Warping nine we journey through time and space, visiting strange new worlds where few have gone before. We see aliens burst from bellies and watch wuthering ghosts stroll upon the moors. We flirt with the faithless Scarlett O’Hara and romp with the irrepressible Barberella. We hunt replicants through the wet acidic alleys of 21st Century Los Angeles and hump the ’60s streets of San Francisco with maniacal motorist Frank Bullit.

Crumbling civilizations, exploding worlds, grapes and goat cheese with the fiddle and toga crowd, Brigadoon and Bedford Falls, Bambi, Godzilla, and the bloody end of William Bonney-we watch and enjoy them all. Why? How?

Through the magic of special effects.

Ever since The Great Train Robbezy filmmakers have understood the value of titillating audiences with creative special effects. The fairy tale, otherwordly nature of film is enhanced by magical but realistic effects. Crashes, planets, leaps, falls, explosions, and extraterrestrials must be both spectacular and believable.


8 Tips for Making a Stellar First Video

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8 Tips for Making a Stellar First Video

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Many movie effects are rarely recognized as such. Ever notice how Cary Grant can pop a champagne cork perfectly every time? This skill comes courtesy of the effects crew.

Special effects for feature films can swallow up a huge portion of the production budget, with some movies carrying effects-burdened price tags exceeding $50 million. But not all special effects require such a budget. Many need only a few low-cost props or household items, or utilize simple lighting or camera tricks.

On the pages that follow are recipes for 60 special effects easily achieved by the average videomaker. They range from split screens to blood splats, and can be used to simulate everything from quicksand to the complete destruction of this planet…or someone else’s.

I. Light Sights

Lighting sets the tone for a production, depicting mood or feeling. A brightly lit scene feels happy, upbeat A dark scene can be sinister or dramatic. The special effects in this section use lighting techniques to alter scene ambience.

Bogus Background

Objective: Project a background (cities, trees, sky) onto a large screen or wall.

Requirements: Powerful light source, a sheet of tin or aluminum foil. When lovers woo, they need a starry sky.

With a sheet of aluminum foil, punch out the outlines of Orion, Andromeda, Leo, and Cassiopeia. Attach the foil to the front of your light source, leaving enough room for air to cool the light. Roll tape and feel the heat

This effect works best in a studio selling where the light can be positioned above the

Projections can also be purchased from theatrical lighting and supply stores.

Ripple On Still Water

Objective: Simulate light patterns at the edge of a pond or swimming pool.

Requirements: Rectangular pan, several small mirrors, strong light source.

For people who need reflected ripples of waterflowing across the face. Place several small mirrors on the bottom of a rectangular pan. Fill the pan with a half- inch of water. Position the pan next to your subject or background. Reflect the light source off the mirrors onto the subject.

An additional effect can be achieved by adding several drops of oil to the water.

The Burning of Atlanta

Objective: Simulate a flickering fire.

Requirements: Broom handle, a dozen strips of cloth of various lengths and widths, orange gel, light source.

Gather ’round the embers of the burning city, singing carols, toasting marshmallows, telling ghost stories.

A surprisingly realistic fire flicker can be created by stapling a dozen strips of cloth, approximately an inch apart, to a broom handle. Shake the cloth strips in front of a small light covered with an orange gel.

Watch your video monitor to make sure the flames flicker correctly.

Lurid Lab Lights

Objective: Simulate dozens of flashing lights.

Requirements: Several large sequins, thread, small fan, a light source.

Create a computer room or alien science lab replete with ominous blinking lights.

Attach thread to several large sequins and hang them in the background. Place a small fan out of the camera’s view to blow the threads lightly. Direct a light source covered with colored gel in the direction of the swaying sequins. As the sequins twist and spin, the lights flicker and blink, and the scene is set for a ghoulish monster to emerge from the space machine.

Turn Grandma Into a Werewolf

Objective: Create a sinister lighting effect.

Requirements: Light source, optional barndoors/focal system.

Scenes of terror, foreboding, and doom impending are simple to achieve.

Light grandma from a low angle with no overhead light The resulting shadows will turn her into an evil, demonic villain. The narrower the light beam, the harsher the shadows. Add malevolent cackles.

This effect is known in the trade as “underlighting.”

II. Camera Tricks

For these tricks the videomaker shoots scenes at carefully calculated angles to make viewers see things that aren’t really there.

Most camera tricks require careful planning and should be tested to check the effect and avoid accidents.

