Cinefex Lingo

One year after Cinefex, while house-cleaning hard-drives, I stumbled on an old document entitled: ‘Cinefex Lingo.’

This was an index that I started years ago, whittling, like scrimshaw, as a style guide for freelancers and new Cinefex writers. It was never official, it was my interpretation of my daily stock-in-trade of technical terms and gobbledegook, but it reflected our editorial ethos. The Cinefex goal was always to provide a clear and consistent understanding of sometimes jargon-loaded filmmaking technology.

I decided to present this here as a map through my Cinefex brain acquired through 20 years of writing. This contains more than 170 definitions, and is probably still not complete – but, for hysterical porpoises, here's my A-Z of Cinefex terminology:


  • A.I. - artificial intelligence, software that can be used for controlling digital animated crowd, simulating autonomous crowd behavior.

  • Alexa - cinema-quality high definition camera, made by Arriflex.

  • Adobe - probably the biggest software manufacturer.

  • After Effects - visual effects software.

  • Agent - an independently motivated entity or character, typically part of a crowd simulation.

  • AR - augmented reality.

  • Arnold - popular 3D digital rendering software, named after Arnold Schwarzenegger.

  • Asset - any object used in building a visual effects scene.

  • Anamorphic - motion picture camera lens, vertically squeezes image for unsqueezed widescreen presentation.

  • Animatic - rough animation derived from storyboards.

  • Animatronic - mechanical puppet technology, derived from Walt Disney's 'audio-animatronic' trademark.


  • Beam-splitter - a prismatic device, involving a half-silvered mirror angled at 45-degrees to the camera, which allows the simultaneous projection of two images through the axis of the camera lens.

  • Bespoke - custom technology, UK-based term derived from garment manufacture, British version of 'proprietary' software.

  • Bluescreen - one word.

  • Boujou - motion tracking software.

  • Bracketed - photographic term, referring to a range of exposures bracketing the on-set photography to reveal detail in bright or shaded areas.

  • Buck - a rough shape, often covered in green or blue material, approximating the size of an object to be replaced later with visual effects.

  • BUF - visual effects house in Paris, France, uses entirely custom-made technology.

  • Bullet-time - also known as 'time-slice' or the 'frozen moment' effect, where action appears to freeze while the camera navigates decelerated objects, popularized by filmmaker Michel Gondry and seen in "The Matrix," etc.

  • Bunraku - ancient Japanese rod-puppetry technique adopted by Jim Henson's company to spectacular effect on the Dark Crystal and Muppet films.


  • Cache - (pronounced 'cash') originally a noun, describing computer memory, now widely used as verb (see 'Geo cache').

  • Cari - ILM's character animation platform, officially uppercase, but not an acronym.

  • Chavant - non-sulphur sculpting clay, also known as 'Plasteline.'

  • Cinesite - London visual effects studio, owned by Kodak.

  • Clay pour - heated molten clay, used for pouring into sculpture molds.

  • Clean pass - where the actor steps out of frame to allow VFX to shoot a 'clean' background.

  • Clean plate - same as 'clean pass.' Or, if you're really thorough, a 'clean clean plate.'

  • Composite - also known as '2D,' the result of blending layers of an image, often in a painterly fashion.


  • DD - abbreviation: Digital Domain, Santa Monica's largest VFX house.

  • DI - digital intermediate, also known as 'color timing'

  • Digi-double - or 'digital double,' meaning: CG representation of a live character.

  • DigiMatte - ILM in-house term for digital matte painting.

  • DNEG - originally an abbreviation of ‘Double Negative,’ but now the official name of UK's largest VFX house.


  • Environment extension - adding matte painting to extend a practical set or prop.

  • EFX - another slang for makeup effects (we never used this in Cinefex).


  • Facial capture - performer-driven facial animation, usually captured by a helmet-like device worn by a performer.

  • Flocking - animation tool for automatically controlling groups of moving objects.

  • Flame - visual effects software.

  • Fluid sim - digital 3D simulation of fluid dynamics.

  • Fractals - mathematical modeling technique replicating patterns of infinite recursion, often seen as curlicued psychedelic imagery (see 'Mandelbrots').

  • Framestore - London visual effects studio, excellent at animation.

