Thanks to movies and television, we’ve all experienced fantastical worlds that could never exist on our Earthly plane. Even if we don’t typically enjoy the fantasy genre, we’ve definitely seen these effects in action — whether in cinema, commercials or even video games. This post explores how to create these worlds using visual effects. So what is VFX? How and why do filmmakers use it? We’ll explore VFX by defining the term with epic examples from some of your favorite films.

Watch: Recreating the Scene — Inception VFX

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Vfx Meaning

Defining VFX and what it stands for

VFX stands for visual effects. Or for short Visual F X, or even shorter, VFXBefore we show you some examples, let’s define it.


What is VFX?

Visual effects (VFX) is a term used to describe imagery created, manipulated, or enhanced for any film, or other moving media that cannot take place during live-action shooting. VFX is the integration between actual footage and this manipulated imagery to create realistic looking environments for the context. These environments created are either too dangerous to actually shoot, or worlds that just don’t exist. They use computer-generated imagery (CGI), and particular VFX software to make it happen. VFX producers communicate with directors and cinematographers to determine which scenes require them to shoot with green screens.

Visual effects are different from special effects because visual effects require a computer and are added in after shooting. Special effects, or SFX are realized on set — they are things like purposeful and controlled explosions, fake gunshot wounds, etc.

An example of VFX would be the dragons flying through the sky in Game of Thrones, or a spaceship flying through space in Star Wars.


  • Adobe After Effects
  • 3Ds Max
  • Boujou
  • Maxon Cinema 4D
  • Autodesk Maya
  • Mocha
  • Nuke
  • Syntheyes

Visual Effects in Movies

VFX examples in movies

So, how do VFX artists, producers, and editors employ these effects? 

Well they’re the ones who, in post-production, use computer-generated imagery (CGI) to create the impossible imagery you see in cinema. This has become increasingly common in bigger budget films. 

Let’s take a look at some examples:

Disney Visual Effects

VFX in Dumbo (2019)

Disney isn’t messing around. They’re going full force in their live-action remakes. And because most of them deal with talking animals, all of them have some equally incredible visual effects.

Tim Burton’s re-imagination includes a photorealistic elephant that began as clay models that were scanned into computers for animation.

VFX in Dumbo

Mocap Visual Effects

VFX in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Using a mixture of motion-capture footage and hand animation, Weta Digital wanted to capture the most authentic performances as possible. 

Exceptional visual effects in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


Groundbreaking VFX in The Matrix (1999)

This film raised the bar for cinematography in multiple ways. There is an iconic scene in the film, where Keanu’s character dodges a bullet. Watch the scene below.

Capturing "bullet time" VFX in The Matrix

How did they do it? This frozen moment executed by VFX Supervisor, John Gaeta, employed something called “bullet time.” Gaeta worked with the directors and cinematographer to place 122 still cameras around Reeves, then triggering them in sequence.

But in order to make sure the cameras weren’t visible, he needed to create photorealistic sets so the cameras could be removed.

"Bullet time" VFX broken down

Also, the computer code on screen was something not previously done, or at least, done well.

What is VFX - The Matrix - Code

Iconic visual effects for on-screen code in The Matrix

Gaeta, and Kim Libreri, a second VFX supervisor, and the rest of the team, were able to give the audience this idea of “thinking in code.”

Extra Resources
Of course, you can't learn VFX by simply watching movies. Luckily for you, there are a ton of VFX courses you can take online to learn the technicals. has a great VFX course, and Udemy’s VFX course is equally impressive. 

Up Next

Green screen like a pro

We briefly mentioned VFX using green screens in this article. Let’s go a little deeper and understand how you can use them for your projects. It’s not overly complicated, but does require considerable planning. 

Up Next: Use a green screen in 4 easy steps →

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  1. Great article Alyssa, thanks! I'd like to point only one thing, I think that Houdini should be on the list of the most used software in VFX, in case someone interested in the topic wanted to go further, I think is the one with the greater potential and quality of resources to dive deeper into CGI! Cheers

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