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There are a number of different special effects techniques used in filmmaking. Here are a list of some of them:

Blue/Green Screen

An effect in which action is filmed in studio conditions with a blue or green background. The background is then removed in the edit and replaced with images from the action sequence.

Rope/Wire Work

Ropes and wires are often used to suspend objects or characters in mid air or in order to move them around and defy gravity. The ropes and wires are either hidden by the camera angle or digitally removed in the edit.

Computer Generated Imagery (CGI)

The use of computer graphics and advanced animation to create characters and locations which are then intergrated with the real actors or sets.

Stunt Artist

Performers with specialist skills are often employed to carry out specific tasks or to stand in for the lead actors.


The use of controlled explosions or fire on set.


A small explosive placed under an actor's clothing which when detonated breaks through the clothing of the actor and releases blood to give the impression of a gunshot wound.

Camera Cranking

A technique where the performer or action is performed at a reasonably slow pace and filmed at twice or three time the speed. When the footage is replayed at 24 frames a second the action appears to take place at two or three times the pace.

After reading through, you should watch this link and then write a couple of paragraphs speculating as to which techniques are used.


Welcome to Long Road Action Films blog, where you will find material relating to the unit you are studying for the AS media exam as part of your induction unit. Here you will find the material used in the lessons and tips for writing essays and analysing action sequences, as well as links to useful relevant sites and clips.

This material will be particularly useful in the revision period in the early summer

ANIMATRONICS Animatronics is a type of special effects which involves building mechanized creatures like dinosaurs, imaginary animals, and others. Initially, the concept was developed for Disney Studios, which used a giant squid in the 1954 film version “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”.
The name “animatronics” is used to refer to generic animatronic creations made by other film studios, while Disney has copyrighted “audio-animatronics” to refer to their creature creations. In combination with other special effects, animatronics can lend a level of reality and texture to a film that computer animation does not provide.

“Jurassic Park” (1993) made extensive use of animatronics to create the realistic dinosaurs in the film.

BLUE/GREEN SCREEN Bluescreen (known in television as chroma key) is a term for the filmmaking technique of using an evenly-lit monochromatic background for the purpose of replacing it with a different image or scene. The term also refers to the visual effect resulting from this technique as well as the coloured screen itself (although it is often not blue: for example, with greenscreen).

Green screen technology was used extensively in The Matrix (2000) this still shows the crew setting up the bullet time sequence (see below for further details)

Bulletrig.gifBULLET TIME
Bullet time is a computer enhanced simulation of variable speed (ie. slow motion, time lapse, other) photography used in recent films. It is characterised both by its extreme permutation of time (slow enough to show normally imperceptible and un-filmable events, such as flying bullets) and space (by way of the ability of the camera angle - the audience's point-of-view - to move around the scene at a normal speed while events are slowed).
This is almost impossible with conventional slow-motion, as the physical camera would have to move impossibly fast; the concept implies that only a "virtual camera," often illustrated within the confines of a computer-generated environment such as virtual reality, would be capable of "filming" bullet-time types of moments. Technical and historical variations of this effect have been referred to as time slicing, view morphing, slow mo, temps mort and virtual cinematography.
The Matrix trilogy is known for developing and popularising the use of bullet time.

Photograph:Artists used computers to make the animated movie Toy Story in 1995.
Computer generated Imagery is the application of the field of computer graphics (or more specifically, 3D computer graphics) to special effects in films, TV, commercials, simulators and simulation generally. CGi is used for visual effects because effects are more controllable than other more physically based processes, such as constructing miniatures for effects shots or hiring extras for crowd scenes, and because it allows the creation of images that would not be feasible using any other technology. It can also allow a single artist to produce content without the use of actors, expensive set pieces or props.
In 1995, the first fully computer-generated feature film, Pixar's (The Walt Disney Company) Toy Story, was a resounding commercial success. 3D computer animation combines 3D modeling with programmed movement.

wkfreerunning27.jpgFREE RUNNING (Parkour)
Parkour or free running has appeared in various television advertisements, news reports and entertainment pieces, often combined with other forms of acrobatics also called free running, street stunts and tricking.
Parkour is a physical activity which is difficult to categorise. It is not an extreme sport, but an art or discipline that resembles self-defense in the martial arts. According to David Belle, the physical aspect of parkour is getting over all the obstacles in your path as you would in an emergency situation. You want to move in such a way, with any movement, that will help you gain the most ground on someone/something as if escaping from it, or chasing toward it. Thus, when faced with a hostile confrontation with a person, one will be able to speak, fight, or flee. As martial arts are a form of training for the fight, parkour is a form of training for the flight.
Free running has appeared a lot in film quite recently, with appearances in three major blockbusters in the last two years, Casino Royale (2006), Die Hard 4.0 (2007) and the Bourne Ultimatum (2007).

The opening sequence of Casino Royale (2006), features Parkour (or Free running) founder Sebastien Foucan in a death-defying stunt.

PROSTHETICS A facial prosthetic or facial prosthesis is an artificial device used to change or adapt the outward appearance of a person's face or head.
When used in the theatre, film or television industry, a facial prosthesis alters a person's normal face into something extraordinary. Facial prosthetics can be made from a wide range of materials - including latex, foam latex, silicone, and cold foam. Effects can be as subtle as altering the curve of a cheek or nose, or making someone appear older or younger than they are. A facial prosthesis can also transform an actor into a sci-fi creature, an anthropomorphic animal, mythological beast and more.
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Example of a prosthetic used in “The Lord Of The Rings”.