  • Front projection - imagery projected onto a screen on set, often through a beam-splitter.

  • Flowline - outstanding fluid simulation technology.

  • Foam - common makeup industry abbreviation for foam latex, pliable rubber casting compound widely used in makeup effects.

  • Forced perspective - old school in-camera trick, where an object placed closer to the camera is made to look larger than an object placed further away, or vice versa, as with Hobbits and Gandalf.

  • Fuller's earth - fake dirt.

  • Fume - visual effects software.

  • Fusion - composting software.

  • FX - popular abbreviation for various special effects, makeup effects, sound effects, visual effects (we never used this in Cinefex).


  • Geo - geometry of a three-dimensional object.

  • Geo cache - the cache remembers where geometry should go, and stores it away so it can apply the data at render time.

  • Gerb - pyrotechnic device used for emitting a bright flow of sparks, seen in stormtrooper blaster hits.

  • Gimbal - mechanical device, often computer-controlled, for simulating movement of a set, vehicle, or prop.

  • Go-motion - stop-motion animation technique devised at ILM that used computer-controlled servomotors to apply motion blur to stop-motion puppets.

  • Grading - also known as 'color timing' or 'timing.'

  • Greenscreen - one word.


  • Hero - a high-resolution object.

  • Houdini - ubiquitous computer simulation tool (see 'Side Effects').

  • HD - once considered 'high definition' at 1080 x 1920 pixels, also known as '2K.'

  • HDRI - high-dynamic-range imagery, or group of overlapping images photographed from a fixed central position as spherical lighting reference on set.

  • HDR - 3840 x 2160 pixels, also known as 'UHD' or '4K.'


  • Ice - visual effects software, not to be confused with 1990s rap song.

  • ILM - abbreviation: Industrial Light & Magic, the largest US VFX house.

  • IMAX - large-format imaging platform with uppercase trade name, although not an acronym.

  • In-camera - a practical effect filmed on set, without digital technology.

  • Instancing - applying textures repeatedly to particles.

  • Interocular - the distance between stereo pairs of cameras, used to create illusions of depth in stereographic (3D) movies.


  • Keyframe - classic, hand-animation technique; the process of creating a series of 'key' animation poses by manually positioning a character one frame at a time.

  • Kinematics - animation term, often defined as 'forward' or 'inverse kinematics,' where chained objects create expressive follow-through motions, like a swishing tail.


  • Laika - Seattle-based animation studio, with stop-motion roots. Named after the Russian canine astronaut, not the 'Leica' camera.

  • Lidar - optical laser scanning technology, originally an acronym for 'Light Detection And Radar' (but Cinefex always used lowercase).

  • Lifecast - the art of physically encasing a performer in liquid impression material and plaster to capture a negative impression of their likeness, for use in make-up effects; now also achieved with digital scanning and rapid prototyping.

  • Live-action - action filmed 'live,' in principal photography, as opposed to postproduction.

  • L-systems - recursive modeling technique representing branching effects often seen in trees, leaves, petals, veins and feathers, named after Hungarian botanist Aristid Lindenmayer.

  • Lucasfilm - George Lucas' production company, birthplace of ILM.

  • Luma - abbreviation: Luma Pictures, Santa Monica VFX house.


  • Makeup effects - also 'special makeup effects,' refers to any number of specialized makeup disciplines not handled by the 'straight' makeup team, especially prosthetics.

  • Matte painting - environment simulation based on painted and photographic elements. Also known as 'DMP' or 'digimatte,' depending on the VFX house.

  • Mandelbrots - fractal modeling technique named after Polish mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot. 3D Mandelbrots, resembling gnarly cauliflowers, are 'Mandelbulbs.'

  • Massive - artificial intelligence crowd simulation, originally acronym 'Multiple Agent Simulation System in Virtual Environment' (Cinefex always used it as a proper noun).

  • Maquette - physical model built to represent the design of an animated character, usually sculpted in a dynamic pose.

  • Maya - popular 3D animation software.

  • Mechanical effects - see 'special effects.'

  • Mo/cap - abbreviation: 'motion capture.'

  • Mo/con - abbreviation: 'motion control.'

  • Modeling - also known as '3D,' building three-dimensional shapes.

  • Motion capture - optical capture process achieved by bouncing light from receptor-clad performers.

