We've Got Hollywood Covered

Yes, Indie Filmmakers Can Use Big Effects

“They can do anything in movies these days.”


The technology to create a backyard “Lord of the Rings” has been around for years, but only recently the community & filmmaker support has reached a level where, yes, anything is possible.


My 11-minute short “Rain Rain” had three days of on-set photography and one day of green screen. From that, there ended up being 80 effects shots — roughly half the film.


There was no financial backing, no studio support. Starting out, I knew nothing about visual effects. Flash forward to today. I’m sitting on visual effects panels, regularly asked by VFX artists how I accomplished certain stuff. No longer are the secrets of movie magic so closely guarded. When creating an indie special effects opus, it simply comes down to talent & patience.


The online community is an amazing resource. After Effects is the main platform for building these level of effects & many online tutorials exist for creating them.


The best by far is VideoCopilot.net. Andrew Kramer has compiled an astounding library of how-to videos & projects for creating effects as simple as deinterlacing your footage to something as advanced as making an “Armageddon” style asteroid crash (& the resulting crater…with camera moves).


While the tutorials create a specific type of effect, the knowledge learned can be applied in anyway you see fit. VideoCopilot.net had a “Quick Healing” tutorial whose lessons I used to make a TV melt.


The crux of “Rain Rain” relies on our little girl chasing a tiny biplane around her living room. To accomplish this, we relied on a plethora of 3D CGI models provided by “Turbosquid.com” There are multiple 3D graphics programs available, from Maya to Lightwave to 3D Studio Max, on various platforms. Turbosquid offers a user based sales system that provides for all prosumer available program.


Anyone can upload & charge whatever they wish. This seems chaotic, but overly expensive models don’t get bought as professional 3D modelers offer high quality, fully animation-rigged designs for about $150. All you need to do is pay then download. Perfect for the home-based FX studio.


Not every effect you need is computer generated. Explosions & weather effects are still best left shot in real-life. Our film, “Rain Rain” had many explosions & fireballs.


The best place to find inexpensive but superb pyro is Detonationfilms.com. Arranged in “collections,” DetFilms offers pyro to suit any occasion you’d need, SD & HD formats. Usually, you can obtain 20 to 25 different pyro effects for about $30.


Other stock footage sites generally want hundreds of dollars for one … For the independent Michael Bay, this is an absolute steal. If their ample collections don’t meet your needs, Det Films can rig & film a custom effect for you.


Again, there is no magic button. There is no keystroke for “flood New York.” But with the right tools and imagination, there will be no limit to your storytelling. And that’s what the new indie FX community provides.

Matt Brown has been producing and directing short films for the past two decades while working as a post-production technical consultant by day. A master of short film, Matt learned his craft by first attending film school at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts before jumping into Hollywood as an assistant for Jerry Bruckheimer on the set of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Pearl Harbor,” “King Arthur,” and “Remember the Titans.” He is currently in post-production on a hilariously disturbing YouTube collaboration “Storytime Tales: The Adventure of Black Pedro.”