Special Effects vs Visual Effects: What's the Difference? (2023)

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It's quite common for the general public to use the words special effects and visual effects (VFX) interchangeably, but actually there's a big difference between the two terms. As their names suggest, they both refer to adding effects to a film or video, but the methods used and overall goals can be very different.

Let's take a closer look at these two important aspects of filmmaking, what separates them, and when to use one versus the other.

What are special effects?

Special effects are usually physical in nature and are achieved on set during filming. Also commonly known aspractical effectsÖspecial effects,They can include things like explosions, pyrotechnics, mechanical gear, or makeup and prosthetics.

What are visual effects?

Visual effects are digital in nature and are added in post-production after filming is complete. This can include things like green screen work, computer generated imagery (CGI), set enhancements, motion capture, and many other types of effects.

What is the difference between visual effects and special effects?

Visual effects and special effects are often used interchangeably, but they're really two different disciplines. Visual Effects (VFX) is a digital process that uses post-production software to create and manipulate images displayed on screen, while Special Effects (SFX) uses hands-on and mechanical effects performed on set and captured on camera .

Special effects can include explosions, fireworks, rain, snow, and miniatures to name a few. In contrast, visual effects rely heavily on computer graphics and animation software to create the desired illusion or effect. Ultimately, the visual effects can be combined and used to enhance the special effects to achieve a more realistic look for the entire production.

The goal of special effects and visual effects is to create something that feels real and believable in the context of the story being told.

Types of visual effects

Now that we know the difference between special effects and visual effects, let's take a look at some of the different types of visual effects you might come across.

Before we do that, we have to keep in mind that all finished VFX work involves some level of compositing.


Compositing is the combining of two or more images to create a single image. In most cases, these are live-action footage, known as a background plate, and a foreground element designed to blend into the background.

(Video) SFX or VFX - what's the difference and which to use for your film | TOP 6 TIPS

Compositing isn't a type of visual effect, it's the foundation of the VFX process, where all the different elements come together and combine to create the final shot.


Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) is one of the most common types of visual effects used in movies and TV shows today. It covers everything from creating fully digital worlds and characters to adding a simple CG element to a live-action scene. This can be accomplished using traditional 3D software such as Maya or newer.Real-time game engines like the Unreal Engine.

digital effects

This can be live action visual effects elements like rain, fire, smoke, explosions etc. shot separately from the background plate. Or it could be computer generated effects created with software like Houdini.

Chroma Key

Chroma key is a type of digital effect that involves blue or green screen work. It is often used to place an actor in a completely different setting or time period that would be too expensive or too dangerous to film. The screen color isn't limited to blue or green either; it simply has to be a solid color that is not in the subject.

In special situations, e.g. For example, when working with a model spaceship, effects teams have used red, magenta, or yellow backgrounds.

For the production of Dune (2021), the filmmakers chose to use sand-colored backgrounds, which gave them the advantage of a solid color similar to the background color that would be added in post-production. This meant that the actors' edges (particularly the hairline edges) already had the correct hue and luminance, making the compositing process easier.

Matte finish and set extensions

A matte painting is a traditional or digital painting used to create an environment or background that would be impossible or too expensive to film in real life. Matte colors are often used to create backgrounds for scenes.

Similar to a matte painting, set extensions are used to expand or enhance existing sets or locations filmed on location or on a sound stage. This is often used to add digital elements such as buildings or crowds to a scene.

motion graphics

Motion graphics are computer-generated animations that are commonly used to add titles or other text elements to a film. They can also be used to create abstract animation or visual effects.

When to Use Special Effects vs. VFX

Now that we know a little more about the different types of visual effects, let's take a look at three reasons why you should choose to use special effects over visual effects, or vice versa.

(Video) VFX vs SFX vs FX vs CGI | VFX | LESSON 03

1 - Security

Your primary concern should always be the safety of your cast and crew. If there's a chance a special effect could hurt or kill someone, consider opting for a visual effect instead.

Any effects that use fire or explosions should only be performed by trained and licensed professionals. When working with miniatures or other economies of scale, safety should always come first.

For example, if you want to have a scene where a car explodes, it's much safer to film the car in multiple takes. First with your actors but without any effects manipulation (so no risk), then a clean record without anyone in the car and finally a shot with professionally controlled pyrotechnics and you can combine the shots in post production.

And even when working with professionals, always use common sense and trust your gut; If you or a crew or cast member is not comfortable with an effect, there is no reason to proceed.

2 – Cost

The cost of using special effects vs. VFX must be weighed on a shot-by-shot basis. With both options offering so many possibilities, it's virtually impossible to make a blanket judgment like "VFX is cheaper" or "Special effects are cheaper."

With this in mind, having a VFX library on hand can be of great benefit. With a vast library of VFX footage, the cost advantage begins to tilt toward VFX.

