That's one hell of a long heading!
But it gets across the point: high tech visual effects are easily doable nowadays on home computers.
Think back just twenty years and picture how far we've come since then in terms of the technological tools at our disposal such as compsoiting software, chroma-keying and motion tracking. It truly is remarkable.
I've been playing around with Mocha (the free 2D motion tracker that comes with Adobe After Effects CS4+) and I sometimes just shake my head at how cool it is.
I can shoot some handheld wobly-cam footage, pop it into Mocha, let it calculate (extremely quickly BTW) the coordinates, import the saved data to After Effects and within a minute or so insert a almost perfectly tracked image or piece of text into my shot.
It is simply mind-blowing.
But the thing that amazes me the most is not how cool the newest software is...it's why more independent productions don't use it!
Fantastical locations, earth-shattering explosions, and all other forms of visual FX trickery that Hollywood lockbusters rely on are right on our doorstep but I've struggled to think of many productions that make use of them....besides Garth Edwards' Monsters...which wasn't exactly a low budget production despite the press spin (this was not a $15,000 movie - far from $500,000 even - but many of the efects such as motion-tracked location and object insertion ARE DOABLE on a tiny budget of far less than $15,000).
It takes less than half an hour to insert a fairly realistic shot of an explosion into a film if you give it a go yet it seems many simply don't...give it a go, that is. Spend a few days polishing and refining it and you can have a great-looking effect that defies your budgetry constraints.
A few years back when I was making The Darkside I needed some cutaways to some graffiti on walls. Problem was I had no graffiti and no walls! This was some basic, no frills FX work that had no bells and whistles or needed to stand out in any way, but it was necessary to the film and was achieved with the most basic of software: Microsoft Paint!
I stitched together some wall images in MS Paint (using a broken mouse - I had no graphics tablet at the time even) and painted in graffiti on top. I then composited the images togther in a basic editing package (Magic Movie Edit - the original one) and added some movement so tha it didn't stick out as being simply a still image in amongst the rest of the movie.
This is a very simple example but it goes to show how visual FX is mostly used: to further a story. Sure, when most people think Visual FX they think of the big stuff like explosions and the likes but it is the bread and butter little things like object removal/insertion and matte paintings that seamlessly integrate with live-shot footage that it is mostly used for.
I'm not saying every movie needs visual effects but if the tools are there and you want to really add some production value to your film then why not go for it?
The inspriational lessons in using Adobe After Effects provided by Andrew Kramer over on VideoCoPilot.net are the sort of things taht make you wanna just get out there and make some amazing films and let your imagination run wild.
It really isn't that hard to blow buildings up (visual FX wise, I mean!) or show a sweeping helicopter camera move over an alien landscape these days - you just load up After Effects and Terregen and off you go. Maybe stick in a bit of Blender for adding 3D model buildings or crafts to your shot and you're rearing to go!
I highly recommend the free VideoCoPilot.net tutorials (there's 120+ so far) to inspire and get your creative juices flowing.
Dont just get stuck in the rut that is the typical indie movie of a few actors talking in one or two dull locations.
Expand your vision! Because nowadays your vision is not limited by the tools at your disposal or budget or even time, as with the advances in home computer processors rendering is really quick.