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YouTubers Brandon Laatsch, Joe Penna, Zach King, Sam Gorski and Niko Pueringer shared important lessons with fans during a panel discussion on DIY special effects at this year’s Vidcon. The hour-long conversation, which was moderated by Indiewire’s TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller, provided a blend of practical and conceptual advice on best practices when it comes to experimenting with special effects.
1. Your first priority should always be story (not effects).
As King put it, “effects complement the story.” No matter how realistic they might appear, special effects carry little to no meaning without the existence of a narrative framework. The preoccupation with getting special effects to coincide with reality. “We’re not trying to convince people that what is happening in these videos is real. It’s more for the entertainment factor,” said Gorski. “We’re trying to communicate the idea of what is happening rather than prove that it’s reality.”
2. “We’ll fix it in post” is bullshit.
Penna denounced the popular maxim “we’ll fix it in post” as a mistake, rather than a saving grace. He considered it to be a severely misguided notion because it could function as an easy excuse for careless mistakes made during production. While he never made a point of explicitly attributing the occurrence of errors to the notion that “we’ll fix it post,” Penna did observe that post-production cannot make up for the sloppy footage that usually results from cutting corners. “It will always look like something that was mish-moshed together,” he told the audience. Penna went on to encourage the room full of creators to take the time to set up the ideal conditions for capturing footage, in spite of the time constraints and other setbacks that might emerge over the course of production
3. Use a combination of practical and computer-generated effects.
The more practical components captured during a shoot, the less you have to simulate during post-production. Pueringer gave the example of shooting a scene with an explosion and throwing rocks into the road to construct a tangible simulation of the physical effects of a real explosion. Using a blend of practical and computer-generated effects, Gorski went on to point out, results in a much more potent visual effect, because “if you’re putting something in a scene that is fake, ideally you want to see it interact with something that is there.” Moreover, the practical components of a visual effect provides the actors in the scene with a frame of reference for their performance — effectively reducing the chance of there being a discrepancy between the performances and the narrative when they come together in the final version of the film.
4. Take your green screen on location.
Gorski said he prefers to shoot on location with a green screen rather than in a studio; the reason being that it’s virtually impossible to recreate studio lighting conditions when shooting on location and vice versa. If you’re blending an image shot in front of a green screen with an image shot on location, for continuity sake it’s simpler to just shoot both on location.
5. Look for patterns when you’re trying to learn the ins and outs of visual effects program.
Instead of trying to memorize the location of each function or the necessary steps to execute a particular command, Laatsch told the audience to look for patterns in the program’s overall organization, which, he said is usually structured either top to bottom or left to right. “Someone spent thousands of hours deciding on layouts to make it as clear as possible,” said Laatsch. And while the organizational layout of a program may not appear intuitive at first glance, over time — mostly through repetition — those patterns will emerge.
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