animatronics: puppets of human, animal, or creature form controlled by an
operator manually or remotely via electronic or radio control.
blue-screen photography (also green-screen): technique of filming a subject in
front of a blue- or green-screen; the blue or green background is then removed
through optical or digital processes, allowing the subject, or element, to be
isolated for compositing with another element. Often characters are filmed with
a blue-screen in order to place them in a different scene, or on a miniature
composite: to combine two or more individual images onto one piece of film by
photographic or digital means. Early compositing was accomplished in the camera
by masking part of the scene when filming, rewinding the film and removing the
matte and shooting again to expose the previously masked portion. The
photographic technology of the optical printer revolutionized visual effects
in the 1920s. In the 1990s, digital compositing is commonplace, in which
multiple film images are scanned into the computer, combined digitally, and
output to a single piece of film.
glass shot: background scenery painted on glass that is positioned in front of
the camera and filmed so that it appears to be part of the scene.
hanging miniature: a miniature suspended in front of the camera. When viewed
through the lens, it appears to be part of a structure in the scene. In the Ben
Hur (1925) chariot race scene, only the lower part of the coliseum was built.
The upper tiers, including thousands of tiny "spectators" mounted on rods to
allow them to stand, was a hanging miniature.
matte (also mask): Early filmmakers created in-camera composites by covering
part of the lens with a mask while filming, or placing a sheet of glass with a
blacked-out area between the camera and the scene, to prevent a portion of the
film from being exposed. The cameraman would then rewind the film, and shoot
again with the mask removed and the previously exposed area covered, thus
combining two images in one shot. In "The Playhouse," (1921), Buster Keaton
used this method to put himself on-stage as nine different characters. A
stationary matte marks off a static defined area; a travelling matte follows
the silhouette of a moving character or object and changes shape from frame to
matte painting: painting of elaborate background scenery that can be composited
with live action or miniatures. They were originally painted on glass, but
artists now often create them with the computer.
mechanical effects (also called practical or physical effects): special effects
created on-set in front of the camera which may not require additional
photographic manipulation. Includes pyrotechnics, animatronic creatures,
make-up effects, flying with wires.
motion-control camera: a camera controlled by a computer, which can be
programmed to precisely duplicate the same movement repeatedly. With motion
control, multiple elements can be filmed in exactly the same way, allowing the
images to be aligned for compositing.
optical printer: device consisting of a projector and camera with lenses facing
each other; in the process called compositing, two or more pieces of film with
elements of a scene are placed in the projector and photographed together onto
a new piece of film in the camera.
pyrotechnics: the controlled use of incendiary materials to create explosions,
fires, and smoke.
rear projection: a previously filmed background scene is projected behind
actors on a screen in a studio, to create the illusion that they are on
stop-motion animation: technique in which a miniature puppet is moved
incrementally through a range of motions and photographed one frame at a time
with each movement. When the filmed scene is run at the conventional film speed
of 24 frames per second, the illusion that the creature is moving is created.
"King Kong," animated by Willis O'Brien, is an acclaimed example of the
substitution shot: trick shot in which the camera is stopped and the actors
freeze while an object or actor is exchanged for another. In "The Execution of
Mary Queen of Scots," the actors froze while a dummy was substituted for the
actress just as the ax is poised to fall; the camera was then re-started to
capture the "beheading."
visual effects (also called optical or photographic effects): special effects
achieved with the aid of photographic or digital technology, occurring after
the principal photography, or main shooting, of a film. Includes miniatures,
optical and digital effects, matte paintings, stop-motion animation, and
computer-generated imagery (CGI).