Splitting Atoms

Objective: Simulate the instant of brilliant white light heralding the activation of a nuclear device.

Requirements: video camera with a manual iris setting.

An effect Dr. Strangelove would love.

Once the scene has started, you can set off the bomb by opening the iris all the way-very rapidly. The scene will flash with a bright white lasting a few seconds.

The iris setting can be used to produce other bizarre effects when set to underexpose or overexpose images. For example,turn the iris until your subjects are riddled with color blotches-good for simulating horrific diseases or reactions to forced consumption of America’s Funniest Home Videos.

Cliff Hanging

Objective: Insert a background or manipulate existing background.

Requirements: Medium-sized piece of clear glass, paint, smidgen of artistic talent.

When you need to send your talent to the edge of a cliff.

Select the location and setup a medium-sized piece of glass so the scene is clearly visible through the glass. On the glass, paint the edge of the cliff, leaving room to one side for the actors to stand. Get someone who knows how to paint

When the painting is completed, set up the camera so it views the scene through the glass. The completed scene will combine the glass painting (matte) with the live action.

Close Encounters

Objective: Create a background using a model.

Requirements: Model, model support platform, Richard Dreyfuss.

To depict Devil’s Tower, convince the obsessed Dreyfuss to build a model of the alien-influenced promontory. Then support the model so the camera can see over and under it
With the correct camera angle,the model will appear to be part of the scene. Combine this effect with live action, such as Dreyfuss flailing through fields of dead sheep to reach the promised point.

Ghost Encounters

Objective: Create ghostly images in a live scene.

Requirements: Beamsplitter, ghost.

When you want to let the dead join in.

A beamsplitter is a thin piece of glass with a reflective coating on one side, invaluable for superimposing one image over another. Placed in front of the lens, the beamsplitter reflects objects at the side of the camera and adds them to the shot.

Position your ghost to the side of the camera. When you look through the viewfinder the ghost should appear translucent and eerie in the foreground.

This technique can be used to add almost anything to a scene without it actually heing in front of the camera.


Objective: Allow an actor to crawl the walls.

Requirements: Large wooden box, camera-arm support.

When gravity must be defied.

Construct a square box with five sides, big enough to engulf an adult and small enough to roll. Paint the box with symbols identifying top and bottom.

Rig an arm to hold the camera in an upright position. Sit your actor in the box, and slowly roll the box. As the box turns the actor should move from floor to wall to ceiling. When the actor is on the ‘ceiling” the camera will be upside down, making it look like your actor is defying gravity with a stroll on the ceiling.

The famous “Honda Wall” TV commercial turns this trick on a grander scale.

Half & Half

Objective: Simulate the electronic effect of two different scenes on the screen simultaneously.

Requirements: Construction of a small set consisting of two different backgrounds.

Create two small sets side-by-side, separated by a wall about a quarter inch thick. One set could be the inside of a bordello with red velveteen wall coverings, lots of tassels, a canopy bed, and a phone. The other set might be the stark room of a convent, equipped with crucifix on the wall, a plain bed, and a phone.

Place your talent on the sets, talking on the phone. Frame the camera so each set makes up half the screen. Enhance the effect by lighting each actor differently. Maybe add the Energizer Bunny drumming through, knocking down the divider.

Upside Down and Sideways

Objective: Simulate the appearance of zero gravity for liquids and objects.

Requirements: None.

Optional: Camera support to hold camera upside down.

For scenes aboard ships bound for Venus.

This effect involves exactly what the title implies: turning the camera upside down and sideways. It may sound silly, but the effects are intriguing.

Set up a scene with a glass full of ice and a fruit slice on the rim. Turn the camera sideways so the glass fills the screen horizontally. Quicklyfill the glass with lemonade. To the camera the liquid appears weightless, flying across the screen into the glass.

Another effect involves setting up a scene so that only when the camera is turned sideways or upside down do things appear “normal.”

Altering perception is appropriate for commercials, music videos, science fiction, and the human mind in general.

Camera Overboard

Objective: Videotape underwater.

Requirements: Large body of water, aquarium larger than your camcorder, at least two human waterstoppers.

Warning: If this effect isn’t done correctly and carefully, your camera’s sunk.

For backyard Cousteau epics without an underwater housing.

It’s best to test this effect in a pool before moving to open water. Place the aquarium in the pool so the open end faces up. Partially submerge the aquarium, but don’t let water flow inside. Nervously place camcorder in aquarium. Tape your underwater wonderland.

