Visual Effects 101: Using Forced Perspective & A Toy To Create The Real Deal – Pt. 2

By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

Recently, we talked about how to use forced perspective and a toy Humvee to create a big budget visual effects look for a low budget military drama. The simple placement of a toy in the foreground, the actors far away in the background so that they look to scale, and then manipulating the  f/stop in order to flatten out the focus, and make it look real. It’s a technique perfected by 20th century film directors long before the advent of CGI and the visual effects budgets that come with them.

Even though today’s computers and apps like Adobe After Effects can give anyone the ability to create digital magic, the basic technique of forced perspective is still alive and well. Today, we’re looking how using the same technique, and adding a basic amount of digital trickery can make a toy literally take flight.

The shot is of a helicopter from Ryan Connolly of Film Riot, who bought a Blackhawk helicopter toy from Walmart (for under $30) and used it to create a hovering military helicopter. The visual effects come together thanks to some basic CGI of the rotating propeller, which he took a picture of after removing it from the model.

Renting a military-grade Blackhawk helicopter is impossible for most shooters, and those that can have to go through a gauntlet of Pentagon approvals, including of script and story, to get use of military assets. So why not just use a model and a little forced perspective? Mounting the model with a C-stand, Connolly shot his toy helicopter against a blue screen, and filmed a few background plates. Then he went into After Effects and masked out the supporting rod. He also spun the counter rotating helicopter blades, added some sound effects, and a lens flare, and suddenly, he had a flying, realistic Blackhawk. Hollywood-level visual effects without the monster budget!

Then, for his second visual effects shot, he placed the “landed” helicopter in forward frame, and had his actor walk from a long distance away, seemingly coming from the whirlybird and walking towards the foreground. What sells this is the sound effects of the helicopter engine winding down after being shut off. With the lens stopped down to have everything in focus, it’s workable that the actor landed the helicopter in the scene. It would’ve helped here if Connolly had the props slowly spin down to a stop, that would’ve really sold it, but even then, it still works. Ryan shows how he did both effects here:

So at the end of the day, you don’t need expensive CGI programs to achieve big budget visual effects, you just need a good realistic toy model and forced perspective. Add in some sound effects, you have what you need to pull off the scene.

I think I’ll go shoot a moon landing this weekend. We’ll have more visual effects tutorials soon!

About James DeRuvo

James has a multi-faceted career that spans radio, film and publishing. A writer about the technology in the video industry for nearly 20 years, James is also an award winning film director, having garnered a Telly Award for his short film Searching for Inspiration. He's also worked as a producer of many talk radio programs in Los Angeles with topics ranging from entertainment to travel to technology.