One of the frustrating things about working in VFX is explaining to others what you do. I’m not talking about the Jurassic Park brand of visual effects — it’s easy to spot a CG dinosaur (because extinction). I’m talking about those shots that you didn’t even realize were touched by a VFX artist. Like these lush green scenes:
There is no magical VFX button that turns a sunny beach into a monsoon or engulfs a building in flames. Visual effects are created by a team of artists who work frame by frame to make sure the effect integrates seamlessly into the footage. The result? If we do our job well, you don’t know that we’ve done it at all.
Here are some of the most common times VFX companies have tricked viewers into thinking that what they’re seeing was really filmed that way.
There are a ton of benefits to shooting your project locally, and when a scene is shot correctly, the VFX team will have no problem making it look like a completely different world.
In what we refer to as a “set extension,” a production enlists the help of a VFX team to change the setting of a scene. For example, in one scene from The Path on Hulu, a character summits a mountain and looks down on the city below. However, what the actor actually saw during filming and what the character sees in the series are two completely different things:
Before and after images from VFX work for Hulu’s The Path
Hundreds of extras can be pricey and tough to manage — and sometimes, totally unnecessary. This is a scene The Molecule recently finished for Barbershop: The Next Cut:
One of the most frequent times the VFX team gets called is when there’s a potentially dangerous situation on set. We’ve assisted with building demolitions, car crashes, and more — but one of our favorite VFX moments is when we get to play with fire.
In our studio, we’ve set buildings, vehicles, even people on fire, all without any real-life property damage or injury. Check out how we were able to create the following fire scene in The Americans on FX. (Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the entire series, the following is from episode 8 in season 3.)
Filming a pivotal conversation on a loud, fast-moving roller coaster isn’t the best way to get the perfect shot with perfect sound.
For a final scene in season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix, we advised the production team on filming the elements we would need to assemble the scene in our studio.
It was a very complicated process behind-the-scenes, but the finished product looked as though it was filmed entirely on a roller coaster.
Before and after images from VFX work for Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
This subtle kind of VFX is so common that you probably don’t even realize that most of your favorite TV shows and films have been altered.
That’s okay with us — some of our proudest moments are when we can help tell a story with the VFX work we do, and nobody notices our work at all. When our effects blend seamlessly and are totally invisible, that’s when we know we’ve succeeded.
Audra Coulombe is the Marketing Manager for The Molecule, a VFX, Motion Graphics, and VR company located in New York and Los Angeles.