This effect is potentially dangerous for your camcorder. One slip and its soaked. Thus this effect should be practiced and performed with at least two people fussing over the camcorder to prevent Disaster.

Winging It

Objective: Simulate the smooth motion of a flying camera.

Requirements: Pole approximately 10 feet long, mounting system, video camera counterbalance.

Attach your camcorder to one end of a long pole. On the other end attach a counterbalancing weight of approximately the same weight as the camera.

Hold the pole in the middle, at the exact point of balance. Use this tool to get flexible, floating camera shots even when you’re running at full speed. The longer the pole, the steadier the image.

Mirror Strikes

Objective: Shoot potentially dangerous scenes at close range without harm to the camera or camera operator.

Requirements: Mirror approximately two to four feet square, a support to hold the mirror.

Warning: Be careful with this effect-safety glasses, shoes, and protective clothing should be worn at all times.

Filming a baseball being thrown from the pitchers mound towards the camera would almost guarantee damage to any camera not wearing a catcher’s mask. A well-placed mirror can absorb the balls impact

Set up the mirror on home plate at a 45- degree angle. Adjust the video camera so it appears to be aimed directly at the pitcher. Use a sponge ball or other soft object to pretest the mirror’s angle and the effect.

Roll the camera for several seconds before the ball is thrown, signal the pitcher, and take cover. After you’ve successfully taped the effect clean up and dispose of the broken materials.

III. Filtered Visions

Cutouts and gels in front of the lens can enhance your video images to simulate the view through a pair of binoculars or blanket a scene in a soft, romantic glow. These effects offer an alternative to costly commercial filters.

Glass of Water

Objective: Add the texture of water to a scene.

Requirements: Large piece of glass, water.

For when it rains on your parade.

The glass should be set up so the scene can be seen through it clearly. Simply use a garden hose to flow an even sheet of water over the glass, and roll tape.

Music video directors seem particularly enamored of this effect.

Dream Scene

Objective: Create a blurred or dreamlike camera view.

Requirements: Skylight filter, petroleum jelly.

For talent who just can’t wake up.

A skylight filter is a piece of clear glass mounted in front of the camera’s lens. Actually, it’s a good idea to use one all the time; better to scratch a piece of glass than an expensive lens. For this effect however, the skylight filter is essential.

Smear petroleum jelly around the outer edges of the filter in a circular motion. Smear less as you approach the center. It’s easier to add glop than to remove it so use the stuff sparingly. In most cases, you wont need the goo in the center.

Depending on how the jelly is applied, the results will yield anything from a barely perceptible distortion to a hallucinogenic nightmare.

Bino Shot

Objective: Simulate the view through binoculars.

Requirements: Thin poster board.

For spying on the neighbors.

Cut out two connecting circles from a piece of poster board. Make a small cutout to fit in front of the camera lens. The cutout omits part of the camera’s view, leaving only the binocular view.

Try other views, such as the view through keyholes, telescopes, and your imagination.

Stocking Stuffer

Objective: Simulate the effects of a lens filter.

Requirements: Colored/flesh pantyhose.

At last a use for discarded stockings.

Colored hose are perfect substitutes for expensive filters. Depending on the color you choose, you can imply dramatic sunsets or rose-colored lighting. Light-brown colors are great for portrait shots at weddings.

These filters can create various color overlays because the more the material is stretched,the more subtle the effect Use one pair for several different scenes.

Creative Pulp

Objective: Soften the lighting in a scene.

Requirements: Lens paper, tape.

A perfect example of how you can use material you already have to create a special effect.

To cover your scene with a light misty look, merely tape a sheet of lens-cleaning paper over the camera lens. Play around a bit with the lens setting, as the coarse texture of the paper may be too obvious at normal setting. Try full telephoto selling for mist.

For optimum utility use this same paperto clean your lens.

IV. Prop Effects

Prop effects in most productions are prepared in advance to make sure a specific action will occur either on cue or exactly the same way every time. Boxes falling off shelves, bubbling brew, spontaneous combustion. All these effects should be tested prior to recording to ensure a good performance and the physical safety of your talent.

Penciled In

Objective: Simulate a pencil thrust into a person’s hand.

Requirements: Pencil, Hquid latex, fake blood, mirror, razor blade.

Cut a number 2 yellow erasered pencil to about two inches in length. (If you can find a way to cut a mechanical pencil or pen, go for it.) Pour a small amount of liquid latex onto a small mirror, stand the pencil upright and let dry for several hours.