Special Effects vs Visual Effects: What's the Difference? (1)

Special Effects vs Visual Effects: What's the Difference? (2)

For example, imagine you have a scene with a barn that caught fire. If you used practical effects, it would be quite an expensive setup, and you would risk burning down an actual barn. Alternatively, you could build a miniature barn, which would definitely be a safer option but would take a lot of time and money. Not to mention that you only get one chance to film the miniature before it's destroyed.

However with oneVFX-Footage-Bibliothek, z. B. FX Elementsyou have a wide variety of individual elements at your disposal, including effects such as fire, smoke, sparks and embers. By layering these individual elements in your compositing software, you can quickly build a realistic fire of any scale.

(Video) VFX and SFX What's the Difference | VFX और SFX में क्या अंतर है? | #FilmEditing | Joinfilms

Not only is this option safer than the hands-on approach, but you also have full control over the appearance and intensity of the fire. Don't like a particular llama? No problem, swap it out with as many alternate takes as you like. Would you rather have more fire on one side than the other? It's not a problem; Just place the items where you want and you can direct the fire to your heart's content.

If you plan well, you can also take it a step further by using modern LED lights on set to simulate lighting a fire interactively without flames being present on set. It really is the best of both worlds.

3 - Restrictions

Sometimes you will find that it is just not practically possible to achieve an effect. For example, if you want a character to teleport to an alien planet, you'll have to resort to VFX.

The same goes for effects with digital creatures or objects like aliens, monsters, robots etc. If the effect cannot be created in practice, VFX is your only option.

trial and failure

The best way to learn more about special effects and visual effects is to just get out there and do some testing. Gather some friends, buy or build supplies and see what you can think of.

You may find that you prefer the challenge of trying to achieve a specific effect in practice. Or you might find that you're better at composing digital effects in post-production. The only way to find out is to start and experiment, but always remember to put safety first!

Until next time

In the next section, we'll take a closer look at the role of special effects on set.

Continue to On Set Special Effects

(Video) Difference between CGI vs VFX vs SFX | Learning panther

frequently asked questions

Are VFX and CGI the same thing?

No not exactly, CGI is a component of the visual effect. CGI stands for Computer Generated Imagery and stands for a special technique of visual effects. CGI can also be integrated into photography, animation, and other disciplines.

How are visual effects different from CGI?

Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) is just one type of visual effects. Other common visual effects are matte colors, set extensions, and green screen composites.

What is the difference between practical effects and digital effects?

Practical effects are physical techniques used to create an effect on set and in front of the camera. An example of a practical effect would be fireworks or rain or snow to add weather to a scene.

(Video) Special Effects vs Visual Effects: Bullet Hits!

Digital effects, on the other hand, are created using computer software in post-production.

What is an example of a special effect?

A good example of a special effect would be something like rain, snow, fire, or smoke created in a controlled manner on set.

Do I have to be a computer expert to do visual effects?

No, you don't need to be a computer expert to create visual effects. However, you must have some basic computer skills and be able to use specialized software such as composition software. If you're not sure where to start, there are many online tutorials and courses that can help you get up to speed.


What are the 3 types of visual effects? ›

Types of Visual Effects
  • Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) Computer-generated imagery (CGI) is a visual effect that generates images using computers only, whereas other types use them to enhance or combine live-action footage. ...
  • Compositing and Green Screen VFX.

What is SFX vs VFX vs CGI? ›

VFX (Visual Effects) is the process of combining what was filmed and created on a computer (CGI). SFX (Special Effects) – although they have no connection with computer technology, but we need them for completeness. This term refers to pyrotechnic effects, scenery, make-up, and the like.

What do you mean by visual effects? ›

Visual effects (sometimes abbreviated VFX) is the process by which imagery is created or manipulated outside the context of a live-action shot in filmmaking and video production. The integration of live-action footage and other live-action footage or CGI elements to create realistic imagery is called VFX.

What are the two types of special effects? ›

There are two types of special effects in movie making: mechanical and optical.

Is CGI visual or special effects? ›

CGI can create characters, scenes, backgrounds, special effects, and entire animated films. In a film project, computer-generated images are part of the visual effects or VFX department.

What is an example of a visual effect? ›

Some examples include green screen, bluescreen, compositing, 3D models/animation, and matte painting. They are created to make movies more believable, entertaining, and realistic.

Are FX and VFX the same? ›

VFX is extensively used in almost every movie produced. Visual Effects (abbreviated to VFX or Visual FX) is the term that's used for describing any imagery crafted, modified, or augmented for a film or any other moving media, which cannot be achieved during live-action shooting.

Why does VFX cost so much? ›

The main reason why VFX is so expensive is the time and labour that goes into making a single scene. Creating visual effects that are both realistic and pleasant on the eyes requires highly trained artists who work hundreds of hours on just a single shot.

