With the proliferation of motion graphic software and the abundance of movies that are set in fantastical or imaginary worlds, most visual effects are done in post-production. Footage is green-screened and then the sci-fi interfaces or strange landscapes or monsters or whatever are added afterwards. Just look at the The Avengers movie, whose spectacular FX reel showcases Industrial Light & Magic's expert tinkering. Or the new Iron Man 3 film which the director says "has as many, if not more, visual-effects shots than Avengers."
But while CGI undeniably allows for scenes which might be impossible to film, there's another way of doing FX. And that's using in-camera special effects, which are essentially created in front of the camera rather than added in post. A recent example of this is the effects created for Oblivion, directed by Joseph Kosinski and starring Tom Cruise. The effects weren't exclusively in-camera, but where possible these were used as much as they could to add a certain visual integrity to the film's aesthetic.
The bubble ship was created IRL
In the film aliens have nearly destroyed earth and Tom Cruise is one of the last remaining people still living there, albeit thousands of miles above the surface in a sky tower, heading down sporadically to mine the planet's resources. In the video above director Joe Kosinski, lead graphics animator David "dlew" Lewandowski, and design director Bradley "Gmunk" Munkowitz talk about how they created this futuristic world-in-the-sky and the technology that features in it.
Shooting in Iceland
Relying heavily on in-camera techniques meant shooting the film on location in a remote part of Iceland, building spaceships, using projected cloudscapes as views for the sky tower, and creating working computer screens (using the glass-based, geometric user interface style that's Gmunk's signature) that the actors could actually interact with in real-time. "Visually you're able to capture something that I just don't think you can create digitally," says Kosinski.
Check out Gmunk's GFX montage below...