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Digital Visual Effects in Cinema

The Seduction of Reality

Stephen Prince

Publication Year: 2011

Avatar. Inception. Jurassic Park. Lord of the Rings. Ratatouille. Not only are these some of the highest-grossing films of all time, they are also prime examples of how digital visual effects have transformed Hollywood filmmaking. Some critics, however, fear that this digital revolution marks a radical break with cinematic tradition, heralding the death of serious realistic movies in favor of computer-generated pure spectacle.

Digital Visual Effects in Cinema counters this alarmist reading, by showing how digital effects–driven films should be understood as a continuation of the narrative and stylistic traditions that have defined American cinema for decades. Stephen Prince argues for an understanding of digital technologies as an expanded toolbox, available to enhance both realist films and cinematic fantasies. He offers a detailed exploration of each of these tools, from lighting technologies to image capture to stereoscopic 3D. Integrating aesthetic, historical, and theoretical analyses of digital visual effects, Digital Visual Effects in Cinema is an essential guide for understanding movie-making today.

Published by: Rutgers University Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. vii

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p. ix

I have had the opportunity and pleasure to work out some of the ideas in these pages at the 2010 conferences of the Society for Cognitive Study of the Moving Image and the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. Speaking invitations to...

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Introduction: Beyond Spectacle

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pp. 1-10

Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, Iron Man, The Lord of the Rings—these are the kinds of movies that people think of when the subject of “special effects” comes up. The blue Na’vi of the planet Pandora, flying atop giant winged beasts; the diminutive...

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1. Through the Looking Glass

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pp. 11-55

The digital era in cinema challenges our understanding of the medium and not simply because of the shift to electronics from celluloid. It challenges us to think anew about the nature of realism in cinema and about the conjunction between art and...

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2. Painting with Digital Light

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pp. 56-98

Prolific Hollywood cinematographer Leon Shamroy worked for nearly a half-century and won two consecutive Oscars for cinematography. His work included such key genre pictures as You Only Live Once (1947)...

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3. Actors and Algorithms

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pp. 99-144

A decade into Hollywood’s digital revolution, Andrew Niccol wrote and directed S1m0ne (2002), a speculative fantasy in which film director Victor Taransky (Al Pacino) replaces a temperamental star (Winona Ryder) with a digital actor. His move saves the production...

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4. Digital Environment Creation

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pp. 145-182

Aerial flyovers—moving camera shots taken from a helicopter or an airplane—are a traditional way of introducing important story locations. In a helicopter shot in Bad Boys II (2003), the camera flies toward a Cuban beach and circles a mansion...

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5. Immersive Aesthetics

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pp. 183-220

Cinema marries a compelling presentation of sound and moving images to the depiction of what often are worlds of the imagination. The more perceptually convincing these imaginary worlds can be made to seem, the more virtual and immersive...

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Conclusion: The Pleasures of Illusion

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pp. 221-228

Visual effects were developed at cinema’s inception, building upon traditions for representing visual illusions that already existed in photography, theater, and other arts. Dan North has demonstrated how the practices of Victorian magic theater were incorporated...


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pp. 229-246


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pp. 247-256

E-ISBN-13: 9780813552187
E-ISBN-10: 0813552184
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813551852

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 40 b/w photographs
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 777375657
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Digital Visual Effects in Cinema

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Motion picture industry -- Technological innovations.
  • Motion pictures -- Aesthetics.
  • Digital cinematography.
  • Cinematography -- Special effects.
  • Cinematography -- Technological innovations.
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