The Bibliography is Open

This blog is proud to unveil the bare bones of its newest addition. The Bibliography page, which you can find by following this link, or by selecting ‘Bibliography’ at the top of the main page, will gather references to print and online texts related to the study of special and visual effects in cinema. We have started adding some bibliographic references, and one or two weblinks, and will add more as and when we get the chance. The organisation of the list, and the subject headings, may change as we accumulate more references, and any suggestions on how we can make it clearer and easier to use would be greatly appreciated. Should we, for instance, expand the scope into areas such as television studies or pre-cinematic visual media, optical illusions, etc.?

It is hoped that the list will keep on expanding, and we invite contributions from anybody interested in this area. You can either add comments directly at the bottom of the page, or email us at We’ll find a way to credit you for your contribution at the bottom of the page, and together we can work towards the most complete, extensive, and freely accessible Special Effects bibliography possible.


Editing Update

Mike, Dan and Bob are currently making final decisions on the running order for the anthology. This is not an easy process. We received dozens of abstracts, and while we’d love to keep them all, the resulting book would stretch to several volumes, and none of us could afford to buy it. We’re trying to create a coherent collection of essays that complement and speak to each other, without sacrificing the delightful diversity that has reached our inbox since we put out our Call for Papers late last year.

We’ve attracted a mixture of established scholars (some of the biggest names in the field, we should say) and new researchers, so we’ll try and preserve that mix as far as possible. Hopefully we’ll be in a position to reveal the line-up soon.

We’d like to invite those whose essays we just can’t fit into the printed collection to submit versions of their papers to this blog. We plan to flesh out this site as we go along, compiling an extensive bibliography on the subject of special effects, plus links and shorter relevant articles. Essays hosted on this site will be closely associated with the main collection, fully reviewed and edited by the book’s editors, and they’ll even have the chance to incorporate more multimedia content than printed essays. Of course, you might want to take your essay to another anthology or journal for publication. But we’d love to have you here, as well. We’re hoping that this site to grow into an online hub for supporting, developing and launching the book, and this can be where some of the ensuing dialogue and discussion takes place: these essays will inspire and provoke, and we want to draw together some of the debates that follow.

If you’d like to follow the book’s progress (it should pick up some momentum over the coming months), you can subscribe to this blog, and/or follow us on Twitter.

Call for Papers

CFP – Special Effects: New Histories, Theories, Contexts 

Edited by Michael Duffy [Towson University], Dan North [University of Exeter], and Bob Rehak [Swarthmore College]

Deadline for Abstracts: 1 March 2011
Deadline for Submissions: 1 January 2012

Recent decades have seen ever more prominent and far-reaching roles for special and visual effects in film and other media: blockbuster franchises set in detailed fantasy and science-fiction worlds, visually experimental adaptations of graphic novels, performances in which the dividing lines between human and inhuman – even between live action and animation – seem to break down entirely. Yet the cinema of special effects, so often framed in terms of new digital technologies and aesthetics, actually possesses a complex and branching history, one that both informs and complicates our grasp of the “state of the art.” At stake in studies of special/visual effects is a more comprehensive understanding of film’s past, present, and future in an environment of shifting technologies and media contexts.

We seek contributions to a volume focused on special effects as aesthetic, industrial, and cultural practices, moving beyond formal analysis to a wider consideration of special effects’ historical roots and developmental paths, their underlying technologies and creators, and their intersection with other domains of art, commerce, and ideology. We are particularly interested in essays that elaborate on specific periods of change that special and visual effects have undergone over the course of their history. Although we welcome work that deals with digital technologies and contemporary cinema, we encourage contributors to contextualise recent developments in relation to broader histories of visual illusion and spectacular artifice.

The book will integrate an online forum to develop an extensive bibliography, web links to further reading, and a scholar/practitioner directory.

Possible topics might include, but are not limited to:

  • Theoretical approaches to the study of special effects history and technique, including (but not restricted to) ‘ontology’ debates surrounding the interplay between analogue and digital technologies.
  • Theories of spectatorship, visual illusions, and special effects.
  • Critical histories/analyses of individual processes, e.g. matte paintings, compositing, bluescreen, the Independent Frame, miniatures, stop-motion animation, animatronics, prosthetics, motion capture, etc.
  • Pre-visualization techniques, including production design, concept art, and animatics.
  • The ongoing influence of effects pioneers including Georges Méliès, Segundo de Chomon, James Stuart Blackton, Emile Cohl, Albert E. Smith, R.W. Paul, and other makers of early ‘trick films’.
  • Changes to studio structures and the evolution of the special-effects ‘house’.
  • Industry “stars” such as Stan Winston, Douglas Trumbull, Richard Edlund, Tom Savini, Eiji Tsubuyara, Rick Smith, Ray Harryhausen, Willis O’Brien, John P. Fulton, John Gaeta, etc.
  • The uses of special effects and spectacle in the  experimental or avant-garde works of film-makers including Peter Tscherkassky, Stan Brakhage, Norman McLaren, etc.
  • The significance of special effects in non-Hollywood, low-budget and independent cinema.
  • Special-effects fandom, connoisseurship, and critique
  • How animatronics, puppetry and make-up are adapted/reconstituted/re-contextualized for studio/franchise rebirths.
  • Visual effects in television, video games, and transmedia.
  • Spectacular uses of colour, widescreen, IMAX, and 3D processes.
  • Self-reflexive uses of special effects as a commentary on the history/ontology of media.

Essays should run between 3000 and 6000 words in length. Send abstracts (title, 500 word description of project, and author bio) or requests for further information to:

Editors can be contacted individually at: