VFX meaning: In-depth explanation and VFX advertising examples

Sep 12, 2022 / Industry Insights / FOTW

Whether you’re an avid cinema-goer or a massive fan of TV shows, you would have probably heard of the term “VFX” thrown around a couple of times. But what is VFX’s meaning, exactly? We’ll take you through all that you need to know about the wondrous world of VFX, all the different types of VFX used nowadays and some examples of the TV advertisements that utilise VFX.

What Does VFX Mean?

VFX stands for “visual effects”, and it refers to the process of altering video or imagery for live-action media such as movies, TV shows and even advertisements. The industry of visual effects involves the integration between actual, real-life footage and digital manipulation.

It has been a method of enhancing the viewing experience for centuries. The first-ever use of VFX dates as far back as 1895, when Alfred Clark used certain techniques to depict the beheading of Queen Mary in a reenactment of that historical event. Ever since that time in 1895, the use of VFX has risen exponentially and especially within the last few decades. 

With that rise of use for VFX came improvements to visual effects in filmmaking, both in terms of technology and methodology. Nowadays, it isn’t too peculiar to see different types of visual effects used in romantic-comedies or dramas when it used to be reserved for fantasy and science fiction media. Quite often, you’ll even be able to catch VFX used in TV advertising!

But, you might have also heard of the term “SFX”. SFX stands for “special effects”, and sometimes relates to “sound effects”, and is another method of manipulating film to enhance an entertainment experience. These are traditionally split into two different categories – mechanical and optical. Mechanical effects involve the use of props, models, animatronics, pyrotechnics, as well as prosthetics and make-up. On the other hand, optical effects are the clever manipulation of visuals by using in-camera tricks.

While you might be tempted to use SFX and VFX interchangeably, there is one fundamental difference between the two terms. On one hand, SFX tends to explicitly be used during the filming process – explosions, makeup, artificial weather, etc. – while most of the VFX process takes place post-production – after filming has wrapped up.

Different Types of Visual Effects

Although VFX can be used to make a multitude of things come to life, there are only three general types of visual effects techniques that are used to make it happen. These methods can be used for VFX either during or after shooting, with some techniques being able to complement others.


1. Compositing

Source: TwistedSifter

A similar technique used in still photography, compositing involves the combination of multiple images into a single image. One of the biggest technique overlaps between film and photography is creating a “double exposure”, which layers two images on top of each other. The famed director Albert Hitchcock loved to use this technique in his films.

One of the oldest compositing techniques known to us is the use of matte paintings. In the older days of filmmaking, artists would physically paint an environment or landscape used for a scene. Those paintings would be filmed on their own, and later film editors would physically lay down a separate roll of film which featured the actors playing their roles. Possibly the most famous example of the use of matte painting composite is 1939’s The Wizard of Oz.

But, the most well-known compositing technique is the use of green screens (or sometimes blue screens). A live-action scene would first be shot on a green screen stage, and later, during post-production, a VFX team will superimpose the actors onto a digitally-created environment. If you don’t already know, a majority of modern Marvel movies are shot this way, particularly the epic battle scenes. 


2. Computer Generated Imagery

Source: 3DArt

It may be tempting to lump all VFX together as computer-generated imagery, or CGI, the term “CGI” is used in the film industry to refer to the digital creation of objects. CGI techniques can be used to insert 2D or 3D objects that are otherwise non-existent or extremely hard to obtain. From dinosaurs to a more recent advancement, making actors younger or even bringing back those who have passed on, CGI allows filmmakers to add life to their films.

Think of VFX in general as the enhancement of video footage that has already been filmed by the creation of unique environments for characters to live in, for example. On the other hand, CGI should be seen as the specific technique of compositing a digitally-created object – whether alive or otherwise – into a scene. However, sometimes, like in the case of Lord Voldermort in the Harry Potter movies, CGI is used to remove things to create an effect, such as actor Ralph Fiennes’s nose. In a nutshell, CGI is a subset of VFX.

A great example of the combination of VFX compositing and CGI can be seen in the new HBO show, House of the Dragon. While the existence of the Red Keep can be viewed as compositing since actors are digitally placed into those fantasy settings while, in reality, they are performing on a green screen stage. On the other hand, the Targaryen dragons have been created using CGI.


3. Motion Capture

Source: Vulture

Sometimes, when it’s hard for CGI artists to animate movements to a more realistic standard, they turn to the use of motion capture to get the job done. Motion capture, or mocap for short, blends CGI with live-action VFX by capturing an actor’s movements. Those movements would be directly recorded into a 3D-generated model on a computer, sometimes on top of physical filming.

Mocap which includes the capture of an actor’s facial expressions is referred to as “performance capture”. Although mocap has been used in the video games industry as early as 1988, the technique didn’t reach film until much later. But during that time, motion capture technology has improved by leaps and bounds in the decades to follow.

Some of the best mocap performances in movie-making history tend to be credited to British actor Andy Serkis. Serkis is best known for playing the grotesque split-personality hobbit Gollum and Smeagol in The Lord of the Rings series and The Hobbit. A few lesser-known roles that he played were the intelligent chimpanzee Caesar in the Planet of the Apes reboot as well as King Kong in the 2005 eponymous film.

