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The new Hollywood, 1981–1999: special/visual effects

Purse, L. (2016) The new Hollywood, 1981–1999: special/visual effects. In: Whissel, K. and Keil, C. (eds.) Editing and Special/Visual Effects. Behind the Silver Screen. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ, pp. 142-155. ISBN 9780813570815

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The emergence and development of digital imaging technologies and their impact on mainstream filmmaking is perhaps the most familiar special effects narrative associated with the years 1981-1999. This is in part because some of the questions raised by the rise of the digital still concern us now, but also because key milestone films showcasing advancements in digital imaging technologies appear in this period, including Tron (1982) and its computer generated image elements, the digital morphing in The Abyss (1989) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), computer animation in Jurassic Park (1993) and Toy Story (1995), digital extras in Titanic (1997), and ‘bullet time’ in The Matrix (1999). As a result it is tempting to characterize 1981-1999 as a ‘transitional period’ in which digital imaging processes grow in prominence and technical sophistication, and what we might call ‘analogue’ special effects processes correspondingly become less common. But such a narrative risks eliding the other practices that also shape effects sequences in this period. Indeed, the 1980s and 1990s are striking for the diverse range of effects practices in evidence in both big budget films and lower budget productions, and for the extent to which analogue practices persist independently of or alongside digital effects work in a range of production and genre contexts. The chapter seeks to document and celebrate this diversity and plurality, this sustaining of earlier traditions of effects practice alongside newer processes, this experimentation with materials and technologies old and new in the service of aesthetic aspirations alongside budgetary and technical constraints. The common characterization of the period as a series of rapid transformations in production workflows, practices and technologies will be interrogated in relation to the persistence of certain key figures as Douglas Trumbull, John Dykstra, and James Cameron, but also through a consideration of the contexts for and influences on creative decision-making. Comparative analyses of the processes used to articulate bodies, space and scale in effects sequences drawn from different generic sites of special effects work, including science fiction, fantasy, and horror, will provide a further frame for the chapter’s mapping of the commonalities and specificities, continuities and variations in effects practices across the period. In the process, the chapter seeks to reclaim analogue processes’ contribution both to moments of explicit spectacle, and to diegetic verisimilitude, in the decades most often associated with the digital’s ‘arrival’.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Film, Theatre & Television
ID Code:47843
Publisher:Rutgers University Press

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