Vfx company Engine House explains how to create your own simple practical effects

When sitting at your desk and starting a new creative task, your natural instinct is to dive onto the internet and start searching for material and references to use. Creating your own practical effects would be time consuming and expensive right?…. Well, not always.
It is quick and easy to purchase a pack of generic elements online from sites such as Video Hive or YouTube, but, aside from the importance of taking a break from your computer screen and exercising some other parts of your creative brain, it also adds value to your work when you can create your own transitions to suit your exact need.
To create your own practical ink transitions and splotches, here’s a basic shopping list:-
Watercolour pad of paper – this stuff is super thick so it’s great for all the liquid you’re going to be throwing around.
Brushes – as you’ll need to put down an area of water before adding your ink. We prefer synthetic rather than the animal hair ones.
Ink! The main event, india ink with a dropper included.
A tripod – or way of holding your camera when it’s pointed at the canvas
Camera holder – we’re going for speed and efficiency here so we just used our phones to film the elements so we just got this bracket to attach it to the tripod.
Phone app – we didn’t actually use this regrettably but filmic pro allows you to up the bitrate on your phone to get better quality, less compressed footage.
We’d also highly recommend some bin bags, the ink can splash a bit so it’s best to surround your filming area, and have a bag to one side so when you’re done filming an element you can just chuck the paper straight into the bag, so it doesn’t soak through and stain everything in sight.

Then you have fun! Here’s our setup we filmed with, most of the time we’d have the paper flat but you can angle it for specific gravity affected ink transitions. We just positioned it by a window and used natural light rather than having any dedicated lighting for the shoot. Once you get it into your project you’ll adjust the image to create your final element anyway so don’t worry about getting perfect even lighting, freedom and creativity is key here.


The main process is to wet an area of the paper with water and then you drop ink onto the wet area and it spreads out, if you paint a specific shape with water then that’s the shape the ink will soak into. You can also experiment with diluting the ink with water and how high and fast you drip the ink, get stuck in!
Here’s a raw filmed element.

We’d then bring that element into after effects, apply a levels or curves adjustment so the paper is totally white and the ink is black, and then render out the transition.
It might sound like there’s quite a bit going on here, but once you have it setup and you know what you’re doing you can work out what exact ink splotch you need, get up, go film it, bring it into after effects and create your custom element in 5 minutes. It really is that simple!
So next time you’re buying stock elements online have a think about whether it might actually be better to make your own, if you’re having to spend time working them to get them to do what you need it might not actually be getting you the best result possible.
Head to Engine House to get a free download of the assets in this tutorial

Staff Reporter

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