How is it that when watching recent blockbuster films, we can generally state with confidence that the effects were 'good', or 'not good'?

How do recent special effects-driven films, such as the Star Wars or Marvel films suggest realism, and how does this concept of realism extend to non-fantasy, 'awards-bait' films such as Past Lives (2023) or Power of the Dog (2022)?

A common notion of realism in special/visual effects involves an appeal to the sense that 'it just looks right', but this notion has been surprisingly unexamined.

I argue that realism should not be understood as perceptual realism, an aesthetic that attempts to replicate what the eye sees 'in real life', but instead derives from a very specific historical context.

This presentation will explore the development of this prevalent but underexamined realist aesthetic, developed at the industry-leading effects company Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) and show how ILM veritably invented our contemporary notion of photorealism, not only in special effects, but in the cinema and moving image capture realms more broadly.

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