Authentic Effects

Curator's Note

From time to time, we at In Media Res offer a glimpse of a recent conference by inviting participants of the conference to share their presentations with our online community. This past weekend Georgia State University’s School of Film, Media & Theatre held a conference called Rendering (the) Visible III: Liquidity. The conference featured a keynote address from Grant Farred, a conversation with Thomas DeFrantz, a 3D presentation by the OpenEndedGroup, and many interesting panels.

I wanted to highlight the work presented in the panel I chaired on the theme of “Metamorphoses.” The panel featured papers that examined visual effects techniques across film, television and video games. Tanine Allison showed how motion capture technology is discursively used to signify the authenticity of performance in film while the same techniques are used in video games are used to draw attention to its artifice. Drew Ayers demonstrated the ways that audiences and performers evaluate the authenticity of the human body when actor’s faces are graphed onto bodies that are not their own. Steven Pustay looked at the ways that video game character creation tools offer players an opportunity to create “monstrous” avatars that reveal our beliefs about the limits of the human form.

While discussing these papers, I was struck by the liquidity of industry standards for authenticity. I often use the accompanying clip from the Making of Jurassic Park (skip to 13:00) to point out how the clout of ILM and the auteur status of Steven Spielberg combine to redefine the labor of “go-motion” effects artist Phil Tippet. Here Spielberg claims that despite his children’s acceptance of the go-motion dinosaurs, his cinematic eye could detect something inauthentic in the movements of screen tested dinosaurs. Only advances in CGI could satisfy the auteur and create an authentic dinosaur. In the early 1990s, CGI is considered more authentic than practical effects. Fast forward two decades and the industry trend in authenticity has swung back to practical effects and actor reliant “motion capture.” What accounts for this shift in authenticity? Is it the liquification of the barriers between producer and consumer that has inspired filmmakers to return to the practical effects that fans are nostalgic for? As fans demand that sequels to beloved sci-fi, fantasy, and comic books reflect the film’s of their youth, do they also redefine what is visually authentic?

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