I’ve spent some time chatting with VFX people who are known to be clever at using simple, inexpensive approaches to achieve high production value VFX. I’m a big Adobe fan because they have some excellent tools that generally work well in tandem for creating cheap VFX. For example you can develop assets in Photoshop, slide them into After Effects and go from 2D to 2.5D very easily. 2.5D effects are created by layering up 2D images with transparency in After Effects (your application of choice), and applying virtual camera moves that display parallax, fooling the eye. You can combine that with a quick matte painting background, created by first rendering a basic photo-real scene in Vue 6, and then digitally painting in necessary details by hand or with photo-reference.
You can quickly create credible establishing shots in Vue. I created a 14 second, photo-real, time-lapse establishing shot of a jungle beach in Asia at sunrise, in 20 minutes in Vue 6, using off the shelf objects and customized preset atmosphere, lighting and breeze. In 45 minutes I created a believable two camera aerobatics sequence over a sunset ocean complete with volumetric clouds, a pirate ship, waves and sound effects. Let’s say that I was on staff at a TV production company and they needed that sunrise shot and didn’t know I could do this (and most likely they wouldn’t.) They would have to allocate a sizable budget to build a fake Japanese pagoda and set it up on Westward Beach and haul a film crew out there at 4:00 am to set up for the shot. They’d also need to rent an expensive crane as well. We’re talking days of aggravation and a lot of money.