CFP: The Science of Special Effects

There’s an exciting conference coming up this fall — Film & Science: Fictions, Documentaries, and Beyond, (October 30-November 2 at the Westin O’Hare Hotel in Chicago). I’m involved as an area chair on the topic of special and visual effects, sharing the honor with my friend and colleague Michael Duffy, whom I met in 2004 at a London conference on Eadweard Muybridge and spectacle. Since earning his doctorate at the University of Nottingham, Michael has returned to the U.S. and is an active and valued contributor to this blog. We share a passion for special visual effects and a strong interest in thinking “outside the box” about them; we hope the readers of Graphic Engine will be inspired to contribute a proposal for the Chicago gathering. Here’s our CFP:

The ‘Science’ of Special Effects: Aesthetic Approaches to Industry

This area examines the industrial, technological, theoretical, and aesthetic questions surrounding special-effects technologies. Presenters may investigate historical changes in special and visual effects, as in the gradual switch from physical to digital applications; they may focus on the use of visual effects in film or television texts that do not fit into typically spectacle-driven genres (i.e., effects in drama, comedy, and musical narratives instead of in action-adventure, science fiction, or fantasy); they may consider the theoretical implications of special/visual effects and technology on texts; or they may concentrate on neglected historical and aesthetic values of effects development.

Possible papers or panels might include the following:

  • An investigation of the terms “Special Effect” and “Visual Effect,” what they constitute, and how their definitions have been delineated and complicated by changing technologies.
  • Special/visual effects “stars” such as Stan Winston, Douglas Trumbull, or Richard Edlund, and their impact on the construction and application of visual effects images for mainstream/non-mainstream cinema.
  • The changing relationship between visual effects technologies and pre-production, i.e. looking at “previz,” at the development of films “around” their effects sequences, or at the use of physical materials such as maquettes as templates for eventual CG elements.
  • How contemporary visual-effects practitioners negotiate and incorporate real world “physics” into their design of digital characters (“synthespians”) and environments.
  • How visual effects contribute to the formation of complete “environments” on screen, how they are incorporated into narratives, and how meaning is affected when a physical environment is entirely fabricated.
  • The implementation of special/visual effects by costume and motion-capture “artists” and actors, and how studies of these practices can offer insight into classic and contemporary working relationships between effects practitioners, actors and crew.
  • The Visual Effects Society and its impact on the industry and filmmaking throughout the organization’s history.
  • How directors or other creative personalities use physical and digital effects in their projects (e.g., Robert Zemeckis’ application of digital technologies or Guillermo Del Toro’s proclaimed interest in keeping a 50/50 balance between physical and digital effects).

The deadline for proposals is August 1; send them to me at or Michael at We’re also happy to kick around ideas, so even if you don’t have a completed paper, feel free to get in touch!

1 thought on “CFP: The Science of Special Effects

  1. Thanks for posting this, Bob!

    I’ve been humming to the higher education karma gods for a few more proposals before August 1st!


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