PYROTECHNICS (wikipedia)
Pyrotechnics is the use of controlled explosions and the release of mechanisms such as missiles etc. Pyrotechnics can be used to create mock explosions such as the one shown in the still image below. Used by kind permission of John Fox (see his excellent site here)

SPECIAL EFFECTS (SPFX or SFX) Special effects are used in the film, television, and entertainment industry to realise scenes that cannot be achieved by live action or normal means.
Special effects are used when creating the image by normal means is fantastic, impossible, or prohibitively expensive. For example, it would be extremely expensive to construct a 16th century castle, launch a 25th century space vessel, or to sink a 20th century ocean liner. But these can be simulated with special effects. Usually, special effects are used to enhance previously-filmed elements, by adding, removing or enhancing objects within the scene. Their use is common in big-budget films, but affordable animation and compositing software enable even amateur filmmakers to create professional-looking effects.

A squib is a small explosive device widely used in the motion picture special effects industry to simulate bullet impacts. For hits on persons, the squib is coupled with a condom or balloon of fake blood, and sometimes chunks of sponge to simulate shattered bone and tissue (this combination is sometimes referred to as a "blood squib"). For ricochets off other objects, items such as dust and small rocks or wood splinters are attached to the squib.

< An example of a squib in use. (kind permission of John Fox, see his site here)

A stunt is an unusual and difficult physical feat, or any act requiring a special skill, performed for artistic purposes in TV, theatre or film. Stunts are a big part of many action movies, in fact they are an essential ingredient of an action film and it is a thriving industry in its own right, every major Hollywood actor has had a stunt double.

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Johnny Depp and his Pirates of the Caribbean stunt double Tony Angelotti

Despite having only 76bhp to call on, the stunt drivers in The Italian Job (1969) still managed 45ft jumps over rooftops in Turin

A stunt sequence from Mission Impossible III (2006)

WIREWORK (also known as Wire Fu)
Wire fu is an element of Hong Kong action cinema that has been appropriated by Hollywood. It involves the use of wire-work (the name being a combination of "wire work" and "kung fu") to perform qing gong stunts. Qing Gong translates to "light body skill", and consists of two main skills: One being the ability to perform vertical jumps of a height many times that of the human body, and the other being the ability to travel long distances with a flitting, continuous motion as if flying.
Its practitioners perform improbably exaggerated feats of acrobatics, such as easily scaling walls, flying over rooftops, gliding on water or walking on trees.

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An example of qing gong techniques in practise can be seen in the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000)

Blogged with Flock

Pirates Of The Carribean - June '06 OCR Exam Sequence

The Italian Job - Jan '06 OCR Exam Sequence

Sword Fight

Moonlight Serenade

Pirates of the Caribbean at the IMDB

Government Lobby

Making Of "Government Lobby"

The Matrix at the IMDB

The Destruction Of Las Vegas

Making Of "The Destruction Of Las Vegas"

Car Chase

Apartment Gun Fight Scene

End Action Sequence

Glossary of Terms

Areas you need to be able to identify and write about in an essay on an action sequence:

Camera Shots, Angle, Movement and Composition
Shots: establishing shot usually a wide shot that shows where the action is), close-up, mid-shot, long shot, wide shot, aerial shot, point of view shot, over the shoulder shot,
Angle; high angle, low angle, canted/dutch angle
Movement: pan (sideways move of lens whilst camera itself remains static- hence 'panorama') , tilt (up/down movement on camera axis), track/dolly (camera physically follows character or action), crane, steadicam (steady shot whilst moving due to mechanism that operator wears), hand-held, zoom,
Composition: framing, rule of thirds (eyeline of characters is roughly one third down from top of screen), depth of field – deep and shallow focus (what the lens focuses on near or far or both), focus pulls

Includes transition of image and sound – continuity (dominant editing form designed so that editing is not that noticeable in the telling of the story) Cutting; shot/reverse shot (tyypical way to shoot conversations), eyeline match, graphic match, action match (cuts halfway through an action to a new view making the cut seamless), jump cut, crosscutting (between two simultaneous or related scenes), cutaway (to something significant);
Other transitions: dissolve; fade-in; fade-out; wipe; superimposition;
Long take (without cuts for a long time), short take, slow motion, ellipsis (missing out time) and expansion of time,

Diegetic and non-diegetic sound
Sound effects; sound motif, sound bridge, dialogue, voiceover,
Soundtrack; score, incidental music, themes and stings, ambient sound

Production design; location, studio, set design, costume and make-up, properties
Lighting; colour design

Special effects
stunts, CGI (computer generated imagery), bluescreen, pyrotechnics, animatronics/robotics, prosthetics (false limbs etc), models

In all cases, your first step is identifying what is there in the sequence and secondly how it is used and thirdly why it is there/used and what its impact is on the viewer

As part of the unit on action films you will have to write an essay under timed conditions. This will involve you watching a 5 minute extract from an action film and then analysing it. You will be able to take notes whilst watching the extract and use these notes to help write your analysis. To help you do this you will have a session which looks at the skills you need to be successful at this, it will include a presentation which you can find on the AS Media pages of moodle as a pdf file.

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