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The Power of Production Value: Achieving a High-Quality Look on a Tight Budget (Part Two)

The Power of Production Value: Achieving a High-Quality Look on a Tight Budget (Part Two)

Here at ActionVFX, we are committed to empowering today's visual effects community with best-in-class storytelling resources. In the ActionVFX “Power” Blog Series, we will discuss several key elements that will not only challenge and equip you as a visual storyteller, but engage critical thinking to ensure your story is as powerful as possible.

In our last article, The Power of Production Value (Part One), we discussed a few key questions we need to continually be asking ourselves in the midst of production, in order to aim for the highest production value possible in the arena of visual effects, especially on a low budget. We also discussed common pitfalls to watch out for in the video-saturated climate we now live in, where abundant special effects, affordable hardware, and accessible software are all at our fingertips. The strides we’ve made from previous generations of filmmaking are remarkable - and we would do well to learn as much as we can from the film industry’s innovative past in order to shape its exciting future.

Although a tight budget is never an ideal situation for a budding filmmaker, it can work to your advantage, depending on how committed you are to your project seeing the light of day. Maybe you just found out the budget your short film was supposed to have now has to be cut in half due to unforeseen circumstances, and you’re really sweating bullets.

First, don’t panic - remember the technical limitations of yesteryear, compared to where we are today. Although you may need to narrow the cast or crew, cut a few scenes, delay a release date, or roll up your sleeves and put on a few hats you’ve never even worn before, you can still make a great short film with the vast resources available in today’s film industry.

Don’t view financial setbacks as detrimental. Instead, see this as an opportunity; a challenge for innovation. You may have to think and work a lot more than you initially intended, but strive for a positive attitude throughout this process, and don’t get bogged down by the circumstances.

Look for alternatives to produce your film in the most efficient way possible, preferably without losing any team members. Maybe this means changing locations, or finding another interesting way to shoot a scene. Are there any in-camera effects you could do that would save some money, yet maintain the integrity of the scene? One of the most famous in-camera effects first appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic movie “Vertigo,” in 1958. Most people know this effect as a “dolly zoom.” It’s a simple camera technique that can almost induce a physiological reaction in the viewer during a tense scene.
It was also used very effectively in “Jaws.”
You can learn more about how to perform an in-camera dolly zoom below.
Also, you can utilize clever post-production tips to digitally achieve the same look (provided you still used a slider, and shot at a high resolution) - check out this awesome tutorial on how to do that below.
There are plenty of other cinematography tricks out there that are essentially free, so do some research and think outside the paradigm of what you previously envisioned to save some dough, and maybe make an even  better movie while you’re at it!
You may even have to step outside the realm of practical effects you were originally planning on using, and utilize more digital visual effects. Digital set extensions can go a long way in terms of added production value, and atmospheric effects, such as our Atmospheric Smoke and Fog Collection, can lend a subtle, yet captivating vibe to any scene.

Director Gareth Edwards broke all preconceived notions of what was possible on a low budget when he released his directorial feature debut, “Monsters.” In addition to writing and directing, Edwards also served as the  cinematographer, production designer, and visual effects artist on the film. Using around $15,000 of equipment, he produced a movie that grossed $4.2 million after premiering at South by Southwest in 2010.  It should be noted the total  budget of the movie was close to $500,000, but that included all cast and crew salaries, airfare, hotels, distribution, marketing, etc. Keep in mind the  equipment budget , though, was merely $15,000.

Check out the trailer for “Monsters” below.
Edwards used the Adobe Production Suite, ZBrush, and 3ds Max to create the 250 visual effects shots in the film,  all from the confines of his bedroom . During the course of filming, he and his very small crew shot over 100 hours of footage, which they edited down into a four-hour movie, then spent eight months editing, until they reached the final cut at ninety-four minutes.
(Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsters_(2010_film))

Is it possible that on a small budget - with a  lot of hard work, ingenuity, and finesse - your movie could actually look like a Hollywood blockbuster? If we’re being realistic...probably not. However, it can  look like it cost ten times its budget - but be ready to put in the effort, just like Gareth Edwards, to get there.

What’s so incredible about “Monsters” is where it took Edwards’ career. The success and impressive production value of the film landed him his next gig - directing 2014’s “Godzilla,” followed by “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”

Let that sink in for a minute! Edwards went from editing visual effects in his bedroom with a  $15,000 equipment budget, to directing two movies from some of the most recognizable franchises in Hollywood history. His hit “Monsters” received a sequel, and the franchise is now being envisioned as a TV series. At age 42, his amazing career is just beginning.

Adobe produced a fantastic behind-the-scenes documentary on Edwards’ use of their CS 5.5 software in creating “Monsters,” and it’s staggering to see how much more powerful Adobe software has become since then. Check out the short documentary below, and let it inspire you to push the scope of your project’s production value even further, with a little innovation, a lot of hard work, and a big imagination.
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