Free Research Paper On Digital And Practical Effects

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Cinema, Film, Animation, Computers, Movies, Camera, Development, Motion

Pages: 7

Words: 1925

Published: 2020/12/03


Modern technology has revolutionized the way movies, films, plays or broadcasts are displayed in audio-visual media. The effects contained in the pictures or images of such content usually add to their realism or theatricality. These effects are either visual or special. Visual effects describe images created, enhanced or altered for a moving media that cannot be achieved during live-action shooting (Okun and Zwerman 3). After shooting a primary image or a scene containing live-action, the specialists add visual contents through computer generation or photographic manipulation. On the other hand, special effects are those done while the scene or action is being captured such as bullet hits, rain, fire and practical explosions (Okun and Zwerman 3). Both the visual and special effects can either be achieved practically through props or digitally through computer software. Today, there are several digital tools and equipment that can create flawless compositing or computer-generated characters. The processes that consumed a lot of time and effort to create manually can now be done faster on computers. However, practical effects still play an integral part in the making of films or broadcasts.

Definition of Digital effects

Digital effects refer to embellishments or alterations made on live action footage using digital devices such as computers. They integrate live action shots screen shots with generated imagery to mimic existing environments or create fantasy worlds. Digital effects are appropriate when the scenes being filmed are “dangerous, costly or impossible to capture on film” ( sec. 1). Dangerous scenes that may put the life of an actor at risk are usually digitally manipulated such as executions through strangling or beheading. Filming some scenes may also be costly due to the scale of the project, difficulty in accessing particular geographical locations or the expensive nature of certain equipment. An example of this is the huge crowd present during the final war in third part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy called The Return of the King. Lastly, there are scenes revolving around a fantasy and alternate reality that are impossible to capture on films such as the fairytale or intergalactic movies. Examples of computer software used for creating digital effects include 3Ds Max, After Effects-Adobe and Flame-Autodesk ( sec.3). Despite the apparent benefits of digital effects, their overuse in a single movie or image may be counterproductive since viewers may find the entire movie unrealistic and non-engaging.

Definition of Practical effects

Practical effects are special effects produce manually without applying any computer-generated graphics or other digital post-production techniques (Masters par. 5). Examples of practical effects include bullet wounds, fire, wind, and explosions. Practical effects are significant because they make scenes and environments appear more realistic and natural, thus encourage maximum audience involvement. Therefore, they are appropriate for films mimicking real life events, scenery or occurrences. Some practical effects, however, consume a lot of time, effort, expertise and equipment that may delay the production schedule and add to the cost.

History of Digital effects

Types of Digital effects
There are several types of digital effects. The common ones are computer-generated imagery (CGI), green screen and animation. Computer-generated imagery uses computer graphics in creating or contributing to images in various media such as print, films, video games, art commercials and television programs among others. These pictures may be static or dynamic, depending on the type of media in use. The visual scenes generated by CGI are commonly three-dimensional in nature to fit media such as films and televisions, even though, the technology can also produce two-dimensional graphics. CGI can be used to generate animated images and natural-looking landscapes using computer algorithms. For instance, fractal landscapes are created using an extended version of the triangular mesh method. Modern architects also use CGI to create 3-dimensional models for the designs required by their clients. Architectural animation is less tasking and faster than drawing traditional canvas designs. CGI has also revolutionized the interactivity of computer games and videos by allowing the creation of “walk-throughs” or navigation platforms.
Green screen refers to a post-production technique of layering two video streams or images together based on different color schemes or chromatic ranges. It is also known as color-separation overlay, Chroma keying or named on the basis of the distinct hues used such as blue screen or green screen. This techniques involves making the color range of the top layer transparent in order reveal another image below it. Chroma keying is commonly used in video games, news casting, and motion picture industries. Before the advent of digital tools, a traditional technique called the traveling matte was used. The blue screen was first utilized in the 1930s to create wipe-like transitions between scenes in films. Traditional mattes were disadvantageous because the cameras used for shooting the images could not be synchronized. Advanced motion-control, computer-timed cameras were later invented to overcome this problem by filming both the background and foreground with the same camera moves.
Animation involves creating shape change and motion of images by rapidly displaying a sequence of static pictures that differ slightly from one another. The rapid succession of images ranges from 24 to 60 frames per second. Animations can be recorded in various media such as videotapes, motion picture films and flip books. The techniques for creating animations include the traditional method, and stop motion animation that includes puppets, clay figures or paper cutouts. The traditional form of animation involved first drawing pictures on paper with the successive images differing slightly from the previous ones to create an illusion of movement. The production of animated short films (cartoons) became famous in the 1910s and developed into an industry. Today, animations can be produced digitally in both two- and three-dimensional images.

First uses

Digital effects were first used in the 1950s and 1960s to create animated graphics for Hitchcock’s Vertigo opening in 1961, following the works of John Whitney (Okun and Zwerman 10). He used light military equipment to create intricate images by moving light patterns using analog computers.

