What is SFX in Film

What is SFX in Film?

In filmmaking special effects are incorporated into videos for a variety of purposes to add visual illusions and to trick the audience’s eyes. For a newly aspiring filmmaker, or someone that’s not had much formal education in the film industry, the idea of visual effects and special effects might be difficult to understand – in fact, they may appear to be the same thing to an outsider, but vfx and sfx are not one in the same. So, what is SFX in film and what’s the difference between VFX and SFX?

What is SFX in Film?

SFX represents special effects in filmmaking. And typically refers to the use of visual tricks. Or illusions that are produced on the set. Through the addition of various elements that are either manually or mechanically added.

SFX, the term used to describe “Special Effects” can also sometimes refer to sound effects. Although in the film world the abbreviation almost always refers to the use of visual effects. Which are produced on set during production. 

Special effects may include things like earthquakes and explosions. Also various types of atmospheric effects like fog or rain. And even mechanical effects such as animatronics.

When people with less formal education on filmmaking think about special effects. They’re likely to think more about visual effects. Which are incorporated into a film through CGI and other techniques in post-production. But true SFX occur on-set, during production.

Difference Between SFX and VFX

So, what’s the difference between SFX and VFX in film? Primarily, the difference between the two lies in the timing as to when the effects are created.

Most VFX, which stands for video effects or visual effects, are visually added into a film in post-production. And don’t actually involve the use of any tangible on-set processes. VFX occurs in post-production whereas SFX occurs during production.


Essentially, VFX allows filmmakers to achieve some of the same types of illusions that SFX can provide.

But during post-production through computer generated imagery (CGI). And other techniques for adding in enhancements to the already-recorded video footage that was captured on the set.

Likewise, SFX involves capturing those enhancements on the film set. While the actual illusion or visual action is actually taking place.


VFX and SFX are actually commonly interchanged. So much that even on set crews will communicate in advance of the production.

To determine which method, SFX or VFX, is most valuable to enhancing the narrative of the story. And which can be achieved with the lowest overall cost to the production.

Some productions go with one or the other. But most will incorporate both special effects and visual or video effects into their films.

When to Use SFX

So, what is SFX in film and when should it be used? Special effects are ideal for use in a film. Especially when enhancing a scene. Or a particular set element that will add visual value to the production. For example, a fiery explosion during a car chase adds visual excitement to the film.

Likewise, a rainy moment during an otherwise divine day for a couple adds visual value for a love story. All of these special effects can be used to enhance the atmosphere of the film. Adding value to the production.

Although the same effects could be accomplished in post-production as VFX. It makes sense to use SFX and capture the effects on camera. Because they will appear more realistic than a computer generated image would. 

Want to understand the concept of SFX better? Crash Course has a special video to help you get it:

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