Example Film Studies Essay: Are Visual Effects Dramatically Improving Film or Mistakenly Damaging Film?

Example Film Studies Essay: Are Visual Effects Dramatically Improving Film or Mistakenly Damaging Film?
From the very inception of film visual effects have been employed by numerous photographers and film makers to enhance, to realise and create new meaning. The very early days of film took great advantage of ‘visual magic’ to create illusions and trickery which have impressed countless audiences.
Over a century ago when photography was emerging as an art form some unscrupulous commercial photographers would capture portrait shots using an ordinary exposure but then as soon as the subject was removed from the studio a collaborator would be positioned within the same setting, a quick exposure would be taken so as to leave a faint image trace on the film. The unsuspecting customer would then be handed a positive copy of their image with what appeared to be a ghostly figure in shot. A more subtle variation involved the customer being placed with numerous props around him or her, the props would be removed for the second exposure of the ghost character, so as they wouldn’t appear too deliberately double exposed. The ghost character would usually be wearing black clothing as film does not ‘see’ black due to the chemical process in the emulsion of film which identifies light only, therefore only the ghost would appear in the second image. And herein began the industry of special effects. This ghost trick was the starting point for what is now known as the matte process where unrequired objects are removed from the exposure by masking them so they do not register on the film. One of the first uses of this process in a moving image sequence was witnessed in Alexander Korda’s Things To Come (1936) in which the upper levels of a futuristic underground city have been double exposed above footage of live actors, matte masks prevented one image showing on the other image. This film provides one of the earliest examples of special effects being adopted to positively improve the aesthetics of a film.

Of course since film’s early experiments with visual effects the industry has today developed into a very sophisticated, digitally driven and technically ultra-advanced visual medium. Computers have taken special effects to an entirely new level and as computers continue to update and improve their spec so too will the film industry develop around these advances; quite simply computers and digital technology have enabled films to be produced which otherwise would not have been. However despite the often profound visual success of special effects in certain cases some people argue that film is now placing an over reliance on special effects, they argue that visual effects in some films are counter productive as they come across as ineffective and some times unnecessary. Some also question the performance of the actors if all they are doing in a film is running in front of a green screen shouting at an imagined ‘alien’ clutching an imagined prop. Others raise concerns regarding the films quality and the processes of putting a film together where much of it is CGI constituted. So is it really the case that films being produced now would be better received by audiences if they did not make so much use of visual effects? Or is it that some studios and directors simply can’t adjust effectively to modern day film making? And who is to blame for this? Man or machine? As visual effects artist Piers Bizony points out:

One of the greatest misconceptions about modern movies is that visual effects are generated by computers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Human inventiveness is the most important ingredient and it always will be. Computers offer amazing new possibilities, but the underlying challenges of movie illusions are the same today as they were nearly a century ago when the industry was young .

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