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Special Effects - A Definition

testing a dante - fire effects

Noun: Special Effect
An illusion created for films and television by props, camerawork, SFX 
“a non-stop action film filled with amazing stunts and spectacular special effects”

Physical Effects

Elements Special Effects is a physical effects company. This means that we do the live effects on set.  These effects include pyrotechnics and explosions, fire, smoke, weather effects, stunt and mechanical rigs, models, props and large bespoke builds.

Sometimes the terminology of special effects can be misleading.  For instance there is no such thing as a rain machine, we call this effect a rain rig.  Rain rigs vary in size from small handheld devices for use directly over the camera, up to 100ft cranes with spinner rigs for very wide shots/large sets.  These rigs are generally bespoke and can be tailored for even the most difficult of shots.


Visual effects or VFX can be mistaken for special effects or SFX.  VFX are computer generated whereas SFX are live.

Weather Effects

Weather effects are the most common special effect and include rain, wind machines, snow, ice and frost. 

Smoke & Haze Effects

Smoke and haze effects come a close second.  Smoke machines can be used inside and out, from a fog or mist effect across a lake to a black smoke filled battlefield.  Once inside we can produce a light haze or fill a studio with dense smoke as though a room is on fire.

Fire Effects

Fire effects or controlled flame are created using fire bars and fishtail bars.  When we need bigger flames we can use liquid LPG in baths or pump kerosene through high-pressure nozzles for extremely big fire effects (these are called Dante Fire effects).

Pyrotechnic Effects

Pyrotechnic effects are the effects that most people associate with SFX.  These can be small such as squib or body hits that replicate bullets hitting things.  We do use high explosives and black powder (gunpowder) for larger effects such as cars exploding or battlefield effects.  However sometimes our explosions are softer and made by using compressed air and gas in mortars the explosion looks big but in fact no explosives were used.  These softer explosions can be used in much closer proximity to actors/stunts if the shot requires it.

Prop Making

SFX teams make a lot of props, from syringes that look as though they are injecting, soft weapons for fight sequences and breakaway tables and chairs.  Mostly the props that SFX make have to look as though they are real but are not the oldest of these effects is “sugar-glass” or as we know it know Shatter-glass.  This is the glass that you see stunt artists jumping through.  Props can also be working or extremely large, think of the Bat Mobile car, this is a prop and built by special effects.