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Special effects (often abbreviated as SFX, SPFX, or simply FX) are traditionally known as illusions or tricks of the eye used in the film, television, theatre, video game, and simulator industries to simulate the imagined events in a story or virtual world.
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- Q: Much of your work involves faces. Which seems ironic, because faces are the hardest things to fake with CGI. Avatar got it right, and then Tron: Legacy got it wrong a year later. Do you think there will be work for practical effects and makeup people doing facial design for CGI films?
- Baker: Yeah, I do think so. When CG first became popular, we instantly became dinosaurs. But what happened was [the studios] started coming around, realizing that we actually had a skill set. I was brought in to do some damage control on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I said I would do it, but I didn't really want credit, because they wanted to do this CG head. They said, "You can model this stuff in the real world better than we can on the computer." So we actually modeled and made real, completely finished, silicone heads that they scanned to make their computer model from.
I was always hoping for a much closer marriage between the CG and the makeup stuff. I've been designing on a computer since the late 80s—'89, I think—because I saw the writing on the wall, too. I've been doing computer models, and doing my designs extensively on a computer, and I love it. I love doing digital models and digital paintings, and playing with digital compositing. But I don't think it's the answer to everything. I think you're going to lose something.
When you have a good actor, in a good makeup, and he's been sitting in the makeup chair looking at himself in the mirror, seeing himself become something else, and then he walks onto a set and he knows where he is, he knows what he looks like, he gives a performance that he's never going to give on a motion-capture stage.
- Rick Baker in "Legendary Special-Effects Artist Rick Baker on How CGI Killed His Industry" by Sam McPheeters, Vice, (Jun 8 2015).
- My very first day, we were doing a huge practical effect, a flying effect. It was going to be me and Gene Hackman. Okay, first of all, that’s incredibly cool. But we were in a ’30s-style open-top roadster and, basically, Superman—played by Christopher Reeve, also amazingly cool—flies underneath the car, and he would fly away with it. Nowadays they would do that with green screen. You’d be lucky if you ever actually even got in the car. But at the time, they did it practical. So they literally got one of those huge construction cranes that are usually on the top of buildings, and lifted this convertible 40, 50 feet in the air, with Christopher Reeve wired underneath it in full Superman outfit. Did I say “outfit”? I’m apparently from the 1950s. [Laughs.]
- John Cryer as quoted in "‘Superman IV’ Was A Disaster From The Start, According To Co-Star Jon Cryer" by BAADASSSSS!, Geeks of Doom, (May 14th, 2013).
- Jurassic Park's revolution was technological, but more importantly, it was popular. If Spielberg and Lucas saw the future of cinema in those shots, it was the public who made that future a reality. Sam Neill and Laura Dern's stunned awe upon seeing a real-looking brachiosaur on its hind legs eating from a tree was a perfect mirror of our own. Audiences believed. When that dinosaur's feet came down with a thud, the reverberations rippled past dumbstruck viewers and into moviemaking itself.
Two years later, the world witnessed the first CG character in a main role (Casper), more realistic CG-rendered animals (Jumanji), and the first feature-length computer-animated movie (Toy Story). Between 1996 and 1998 special effects films started to create entire cities, armies of creatures and destructive disasters in films like Dragonheart, Independence Day, Twister, Mars Attacks, The Fifth Element, Starship Troopers, Titanic, and Godzilla. It was an exciting time to witness how far CGI's capabilities could be pushed. By 1999—when The Mummy, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, and The Matrix contributed their own technological forward leaps—computer-generated effects weren't assistive moviemaking tools anymore. They were the driving force of entire films.
- Now, almost no major-studio movie is made without CGI—even Oscar-baiting dramas like Social Network, or comedies like The Campaign and the coming The Hangover Part III. Trailers now have more CG shots than all of Terminator 2. Budgets have swelled into the hundreds of millions. Of course, this has led to a lot of bad films getting made. And special effects have become so pervasive, they've lost much of their capacity to cause wonder. Today, it's nearly as common for audience to pan a film's effects (like those in I Am Legend, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Green Lantern and even King Kong's dinosaurs) as it is for them to praise it: We've gotten so used to CGI that the illusion, the sense of realness that pervaded Jurassic Park, is dead.
- Alexander Huls, "The Jurassic Park Period: How CGI Dinosaurs Transformed Film Forever" The Atlantic, (April 4, 2013).
- The temptations and pitfalls are to go too far -- to exaggerate too much and just put things on the screen because you can put them in. To me, the most important thing is the characterization: to know them, to understand them and appreciate them. The effects are just to allow you to depict the characters as WELL and vividly as possible.
- Stan Lee, "Nothing cartoonish about Stan Lee's comic book worlds", Louis R. Carlozo, Chicago Tribune, 3 October 2006,
- One of the fatal mistakes that almost every science-fiction film makes is that they spend so much time on the settings — you know, creating the environment — that they spend film time on it. And you don't have to spend too much film time to create an environment. What they're doing is showing off the amount of work that they generated, and it slows the pace of the film down. And the story is not the settings. The story is the stories, plot. You're always surprised with characters, I mean in film it's even more dramatic than it is in writing, because eventually you actually take a real person and stick them into that character. And that real person brings with him, or her, an enormous package of reality. I mean, Threepio is just a hunk of plastic, and without Tony Daniels in there it just isn't anything at all. In the first film we had maybe 20 colors to paint with, and this time we've had 40 colors to paint with. Well, that doesn't mean it's going to be a better painting. Special effects are just a tool, a means of telling a story. People have a tendency to confuse them as an end to themselves. A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.
- Some of the physical phenomena commonly simulated in movie and video game special effects include water, fire, smoke, explosions, rigid body dynamics, and the deformation of elastic bodies. The governing equations for these processes are most often in the form of a system of partial differential equations.
- A. McAdams, S. Osher and J. Teran, “Crashing Waves, Awesome Explosions, Turbulent Smoke and Beyond: Applied Mathematics and Scientific Computing in the Visual Effects Industry.”, Notices of the AMS, 2010; 57 (5): 614-623.
- Any kid with a computer can reproduce the special effects seen in today’s movies. The mystery's gone. The curiosity that viewers once felt when they saw special effects has disappeared. It's as if a magician had revealed all of his tricks... There’s no question that these computer films are well packaged but the charm has disappeared... If Spielberg were to film E.T. today using the latest technology I'm not sure it would be a hit because the techniques they’re using at the moment couldn't reproduce the tender expression of ET's eyes, for example. The secret of creating what technology is unable to express lies in the work of the artisan, who is able to develop characteristics that touch our deepest emotions.
- Carlo Rambaldi, "Obituaries: Carlo Rambaldi". The Daily Telegraph. (October 5, 2012).