  • Motion control - mechanical reproduction of camera movement allowing precise repeat moves, pioneered by Wally Veevers and computerized for "Star Wars."

  • Motion tracking - the frame-by-frame tracking of objects through 3D space of a motion picture frame.

  • Monster Clay - oil-based modeling clay, modern rival to WED clay.

  • Moven - a brand of motion capture technology.

  • MPC - abbreviation, now the given name of The Moving Picture Company. UK's second largest VFX house. Now owned by Technicolor.


  • Naiad - fluid simulation software.

  • Nail board - special effects rig, sometimes improvised with a line of nails as electrodes, used for activating pyrotechnic effects, bullet hits, or squibs.

  • Nasolabial - the muscular fold between the upper lip and inside cheek.

  • NFT - National Fiber Technology, artificial hair and fiber manufacturer.

  • Node - a unit of data structure in 3D modeling.

  • Nuke - popular compositing software.

  • Nurnie - any technological-looking widget fastened to the surface of a science fiction vehicle. Also known and 'nurney' and (at ILM) 'greeble.'


  • Occlusion - the degree to which one object occludes, or overlays, another.

  • Occlusion pass - monochrome-shaded render of 3D objects depicting shadow interactions, where it looks like everything is made of Plaster of Paris.

  • Occultation - symmetrical alignment of objects, typically planets. Also known as what happens to artists' souls when go to work for Disney.

  • Optical printer - pre-digital apparatus used for combining multiple images by using repeat passes, image layering, traveling mattes and optical projection.


  • Particle system - animation tool used for creating swarms or clouds of objects, birds, crowds, traffic, liquid, vapor.

  • Pancake - water-activated, mineral-oil-based makeup.

  • Performance capture - motion capture that relies more heavily on automated motion tracking technologies, rotoscoping and on-set, performance-driven animation.

  • Persistence of vision - the oldest trick in the book: a series of photographic images, when projected at 24 frames per second (30fps on video), create the illusion of movement.

  • Photogrammetry - mapping photographic images onto 3D geometry.

  • Photosonics - ultra-high-speed film camera, up to 2,500 frames per second.

  • Pixar - Bay Area digital animation studio, offshoot of Lucasfilm.

  • Plate - old fashioned visual effects term, meaning any visual effects shot.

  • Plume - ILM fluid simulation tool.

  • Postproduction - after principal photography, Cinefex never hyphenates.

  • Practical effects - any visual effects created without digital technology.

  • Preproduction - before principal photography, Cinefex never hyphenates.

  • Previs - slang / abbreviation of 'previsualization' (we no longer use 'previz').

  • Prosthetic - any artificial addition that a makeup artist applies to a performer, facial appliances, limbs, horns, etc.

  • Prop - a physical object wielded by an actor.

  • Proprietary - common term for in-house technology, especially software.

  • Pyro - pyrotechnic effects.


  • Rapid prototyping - tooling process using digital 3D data to output objects through stereolithography, or by milling foam with computer numeric control.

  • Raytracing - 3D digital rendering technique that simulates the behavior of light rays.

  • R/C - abbreviation: 'radio control.'

  • Rear projection – projecting a moving image behind actors on set through a thin screen, sometimes known as 'process shot.'

  • Recce - slang for 'reconnaissance'.

  • RED - compact and super-high-definition cinema-quality high definition camera, made by RED (uppercase, although it is not an acronym).

  • Render - to output all the data, creating layers of an image.

  • Respeed - editorial effect, altering the frame rate of action on screen.

  • Rotoscope - frame-by-frame tracing the outline of a live-action object or performance, often used to separate photographic imagery into layers generating mattes, pioneered by Fleischer Studios.

  • Rotomation - character animation based on rotoscoping a performance.


  • Saccade - quick, subtle eye-motions used in animation to convey thought.

  • Scanline VFX - often 'Scanline,' German-founded visual effects company, originator of Flowline, specializes in epic disaster movie effects.

  • Shader - a software tool that defines the characteristics of a surface.

  • SFX - slang for 'special effects' (we never used this abbreviation in Cinefex).

  • Side Effects - computer software manufacturer, specialist in simulation tools.