Remove the pencil and latex from the mirror with a razor blade. Using liquid latex as adhesive, position the pencil on the back of the hand and hold until adhesive dries. Apply skin tone makeup to blend the latex with the skin color. Add a few drops of blood, and blood-curdling screams.

Headed for Trouble

Objective: Replace an actor’s head for difficult makeup or dangerous scenes.

Requirements: Foam wig head, sculpting clay, makeup.

When the script calls for your actor to putrefy or receive a brick to the head.

Mannequin heads made of foam or other materials are natural replacements for live actors.

A gruesome head of a decaying corpse can be sculpted from clay, molded onto a wig head, and enhanced with makeup.

An anvil falling from a building onto a passerby is easier and safer to tape when the passerby is a dummy instead of a human.

Machine-Gun Melee

Objective: Simulate the appearance of bullets hitting a wall.

Requirements: Series of mousetraps, stiff wire, wooden dowels, a wall prepared for the effect.

Fasten a series of mousetraps at intervals along a board. Between each trap string a metal ring or screw-eye attached to stiff wire holding back each trap.

On cue pull the wire. Each trap when released strikes a series of loose-fitting wooden dowels inserted in holes. The dowels push out a small amount of pre-packed dust so the board painted to resemble brick or concrete appears riddled with bullets.

Pop the Top

Objective: Ensure a perfect pop eachtime a champagne bottle is opened.

Requirements: Empty champagne bottle, vinegar, baking soda.

Humphrey Bogart popped and poured numerous bottles of champagne as the Nazis marched into Paris. We can’t provide Paris, Ingrid, or the Nazis, but we can tell you how to pop the top.

Partially fill an empty champagne bottle with vinegar. Add baking soda and cork the bottle. Before taping, shake the bottle. The top will burst off, and convincing bubbles will flow down the outside of the bottle. Cheers!

Eight Ball in the Corner Pocket

Objective: Simulate a perfect pool ball

Requirements: Pool table, fishing line, clear tape.

To beat Minnesota Fats or Fast Eddie Felson, every time.

Attach two to three feet of fishing line to a cue ball, Place the ball at the upper-left corner pocket and fasten the loose end of the fishing line to the middle of the table. Make sure the cue ball won’t bounce off the edge of the table.
Place the eight ball on the edge of the lower-left corner pocket Scatter a few other balls around the table to suggest a game in progress. When hit the cue ball will stretch the line taut then be dragged back in a perfect curve to topple the eight ball into the lower left corner pocket.

Vacuum Floaters

ObjectiVe: Obtain a deep, rich, black background.

Requirements: Medium-to-large piece of black velvet.

For those moments when people and things must careen through the darkness of space.

Use a well-pressed piece of black velvet as background. Black velvet reflects very little light and will give the illusion that objects suspended before it are floating in space.

Filthy Dirty Cobwebs

Objective: Imitate cobwebs.

Requirements: Cotton filler material.

Convincing cobwebs can be created with a small amount of cotton filler. Begin with cotton filler in a bunch, then separate intolong, thin strands. Use small amounts of clear tape to attach to walls, windows, and witches.

Frosted Grog

Objective: Simulate a chilled mug.

Requirements: Spray bottle with mist setting, oil.

Your heroine enters the saloon after a long day of fighting off cattle rustlers. She steps up to the bar and demands a brew. The bartender slides her a frosty foaming glass of fermented malt and hops.

Under the hot lights it might be difficult to keep the mug frosty without rubbing oil on the exterior of the full stein. Spray a thin layer of mist on the lubricant. Beads of water will stand on the glass, and slide down the sides as ourthirsty heroine chugs the mug.

Spinning Heads

Objective: Spin a newspaper into a scene.

Requirements: Newspaper with printed headline, lazy susan or turntable.

To track the adventures of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert as they race across the country seeking to topple the walls of Jericho.

First find or generate a newspaper with the correct head. Then place the newspaper, head up, on the lazy susan or turntable. In a long shot shoot straight down on the paper. Start the paper spinning and zoom in from a full frame of the newspaper.

The trick is timing the zoom with the spinning and stopping of the paper.

Floppy Flora

Objective: Simulate a wilting flower.

Requirements: Plastic flower, flexible tube the same length as flower stem, wire longer than tube, flower pot or planter.

For the poignant symbolism of death and decay.

