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Special Effects Secrets From TV Shows You’ll Always Think About Now

May 7, 2021 28 votes 8 voters15 items

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Although the term "special effects" once encompassed all ways to simulate nonexistent elements in motion arts, it has increasingly come to mean effects that are created during filming rather than after filming. This is because the effects that are done after filming are computer-generated, which is such a ubiquitous method that it has necessitated the founding of a new category: visual effects. Special effects (or practical/mechanical effects) are becoming rarer and rarer, but they are still used when CGI just won't cut it - even on TV, where smaller budgets and shorter production schedules often make practical effects impractical.

Here are the exceptions, and the details that make each of them unique. 

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  • 1. 'The Walking Dead' - The Zombies Are Created In An Assembly Line

    Photo: The Walking Dead / AMC

    From special make-up effects supervisor Greg Nicotero via Allure.

    We have an assembly line of four artists that can finish 40 to 50 zombies in an hour. The first makeup artist shadows around the eyes and cheekbones, the next person does a lighter color over the highlights to accentuate the bone structure, the next person spatters blood, and then the last person puts conditioner in their hair.

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  • 2. 'Game of Thrones' - The 22 People In Daznak's Pit Were Set On Fire For Real

    Photo: Game of Thrones / HBO

    From an interview with visual effects producer Steve Kullback for Entertainment Weekly:

    “We needed to have a dragon blasting fire at 20 Harpies and light them all up at once,” he recalls. “We were kicking around ideas, and Joe says, ‘Well, it’s clear that we need to do it for real.’” Bauer says with a laugh, “And I didn’t get fired for saying that!” Not only did he keep his job, the guys made it happen by attaching a flamethrower to a motion-controlled camera crane. “We animated the crane to match the movement of the dragon, then set fire to the stunt guys,” says Kullback. “Twenty-two was the new record for people ignited all at one time. Thank God no one has gotten hurt.”

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  • 3. 'Doctor Who' - Designers Built A Legitimate Mechanical Head For Half-Face Man 

    Photo: Doctor Who / BBC

    From CG supervisor at MILK VFX Dominic Alderson via Metro.co.uk.

    ‘The half-faced man was an exciting one to work on,’ Dom added. ‘The prosthetic team did a great job, and the make-up team as well. We built a prosthetic head with all the little cogs and mechanisms moving inside so we used that as a reference.

    ‘On set the make-up team had painted half of his face off, we then go in, remove all of that and do it again in digital visual effects.

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  • 4. 'The Walking Dead' - The Zombies Are Sprayed With Sunscreen

    Photo: The Walking Dead / AMC

    From special make-up effects supervisor Greg Nicotero via Allure.

    Before they walk out the door, we spray them with sunscreen. It actually sets the makeup well. If they're lying on hot pavement, we cut out neoprene sheets in the shape of their body and use silver boards to reflect the sun away from them. If a zombie starts getting red or perspiring, that doesn't look like somebody who is dead.

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