Examples of VFX in TV Advertising

Now that we understand the world of VFX and the different techniques behind what we see on screen, let’s talk about how TV advertisers get creative with VFX. For a few decades now, some of the best TV advertising agencies have utilised various VFX techniques for TV ads.

Just like with movies or TV shows, VFX also helps bring an extra level of oomph to the everyday commercials we see on the telly. Here are a few examples of VFX used in TV ads that you might have even seen yourself:

Sainsbury’s – Mog’s Christmas Calamity

Everyone loves a good Christmas ad, especially one that really tugs on your heartstrings. Sainsbury’s has been putting out some great Christmas commercials over the years, but the supermarket chain’s 2015 Holiday ad is what we’ll be focusing on. This Christmas ad uses a clever combination of special and visual effects within a live-action TV commercial. There is only one thing in the entire advert that’s not real – Mog the Cat, who is a feline made with CGI. 

While Mog’s family are peacefully snoozing away, dreaming sweet dreams, Mog is having a nightmare. What follows is a series of terrible events that leads to Mog and his family’s home being burnt down; their holiday ruined. Each step of the way was filmed in reality, from the spinning fan to the burnt turkey, with Mog digitally added during post-producion. But their neighbourhood comes together on Christmas day, sharing the Holiday spirit and cheer – and Mog gets to enjoy his Christmas egg.

Sky Broadband – Minions

Sky loves to get with the times and utilise the latest films within their ads – this CGI-focused television commercial is no different! The adorable little Minions from the Despicable Me series is seen helping Sky advertise the company’s latest broadband deal. Now, as we personally know, it’s no easy feat to feature the latest films in a TV commercial. How do we know this? Well, because this TV ad, along with many other Sky commercials, was made by us!

This, and a majority of Sky’s commercials, is completely animated with CGI and features an enthusiastic voiceover to match the enthusiasm of the Minions on screen. It’s a great TV ad from start to finish. From the colourful text to the digitally and brilliantly composited Minions (and Gru), this Sky Broadband advert hits its point home – their 18-month price freeze at £25 a month when you switch to their services as a Sky TV customer.

McVitie’s – Blissfuls

There’s nothing more satisfying than to see one thing lead so perfectly onto the next in a continuous loop. Just this year, the biscuit brand McVitie’s had possibly the most satisfying commercial broadcasted in the last decade. Using a clever animation method that requires a great sense of timing, the VFX TV advertisement was able to showcase the process of making their “Blissfuls” biscuits.

Not only do things perfectly lead into the next, the animations made for this VFX advertisement syncs perfectly with the background music. Plus, just the right sound effects are used to round things off.  A satisfying commercial indeed!

Oddschecker – Mobile App

Creating a clever TV ad for a gambling brand that’s also compliant with ASA rules isn’t easy. Although you need to follow a specific set of rules in order to get your commercial broadcasted, that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun! This TV advert for Oddschecker’s new mobile app used a great combination of mechanical special effects and visual effects to create this hilarious ad.

We here at Fall Off The Wall were responsible for the creation of this fun TV commercial. Yes, us! Using a massive leaf blower against the poor actor who played Craig, we were able to get the effect we needed to simulate Oddschecker’s app almost literally blowing Craig away with its features. Then with the help of CGI animations, we made the app come alive in the final cut – down to the “features” which bounced off our actors face. If you’d like to see a video of how we made the ad, check out our Oddschecker breakdown video!

Cravendale – Cats With Thumbs

Although we all know that we shouldn’t be letting our cats drink cow’s milk (or any milk, for that matter), Cravendale took a hold of the “cat’s love milk” stereotype to create a hilarious VFX TV commercial. Sure, polydactyl cats do exist – cats with extra “toes” – but what if they had opposable thumbs instead? That’s what this Cravendale TV commercial had us questioning.

Here’s a fun fact: the commercial didn’t use a lick of CGI animation and was purely done with compositing. Each shot was meticulously planned with real, well-trained cat-actors used during the filming of this fun TV advert. The end result was one of the most fun cat-related TV ads that still holds to this day!

Sky Bingo

This VFX TV advertisement is a little more subtle but brings the right amount of fun within Sky Bingo’s series of ads. For the most part, it’s a regular, live-action TV commercial. But then, everytime there’s a BINGO, the surroundings will explode in a sea of purple.

The Sky Bingo ads were created by us and are some of our favourite and most fun commercials that we’ve worked on, especially working with Rylan Clark-Neal as the voice-over artist. Thankfully no clothing, hairdos, furniture or cats were harmed in the making of these VFX TV commercials. All the grand blasts of purple are completely done with CGI – all fun, no messy clean-ups after production wraps up!

What Is VFX?

So, what does VFX mean? It’s the incredible methodology of enhancing all of our movie experiences through various techniques and technologies. With the help of the three main types of visual effects – CGI, compositing and motion capture – film-lovers today are able to enjoy such masterpieces as The Lord of the Rings and Interstellar

But, VFX isn’t just limited to cinema. There are plenty of television shows out there today that have utilised VFX within their stories. Better yet, even TV advertising have harnessed the power of VFX to help bring what was otherwise unimaginable to our TV advertising experience.

Keen on seeing what VFX can bring to your brand and its next marketing campaign? Get in touch with an experienced TV advertising agency who’ll be able to get the job done!