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The Magic of Special Effects

If most of us are honest, no matter what types of movies we make or prefer to watch now, we have to admit that the allure of special effects was one of the drawing aspects of movies when we first began our movie-watching experience. While not every movie requires special effects, most of us would love to not be limited by trying to avoid special effects like the plague. Most of us would love to be able to write a script that had a car crash or a shoot out or an explosion without having to scrap that “bit” because there’s no money for such effects. Sometimes, we desire to “make it big”, just so we don’t have to have those limitations and can actually make the types of movies we want!

We all know that most of the pro visual effects programs hover over the $10,000 mark, not including hardware support. Of course, there have been a barrage of consumer-based effects programs that have been included as free add-ons to G-Machine and Hew-Paq computers or sold for under $50 by the mega software conglomeration…and, to no one’s surprise, these have all looked and worked like junk. This has left us with nothing to create the most awesome effects we can imagine other than After Effects. (Not that there is anything wrong with AE, it’s just not a visual effects program. It’s first and foremost a motion graphics program that has had a whole lot of upgrades and plug-ins tacked on to it.)

Well, finally, after a long wait, we’re seeing some answers to our prayers. We’ve seen a niche company finally expand their special effects software to the point where incredibly complex special effects can be created. At the same time, a mega company has dropped the price on one of their powerful effects programs to try and corner our market.

The first one, VisionLab Studio, is made by a company that started out as a niche effects company devoted to creating light sabers and blasters for overly-enthusiastic Star Wars fans to make fan films. Because of such a niche audience, they were largely ignored by most of the production magazines out there.  However, FXHome (the publisher of VisionLab Studio) kept adding new improvements to their software until it started infringing on the territory Apple’s effects combo of Motion & Shake (which has previously been a $3500 combo!). And, unlike Apple, their software is created for both Mac & PC and has a mind-blowing price tag of only $570! (If you would like to read more about this, check out our review of VisionLab Studio in this month’s issue!)

The second involved Apple dropping the price on the aforementioned $3000 Shake effects compositor (which was used on Peter Jackson’s King Kong and on microfilmmaker Alex Ferrari’s Broken) to only $500! While most high end effects need both Shake and Motion, which comes to $999, this is an incredible price drop from $3500 for the two of them! (Rumor has it that Shake may be added to Final Cut Studio 6. This rumor has not been confirmed, although Apple has apparently said that the price drop was introduced to encourage all Final Cut users to purchase Shake.)

The fact that we can now get our hands on two professional grade visual effects software programs for less than a grand is pretty darn impressive. So now, with a little practice and some pre-production planning, you can start saying “yes” to some of the elements of moviemaking that you’ve always had to say “no” to in the past.

As I have said before and will say again, as microfilmmakers, we live in exciting times!

God Bless,

Jeremy Hanke
Microfilmmaker Magazine

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