Special Effects Software Used In Films

Special effects, also known as visual effects, are used on television and in films to enhance the visual appeal or make action more realistic. According to FilmSite.org, early special effects were created using real-life tools such as miniature models and projectors. Advances in computer technology allow many effects to be created virtually, using software.


Sapphire is a visual effects software package developed by GenArts. Sapphire has been used in major Hollywood films such as “Avatar,” “District 9,” and “Star Trek.” The software includes approximately 200 tools for processing and changing video, as well as numerous special effect plugins. These plugins allow artists to add glow, lightening, colorization, and distortion effects to film.

In addition to these effect plugins, Sapphire is able to key, or remove, solid background colors. This capability makes it useful for films requiring “green screen” work. Using Sapphire, filmmakers can digitally replace green backdrops with another scene, or create computer generated film sets.



Combustion is produced by Autodesk, and is designed to bring cutting edge visual effects tools to artists on a budget. Combustion features a “non destructive workflow,” which allows users to experiment with film effects in a nonpermanent environment. Changes can be easily undone, added, or removed. The software also includes a full motion graphics tool set, which enables artists to create graphics and titles that can be moved anywhere on the screen.

Other tools packaged with Combustion include a 3-D compositing option, which enables virtual and real-life scenes to be seamlessly combined, and image stabilization for shaky footage. Other tools such as the “rotoscope” allow artists to “paint” onto video, creating effects such as lasers and light-swords.

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After Effects

After Effects is a visual effects software suite published by Adobe. The software allows 3-D models to be imported and combined with video, creating a virtual world effect. A built-in cartoon tool makes live action video appear as an animated comic book. After Effects includes tools for graphic and text placement. These tools allow the artist to place graphics anywhere on the screen and add motion along a set path.

The software includes tools for other common visual effects as well. A “masking” tool hides certain areas of a video, and allows background to be replaced with virtual sets. Tools for color correction permit an artist to change colors in the video, changing a characters shirt from red to blue, for example.



Inferno is a visual effects product created by Autodesk. The software can be combined with Combustion or used alone. Inferno is designed specifically as a three-dimensional special effects tool. This allows artists to create 3-D worlds and composite them into other video.

While many other visual effects packages allow only two-dimensional graphics to be created, Inferno enables users to work in full 3-D. Artists can explore, rotate, and change perspectives in the virtual worlds they create. Using compositing tools, Inferno can then integrate these 3-D graphics seamlessly. A filmmaker might, for example, film an actor on the set of a futuristic cockpit and then use Inferno to create the computer-generated spaceship around him. Inferno allows artists to create nearly any world imaginable and include it on film.