Visual Effects (VFX): Past, Present, and Future (From Ordinary to Extraordinary)

Donna Ross

Visual Effects (VFX) Past, Present, and Future (From Ordinary to Extraordinary)

We see the wonder of visual effects all around us. There’s a decent possibility that some of your favorite movies or TV shows feature some outstanding visual effects.

Before we get into the specifics, let’s take a step back and look at how visual effects, or VFX, have changed the narrative in some of our favorite genres. Visual effects have left an enduring mark on art, whether it’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy or the Marvel Universe.

What Exactly is VFX?

Visual effects, or VFX, are effects used by professionals to generate almost mystical visuals to lend authenticity to an otherwise mundane film set.

Special Effects vs. Visual Effects

Along with visual effects, there are special effects (SFX). Movie special effects are the use of optical and mechanical tools to generate optical illusions and other desired outcomes that are, well, unique.

Consider the aforementioned Lord of the Rings. The wizard Gandalf appears to tower over all of the hobbits in the first fifteen minutes of The Fellowship of the Ring. Ian McKellan is not 8 feet tall, believe it or not. Instead, the filmmakers used forced perspective to create the illusion of a huge wizard in comparison to the hobbits.

Movie special effects are created on the set, whereas visual effects are created in post-production.

What Is the Importance of Visual Effects?

Visual effects are wonderful adds to any film. They let directors create and execute precise and astonishing effects, universes, and personalities that performers on a soundstage just cannot.

Effects History (SFX and VFX)

Pioneers of Movie Special Effects

When were the first movie special effects? 1930? 1915?

Before the Civil War, special effects were invented. Oscar Rejlander invented special effects in 1857 by combining photos to create a believable storyline.

After decades, Alfred Clark had the actress place her head beneath the headsman’s ax and stopped the video to replicate Mary Queen of Scots’ execution. The actress (luckily) left while everyone stayed.

Filming resumed with a dummy under the ax. This stop-motion trick made it seem lifelike, especially to spectators who never imagined such a stunning impact.

Special Effects in Modern Times

The state of movie special effects is astounding. Use green and blue screens, practical effects, prosthetics, and more to film whole movies. This is efficient for filming location reconnaissance but saves time.

Amazing visual effects, including green screen filming, dominated 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. This lets actors focus on acting and create the illusion of a war-torn battlefield instead of building one.

Basic Uses for VFX

The primary application of visual effects in film is enabling filmmakers to add spectacular and simply impossible elements to their films. Some of the most spectacular visual components of iconic films such as Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Matrix would not exist without special effects.

Although it would be fantastic if Neo could actually soar in the air, this is simply not possible.


While these two may appear to be similar, and they do have some qualities, there is a world of difference between VFX and CGI.

Visual effects are referred to as VFX. These are items that were added after the fact that were simply not possible during the filming process.

Whereas VFX changes existing video of a scene, computer-generated graphics are totally manufactured from the ground up. CGI may be more familiar to you if you’ve seen any of the Star Wars films. The producers used direct CGI to create many of the characters, locales, and objects.

Scenes in Star Wars and other films were truly hand-painted before the widespread usage of CGI. The quality and number of available backdrops, locales, and characters were increased using CGI.

CGI, on the other hand, is not without its skeptics. Some people favor matte paintings as well as practical special effects. Regardless of one’s opinion, computer-generated imagery (CGI) was a welcome contribution to the field of film special effects.

How to Make Special Effects

Live Special Effects

These are quite fascinating. Live special effects are performed in front of an audience. How can actors and shows captivate an audience in real-time?

There are some well-known examples, such as laser light shows and fog machines. While simple, these visual effects seek to immerse an audience in whatever they are witnessing in real life.

Pyrotechnics, or the use of fire to enchant live audiences, is a hugely popular live special effect. This is a huge hit among over-the-top bands like KISS, who make live special effects a mainstay of their shows.

Have you ever been to a party where confetti was thrown? You witnessed a live special effect.

Mechanical Influences

Mechanical effects are what you would expect to see in an action film. In some circumstances, mechanical engineering teams create rigs to act out a scene.

If a movie character is in an airplane that crashes, the mechanical rigs of the plane will simulate intense turbulence, giving the look of a genuine plane crash. Gimbals are used by professionals to generate this effect.

Christopher Nolan created a whole mechanical hallway in Inception for actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt to act out the amazing action sequence.


VFX and SFX have been a cornerstone of filmmaking for almost a century and counting, hailing from the past. While some may argue that special effects are overused in movies, they are so enmeshed in efficient and creative filmmaking that to criticize special effects is to condemn movies themselves.

Whatever your feelings on special effects in movies, they are undeniably beneficial to the filmmaking process and will only grow in complexity and technological prowess.

Leave a Comment