Does VFX fall under animation? ›

In the VFX industry, animators produce work to be integrated into the live-action footage of a film or TV programme. They animate 3D objects as dictated by background film plates, which means that there is footage and a set camera position that they must work to.

What is another word for visual effect? ›

What is another word for visual effect?
optical illusionconjuring trick
special effecttrick
trompe l'oeilapparition
fata morganahallucination
31 more rows

What major is visual effects? ›

Students majoring in animation and visual effects study rendering, 3D modeling, lighting, motion, character rigging and texturing. You'll create animated graphics and effects using Autodesk Maya, the same software used in TV, film and video games. Alumni work primarily in the animated film and video game industries.

What is an example of special effect? ›

Pyrotechnics, prosthetic makeup, animatronics, and live-action weather elements are just a few examples of special effects, all of which are overseen by the special effects supervisor. Despite advancements in modern digital effects, computer-generated imagery (CGI) may not look as real as the best practical effects.

How many types of visual effects are there? ›

Types of visual effects in film

As mentioned above, there are many aspects to the VFX process but they can all be organized into three main types: CGI, compositing, and motion capture.

What is another word for special effects? ›

What is another word for special effects?
cameraworkcomputer graphics
FXmechanical effects
1 more row

Does VFX require coding? ›

To become a software developer, you will need very strong coding skills as well as a detailed understanding of the VFX pipeline. A degree in computer science or a related field is often needed, although the most important thing is a high level of technical skill using coding languages Python and C++.

What is the difference between visual effects and animation? ›

Animation and visual effects are both used in movies, but their purposes are a little different. Animation is used to make drawings come alive, and Visual Effects are used to manipulate what we see on screen.

What are visual effects in movies? ›

Visual effects (VFX) are any special effects added to a film using a computer. VFX typically combines live-action footage and manipulated or enhanced imagery to create realistic environments and characters. The main goal of VFX is to take something fake and make it look real, or at least believable.

What is a VFX artist called? ›

Types of VFX artist roles

The main titles that you might come across include: compositing artist. effects (FX) technical director (TD) FX animator. multimedia artist.

Does VFX include video editing? ›

The visual effects (VFX) editor is included under the umbrella category of Special Effects Artists, and is responsible for reviewing and editing visual effects after the footage has been shot.

Why is VFX visual effects? ›

VFX (visual effects) in film is a process of creating imagery that does not physically exist through the use of CGI, Compositing and Motion Capture. Examples include 3D modelling, green screen filming and performance capture.

Is making VFX hard? ›

In many ways, the visual effects and video games industry is just like any other job in that it cannot survive on the technical skills of its employees alone. Working in VFX requires teamwork, time management, effective communication, a strong work ethic, problem-solving, creativity and much more.

Are VFX artists in high demand? ›

VFX artists have never been more in demand and as long as you're skilled and motivated to keep growing, you will find a place in the industry.

How much earns a VFX artist? ›

VFX Artist salary in India ranges between ₹ 0.2 Lakhs to ₹ 6.1 Lakhs with an average annual salary of ₹ 2.9 Lakhs.

Does VFX need drawing? ›

3. Does VFX need drawing skills? Only animation needs sketching skills. VFX focuses on the application of special effects to animations, films, and videos and has little to do with drawing but does require software and hardware integration expertise.

Is 3D animation a VFX? ›

VFX is artificial imagery used to create false images and scenes on a screen that are not shot with a raw camera lens. While the animation is the motion graphics and the movement of the graphics and pictures are used. VFX creators do not have to learn 2D and 3D animation.

Is VFX a skill? ›

Visual effects (VFX)

Using a combination of technical and artistic skills, alien landscapes, enormous crowd scenes or fire-breathing dragons can be brought to our screens. The industry requires a broad range of skills from programming to art and a combination of the two.

How do you get visual effects? ›

How to become a VFX artist
  1. Earn your diploma. Many employers require at least a high school diploma to be considered for a role. ...
  2. Develop your skills. ...
  3. Consider attending college. ...
  4. Pursue an internship. ...
  5. Focus on a specialty. ...
  6. Try freelancing. ...
  7. Explore open roles. ...
  8. Prepare your materials and apply.
Mar 15, 2021

Is visual effects graphic design? ›

Motion Graphics is animated graphic design, whereas Visual Effects combines existing footage with computer generated imagery to create realistic scenes. The world of digital motion media can be a scary place. Like most industries it's filled with jargon that can be both intimidating and confusing.

What is visual effect art? ›

VFX refers to digital effects that enhance animation and film shots or stills. VFX artists often combine live action techniques with computer-generated graphics (CGI) to create characters, environments, or elements that would be difficult or impossible to capture in real life.

