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Know your visual effects lingo

TV and Movies

Visual effects are everywhere in modern movies, from the wall-to-wall spectacle of fantasy blockbusters to the real-world dramas with FX you don’t even notice.

Modern computer-generated (CG) movie magic is produced by visual effects companies around the globe, employing armies of animators and artists using specialised software to conjure ever more realistic shots. Like any industry, the processes of creating visual effects come with their own jargon and technical terms. Here’s a quick guide to some of the common terms you need to know.

Blocking pass

Animating CG characters or environments in rough, low-resolution form so they can be tweaked quickly and easily.

Compositing

The final process of combining real footage with digital elements to create the finished shot.

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Green screen

Also known as chromakey, color key or blue screen, this is the process of shooting actors in front of a colored backdrop so a digital environment can be added later. 

Groom

Digitally-created hair and fur on CG characters.

Look Dev

Developing and detailing how a CG asset will look.

Maquette

A crude puppet designed to be photographed as a reference for visual effects artists. 

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Matchmoving

Matching digital elements with the camera movements of the original footage.

Maya

Industry-standard animation software developed by Autodesk.

Nuke

Node-based compositing software for combining elements into the final shot.

Performance capture

Also known as motion capture, or mo-cap, this involves recording actors’ movements and facial expressions so a CG character can be mapped over them.

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Plate

The original, unaltered footage shot in the traditional manner on set or against a green screen.

Previz

Previsualization — usually shortened to previz — is simple animation roughing out the film’s shots, like a moving storyboard.

Rendering

The computer-intensive process of generating a photo-realistic, high-resolution image from a 3D model.

Rotoscope

In the visual effects industry, roto artists ‘cut out’ individual elements such as actors from the background so they can be composited with other elements.

Simulation

Software that algorithmically replicates natural phenomena like water, flames, smoke or large-scale elements like falling debris or crowds of people.

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