Features and Columns · Movies

The Humble Cut is the Secret Weapon of Visual Effects

What’s the oldest, cheapest special effect? The answer is just a cut away!
editing visual effects An American Werewolf In London Transformation
Universal Pictures
By  · Published on October 1st, 2020

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video that explores how editing can be used for visual effects.

It takes a village to sell a visual effect, no matter if it’s practical or computer-generated. Everything from sound design to camera movement must work in tandem to successfully pull off the trick. And the same holds true for editing. In fact, sometimes, cuts are the visual effect. Woah.

When it comes to movie magic, there is no simpler or older visual effect than the humble cut. Indeed, the technique goes as far back as film pioneer and cinematic illusionist Georges Méliès. Legend has it Méliès invented the jump cut by accident thanks to an unplanned, yet fortuitous, camera jam which produced a sequence where a bus seemingly transformed into a buggy. Amazed with the startling result, Méliès used similar cuts intentionally throughout his career — as early as 1896’s The Haunted Castle –to make characters disappear, teleport, and transform.

Speaking of haunted castles, horror is absolutely the prime beneficiary of the cut as a visual effect. A cut can reveal all manner of peripheral apparitions, confirming — to our horror — that there was, indeed, something lingering just out of sight. Cuts are also an adept way of melding full-scale sets and miniatures, blending two shots with a cut cleverly smuggled into a whip-pan. Cuts can also smooth over the seams of a progressive makeup effect, like the infamous transformation in An American Werewolf in Londonwhere each cut stealthily reveals new bone-cracking puppetry with the audience none the wiser.

I can’t think of a better shepherd into the world of cuts-as-effects than god-tier no-budget filmmaker David F. Sandberg. In the video below, Sandberg unpacks the VFX potential of a simple cut using both his own films and genre classics as examples.

Watch “Using Cuts as a Visual Effect“:

Who made this?

Writer, director, and video essayist David F. Sandberg (of Shazam! fame) is stuck at home and making excellent quarantine content. Including no-budget horror films in his own house, starring his wife and frequent collaborator Lotta Losten (Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation). You can follow Sandberg on Vimeo and on Twitter.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).