The Symbiosis of Special Effects
DOI link for The Symbiosis of Special Effects
The Symbiosis of Special Effects book
Special effects have always been one of the key mechanisms behind the magic of cinema. In the era of the blockbuster, computer-generated imagery (CGI) and other digitally-enabled effects take pride of place in the spectacle, and in the selling, of feature fi lms. In the previous chapter, special effects were examined-primarily the ‘bullet-time’ sequences-in an analysis which was driven more by the fi lms’ narratives than the characteristics of CGI or special effects themselves. However, this chapter now turns to the specifi cities of special effects and the discourses surrounding them. As Michele Pierson argues in her study Special Effects: Still in Search of Wonder (2002), the magic of cinema technologies has a long history of appreciation not just by cinema viewers, but by a specialised audience that she collectively considers as special effects fandom. This fan engagement has its own long history and notable publications ranging from the proto-cinematic fascination with moving picture technologies in the midnineteenth century, captured in the pages of Scientifi c American, through to the technophilic desire for CGI found at the turn of the millennium in magazines and websites such as Wired (Pierson, 2002, p. 3). Pierson notes that the main pathway to appreciating special effects is still to visit the cinema itself, but she also argues that DVD releases of feature fi lms are rapidly expanding the potential audience, and thus the appreciation of special effects, beyond a viewer’s initial engagement with the silver screen:
‘Making of’ and ‘behind-the-scenes’ featurettes, special commentary, outtakes, fi lm stills, production notes, screenplays, screenplay-storyboard comparisons, isolated soundtracks, and alternative versions are just some of the other features that have become increasingly standard for DVD releases of feature fi lms. (2002, p. 164)
The initial DVD release of The Matrix was one of the fi rst purchasable fi lms to expand the use of extras, not just presenting twenty-minute documentaries where the cast and crew confess how much they enjoyed working with each other (although there is that, too), but including a number of innovations, most notably the ‘Follow the White Rabbit’ function which allowed viewers to watch the feature fi lm intercut with two-to three-minute breakout featurettes which explained the mechanics behind
the special effects sequences (Pierson, 2002, p. 165). In this manner, the continuity of the fi lm’s narrative hybridised with stories of how the special effects, and fi lm itself, were constructed. In recent years, DVD extras have become more and more highly produced, with the commentaries, and making-of documentaries often framing, or re-framing, the experience of the fi lms for dedicated viewers (Hight, 2005). Indeed, larger fi lms sometimes spawn DVDs which are only about the construction of the fi lm, separate to the feature fi lm release. In the gap between the fi rst fi lm and the sequels, for example, The Matrix: Revisited (Oreck, 2001) was released, which was primarily a discussion of the innovations in special effects achieved in the production of the fi rst Matrix fi lm. Similarly, in the lead-up to King Kong (Jackson, 2005), not only did the offi cial website host more than fi ve hours of making-of diaries, but these production features were actually released as a stand-alone DVD before the feature even premiered (North, 2008, p. 179).