SFX vs VFX and Action Movies

Action Movies, Movie Set, SFX, Stunts, VFX -

SFX vs VFX and Action Movies

Is SFX better or is VFX better?

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be on set with explosions and guns firing blanks, well it's awesome. Pretending that there is an explosion or muzzle flash is less fun, but in many ways much better.

There is a feeling and a look that you get with SFX which is live or onset effects. The moments before a shot is called and you all know that the explosives are now live. In a few seconds there is going to be a fireball just off to your left and you will get flung in the air and land just over there in the dirt. Magic, that's what we live for. When the elements of the stunt and the crew come together to make a great shot, there is a feeling when we watch the playback. In that moment everyone on set is connected, it's just magic.

Then you reset and go again.


1st AD

No time for your feelings

We have 3 hours left on this location and we still have 5 shots left and the plate shots


The PA screamed at the crew, they were having a bad day and we all knew it.


Yep,this is a great feeling but it is complicated and the the risks of injury is obviously there and the more takes increases the odds that something might happen.  

Before this shot can even happen there has been a lot of work done. All the legal paperwork and insurances need to be in place and all the players have the relevant experience and qualifications to perform the action. The location needs to be secured and allow your stunt to take place. The emergency units may need to be notified and you may need exceptions and permits which often lock you down to a specific date and time, so it better not rain.

There is often a tight budget so the planing of the shot and the amount of takes that could be available may be limited by costs, performers abilities and the amount of time it takes to reset a shot. You may also have to bring in additional camera crew to get as many angles as possible especially if the SFX is costly or takes longer to reset, and we could be talking an hour if there is a lot to put back, but often it is around the 10 to 20 minute mark before cameras can roll again.

So that is SFX, now let's look at VFX.

It can be a green screen set up or live on set and plate shots are taken for post production.

There are many ways for VFX to happen, sometimes there are people in green or blue suits or holding a ball on a stick. You interact with them as if the are a character. With explosions it is usually the same action for the stunt performer, but the explosion can be simulated with lighting effects or none at all and it's all added later. The timing for the explosion gets called on set and everyone jumps at the same time. The effect is then added later in the pre-planned spot. They also like to stick tape around the place in X patterns, these are reference marks and are used to track VFX and live shots smoothly together.

So it's cool and VFX these days is affordable and with time can be realistic, but then the budget goes up. You don't get that magic moment on set with SFX but VFX gives you a feeling of anticipation as during playback you imagine the final shot but it's just a guess. 

The reset time for these shots is usually pretty fast as the cast and crew just go back to ones and then roll again, (one or 1st is just everyone resting to the start of the shot).

You don't need the bigger crew as you may not need pyrotechnics or armourer etc, so that can keep costs down if you have a good post production team and can deliver on time and on budget. 

If the post crew is good you can simulate broken glass or bullet holes etc at very little costs.

Keen to try then you can use our VFX collection here, free for members.

We think that if you can do a bit of both then you tend to get the best out of it. VFX can support SFX and visa versa.  This blend of the two is good for the industry and is good for the onset experience.

If your budget is low and your post team is not so experienced then SFX becomes a far more affordable option as your quality will be handed over to experienced professionals. High quality VFX is only really used at the top end of productions for those who are directing the next big thing and for those with a great post team.

There is no right or wrong only what is best for your project.

We hope you have a great week.


Action Movie Star TV

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