  • Simulation - a complex software tool that simulates physics, typically the behavior of fluids, smoke, fire, or even the behavior of crowds of people.

  • Silicone - pliable, translucent rubber, supple and sometimes sticky to the touch, used for creating animatronic skins and prosthetic makeups.

  • Skywalker Ranch - Lucasfilm's palatial Marin County editorial postproduction facility.

  • Slit-scan - light-streaking animation effect achieved by long exposures, pioneered by John Whitney Sr. and then Douglas Trumbull on the "2001" Stargate sequence.

  • Solver - slang for any software tool that 'solves' a complex function.

  • Softimage - popular compositing software.

  • Special effects - physical, mechanical, or pyrotechnic effects performed in-camera.

  • Specularity - shininess, often abbreviated as 'spec' or 'specular.'

  • Spline - flexible animated line of nodes used to guide simulation or animation.

  • Splitscreen - a blend of multiple motion picture images, creating illusions of multiple characters, see "Bringing up Baby," "Dead Ringers," "Back to the Future II," etc.

  • Spherical - motion picture camera lens used for capturing full-aperture images.

  • SPI - abbreviation of Sony Pictures Imageworks, also known as 'Sony.'

  • SGI - Silicone Graphics, early high-end computer graphics software and hardware provider.

  • Sternocleidomastoid - muscles that connect the back and neck to the head.

  • Stop-motion - frame-by-frame animation of mechanically-articulated miniature puppets, often integrated into re-projected live-action elements, pioneered in the early days of cinema and then perfected by Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen, etc.

  • Storyboards - illustrated, usually hand-drawn renderings depicting motion picture action.

  • Stereo/stereographic - as in 3D movies, where you wear the goggles.

  • Stipple - makeup application technique, dabbing thin layers of latex to create wrinkling.

  • Storyboards - frame-by-frame illustrations of a scene.

  • Squib - pyrotechnic device use for remotely releasing a small explosive charge.

  • Sub-surface scattering - translucent fleshiness, a layering technique often used in airbrush painting and computer graphic skin simulations.


  • T-pose - cruciform pose, standing straight with arms outstretched like the letter 'T,' used as a neutral pose for creating 3D characters and adopted by performers for digital scanning.

  • Tile(d) plate - several VFX plates shot side by side, later are 'tiled' or 'stitched' together to make a larger high-resolution background.

  • 2D - Cinefex does not hyphenate.

  • 2-1/2D - matte painting projected onto rough 3D geometry, which creates the illusion of depth for less money than a full 3D render.

  • 3D - a fully-lit, textured, shaded, and rendered three-dimensional object (in Cinefex, we decided not to hyphenate this term; and used 'stereographic' to differentiate goggle-wearing 3D movies).


  • Virtual production - the integration of digital synthetic environments as live, in-camera technology.

  • Virtual art department - designing and furnishing virtual environments.

  • VFX - common abbreviation for visual effects (we never used this in Cinefex).

  • Volume - the proscenium for performers in a motion capture driven film, as used on "The Polar Express," "Avatar," "Ready Player One," etc.

  • Volumetric - adjective describing any three-dimensional volume, usually refers to 'volumetric lighting' or atmospheric effects.

  • Voxels - volumetric particles.

  • VR - virtual reality.


  • Waldo - mechanical interface, often computer-controlled, for remotely operating gimbals or puppets, named after a Robert Heinlein robot character.

  • WED clay - water-based modeling clay, not as it is commonly known 'wet clay'; the acronym was originally named after Walter Elias Disney.

  • Weta - abbreviation of 'Weta Digital,' New Zealand's largest visual effects studio (now ‘WetaFX’), often misspelled uppercase, inaccurately suggesting an acronym. Weta derived its name, instead, from the large, carnivorous cricket native to New Zealand.

  • Weta Workshop - creature and miniature effects studio, sister company to Weta Digital in Wellington, New Zealand.

  • Witness camera - any camera, or group of cameras used in addition to the main unit camera to provide reference of actor-driven animated characters, as used on "Pirates of the Caribbean," or the recent "Planet of the Apes" films.


  • Z-depth - three-dimensional depth in an image, 'X' and 'Y' being vertical and horizontal coordinates in the 3D plane.

  • Zeno - ILM's ubiquitous digital environment tool.