Development of technology

The development of digital effects over the years depended mostly on the evolution of computers and other electronic devices. In the early 1900s, the use of visual effect was limited because the cameras of the time were rudimentary. As such, they could only allow limited image manipulation such as substitution shots and simple frame splits (Okun and Zwerman 4). Substitution shots involved stopping the camera, changing the scene than filming again. Simple frame splits included shooting the first part of the effect while in hand-drawn mattes before the film plane in front of the lens of the camera. In the 1920s, more sophisticated mattes that could be used for backgrounds were developed.
The 1930s saw the development of nodal pans and tilts that allowed for the rotation of cameras. These developments allowed the projection of matte paintings and backgrounds on large screens behind actors. By 1980, ultraviolet lights were in use. In addition, the first optical printers were developed. These cameras could combine images filmed in several locations into a single shot. Other developments such as digitally controlled motors were invented to control camera motion. With the invention of computers in the mid-1990, several techniques sprung up such as animations and green screen became famous. Modern digital effects such as CGI and split-screen and masks can be used to create superior images.

History of Practical effects

Types of Practical effects
There are several types of practical effects. The common one include squibs, weather, and prosthetics. Squibs are small explosives resembling tiny sticks of dynamite and have less explosive power. They contain two electrical leads separated by insulating material, an electrical resistance wire and an inflammable chemical composition in which the wire is embedded. Squibs are used in the film industry to create pyrotechnic effects and simulate bullet impacts on non-living objects. The mechanical effects produced by squibs can also mimic earth movements such as earthquakes in action films.
Weather effects are used in films and motion pictures to simulate the natural environment. Weather elements such as rain, snow and wind can be created. In the case of rain, specialists use water sprinklers or hoses angled upwards to provide a live rain effect. Wind can be created using fans directed at the actors ( n.p.). The strength of the artificial wind can be altered by regulating the speed of the fan and adjusting the distance between actors and the camera.
Prosthetics refer to the technique of adding a second artificial skin to the face of other parts of the body using methods such as casting, molding, and sculpting. It was first employed in the 1920s. The process of applying prosthetic makeups begins with life casting, where a several-layered mold of the actor’s face is used as a base for sculpting the prosthetic (Ellis n.p.). This technique enables makeup artists create believable results by adding scarring, veins, skin discoloration or injuries. Furthermore, it can be used to create alien features such as prolonged teeth and pointed ears in fantasy movies.

First uses

Practical effects were first used in theaters in the 1800s to portray different characters. The practical effects in the first film ever made included props, makeups, and still picture backgrounds. Since then, they have been used in making films over the years. The prosthetics used in the early 1920s in the movies was less complicated and less elaborate than modern ones.

Development of technology

The practical effects have largely depended on the technological advancements of the time. Films and motion pictures produced in the early 1900s mainly contained props and makeups. The makeups were usually done using washable paint or beauty powders. The animations of the time mainly stemmed from manual drawings and puppetry that were then manipulated using cameras. Today, there exist numerous techniques for creating practical effects that closely resemble living animals or people. These methods include advanced prosthetics, animatronics, and simulations. Nowadays, makeups are done using casting methods involving the use of latex or gelatin molds. Other methods include mechanical effects, pyrotechnics, weather, and squibs. These methods mimic real life situations such as bullet wounds, weather conditions, explosions, fires and theatrical blood.


In conclusion, both digital and practical effects play a fundamental role in the development of films and motion pictures. Digital effects are more flexible and diverse than practical effects in creating fantasy and science fiction movies. The use of digital effects can also reduce production cost significantly by cutting down on the amount of special effects and equipment needed when shooting scenes. The main disadvantage of using digital effects, especially CGI, is that one can easily distort an effect thus breaking the intended illusion of a film. To prevent these mistakes, production companies must hire more manpower, equipment and expertise that usually comes with an added costs. In addition, digital effects require technical expertise and high innovative ability in order to create fictional scenes. On the other hand, practical effects are necessary for giving films and images a more natural and believable look. These effects can be achieved using simple in-camera techniques such as framing, depth of field and lighting adjustment, hence making the technology less expensive that digital effects. However, some practical effects techniques are time-consuming and thus a mistake on one part can affect the whole production by causing unnecessary delays. Furthermore, actors face the risk of obtaining injuries from techniques such as live explosions. Both types of effects have their particular applicability. Too much CGI makes a film appear preposterous and far-fetched while too many practical effects may make a film less appealing. Therefore, effects specialists must find a balance between the use of digital effects and practical effects in creating motion pictures and films.

Works Cited

Ellis, Jessica. "What is Prosthetic Makeup?" WiseGEEK. N.p., 1 Feb. 2015. Web. 2 Mar. 2015. <>.
Masters, Mark. "Going Back to the Roots: Practical Effects and Digital Effects." Digital-Tutors Blog. N.p., Dec. 2014. Web. 2 Mar. 2015. <>.
Okun, Jeffery A., and Susan Zwerman. The VES Handbook of Visual Effects. Burlington: Focal Press, 2010. Web. 2 Feb. 2015. <>. "Visual Effects Beginners PDF VFX Bro." VFX Bro. N.p., 2012. Web. 2 Mar. 2015. <>. "6 Ways to Make Movie Special Effects." WikiHow. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2015. <>.

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