What Happens When Everyone Can Create Special Effects?
In a clever YouTube video about the history of green-screen technology, Tom Scott, looks back at laborious special effects techniques that required numerous takes, complex chemical processes, and luck. If everything aligned just right, the special effects would amaze audiences. If not, mountains of expensive film and hours of work were wasted. Flash forward to the present day— with video cameras in nearly every phone and editing tools that even a novice can use—and “movie making” happens everywhere, not just in the big movie studios. With wry wit, Scott concludes his piece by saying we’ve come “to the point where some jerk with a laptop and a copy of After Effects can make this video in an afternoon.”
If almost anyone can make a movie, and create impressive special effects to go with it, what does this mean for the future of movies?
Check out Chris Seerveld’s work for one example of where movie making might be headed. He’s a freelance filmmaker who’s inserted himself seamlessly into a conversation with Luke Skywalker and helped attack the Death Star. He also edited himself into a diner to keep Marty McFly company.
Search YouTube and you’ll find other enthusiasts who are editing themselves into video games and music videos, mashing up old scenes from movies and TV, and even turning themselves into the Incredible Hulk.
These examples suggest that the relationship between movies and audiences is changing. As Dave Werner, senior experience designer at Adobe, notes, instead of passive viewers, we are becoming co-creators. And perhaps it’s not a coincidence that people are especially eager to put themselves into favorite pop culture moments from their childhood. These are, after all, the scenes they acted out with friends on the playground, and quoted over and over. Now viewers are finally in their favorite movies.
Werner spends some of his free time experimenting with movies and videos, too. In his Extraneous Lyrics series, he puts himself into popular music videos, with a twist. He trades out those numbingly simple pop lyrics for thesaurus-busting versions that would make an English teacher proud. Why sing “We’ll never be royals,” when you could warble, “We don’t possess a sovereign lineage,” instead?
Another of Werner’s projects is a re-make of Ernie singing the Sesame Street song “I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon.” Werner’s version is a green-screen-powered tribute to the show he and his kids love. After he made the video, he posted it to Sesame Street’s Facebook and Twitter feeds and the conversation went full circle—when Dave was at SXSW, Cookie Monster came to give him a hug!
One of Werner’s favorite things about making and editing his own movies is the opportunity to parody the mundane things we all share every day in places like Facebook. “You can certainly trick your friends by adding sound, typography, lasers, and explosions!” And then the fun comes in when the lines are blurred—when viewers start to watch and they don’t know if it’s going to be real or After Effects.
A great example of blurring the lines between reality and special effects is Werner’s hover wagon: he filmed his kids riding in their wagon, edited out the wheels so the wagon appears to hover, and then posted it on Facebook. He explains, “I’ll position it as real and ask, ‘Does anyone else have the hover wagon?’” Friends comment about the video as if it were serious, so the audience becomes part of creating the joke.
“Werner agrees with Scott that one of the most amazing movie innovations today is that just about anyone with an iPhone, a green background, and a free editing app like Adobe Premiere Clip, can create an impressive movie.” On the horizon, Werner is enthusiastic about Adobe Character Animator, which allows you to use your own voice and facial movements to animate a character you create. It’s one to watch for the next chapter of movie trends.
Today’s innovations in movie making are happening in a completely new environment—one that’s saturated with video. People have increasingly sophisticated cameras at their fingertips; pro editing tools that are readily available; and places to publish videos like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In this environment, a new kind of cultural short-form video interchange is taking place. “We all have ideas in our imaginations that we want to bring to life,” Werner explains. It has never been so easy for everyone to create their ideas and throw them into the mix.
Werner’s four-year-old son already has a homemade green screen in his room. The future of movies is probably in there somewhere too, and in the imaginations of all the kids growing up with tools to create just about anything they can dream up.
Getting Started: How to Star in Your Favorite Movie
If you’re ready to take a starring role in your own favorite movie, or to turn something you’ve been imagining into a video, you can begin with a free trial of Premiere Pro or After Effects. A few of Adobe’s tutorials can also help you get started: