Shaking Up Special Effects
Ever wonder how filmmakers create huge explosions in action movies? Or how Marvel films show such monstrous floods? Special effects bring explosive car crashes, dangerous fires, and other terrifying disasters to life, with a little help from computer programming. What if you could make your own mini-special effects from scratch? Today, we'll find out how. (And yes, kids, do try this at home!)
what you’ll need
- A computer, tablet, or mobile phone and access to the internet
- A sketchbook or a journal with blank paper
- A pencil
- A mobile phone or tablet with a camera
- Crayons, colored pencils, or markers
Ask About Today
Can you tell me about special effects? How are sound effects created? And what is a Foley artist, anyway?
Have your child share some of the recordings and sound effects they created today. Try to guess the objects used to create the sound or what type of effect they were trying to create.
Skip the Ads
Unfortunately, online videos often start with short advertisements. Remind your campers to click the "Skip" button as soon as they can to move ahead to the video.
While special effects may seem like magic, they're actually all science. So before you can become an effects pro, you'll need to understand how they work.
The Science of Special Effects
Here's a quick overview of how water, fire, and smoke effects are created using millions of tiny particles.
Particle Systems 101
Learn the basics of "particle systems" and how they're used to create special effects.
Check out how special effects artists can make water from particles.
Now, see if you can do it yourself using this special effects simulator from Khan Academy. Try making the particles look like water. (Trust us, this is cool.)
Got water down? Next, watch how the same methods can be used to create fireworks instead.
And now try your hand at making your own using the simulator.
A movie without sound effects wouldn't be much of a movie. Here's an overview of the magic of making sounds.
Ever seen Wall-E (2008), a movie with no dialogue and only sound? Dive into how the sound artists behind the film made it happen.
Behind the Sound
Here are 10 sounds you've probably heard in movies—and how they're made behind the scenes.
Today, you'll be in charge of making sounds for a film you've already seen: Hair Love.
Hair Love on Mute
Watch Hair Love again, but this time, turn the sound off. Focus on the clip from 0:44 - 1:47 time stamp.
Now, find materials around your house that you can use to create as many sounds from this section of Hair Love as possible. Check out this list of possible household objects you could use to create sound.
Put It Together
Record your sound effects using a recording app on your phone. (Most phones have a simple built-in app for voice memos—nothing fancy.) Play your recording back while watching the clip from Hair Love again. How well do your sound effects match the movie?
No phone? No worries! You can also use this recording website on your computer.
Dramatize Your Day
Want a challenge? Using your camera, capture a 30-second video of you eating breakfast or doing a boring task around the house. Now use your filmmaking app to add your own sound effects and really dramatize the scene. (How scary is breakfast now?)
For younger explorers
Daniel Tiger's Music Shop
Make your very own music on the computer. Head over to PBS and play all kinds of virtual music games. You can even make your own songs.
Go behind the scenes to learn about the people and technology that make movies stunning.
Meet the Foley Artists
What is a Foley artist, anyway? You might not have heard of this job, but you definitely know their work when you hear it.
The Magic Behind Coco
Did you love Coco (2019)? It isn't just a great story, it's also a visually stunning film—all through the art of animation. Learn more about how Coco used visual effects to bring the story to life.
For younger explorers
Learn About Drama
Before you read the story below, watch this short video to learn about the five elements of drama.
For younger explorers
Now, read along with the wonderful book Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman. Who are the characters in the story? What is the setting?
Foley artists use all types of sounds from nature—and from around the house—to create the sounds that go into their films. But without a visual, many sounds you hear in every day life can sound like something completely different.
Guess That Sound
What is that, anyway? Listen to each sound, pause the video, and write down what you think it is. Resume the video to find out if you were right. Which sounds surprised you? Which sounds could you recreate in your own home for your own film?
Time for our daily constitutional. (Okay, that just means take a walk.)
Go for a walk with a family member. On this walk, you have two tasks: First, collect 5 objects from nature that you can use to create sound effects. (Rocks and sticks are always good, but what else can you find that makes noise?) And second, use the simple recording app on your phone to record 5 outdoor sounds that you can use in your own homemade film.
Stay Safe: Remember to stay socially distanced while you're out and about.
more to explore
Need more special effects in your life? Explore some more!
More Sound Production
Sound recordists and engineers need a lot of technical knowledge, as well as an instinct for storytelling, to help immerse us in the world of their film. Learn more about the process of sound production through this Crash Course.
All About Special Effects
Special effects seem like modern technology, but they've actually been around since the beginning of filmmaking. Learn more in another Crash Course.