FX GLOSSARY: A compendium of common FX terms

(For additional info, see our FX-FAQ page.)

The use of mechanical and/or electrical components and systems to simulate and replicate the movements of creatures, whether replications of existing terran life forms or fictional creations of fantasy.
(See TCS Animatronics Page)

The use of form-changing materials, applied, blended, and colored on a performer's skin. Can be foam latex, rubber, plastic, gelatine, or other materials. In the medical field, synthetic replacements or enhancements for defective body parts.
(See TCS Prosthetics Page)

Computer Graphic Imagery. Computer graphics have revolutionized the movie business in every possible way - especially in the FX business. Some companies fear CGI means the end of the FX industry. Meanwhile, the smart companies (like TCS) have learned to work with the new technology, and combine it with traditional FX techniques to create even more amazing results.
Also CG.

Something which a performer wears, usually made from fabrics, foam, and fibers. Can be donned and doffed relatively easily, as opposed to having something adhered to the skin as in Prosthetics.

Makeup FX:
Usually, an active change to a makeup; as in, for example, an injury. Something beyond the changing of performer's look through mere pigment. A thin monofilament embedded in derma wax on an actor's head, with red rouge underneath, can be done as an on-camera ripped flesh or cut effect. Bladders, fake tears, bleeding, sweating, and the like are all makeup effects.

Derma Wax:
Soft wax troweled onto a corpse's face so it looks all lumpy and pink at the wake. (The mortician thinks he did a great job reconstructing that crushed cheekbone and eye socket! Don't say anything! You'll hurt his feelings!) Also used by fx artists as a quick fix to achieve three dimensional "out-of-kit" makeup effects. We get it used from funeral homes, cheap. Just kidding!
Also Mortician's Wax.

Rolled up, organic-looking tendrils of latex, gelatine, or vinyl. Used to "dress" creatures so they appear to have veins, decomposition, or hanging rotted flesh. HUUWALLP!

The "muscle" behind many animatronic movements. A rotary actuator consisting of a motor, circuit board, potentiometer, and gear train. Receives an electronic position signal from an input device and "sends" the output arm to that position. Whatever is attached to the output arm (cable, pulley, lever) also moves. Made in a range of sizes; the most common are found in hobby R/C vehicles.

Linear Actuator:
At its simplest, a piston-like mechanism that travels from one extreme to another. At its most useful, a bigger, stronger, faster version of a servo.

A variable resistor, either in rotary or linear form. Used as a position indicator in input devices and feedback systems. Do you still have a stereo with a rotary volume control? That's a potentiometer!

Silica-based chemical, used in creating molds, synthetic flesh, adhesives, and Hollywood bimbos. Can be plasticized, pigmentized, and mesmerized.

A two-part polyurethane chemical system. A catalyst is added to a base, both are mixed together, put into a mold, and, voila! It explodes and gets all into your clothes and hair! An inexpensive way to produce body forms. Comes in rigid and flexible varieties.

A rubbery vinyl which can be heated until it becomes liquid. Unlike latex, hot-melt can be used over and over again.

An organic rubber, also used to make surgical gloves and Halloween masks. Applied as a liquid, it dries into semi-solid form. Special latex mixtures are used to create foam latex.

Foam Latex:
THE staple of the makeup effects industry. Oh sure, plenty of people are jumping on the silicone bandwagon. And while silicone has many cool properties, you still can't beat foam latex for it's combination of cost effectiveness, softness, stretchability, glue-ability, paintability, and reparability. Made by weighing out and mixing, with 1/10 of a gram tolerance, precise quantities of five different chemicals into a bowl, mixing for scientific amounts of time at various specific speeds, injected into molds using high tech-injectors, and then put into a 200 degree oven to bake for..I don't know, four hours? What do you think? Okay, we'll make it six!

Before silicone and hot-melt came around, this was THE material to use for translucent flesh-like effects. Only trouble was, it would start to soften and melt under the hot sun and studio lights, and with the actor's sweat having nowhere to escape, would liquefy and fall (to quote Dick Smith: "like a fried egg.") into a heap in the dirt. Still useful for some applications. Yeah, like making jello jigglers to keep your kid out of your hair while you try to figure out this new silicone stuff.

Radio Control. A wireless method of controlling servos, actuators, motors, and other electro-mechanical whoseywhatsis so that your animatronics don't have to have a big "umbilical" cable dragging behind them. (Then you find you don't have enough space for batteries and have to run a power cable anyway!) Hobby shops sell R/C transmitter/receiver/servo combos with up to 9 channels of movement. Professional FXers uses the highest grade consumer R/C equipment.

A replica of a human, animal, creature, or other character, made to move and "brought to life" by a puppeteers' manipulations. Controls for a puppet may be string, rod, hand, cable, joystick, WaldoÆ, potentiometer, or any other number of devices.
(See TCS Puppet Page)

A slim wooden, plastic, (but usually metal) well...ROD that is used to control a puppets' movements externally.
In film and commercial work, rods give the best control, but must be eliminated in post production by highly-trained computer operators who whine that you crossed in front on that shot while they listen to their Enya CD and sip cappuccino in their padded chairs. Let them try to balance on a painter's plank, sweating, in the most contorted position, trying to breathe life into a puppet, and give a convincing performance even though your hands are shaking because they made you hold the thing in position for lighting for the last half hour and didn't give you a break before they started shooting, and not cross in front! HAH?

Twisted strands of steel wire encased in a teflon liner and spring wire housing. The technological equivalent of a tendon, used to transmit power and movement from the puppeteer to the puppet. Same idea as your bicycle brakes, but more sophisticated.

Oh, for Pete's sake. You need me to define "hand" for you?

Now cut that out!

  1. Synthetic, non-stranded version of string. One of the secret weapons of the FX industry, monofilament has hundreds of uses because it is difficult to see on camera, comes in a variety of strengths and sizes, and is available almost everywhere.
  2. Okay, it's just a fancy word for fishing line.

  1. TCS' trademark* for its brand of ergonomic-gonio-kineti-telemetric input devices for controlling its puppets and animatronics. Ergonomic because it is engineered to fit the puppeteer's body (and/or head and/or face) and comfortably allow a wide range of physical freedom. Gonio- and kineti-metric because it measures the angle and movement of the wearer's joints and limbs. And telemetric because the movement data is measured and sent via remote control.
  2. In simpler terms, an electro-mechanical rig you wear that makes a puppet mimic your movements.

*That's right, a registered trademark. You can make use of a Waldo®-like system, but you can't call it a Waldo®!
(See TCS Waldo® Page)

  1. Something that you need a license to do.
  2. Something that, when fooling around with earlier in our career, made us realize how lucky we were that we didn't hurt anybody or burn any buildings down.
  3. Something we don't mess with anymore!

Bullet Hits:
Thin packets of fake blood with a protective metal and leather plate, worn on the body, and detonated by a small explosive charge called a Squib.

Involves Pyrotechnics. Don't ask me!

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