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VFX for the Independent Filmmaker

Updated: May 12, 2022

Part Two: The Toolbox

In this text, We will look at the toolbox required by the VFX artist

A Digital Video Camera

Most Independent Filmmakers rely on digital video medium (DV) to get their productions made, to make them look professional and to contain them in a budget. Its Appeal lies in affordability, portability and tight integration with desktop computers. For VFX artists working on a Film, it’s often necessary to own a DV camera for test shots, practise footage and anticipate unexpected problems. VFX supervisors often go to sets with knowledge gathered from test shots to save time and money. If you are saving time and money in this industry you are a person to look out for. A camera is required for test shots as well to bring additional elements for digital composting.

Remember the Driving shots in films. The VFX artist is responsible for the driving footage which will be replaced for Green Screens. The next concern is what Camera to Choose from DV, HD, DSLRs, VDSLR or Cinema Cameras. Independent filmmakers, in general, may workaround with the piece of equipment easily available to them. If one thinks that a standard digital camera is enough it should have manual focus, manual exposure and Shutter control. As 1/30 shutter speed on a DV camera starts to mimic the shutter speed of the film.

When planning to work around green screens specific considerations are to be made. A standard DV camera has a Chroma subsampling ratio of 4:1:1. Footage of such a Camera when compressed will lead to jagged aliased edges without careful keying. HDV cameras have a ratio of 4:2:0 but ideally, a chroma Subsampling of 4:4:4 or at least 4:2:2 is required. DVCPRO50, DVCPRO HD and HDCAM SR all shoot at 4:2:2. Cameras like Black magic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4k and Panasonic Lumix DMC -GH3 offers chroma subsampling of about 4:2:2 for a 2K resolution. With such a camera and a Tripod with a Fluid head, Bubble balance and Aluminium legs one can create wonders.

Here Y is the Luminance Component, U is the Blue Color Projection and V is the Red Color Projection. 4:4:4 is uncompressed chroma subsampling and hence provides the best picture quality.


This is a vast field to consider given the technological developments that are taking place. But this decision should be considered after one has decided the platform for which he/she is shooting, the CODEC, the camera, and finally the requirements of VFX. Do people tussle between what to get Mac or a PC? The guiding rule is to get a platform regarding its affordability and comfort. Let’s consider Photoshop CC some would consider a 16 GB RAM quad-core windows system others would prefer Mac with similar specifications and refresh rate. Mac gets a head-on due to the pane of glass over its screen for more vivid and accurate colours.

Apple’s software’s are Mac Only. However, the prominent DV editing software Final cut Pro is not the only one in town. Avid Media Composer and Adobe Premiere Pro are available for both platforms and some say they are even better!! You will need a lot of disk space to perform digital composting. Internal Drives are better than external ones and are less likely to crash. Some programs like Final Cut Pro requires you to load footage onto a separate drive than the one it is running the software from.


VFX artists in the filmmaking industry tell newbie’s that to be a creative professional without using photoshop is like being an administrative assistant that doesn’t use MS Word. What makes it a strong point for the VFX artists is its Layer-based Workflow, strong cross-platform compatibility, batch processing and powerful painting tools. Motions Graphics is a catchphrase for digital animation, broadcast design and visual effects. The software package that has become the industry standard is Adobe after effects. After effects is a keyframe animation package. A keyframe is determined as a frame that describes a change in action. In a digital animation package like after effects, the user creates the keyframes and the software creates the in-betweens; this is often called tweeting.

Many experts in the field of VFX say that After Effects are becoming more powerful with each version but there is some other dedicated software like Apple’s shake, the foundry’s Nuke and Eyeon Fusion. After Effects have certain limitations on the 3D front. A company called Zaxwerks makes and after effect plug-in called the 3D invigorator that can extrude volumetric images from bezier paths. Emerging software is Apple’s Motion the most impressive feature being its integration with Final Cut Pro as it’s quite handy to jump from one software to another without exporting.

Video Editing

Video Editing is a highly competitive market both for the users and creators. Non-linear video editing software is a very valued companion to a motion graphics software package. After effects and Motion are capable of editing but they are not dedicated for that purpose hence it can be quite frustrating for editors. The editing software mostly accompanied with tools dedicated for the digital video market is Apple’s Final Cut Pro

It is based on Apple’s widely adopted Quicktime format. Even for VFX artists who edit and create effects for the same footage this tool can be quite handy with its keyframe animation capability. An Extensive VFX project should be conceived in a dedicated software package as rendering in FCP will slow you down. Premiere Pro is very alluring to After effects users because the same timeline can be preserved between the two programs. Even Avid Media composer is the software of choice for most high-end professionals although it may lack the User – Friendly features of Final Cut Pro.

Composting and 3D software

Although it’s very capable After effects is not the only choice when it comes to digital compositing software. Most professionals consider a software package that uses node–based schematic composting. Node-based processes are represented by an object representing the instance of an effect with a line or chord extending out from one effect to another. Autodesk Combustion is another tool famous for its rotoscoping, particle effects and painting. Maya and 3DS Max integrate well with Autodesk Combustion. Another big name is Eyeon’s fusion software, its PC and Linux only but its selling point is the long list of feature films and TV broadcasts that uses it. Finally, it's the academy award-winning Foundry’s Nuke. Nuke is also a node-based environment with an impressive array of professional composting effects.

Motion and AutoDesk Combustion are capable of using 3D space, but you can’t create volumetric objects with them. The traditional industry standard for 3D animation is AutoDesk’s Maya. AutoDesk has 3DS Max has a larger user base but in the realm of Tv while Maya is popular among the Film industry experts. Maya comes at a higher price and has a higher learning curve. Blender is another 3D application and it open source. It has the largest user base of any 3D application.


This piece of text was majorly related to the toolbox available for the perusal of the user. It covered the system and software required for the visual effects supervisor. In the next section, the major special effects techniques used in the industry will be discussed.

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