, so it's no rush to resolve this. Brian Siano 20:42, 21 September 2007 (UTC)

Hello guys, Girolamo Savonarola's comments up there regarding VFX versus SFX are right on target but the article is still a bit mixed up. Nobody uses the term Special effects nowadays in the industry for anything else that physical effects, meaning the effects that can only be done using physical methods. The methods do not require any additional optical or post-production techniques and are achieved on the actual set. SFX are such as Atmospheric Effects: creating physical wind, rain, fog, snow, clouds etc. Pyrotechnics are part of it. again, anything physical. Visual effects nowadays is anything that's created in post, that's right on just that optical, in camera effects are rarely used, it's all digital. Also because the disciplines are so different: physical versus digital , that's the main reason you'd talk about SFX and VFX art and artists as quite completely different fields of Film. In historical sense sure, Visual effects and Special effects were referred to as essentially the same. Just that the term "mechanical effects" could be applied to Motion Control technologies, mechanical creatures etc. also mostly taken over by computers nowadays. So the point is, the article needs some things to be straightened out. I don't want to jump in here just yet and start overhauling the article as it requires some serious "clean up". Therefore feel free to address those issues, I'm going to return to this as soon as time permits and help out any way I can. --Termer (talk) 10:31, 7 December 2007 (UTC)

By all means step in when you like - I don't have enough expertise or resources to do much notable editing myself. Girolamo Savonarola (talk) 10:41, 7 December 2007 (UTC)

"Special effect" vs. "Special effects"[edit]

Shouldn't this article be plural, not singular? Within the body of the article, the plural form is used. Cf. "visual effects". --Jeremy Butler 11:34, 26 July 2008 (UTC)

  • Going to remove The use of special effects is more common in big-budget films, but affordable animation and compositing software enables even amateur filmmakers to create professional-looking effects. since animation and compositing software is only used in post production, meaning Visual effects, or VFX, it has nothing to do with Special effects, meaning physical and otpical effects that are also used in Theaters just like in Film.--Termer (talk) 06:03, 31 July 2008 (UTC)


Am I wrong thinking a) this is the term used for (safe) stage firearm loads & b) it deserves a mention here? TREKphiler hit me ♠ 03:29, 17 September 2008 (UTC)