The Greatness of Digital Visual Effects

Visual effects are a big part of films today and have more significance to films than people tend to realize. One person that talks about this topic is Stephen Prince in his book called Digital Visual Effects In Cinema. Prince says “I will have much to say about the compatibility of visual effects with cinematic realism. Indeed, in numerous ways visual effects provide filmmakers with avenues toward realism, provided the category of realism is expanded from the precondition of live-action filming and image spaces that are created and treated holistically” (Prince, 2). Prince talks about films using special effects to create “imaginary worlds” and certain movies that show that is theLord of the Rings trilogy. The battle of middle Earth is something that has been greatly assisted by special effects and before the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films this fictitious battle readers of the Lord of the Rings novels would have to use their minds to create an image of how this battle would be. Prince talks about how “narrative cinema has rarely respected unity of space as a basis for realism—except in the constructed manner achieved by such devices as continuity editing and selective framing with the camera” (Prince, 52). Just the way a filmmaker can make utilize special effects and editing can allow a fiction film or a Science-fiction film seem somewhat real.


Peter Jackson with his usage of one particular character in the Lord of the Rings known as Gollum makes the audience feel at times like they are watching two characters because of his counterpart Smeagol. Prince talks about the character Gollum and his series of soliloquies that occur throughout the Lord of the Rings films. Prince mentions how “Jackson films some within a single take, while covering others by cutting between the dueling personalities as if they were two separate beings… uses shot-reverse-shot cutting to separate them, and the alternating compositions serve to emphasize the difference in eye and facial animation” (Prince, 132). It is amazing how Jackson did some of the Gollum and Smeagol sequences in one single take, especially since both of them make very different facial expressions throughout the films. One has to appreciate how good the soliloquies were done since “most of the soliloquy is filmed in extreme close-up, it is wholly dependent on the quality and conviction of the digital performance” (Prince, 133). This is when we as moviegoers or critiques can appreciate the greatness of special effects and their wide range of flexibility in key story plot roles within films like Lord of the Rings. “Gollum is the trilogy’s most memorable creation, the one that arguably affects audiences most deeply. Visual effects artists, as well, were impressed” (Prince, 134). The effort put into maximizing the full potential of the available special effects for a film truly pay off when the fans of the film truly show appreciation for the sequences of where these effects were used like for Gollum.

Peter Jackson’s films make such excellent use of special effects and the scene above From King Kong (2005) is a perfect example of it. I would never imagine how much effort was put into making the scene where King Kong fights the T-Rex’s after reading what Prince reveals about what went into this scene. “Its elements were composed of Watts as the live-action element filmed against bluescreen, Kong and the T-Rex as CG elements, CG foliage in the foreground, and a digital matte painting representing the distant mountains” (Prince, 64). What’s interesting is as Watts was shot on bluescreen, the CG characters and environment hadn’t been built yet and the lighting on Watts seemed to have failed to pair with “what was subsequently created for the CG elements” due to lighting (Prince, 64). The solution found was to relight Watts as a digital figure and this is common with special effects (Prince, 65). A similar solution was applied in a scene from Lord of the Rings the Two Towers (2002) when Gandalf arrives at the battle of Helms Deep. He is seen marching down a hill with the army of Rohan behind him and in the making of the film they reveal that the Gandalf figure leading the army is digitized and the real Ian Murray McKellen wasn’t in the entire scene.


Prince, Stephen. Digital Visual Effects in Cinema: The Seduction of Reality. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2012. Print.

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