Special Effects in Videos

Ever wondered how special effects in movies or even some independent videos are made? The process is generally too complex and situation-dependent to make this a tutorial, especially if you intend to make and use your own custom effects, but I will give the general concept of how it is done. The techniques can be used in the video or independent projects in a simpler way.

The software I will be focusing on is Adobe After Effects. First, here is a video giving a general idea of what After Effects is capable of.

As you can imagine, with a sophisticated set of effects and a lot of work, it is possible to achieve movie-quality special effects with After Effects. However, the first step before trying to insert any effect into a video is to first have the full animation of the special effect you want to achieve. The hardest part would probably be obtaining a special effects animation clean enough to have the background filtered away leaving only the effect behind, otherwise there will be an obvious box surrounding the effect. Many effects can be purchased, but usually they don’t come cheap, and would likely be too much for amateur editors.

Assuming you have a special effect on hand, you now need to import the video into After Effects for use. Just like layering effects on images in Photoshop, a special effect video or animation is layered on top of an existing video. Because videos are much less predictable than static images, it may take a lot of effort keeping the effect in the intended positions across frames, depending on the amount of movement in the original video. In order to make it convincing, filter and mask layers may also need to be added to change the lighting on the effect and hide any parts that may be hidden due to it being behind an existing object in the video.

As an idea, with enough effort and dedication it should be possible to create your own special effects in Photoshop and After Effects itself, but it would require some mad artistic skill if you want a really eye-catching animation. Simple but effective compositions can be made with still images and clever manipulation of transformations within After Effects, but don’t expect huge explosions, lasers, or lightning strikes to happen easily.


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