How to make your vfx stand out with previs header

How to Make Your VFX Look Incredible with Pre-Vis

How to Make Your VFX Look Incredible with Pre-Vis

Implementing these Pre-Vis tips will help you convey your story better.

Every visual effects designer has asked the question, “how can I make my VFX look better?” Your scene is perfectly composited with VFX assets - you’ve keyed, lit, textured, blended, tracked, and rendered your scene out, playing it back a dozen times. Yet, something just feels off. 

Somehow it's not as polished as you had envisioned. You may also perceive a better way the scene could’ve been shot to depict the action, and it feels like the visuals of the scene aren’t conveying what they should to dazzle the audience.

However, all the right components are there for a great VFX shot... so, what gives?

It could be you didn’t have a chance to work with meticulously planned pre-vis shots for reference.

Why You Need Pre-Vis for VFX

Solid pre-vis work can be the difference between a good movie, and a great movie. Think about the iconic shots from a movie like Jurassic Park, one of the most VFX-intensive movies ever created up to that point in 1993. 

You might be able to recall at least a few of the film’s biggest effects, but you probably remember how the characters reacted to the VFX, and how the action progressed throughout the scenes. You might even recall shot compositions within certain frames.

Pre-vis gives your entire cast and crew an anchor to be tied to throughout the production process, and it all starts in the pre-production phase.

If action sequences or virtual camera movements are ill-timed or thrown together haphazardly without pre-vis, your film’s narrative is not receiving the attention to detail it deserves. You could be losing your audience’s focus in the midst of the chaos.

This is an awesome short documentary on the value of pre-vis in Hollywood, and how it can make every VFX shot look like “you knocked it out of the park every time.”  Make sure you check it out!

Storyboards Don’t Necessarily Equate to Pre-Vis for VFX

We can all agree it’s best to at least have storyboards. Trying to understand what the director is wanting to achieve without anything to go off of except the abstract concept you’re told doesn’t come close to the collaborative value an image brings. 

While static storyboards are necessary and can be critical at conveying the general look of each scene, pre-vis animatics demonstrate the feel the scene needs to have for the VFX artists, as well as the rest of the cast.

Choreographed action sequences need to be showcased to the cast and crew long before shooting on set, as pre-vis animatics.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a pre-vis animatic is worth tens of thousands of words.  

Take this extended pre-vis animatic from “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” for example. A script couldn’t clearly convey how the visuals would play out, and a static storyboard wouldn’t have enough description because there’s simply too much action.

This animatic creates a crystal-clear direction for the VFX artists to precisely achieve the director’s vision, all the way down to even focal lengths and lighting. 

VFX Pre-Vis Saves Time, Money, and Ensures the Best Results

While the levels of complex action sequences in current TV shows and movies today are miles beyond what was previously possible to accomplish in Hollywood, a big enabler of this monumental shift has been VFX pre-vis.  

If your VFX crew was on set with the director trying to map out your shots, working with a DP and the cast, and attempting to perfect every shot; you’d be there for hundreds of hours. It would be like the director trying to explain a dream he had, while the rest of the team attempted to film it completely blind.  Pre-vis allows a direct pipeline into the director’s dream, so everyone can be 100% on the same page.  

With VFX Pre-vis, the trial and error can be done in the pre-production phase to achieve visual effect shots that look refined, ordered, planned, and carefully crafted. This will ensure the best reaction from the audience. Movies that had talented pre-vis directors have orchestrated the best VFX possible.

Great Pre-Vis Software to Plan Your VFX

Complex VFX scenes demand pre-vis to be a success, and you can find a ton of great pre-vis resources out there. If you're not able to hire your own pre-vis team, you can use something like Maya, Blender, or Unreal Engine to create some stellar pre-vis.

Additionally, Cine Trace (formerly “Cine Game”) is an easy-to-use app that lets you establish lighting, cameras, dolly shots, cranes, pre-built characters, and animation - all using a keyboard and an Xbox controller. Cine Trace comes from the developers of Cine Designer 4D, a pre-vis camera, grip, and lighting suite for Cinema 4D. It’s continuing to evolve in the Steam Early Access program.
As you can see from the video above, Cine Trace’s most attractive features are its graphics, premade assets, and accessibility. By creating a head start for VFX artists, outstanding pre-vis work will open the doors for more creativity and innovation in the VFX community.   

Have any cool pre-vis animatics you’d like to share, alongside the finished product?  We’d love to see them in the comments below!

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