Attach a flexible tube to the stem of a plastic flower Insert a wire into the tube, and attach the end to the back of the flowerstem. When the wire is pulled the flower will appearto wilt.

For positive imagery, release the wire and the flower will perk up.

Pained Panes

Objective: Simulate a broken window or piece of glass.

Requirements: Plastic sheets, aluminum foil, wax pencils, window.

The Beaver winds up for the pitch; Eddie Haskell digs in. The Beaver tires a fast one and Eddie knocks it foul-through a window.

A simple method of creating glass breaks is drawing themwith a wax pencil. Aluminum foil cut into jagged patterns will also imply breakage or bullet holes. Plastic sheets cut or rippled can give the appearance of irregular breaks seem for a broken pane.

V. Blood Flood

Splatter films continue to petrify and delight legions of demented fans. The genre requires gallons of fake blood to ooze, pulse, clot spray, and flow over unfortunate victims. You can create your own low-cost blood and pack it in capsules to burst on cue.

Blood In the First Degree

Objective: Simulate the color, texture, and look of blood.

Requirements: Light corn syrup, red and yellow food coloring, peanut butter, mixing

Modify the following recipe until you achieve the consistency you desire:

Add one teaspoon of red and yellow food coloring to one cup light corn syrup. Stir until ingredients are mixed. For coagulating blood add a dab of peanut butter.

Apply liberally.

Blood In the Second Degree

Objective: Fake blood convincing enough to fool an alert audience.

Requirements: Milk, flour, and red food coloring.

Brewed from ingredients in your kitchen, a combination of flour-thickened milk and red food coloring provides a good imitation to the real stuff. Make sure your blood is fresh since the milk can sour.

Black-and-White Transfusion

Objective: Simulate the look of blood for black-and-white films.

Requirements: Chocolate syrup, and a method of recording in black and white.

When the blood doesn’t have to be red, treat yourself to some chocolate syrup. Use in blood packs or capsules. Or just spread it here, there, and everywhere. Remove all chocoholics from the set.

Unless enmeshed in a David Lynch production, do not lick the blood.

Bite the Bullet

Objective: Simulate blood spurts on cue.

Requirements: Fake blood, good-sized gelatin capsules.

For performers taking it on the chin. Simply open the gelatin capsules, available at most drug or health food stores, and fill with simulated blood. Reseal.

Don’t make blood capsules too far in advance-the syrup and gelatin may harden, making them difficult to break.

After a blow to the mouth the performer bites the capsule, mixes the simulated blood with saliva, and dribbles the fluid down the chin.

Pack Attack

Objective:Simulate blood gushing from a gunshot wound.

Requirements: Fake blood, plastic bags or condoms.

For wounds of the serious kind.

Blood packs can be created with either a plastic bag or condom-condoms are much easier to break quickly. Fill the pack with simulated blood and attach under clothing. The effect works best when thin, light-colored clothing is worn-the blood will be easily spoiled and identified by the audience.

When the performer clutches a body part in pain, the pressure of the hand will burst the pack and gush the blood.

Blood Burst

Objective: Burst a blood pack on cue.

Requirements:Fake blood, thin balloon or condom, mousetrap.

To guarantee your actor will bleed correctly on cue.

Fill the balloon or condom with the blood mixture of your choice. Attach the blood pack to a small mousetrap with the full end positioned where the bait would go.

Use a piece of string or fishing leader to trigger the trap. Run the string along the actor’s body. When the wounded actor pulls the string, the trap breaks the pack, and the blood is released.

VI. Atmospheric Phenomena

The creation of natural events is the ultimate challenge of the special effects artist. The purpose of these effects is to accurately imitate the occurrence of natural activities like snow, rain, wind, or fog-elements vital to the mood or atmosphere of your video.

Generic Atmosphere

Objective: Create a thick atmosphere in the distance.

Requirements: Several yards of sheer material such as that used for bridal veils, lumber to build a frame.

For air so thick you can cut it with a knife.

Build a sturdy frame. Stretch the veil material across it to form a tight, smooth surface. Place the veil frame between the camera and the objects to appear in the thick atmosphere.

Shooting through the veil, the camera will add a white atmosphere to objects in the scene. Works best with models, and manual focusing.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Objective: Create smoke.

Requirements: Compressed charcoal tablets.

Compressed charcoal tablets, the kind churches use to keep incense burning, ignite easily and smoke vigorously for several minutes.

