Science of Special Effects: Deadline Extended

Back in June I posted a CFP for The ‘Science’ of Special Effects: Aesthetic Approaches to Industry, a set of panels I’m helping organize for the upcoming conference Film & Science: Fictions, Documentaries, and Beyond in Chicago (October 30-November 2). My co-chair Michael Duffy and I have already received and accepted a number of great proposals covering topics from posthumous digital performances to visual effects in war films and the “obstructed spectacle” of Cloverfield — to name just a few. But there’s always room for more, and now that the deadline for proposals has been extended to September 1, we hope to see even more papers come in through the electronic transom. The area outline is below; submissions can be sent to me at or Michael at

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’s application of digital technologies or Guillermo Del Toro’s proclaimed interest in keeping a 50/50 balance between physical and digital effects).

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