Differences Between Visual Effects and Special Effects

Visual effects of colors and butterfly figures coming out of the back of a woman's head

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The visual effects industry is responsible for making you say "Wow!" or wonder "How did they do that?!" or "I want to walk with dinosaurs!" It's also one of the reasons movies talk so long to make and cost as much as they do (it takes a lot of people to make actors walk with dinosaurs).

Simply put, visual effects (VFX) is a blanket term referring to any method that makes it possible to create a scene or effect that could not otherwise be produced with regular photographic techniques.

While this site (and this page specifically) most commonly refers to 3D computer graphics for films, games, advertising, miniature and real-world model building as counting as visual effects. However, they don't require digital assistance, but they still count.

How Are Visual Effects Different Than Special Effects?

Think of Special Effects as the parent of all the effects; that is sound and visual effects, where Visual Effects only applies to effects that can be seen. It's important to clarify which effects you are talking about since special effects can also mean sound recording or sound editing techniques.

Also Known As — Special effects

Alternate Spellings — VFX, FX