One of the biggest expenses that come with making movies is special effects. When filmmakers need to simulate explosions, create freakish weather conditions, or other dramatic events, they will put their trust in a special effects team. Many of the effects that you see in films are incredibly costly, ranging from expensive computer generated imagery to carefully created props that took hundreds of hours to design and build. However, there are some effects that have been used in films that were not a major drain on the budget. Despite the fact that they seem just as well done as the more costly solutions, all the effects in this article were created for a fraction of the price that you might originally have thought.
10. Predator Blood
The bright green blood that comes out of the injured super creature in Predator was made by simply combining the liquid from a normal glow stick and combining it with K-Y Jelly. The glow stick contents gave the blood its luminous color, while the jelly gave it some much needed substance to make it more viscous. Not only was the Predator blood created with the lubricant, but filmmakers have also found use for the lubricant in other science fiction films. The other most notable use of K-Y jelly was in Alien, where it was poured all over the creature to simulate saliva and create the effect of the Alien being incredibly slimy.
9. Wizard of Oz Falling House
The shot of Dorothy’s house falling at the beginning of the Wizard of Oz, thanks to a tornado, contains a scene where the building falls on the Wicked Witch of The East and kills her. In cases like this, it would have taken a considerable amount of time and effort to manage to align the falling house to land on the camera, with the need for a specific building to be constructed. Instead, the filmmakers simply hung a camera from the ceiling, attached the house to it and then released it so that it fell to the ground. With the floor painted so that it resembled the sky, and the video footage reversed, it created the desired effect.
8. Star Trek Skydiving
The skydiving scene in the 2009 Star Trek movie was initially planned to have the actors suspended by a harness upside down, while the scene was filmed. The only problem was that the scenes required a lot of footage to be recorded and a number of special effects, which meant that the actors would need to be suspended for several hours. Rather than using a green screen and expensive CGI to simulate the effect, J.J. Abrams simply had the stars stand on a large mirror on the floor. This meant no-one had to be hanging upside down, as the sky was reflected in the mirror to make it look like the characters were falling.
7. The Ten Commandments Parting The Red Sea
The 1956 movie, The Ten Commandments contains a dramatic scene where Moses parts the Red Sea. The fact that it was such a monumental event and because the script called for it to be visually striking, it was vital that the filmmakers made it look as realistic as possible. As this was before the time of CGI, the special effects team had to think creatively about how to achieve the desired effect. Much like with the Wizard of Oz house, a shot of water being poured into a container was reversed to simulate the sea retreating, while the two walls of water were created by filming pouring water sideways. All of the images were then imposed onto each other.
6. Indiana Jones Face Melting
At the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, several of the villains who have decided to open the Ark are killed by having their faces melted by a supernatural power. Rather than using animation or building multiple models of heads in various stages of melting that could then be filmed in sequence, as was originally planned, the special effects team just used a mask built out of normal gelatin. For the specific shot, they applied heat to the sculpted face, which then melted the gelatin. This gave the filmmakers the effect they wanted without having to go to any expense, other than acquiring the gelatin.
5. Star Wars Laser Sound
Out of all of the sound effects used in Star Wars the most recognizable (with the exception of the lightsaber) is without a doubt, the blaster noise. Unlike most other science fiction films that have a noticeable synthesizer sound to their gunfire, the laser fire in Star Wars has a very distinct metallic sound unlike any other. The sound was not created using any technical wizardry though. Instead, the sound designer, Ben Burtt simply recorded the noise that came from him hitting the guide wires to a radio tower as hard as he could with a hammer. The recording was then cleaned up to remove background noise before being put into the films.
4. Terminator 2 Mirror Scene
One of the best visual effects in the second Terminator film comes when Sarah Connor and her son open up the head of the Terminator, in order to remove some of his internal parts. To make the scene even more striking is the fact that you can see the front and the back of the Terminator, as a mirror on the wall appears to reflect everything that is happening. Normally, such an effect would be achieved using expensive post production effects and superimposing two separate shots together. However, for this shot, the filmmakers simply had a window where the mirror was, and had another set of actors carrying out exactly the same actions to make it look like a reflection. This was made even easier by the fact that the actor who played Sarah Connor had an identical twin sister.
3. Wizard of Oz Tornado
The tornado that hits Kansas at the beginning of The Wizard of Oz is one of the most realistic looking tornados that have ever appeared in films, and it was all done in an age before computer imagery. In order to build the design for the tornado, the movie studio provided an $8,000 budget that was spent on creating a 35-feet tall prop made out of rubber. This did not provide the desired effect though, as it was too stiff. Arnold Gillespie then stepped-in and taking inspiration from the windsocks at airports, he created a large sock out of plain cloth. This was then attached to the gantry and moved around with a large metal pole and several large fans, for far less than the original design.
2. Casablanca Final Scene
The ending scene to Casablanca is one of the most emotional finales in movie history, and one of the most well-known scenes in any film. While a dramatic goodbye is being given by Rick Blaine, the backdrop is a foggy airstrip with a plane apparently readying for takeoff. Rather than going through all of the expenses of going to a proper airport, or using a real airplane, the director decided to shoot the entire scene at a recording studio. The iconic background is in fact, just a cardboard picture of a plane with the fog being used to disguise the fact that none of it is real.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey Floating Pen
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is full of excellent special effects, ranging from the giant rig built to simulate the zero gravity setting on the spaceship, and the intricately designed models used throughout the movie. One of the most iconic scenes in the movie is when a pen is seen floating in a shuttle before being picked out of the air by the flight attendant. The effect is so good that it is hard to think of a way that this could have been done in the days before CGI. However, the solution was incredibly simple and just as cheap. The pen was simply stuck to a piece of transparent glass with two sided sticky tape, and the glass pane slowly rotated in front of the camera.