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How to Create Digital Effects for Your Film Project

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We all know by now that a camera and little bit of creativity can go a long way to producing an amazing project. But those two assets alone don't always get you 100 percent there. Try as you may, you simply can't do things like change the laws of physics or turn a gray sky blue—without a little help. That's where digital effects come in.

Digital visual effects (or FX), by definition, are computer-generated or manipulated imagery blended with live-action footage for the purpose of enhancing reality on screen. The sky's the limit when you can add effects to your project, and if you have a vision for your project that can't come to fruition without them, the tools to produce digital effects are a very wise investment.

While studios like Disney/Pixar and Dreamworks employ hundreds of skilled digital effects specialists to make magic in the movies, even the most amateur of filmmakers or dabblers can add effects to their projects, so long as they have access to software like Adobe After Effects or Corel MotionStudio 3D.

If you're thinking about adding effects to your work and don't know where to begin, here are a few types of basic effects to consider.

This popular effect is also known as "green screen," and involves stripping the background of a subject on film so that you can replace it with another—i.e. putting your actor on the planet Mars. You can't really shoot on Mars, so the next best thing (and easiest!) is to fudge it with a green screen!

Matte Painting
This effect also aims to fudge the scene as well, but instead of a green screen, it uses an image—a painting in some cases—depicting a landscape or background that's combined with the original footage of your actors on a set. The result gives the impression of a much larger set. A famous use of a matte painting occurred in "Star Wars," during scenes inside the Death Star.

Also known as motion tracking or camera solving, this technique involves using data on the exact movements of the camera throughout your recorded footage to generate an image or character that fits seamlessly into it, as if it were really filmed. A common example of this technique can be seen in the yellow down lines in live football broadcasts.

This is a broad category and encompasses effects like 3D modeling and texturing that are used to create 3D imagery to combine with your live action footage. These effects are often complex and require more advanced software and skill.

If you want to learn more about exactly how to achieve digital effects, lynda.com is a great resource for tutorials.

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