For the amateur filmmaker who wants to learn how to make special effects, the process can be a daunting and frustrating one. Most people don’t have a production suite or the high-priced equipment available to major Hollywood studios. They have to make do with limited resources, both in terms of money and raw materials, but must live with their desire to produce professional-looking movies. Below is a list of things to remember—as well as inexpensive product suggestions—when looking to make special effects.
- Post-production, not principal photography. In movie lingo, principal photography is the actual filming of the movie. Post-production is everything that happens after filming has commenced. A lot of amateur filmmakers erroneously believe they must incorporate the special effects into their films during principal photography. Attempting this for most special effects will only end in tears for the director.
- Choreograph accordingly. During principal photography, set up each scene with an eye toward adding the special effects on your computer after filming. If you’re scheduled to have a light saber battle, for instance, choreograph the action accordingly, directing the actors to play the scene as though they had lights on the ends of their saber handles. This way, their movements will correspond in a believable way once you download the footage and edit the lights onto their sabers. This is perhaps the most difficult part of acting and directing: pretending something is there that clearly isn’t. But it’s a must so the action will look real after special effects have been added in post-production.
- Digital film editing programs. Your options for creating special effects will be limited depending on the editing program at your disposal. For instance, a decent special effects film can be made on Windows Movie Maker (the free program offered on all PCs operating with a Microsoft platform), but it will pale in quality to the wide range of options available on Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro, or Sony Vegas, for example. If you want some seriously professional-looking special effects and skyrocket your film’s production value, consider saving your pennies and upgrading to a more sophisticated editing program.
- Adobe Premiere & After Effects. Adobe Premiere is the top-of-the-line editing software for the filmmaker who wants total control over their editing and special effects. After Effects is the add-on that allows you to create 2D and 3D animation, distortion, smoke and sparks, blur and sharpen, rotoscoping, and green screen special effects, among many others. Buy this suite of programs and you won’t need another.
- Final Cut Pro. For those Mac users, Final Cut Pro is another uber-sophisticated program to rival Adobe Premiere. Final Cut, however, is used by many professional filmmakers in the industry today. It does everything Premiere does but has a reputation of being easier to use. If you own a Mac, Final Cut is the only stop you’ll need to make when going higher with your film editing.
- FXhome. This is a suite of special effects programs that deserves special consideration for the sheer multitude of professional effects that it delivers to the user. Included are green screen, smoke, sparks, horror effects, sci-fi effects, space effects, fire, clouds, and many more special effects. FXhome gives you the option of purchasing a single effects package at a time or bundling together for even more savings.
- Video Copilot. Copilot is an amazing collection of special effects. From optical flares, twitch effects, bullet effects, smoke, evolution, and incredible stock footage, Copilot gives you nearly everything you could ask for in a special effects suite. The company also releases several tutorials via their blog to assist you in furthering your digital editing education. Like FXhome, you have the option of purchasing CDs separately or in bundles.
- WindowsMovieMaker.net. Windows Movie Maker has garnered a dedicated following of guerilla filmmakers who search out ways to expand Movie Maker’s functionality. WindowsMovieMaker.net contains tutorials and links to help the cash-strapped director in need of adding polish to their movies.
If you’re looking to add special effects to your home movie, short film, or feature-length production, you don’t have to wait to get your hands on expensive equipment. These creative special effects programs will fit any budget.