What counts as special effects? ›

Its main focus: old age, creature, character, prosthetic makeup and even body art and face painting can be considered a special effect. Realism and imagination are put to the test with special effects. Making your craziest interpretations come to life.

What movie has the most special effects? ›

Everything in This Slideshow
  • 1 of 26. The best movie special effects. Want more?
  • Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
  • Jurassic Park (1993)
  • The Matrix (1999)
  • Tremors (1990)
  • Hollow Man (2000)
  • Life of Pi (2012)
  • Interstellar (2014)
Jul 29, 2022

What movie has the most visual effects shots? ›

'Brahmastra' has 4500 VFX shots, possibly the most for any international film ever made, reveals Prime Focus founder Namit Malhotra.

Is being a VFX artist stressful? ›

However, like any job, they still come with pressures and stresses. Whether you are just starting out or an expert in the field, working in visual effects can feel particularly demanding, especially during crunch time, which can impact your mental health.

Does VFX require a degree? ›

Most VFX artists have a degree. Specialist degree courses allow you to develop the skills studios look for in specific areas, combining creative and STEM-based learning. Many studios hire straight off these degree courses. Nowadays there are alternatives to going to university.

What should I study for visual effects? ›

Important Skills required to become a VFX artist
  • Composition and light.
  • Visual Aesthetics.
  • Drawing.
  • Sculpture & Anatomy.
  • Mechanics and Movement.
  • Passion for Film.
  • Real world observation.
  • Communication skills.
May 6, 2019

What is special effects in simple words? ›

In film, special effects are unusual pictures or sounds that are created by using special techniques.

What is the purpose of special effects? ›

Special effects (SFX) are illusions or tricks of the eye created to simulate the imagined events in a story or imagined world. Special effects for videos are powerful storytelling tools. As a result, they are heavily used in film, television, theatre, and the video games industries.

What is special effects in image? ›

Special effects depend on the basic belief that photographs don't lie. They exploit this premise by presenting to the observer images that are seemingly impossible to achieve in reality or which enhance certain features of a subject beyond that achievable by normal photographic methods.

Does VFX have special effects? ›


VFX allows filmmakers to create environments, objects, creatures, and even people that would be impossible to film in a live-action shot. Everything VFX happens after shooting in post-production. Special effects (SFX) are added during the production. They refer to on-set visual effects techniques.

What is another Word for special effects in a film? ›

Visual effects, also called VFX, enable filmmakers to enhance a story by bringing to life believable characters, worlds, and stunts.

What are special effects in Powerpoint called? ›

The correct answer is Transition. Key Points. Transition. Transitions are motion effects that when in Slide Show view add movement to our slides as we advance from one slide to another. Slide transitions are the animation-like effects that happen when you move from one slide to the next during a presentation.

What are the 3 types of visual media *? ›

Images, videos, and infographics are just three of the most effective visual aids you can use to market your product or service.

What are the 4 types of visual media? ›

Types of visual media include digital and printed images, photography, graphic design, videos, animation, and more.

Is visual effects the same as animation? ›

VFX is artificial imagery used to create false images and scenes on a screen that are not shot with a raw camera lens. While the animation is the motion graphics and the movement of the graphics and pictures are used.

Does VFX need coding? ›

To become a software developer, you will need very strong coding skills as well as a detailed understanding of the VFX pipeline. A degree in computer science or a related field is often needed, although the most important thing is a high level of technical skill using coding languages Python and C++.

What are the two basic types of visuals? ›

The six categories of visuals are representational, mnemonic, organizational, relational, transformational and interpretive visuals (Source: Graphics in learning by Ruth Colvin Clark).

What are 5 examples of visual media? ›

  • 3.1 Visual Media: Visual Media can be a very powerful tool to enhance the impact of your presentations. ...
  • Posters: ...
  • Charts: ...
  • Photos:
  • Bulletin Board: ...
  • Transparencies: ...
  • Power Point Slides: ...
  • Graphs:

What are the 7 types of visuals? ›

They write that there are seven different types: Decorative, representational, mnemonic, organizational, relational, transformational, and interpretive visuals.

What are the 10 types of visual media? ›

  • 1 Infographics.
  • 2 Memes and Branded Quotes.
  • 3 Interesting Data Visualizations. ...
  • 4 Visual Representations. ...
  • 5 Annotated Screenshots. ...
  • 6 Presentations. ...
  • 7 Videos. ...
  • 8 Strong Calls to Action.
Mar 14, 2016

What are the six visual elements in a visual media? ›

ELEMENTS OF ART: The visual components of color, form, line, shape, space, texture, and value.


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(Fame Focus)
3. The Visual Effects Crisis
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6. Visual Effects Comparison - Wink of an Eye [redux]


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