Special Effects

Special Effects: Still in Search of Wonder

MICHELE PIERSON
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/pier12562
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  • Book Info
    Special Effects
    Book Description:

    Designed to trick the eye and stimulate the imagination, special effects have changed the way we look at films and the worlds created in them. Computer-generated imagery (CGI), as seen in Hollywood blockbusters like Star Wars, Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, Independence Day, Men in Black, and The Matrix, is just the latest advance in the evolution of special effects. Even as special effects have been marveled at by millions, this is the first investigation of their broader cultural reception. Moving from an exploration of nineteenth-century popular science and magic to the Hollywood science fiction cinema of our time, Special Effects examines the history, advancements, and connoisseurship of special effects, asking what makes certain types of cinematic effects special, why this matters, and for whom. Michele Pierson shows how popular science magazines, genre filmzines, and computer lifestyle magazines have articulated an aesthetic criticism of this emerging art form and have helped shape how these hugely popular on-screen technological wonders have been viewed by moviegoers.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50080-7
    Subjects: Film Studies, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: SPECIAL EFFECTS AND THE POPULAR MEDIA
    (pp. 1-10)

    In Movie Magic: The Story of Special Effects in the Cinema (1974), John Brosnan went behind the scenes of feature filmmaking to interview some of the special makeup artists, model animators, special photographic cinematographers, and optical technicians who have been involved in feature filmmaking since the 1920s.¹ Drawn largely from the anecdotes and testimonies of effects producers themselves, this chatty and informal story of special effects in the cinema looks at how some of the people who have worked in the special effects industry came to be there, at what first attracted them to this aspect of filmmaking, and at...

  5. 1 MAGIC, SCIENCE, ART: BEFORE CINEMA
    (pp. 11-51)

    Special effects have always been a magical form. Belonging to no single media, they flicker most brightly in the moment at which all media appears most modern. Before the emergence of cinema at the end of the nineteenth century, many different forms of public amusement enchanted audiences with their wonder-working special effects. Throughout the early part of the century, lavish displays of industrial light and magic were mounted in the form of phantasmagoria and magic shows, pantomime, exhibitions of new technologies, and science lectures and demonstrations. Visitors to these popular amusements were drawn by the expectation of having all manner...

  6. 2 FROM CULT-CLASSICISM TO TECHNOFUTURISM: CONVERGING ON WIRED MAGAZINE
    (pp. 52-92)

    Commentaries on the aesthetics of the computer-generated image are always commentaries on the reception of this imagery. These commentaries may be more or less explicit, more or less self-conscious, about the extent to which this is the case, but all assume that there is some relation between aesthetics and reception. To suggest that effects connoisseurship expresses desire for the experience of wonder as a demand is to take a subjectivist approach to mapping this relation. It is to accept, in Gérard Genette’s avowedly relativist terms, that what makes an object specifically an aesthetic artifact in the eyes of its receiver...

  7. 3 THE WONDER YEARS AND BEYOND: 1989–1995
    (pp. 93-136)

    In the flurry of mass media attention that accompanied the opening of two blockbuster special effects events in 1997—the rerelease of the Star Wars trilogy and the release of The Lost World: Jurassic Park (dir. Steven Spielberg)—it would have been easy enough not to notice that an important period in the brief but spectacular history of computer-generated special effects had already passed. All the signs of this passing were, however, already in evidence the year before. For science fiction fans, the year 1996 was a year for anniversaries. In that year the Star Trek franchise celebrated its thirtieth...

  8. 4 CRAFTING A FUTURE FOR CGI
    (pp. 137-158)

    There is nothing quite like speculating about the future for raising questions about the way we remember the past. The early to mid-1990s can now be identified as a formative if short-lived period in the production, circulation, and cultural reception of computer-generated special effects in Hollywood SF cinema. These were the wonder years, a period in which CGI effects became the focus of intense speculation not only for cinema audiences but also for the special effects industry itself. In this, the age of the Hollywood blockbuster, critics could be forgiven for thinking that science fiction cinema might have become a...

  9. CONCLUSION: THE TRANSNATIONAL MATRIX OF SF
    (pp. 159-168)

    It is the job of entertainment journalism to dramatize the business of special effects: to narrate the epic struggles of companies to produce more effects for less money and in less time, to put human faces to the development of new technologies and techniques, and to forecast and defend the inevitability of crisis. The emphasis of industry analysis and review is on growth, development, and flux. A study of an aspect of the cultural reception of CGI effects in Hollywood science fiction film has to try to do something else. Yuri Tsivian has suggested that “the task of those who...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 169-200)
  11. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 201-226)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 227-232)