Working with Special Effects Make-up

Digital or practical special effects? Most people think Transformers and Michael Bay when you say special effects, which is all about the illusions created with computers. But films like Star Wars didn’t use many computers at all and achieved amazing results. These effects are called ‘practical’ because you do the effects in the camera, on set. Films like Life of Pi make great use of both types to great effect – can you tell when the tiger’s real and when it’s not?

So when do you do it practically, and when do you do it in post? This is a dilemma many indie filmmakers have. You want the effects, and you want them to look good, and you have a buddy who’s sure he can do it, but you’d like to see what the hell he’s talking about before you wrap and hand it all over.

Practical effects fall in to many camps from stunt people, pyrotechnics, set desing and even cinematographers. We spoke to Josh Russell, a Make-up special effects wiz about what a director needs to think about before talking to the Special Effects Make-Up department.

Josh breaks it down pretty plain: You need a budget and you need to know what you want. Exactly what you want. Having had this conversation myself a few times, I know you need to be specific, but you also need to be open to new ideas. And optimally, you need to have time and budget to test everything you and the SFX department talks about to make sure you’re both on the same page.

I couldn’t leave Josh without addressing the low budget dilemma: is it cheaper to do practical or digital effects? And what about all of these tutorials? Can’t I get my little cousin who plays bass in my band to just do what they said on YouTube? Josh made some great points about this.

At the end of the day, if you can afford it, get a professional to do your practical special effects. In reality, when you’re already a day or two behind on your shooting schedule, you don’t need someone surprising you with their best efforts. What you want is someone who’s going to help offer you some solutions around moving the ball forward. You want someone with experience making it happen, someone you won’t have to micromanage. Even if your actors look awful delivering their lines, a good special effects make-up artist can make them look great when their dead.

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One Response to “Working with Special Effects Make-up”

  1. I think general audiences are growing wit from their initial naive illusion about vfx. Yes, they understand that indeed vfx’s are needed to create great illusions that otherwise cannot be performed in the real world, but when it comes to the visceral side of the illusion: blood, gunshots, things burning, etc. it is better off to deliver the real thing, and that can be accomplished with practical special effects!!! Thanks!!! Mario.

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