If the script calls for a culinary disaster, place a tablet underthe blackened foodto be pulled from the oven. Scatter a few among plaster logs or take coal in a phony fireplace to add glow. Dump one on a stove to give the effect of gas flames.

Fog City

Objective: Simulate fog.

Requirements: Foam cooler, hair dryer, dryer hose, dry ice, an assortment of fittings.

For those dark, cold, foggy London nights perfect for the skulking Holmes and Watson, cut a hole the size of the blower end of a hair dryer in the top of a foam ice chest. Cut a second hole in the side of the chest, two inches below the lid. Make this one the size of the diameter of the dryer hose.

To rig up the fog generator, half-fill the coolerwith hot water. Throw in a few chunks of dry ice and close the lid tightly. Position the hair dryer so it points down through its hole into the cooler. Place the dryer hose in its hole.

To activate the fog,turn on the hair dryer, grab the dryer hose, and direct fog where needed.

Cloud Nine

Objective: Create perfect white, fluffy clouds.

Requirements: Rolls of cotton filler material, large blue or black paper background, optional camera support.

For characters going to heaven.

Hang a large blue or black background so it creates a smooth, curved surface. Rip the cotton filler material and shred into cloud-like formations. Arrange the clouds on the background with the large ones infront. The clouds should become steadily smaller as they traverse the curve.
If possible, suspend several clouds from strings to add depth to the formation. Light should be directed from only one side, simulating sunlight Try a blue or orange gel for alternative lighting effects.

To shoot hold the camera upside down. Steadily move through or around the model.

Stormy Weather

Objective: Simulate storm clouds.

Requirements: Aquarium, syringe or baster, tempera paints, milk.

“The tiny ship was tossed/if not for the faith of the fearless crew/the Minnow would be lost”

To tape the thunderheads in that Gilligan-marooning storm, fill the aquarium with water. Using a syringe or baster, inject liquid tempera paints or milk and food coloring.

Milk injected into the lower third of the tank will look like low-lying fog. Ink in water simulates a raging storm when stirred.

Experiment with water temperature for varying looks to your clouds.

Don’t use oil-based paints, as the cliche really is true: Oil and water don’t mix.

Gone With the Wind

Objective: Simulate wind on plants, trees, and people.

Requirements: Leaf blower or large fan, string.

For that blustery day in the Hundred Acre Woods; Piglet toppled, Owl ruffled, Pooh consuming honey.

To simulate your own gale, attach strings to bushes or trees. When a person off-camera pulls the strings, the foliage moves about as if buffeted by gusts of real wind.

To blow people away with the real thing, use a leaf blower or large fan to create a windstorm. Keep in mind that the blower makes a lot of noise.

Feign Rain

Objective: Simulate rain.

Requirements: Outdoor scene, garden hose.

Gene Kelly danced and sang and twirled around a lamppost; you can have fun with rain as well.

Just use a garden hose to spray a thin mist over people and things in a scene. Sounds too easy, we know, but it works.

For an added thrill, combine with the aforementioned wind.

Fake Flakes

Objective: Simulate a snow-covered envirnnment.

Requirements: Large quantity of sawdust, powdered chalk, polystyrene granules, or similar white material.

Make sure all your Christmases are white.

To make snowfall in June, coverthe stage area with a thick layer of saw dust. Mix in powdered chalk and bits nf polystyrene until the mixture resembles snow.

For snowbanks, stacks sandbags on the set and cover with sawdust and chalk. Use a fan for snow flurries.

Quicksand Quickly

Objective: Simulate quicksand.

Requirements: Pool of water (not a swimming pool), cork, cork dust

For the cruellest of deaths.

In a pool of water, float on the surface small pieces of cork and cork dust Add vegetation for a realistic appearance. The mixture should bethick andthe water completely covered by the cork bits.

Shove in actor. Glub, cough, hack, choke, glob.

Swamp Thing

Objective:Simulate a swamp.

Requirements: Pool of water (not a swimming pool), a large amount of earth, dry ice.

Make a home sweet home for the swamp thing.

Pour a large amount of earth into a pool of water, enough so it gets real mucky. Add vegetation, hanging vines, and slimy sound effects. Small pieces of dry ice will create a bad case of dangerous swamp gas.

Ice ‘Em

Objective: Create a sheet of ice.

Requirements: Paraffin wax, a body of cold water.

For folks like Cary Grant and Loretta Young, who court while skating effortlessly across a frozen rink.

