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Monday, September 25, 2000

From Waqt to Godzilla, special effects have
 come a long way
by Sumesh Raizada

SPECIAL effects, nowadays, play a vital role in the success of any movie, commercial or music videos, utilising both sound and visual techniques. One can very well notice the impact of special effects on the viewers, whether it is a daring action, horror sequence or a science fiction.

These are used to give an illusion of real happening on the screen, like explosions, mid-air collision of aircraft, volcanic eruptions, or alien objects flying in the space. In the famous movie, Independence Day, special effects were used to create the impact of unidentified flying object covering the whole USA and the destruction caused by it.


In India also, special effects have been used since long. In the famous movie of the 60s Waqt, special effects were used to film the earthquake and devastation caused by it. In those times experts were called in from abroad to provide special effects, as experienced professionals were not available in India.

With the idiot box becoming an inseparable part of every household, TV companies came out with serials, which used special effects, in order to make the serial technically superior and popular. One can very well remember all those actions and fight sequences in serials like, Ramayana and Mahabharata that translated imagination into reality.

Special effects are used to create photographic actions that simulate real or imaginary events that are otherwise dangerous, expensive or rather impossible to perform. Special effects also refer to the creation of wind, rain, fog, smoke and steam that is performed during live action photography.

In music videos, special effects are being increasingly used with all sorts of imagination and creativity. Special effects are also being used for product promotion, in commercials and advertising films. These persons who apply innovative and technical skills are usually referred to as special effects co-ordinator/ supervisor, or special/visual effect editor/director. There exists a vast scope and demand for professionals in this field of creative art and technology.

A special effects supervisor, based upon the requirement of script, conceives an idea on how to perform a particular sequence. He then fabricates a system. This requires creating huge sets, clay and plastic moulds, and sometimes puppets or remote operated robots to control movement and actions. These systems are designed, built, tested, perfected, and operated by special effects personnel with the help of welding, machining, carpentry, electronics and plumbing. Visual effects are produced with means other than those mentioned above to create the desired impact in camera. It is a sort of trick photography and involves several skills, which are associated with visual arts. A supervisor has to control movement of cameras, film, models and paintings, with precision, in order to create film effects.

Robotic camera systems are also used to picture motion sequences and provide special/ visual effects. However, due to the complex nature of the job and the short amount of time usually available to produce them, computer-aided software are increasingly used nowadays. A special effects professional has to be conversant with the latest computer programs and hardware available. Though experience plays a vital role in the success of a special effect professional, they are, nowadays, more qualified and educated than their predecessors.

Today, science graduates, electrical engineers, computer programmer, hardware experts, all are involved in this trade. The job however demands full dedication and hard work on the part of an individual and willingness to work long hours, on tight schedules. Special effect personnel should possess good communication skills and be able to work along with the team of persons in this interesting and challenging line of work.

Besides educational qualification, on-the-job training is more important and effective medium of learning the highly complex art and technique of providing special effects. Without software packages and operating systems like Unix, 3D studio, Max artist, Houdini, Adobe and Windows NT, it would have been difficult to bring out special effects as we see them now a days. Several studios keep advanced CAD /graphic instruments and a variety of latest computer hardware for analysing the information and utilising it to create audio/visual digital effects.

The special/visual effects artists are now using computers to help them create illusions. Computer generated imagery, (CGI), is the main tool that has caused a revolution in the films/commercials, today. Monsters, space ships, even entire galaxy can be created in the three-dimensional environment of cyberspace. The computers not only bring out quality, but also save lot of manpower and processing time.

To study various aspects of motion and behaviour of living creatures, movie camera is connected to a computer and then the computer is made to analyse and interpret what it sees. This technique is called computer vision and helps in visualising the behaviour of creatures.

Various software and hardware have literally replaced workmen like make up artist, mould makers, mechanics, light/sound technicians and several others. The professionals use digital cameras, SGI hardware, and several graphic-based multimedia software. Computer programmers and experts, are required to constantly review and modify the techniques, in order to make the effects more realistic and within reasonable costs. Computer-aided graphics and designs have been used extensively in the recent James Bond movies and some other immensely popular movies like Titanic, ET, Godzilla or Deep Impact. Bond flying out of the aircraft, or huge creatures destroying the civilisation or the sinking of large ship are all creations of computerised special/ visual effect. The computers have made it possible to create all sort of imagination into reality.

Special effects persons are a mixture of an artist and a scientist. This is because special effects require elements of creativity and mechanics. So if you are an artist or an engineer then you should try to get experience of the other trade also, to perform the task effectively. In case you decide to pursue this highly rewarding career, get a formal qualification in a relevant discipline.

The basic thing that one has to do a course in multimedia or graphic design from any reputed computer institute or college. Several foreign institutions like, University of California, Academy of Art College and School of Visual Arts provide various courses, which can help those aspiring to become special effect professional and are also beneficial if a person wants to work in some foreign projects.

The NCCA (National Centre for Computer Animation) is said to be the largest institution of its kind in the UK. It is having most advanced facilities, software and hardware related to the 3D and 2D digital effects. It is running several bachelors and masters programme on the art of computerised effects for entertainment industry. Here individuals having desire and interest towards this profession are made to develop their skills in communication, information processing and key boarding, besides numerous other techniques. However, the best way of learning and perfecting this art is through working as a trainee in a project in film studio or advertising agency, or by studying works of successful persons.

The earnings through this profession are endless and a single success may help you earn sufficiently for the whole of your life. But self-discipline, patience sincerity and ability to learn and grasp are very important for a special/visual effect person. It is mostly a freelance job, working either on one project at a time or simultaneously on several projects. Many advertising firms employ computer professional for the task. Unlike in other industries, there is hardly any hierarchy or scope of promotion in this profession, as special effect person mostly works independently. There is no such distinction as senior or junior professional, as sometimes even a young trainee can come out with creations that are far more superior and innovative than what has been done earlier. The basic minimum qualification may vary depending upon the nature of project or hiring firm, but proficiency in related computer software is essential.

Today, there is a vast scope for all, in this field of creativity and art. With the growth of computer-related industry, several new applications and avenues apart from those in the entertainment industry, are likely to come up for special effects professionals in near future.

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