David Fincher is the master of hiding visual effects in plain sight. See how he does it.

Image via kaptainkristian.

Last week, one of the best video essays on David Fincher went viral, exposing the hidden CGI he uses in some of his most celebrated films. The video details the techniques Fincher uses to immerse the audience in worlds filled with CG hidden right before their eyes. However, this isn’t the director’s only post-production skill. Let’s take a look at some of the other ingenious ways the filmmaker plays with the form and process of filmmaking.

Hidden Effects

One of the most practical takeaways from this video essay is Fincher’s uncompromising vision. As a director with complete control, he knows what he needs and how to get it. It’s also an interesting take on how to incorporate cheap, easy-to-use green screen effects for the background if you don’t have the travel budget for your next project. The foresight to plan for digital blood effects for a quicker turn around and faster set dressing is another example of his filmmaking prowess.

While hiding VFX isn’t exactly a new stylistic decision, Fincher takes the idea a step further and pushes the boundaries of what we’re seeing — making us truly believe the story unfolding before our eyes. Another effect he’s famous for is hiding cuts and multiple actors’ performances in the same static shot.

Using Split-Screen

Another inventive way Fincher plays with staging and pre-production is staging his actors in isolation, giving them more room to perform. By spacing his actors out enough, Fincher can later add the exact cuts from each actor into a collective “best take.” For a director like Fincher, who only likes smooth, dolly, crane, and tripod-based shots, this split screen effect relies on a stable shot.

The Hidden Brilliance of Fincher's Editing — Split Screen

As you can see above, as long as the shot remains static, you can mask out the desired actor in After Effects and alter the timing of the performance (or choose another take entirely) and grade the clips correctly. It’s a simple, subtle way to make any changes you want without resorting to reshoots.

Even entire movies have relied on the split screen format, but Fincher takes this technique and flips its on its head by hiding the cut and playing the different takes to his favor. For a director notorious for shooting an excessive number of takes, the man knows what he’s doing. Speaking of knowing what you’re doing, Gone Girl employed 80% of its shots using some form of VFX. The method isn’t as far-fetched as one might think.

Take this VFX breakdown of the 2014 film. Even though they were working with a massive budget, the addition of extreme backdrop green screen is something you could do even with no budget. Keying out a backdrop is a simple way to transport the setting to another location with a little chroma-keying in After Effects. This is an excellent way to improve your production value by transporting your characters wherever you need them to be.

Fincher’s filmography is full of dark, seductive masterpieces that push the boundaries of filmmaking without straying from the art form’s main purpose: to tell an engaging story.


Have you gotten away with any hidden VFX? Share in the comments.