Spectacular Digital Effects

CGI and Contemporary Cinema

Spectacular Digital Effects

Book Pages: 224 Illustrations: 55 photographs Published: March 2014

Author: Kristen Whissel

Cultural Studies, Media Studies > Film, Media Technologies

By developing the concept of the "digital effects emblem," Kristen Whissel contributes a new analytic rubric to cinema studies. An "effects emblem" is a spectacular, computer-generated visual effect that gives stunning expression to a film's key themes. Although they elicit feelings of astonishment and wonder, effects emblems do not interrupt narrative, but are continuous with story and characterization and highlight the narrative stakes of a film. Focusing on spectacular digital visual effects in live-action films made between 1989 and 2011, Whissel identifies and examines four effects emblems: the illusion of gravity-defying vertical movement, massive digital multitudes or "swarms," photorealistic digital creatures, and morphing "plasmatic" figures. Across films such as Avatar, The Matrix, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jurassic Park, Titanic, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, these effects emblems heighten the narrative drama by contrasting power with powerlessness, life with death, freedom with constraint, and the individual with the collective.


“The narrative is engaging, and Whissel's analysis of the effects emblem makes a valuable contribution to the scholarly literature of the field. . . . Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.” — B. H McMillin, Choice

Spectacular Digital Effects seeks to redeem oft-maligned computer-generated imagery in blockbuster cinema, arguing that the spectacle of digital effects enhances rather than detracts from the narrative. This aim is a much-needed move for balance in the field of media studies, and the conceptual framework, based in the historical study of emblems used in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, is a new and interesting way to think through digital effects.” — Laura Felschow, Velvet Light Trap

“[B]y offering a focused analysis of the allegorical potential of effects sequences, Spectacular Digital Effects does more than expand a field that has recently received a great deal of attention in film and media studies. The book makes a valuable contribution to developing a new conversation about the complexities of spectacular effects in the cinema.” — Colin Williamson, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television

"The book’s key strength lies in its ability to deduce standard patternsof representation across a wide variety of texts. . . . [An] innovative approach. . . ." — Nick Jones, Screen

"Whissel’s book is an illuminating study and a reminder that onscreen spectacle can deliver philosophical as well as visceral heft." — Ben Kooyman, Media International Australia

"Spectacular Digital Effects is a signal contribution to studies of the impact of digital technologies on narrative cinema. It is a wonderful book, one that taught me new ways of thinking about some very familiar objects." — Scott Bukatman, author of Matters of Gravity: Special Effects and Supermen in the 20th Century

"In this impressive, original book, Kristen Whissel engages with notions of films' spectacular digital effects in ways that go well beyond existing critical templates. She makes a much needed contribution by demonstrating that spectacular digital effects enhance films not only through the thrill of spectacle itself but also by emphasizing core themes and bringing out key moments in the narratives. Whissel's concept of 'digital effects emblems' is an impressive theoretical construction with a great deal of heuristic value, and her writing is as impressive as her analysis." — Stephen Prince, author of Digital Visual Effects in Cinema: The Seduction of Reality


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Price: $25.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Kristen Whissel is Professor of Film and Media at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Picturing American Modernity: Traffic, Technology, and the Silent Cinema, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. The New Verticality 21

2. The Digital Multitude as Effects Emblem 59

3. Vital Figures: The Life and Death of Digital Creatures 91

4. The Morph: Protean Possibility and Algorithmic Control 131

Conclusion 171

Notes 185

Bibliography 199

Index 207
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5588-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5574-8
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