Create your own ice by pouring melted paraffin wax over cold water. The wax hardens into a sheet of ice. The more wax you pour, the thicker your ice.

Winter Weapons

Objective: Simulate icicles.

Requirements: Cellophane, paraffin wax.

Walkin’ in a winter wonderland requires the everpresent danger of plummeting sharpened spikes of water.

Tear off strips of cellophane and twist them into long, slender shapes. Pour melted paraffin wax over the surface and dry. The result should be a convincingly simulated icicle.

VII. Miniature Marvels

Models and miniatures can take your production to places your budget wont normally go. A project shot in your backyard gets an international feel with a model of the Awful Tower. The camera pulls in for an establishing shot of the model, and instantly the cast jets to the land of croissants, espresso, and people who rarely take baths.

The effects in this section mighttake several daysto plan and build, but the results are worth the effort.

Mountain Magic

Objective: Create a mountain landscape.

Requirements: Large flat board, plaster of paris, paint, moss, small pieces of carpeting.

Start by building the base of the model, using strips of newspaper and plaster of paris. The plaster and paper can he shaped into mountain ranges and other natural formations.

When the plaster dries, paint the model a solid base color. Earth brown seems logical. Add detail paint for snowcaps, green rolling hills and the like.

Cardboard strips can serve as roadways. Dried flowers will portray groves of trees. Use a sifter to spread generous amounts of realistic dirt.

Use a handpainted hanging or single-colored roll of paper for a background.

See Godzilla-era Japanese films for shots of miniature mountains in action.

Uplifting Maneuver

Objective: Simulate helicopter or spaceship lift-off.

Requirements: Flat board, plaster of paris, paints.

E.T. finally goes home. As he croaks goodbye, the alien mobile gently lifts off.

Attach two handles to one side of a medium-sized board. On the other side boild and paint an aerial view of the ground. Mountain ranges, farm land, trees, the tops of houses, stores and factories.A swimming pool or two.

Position the camera on a tripod, hold the aerial landscape in front of the camera, and slowly back away. It should appear as if the camera were mounted to the bottom of the E.T. craft.

Canned Oil

Objective: Simulate an oil spill on water.

Requirements: Pool of water (don’t use a swimming pool), india ink.

A series of experiments with various inks proved conclusively that india ink is superior to all others in oil simulation. Rather than mixing with the water or sinking, it will float right on the surface, spread nicely, and appear very black.

Vary the quantity of ink used to achieve the particular look you’re seeking: total plant sea, and land life annihilation for the next 10,000 years, or death and destruction on a smaller scale.

Try not to use too large an area of water, for what you generate will be pollution.

Blue Plate Special

Objective: Simulate the surface of steaming, burbling planet.

Requirements: Aluminum pie tin, cottage cheese, brandy.

Warning: A flame-retardant material or fire extinguisher should be on the set for this effect.

When it’s necessary to end the earth.

To create a planet with a gaseous, porous surface, pour apricot brandy over some low-fat large-curd cottage cheese in an aluminum pie tin and light it with a match just before you begin recording.

A very tight frame of the blazing cottage cheese suggests a hot bubbling planet giving off burning gases. Adding a light with a colored gel can give your planet that special, deathly look.

After the shoot break for lunch.

Leapin’ Lava

Objective: Simulate volcanic eruption.

Requirements: Modeling clay in an assortment of colors, metal can, ammonium dichromate (available in most drug stores or hobby shops),match heads, a plwood base.

Every good production needs a virgin sacrifice to placate the angry video gods in the nearest volcano.

To mold your very own active volcano, use colored clay to indicate different layers of rock. The bottom layer is igneous rock, the second metamorphic, the third sedimentary, and the top is the earth’s crust.

Shape the top layer into a cone. Place the metal can inside the opening of the cone. Drop in a few match heads and a small amount of ammonium dichromate. Add a lit match and dark green ash will erupt and pour over the edge of yourvolcano, cascading down its side like real lava.

You’ll have to find your own virgin.

Safety Zone

Creating special effects can be dangerous without proper safety precautions. Safety glasses should be worn when working with glass. Gloves are required for the handling of sharp or splintery objects. For candles, torches, and other burning materials, flame retardant or extinguishers should be kept on the set.

The key to safete prepared For anything. If possible, test effects in a safe location.

Mark Swain and Megan Mckay, West Coast-based freelance writers, are seasoned film and video enthusiasts…and tricksters.