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5 VFX Jump Scare Techniques

5 VFX Jump Scare Techniques

Cause your audience to leap out of their seats with these five spine-tingling VFX tricks!

We’ve shown you how to create a monster with VFX, and today we’re going to show you how to scare your audience with it!

Nothing can immediately elicit a reaction from your audience like a jump scare! Of course, sound, lighting, and tension building are all key components to landing that perfect jump scare, but we’re going to take a look at some dead-simple VFX tricks you can pair with those to bring some fun and unexpected jolts to your audience!

#1. The Unmasking Jump Scare

If your scene takes place in a well-lit dining room, you can use this false feeling of safety to lure your audience straight into a nightmare-inducing fright. This filmmaking technique works incredibly well in the scene below. Warning: there’s obviously a jump scare ahead.
While the scare in the video could be done without VFX by cutting back and forth between two shots, an even more unexpected scare could be experienced by using a simple mask around an object (such as Patrick Wilson’s character), and having the creature actually lean out from behind him in a single shot. 

This could also be used to have a CGI monster peek in through a window or step out from behind a piece of furniture. You could additionally use a mask to track movement, such as a medicine cabinet opening to reveal a terrifying creature from another dimension, inhabiting an impossible space. Yikes!

#2. The Monster Reveal Jump Scare

While this tip is more of a general filmmaking one, it can really make your VFX monster extra creepy.

When an audience knows a monster is close, but hasn’t seen it yet, remember that they’re on the edge of their seats. Rather than revealing the entire monster at once, deliver one or two fleeting glimpses of your monster to build suspense before you unleash a terrifying full reveal of it. This gives the audiences’ imagination time to run wild before they see a wider shot of the creature.

If your monster is completely CGI, you may have the advantage of showing a fin, tentacle, or claw moments before your monster bursts fully into the frame.  

#3. The Moving Object Jump Scare

If your movie has a ghost or other paranormal entity, making something fly across the room can lend to a totally unexpected jump scare. Here’s how you can use After Effects to make a real-world object levitate. The results are spooky and very convincing! Just make sure the lighting of the room you’re in is consistent with the lighting of the object you’re levitating for the best results.
We’ve discussed when to use After Effects’ Roto Brush vs. when to use Mocha, so make sure you check that article out for even more insight into this technique.

#4. The Gross-Out Jump Scare

Of course, one of the most common jump scares is a sudden gross-out effect. For that, be sure to check out our awesome Blood Splatters Collection! There’s no better way to connect your VFX monster with real-world characters than with a shocking splatter of blood that was captured in-camera.

#5. The Light Transition Jump Scare

Probably one of the most terrifying jump scares on this list is a technique that gained popularity with the 2013 short film, “Lights Out,” which became so successful it went on to become a feature film.

What’s so interesting about the short film is that it relies on one incredibly simple technique that anyone can accomplish with a camera and tripod. While there may be a couple different ways to accomplish this, the easiest way is to leave the camera locked down and shoot your “lights on” shot, then “lights off.” Simply cut those two clips together as needed for some terrifying scares!

You can see the technique in the short film below and it is certainly scary!
At the end of the day, it’s always a great idea to find some jump scares that have really surprised you in other movies, and think about ways you can innovate your own based on what you felt was effective. Also, you can glean valuable feedback from test audiences to see which of your VFX jump scares are the most startling to them.

Remember to check out our previous article on how to create monsters with VFX for some great project inspiration.

As a bonus tutorial for some Halloween inspiration, check out this cool “Invisible Man” After Effects tutorial! Happy haunting!
First time here? ActionVFX creates action stock footage for visual effects and filmmaking. (We also have some great free stuff!)

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