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The Difference Between Special Effects and Visual Effects

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  • The Difference Between Special Effects and Visual Effects

    This will be a featured thread in the SPFX forum to allow easy access for new users.

    What is the difference between Special Effects and Visual Effects?

    Special Effects are anything physical that can be implemented into the actual filming process

    Visual Effects are effects that are later added in post production on the computer

    These can get confusing and even after 10 years I still get them backwards every once in a while
    but I normally correct myself after a face palm. To help remember, just think of the "V" as virtual
    and you should be good.

    Wiki --- Special Effects Visual Effects
    Distribber - Keep 100% of your film's revenue

  • #2
    As an example a styrofoam rock being thrown at someone in the film would be special effects but if it was rendered and placed into the film it would be visual effects.

    Is that right?
    The newbie.


    • #3
      By the definitions given above yes. You will sometimes hear special effects called practical effects as well.


      • #4
        I'll give you an example.

        Real life explosions, building blowing up, ect. That people actually blew up and filmed. - Special Effect

        During the editing process they create explosions using a program that the VFX guy adds himself. - Visual Effect.


        • #5
          I'm with JST.

          I call on-set effects practical effects....from old Hollywood jargon.

          It's easier to remember that "practical" is in front of the camera. A flipped car, a guy in a rubber monster suit, shooting blanks from a pistol, etc.

          A visual effect is still a special effect, after all....just a post-production one.

          But of course, anyone can use whatever term they want as long as the crew understands.

          Kurt Hathaway


          • #6
            The line between the two is a bit blurred now because a large percentage of real world practical "special" effect also goes through a post production layer of visual tweaking for the final product. So ultimately almost all effects get the post production 'visual effects' process. So when referring to the physical elements in front of the lens, I too tend to more frequently call them 'practical effects' simply to avoid any confusion about what I mean.


            • #7
              ^ Yes, that was the situation with Return to Sleepaway Camp. The practical effects were very weak, and took years to be improved to meet director Robert Hiltzik's expectations. When watching the film, the effects still look a little off, and it's really hard to tell how bad the effects actually were before post-production.