The readings around photorealistic effects of digital compositing

One of the important aims of digital compositing and visual effects is to achieve photorealistic effects in Hollywood cinema. I have been reading literature that discussing this topic. I am writing this post to share what I have read and I think in relating to photorealists effects of digital compositing: Scholars such as Prince (1996 and 2001), Rodowick (2007), Giralt (2010) and Davies (2012) focus on to what extent digital imaging practices challenge theories about the nature of cinema, especially that of its relationship with reality. During the history of film theory scholars such as Bazin (2005), Cavell (1979) and Kracaucer (1997) believe cinematic realism is associated with the concepts of indexicality between the photographic image and its objects. The others such as Metz (1974) state that one of the important ways film affects audiences is to represent their impression of reality. The reason for the discussion of realism and the digital visual effects is that the computer-generated images on one hand do not have the indexical relationship with reality. On the other hand, computer generated images could be combined with other source of images through digital compositing to persuade audience what they see is real or the audio-visual recording of reality.

Regarding photorealistic effects in cinema, Prince (1996) suggests a new ground for realism critics, which are based on “perceptual and social correspondences, of how the cinema communicates and is intelligible to viewers” (28). Prince (2011) further argues that computer technology equips filmmakers with numerous tools for producing more convincing effects, which are closer to the visual experience of audience in the real world than what analogue film can achieve. Giralt (2010) argues that digital postproduction technology offers more possibility and potential for filmmakers to produce and visualize the “subjective reality” (14), which is their imagination or interpretation of the real world. As a result the artistic purpose of visual effect film directors shifts from representing reality to the mastery of using technology. Davies (2012) believes that the lack of indexicality of digital images does not have significant influence on the concepts of realism and reception of cinema. He explains that these digital images still aim to achieve a photographic reality and generate the same effects and feelings for the audience. Furthermore, Rodowick (2007) indicates digital compositing covers the natural look of digital images and give birth to a new imagery, which is the “the composition of elastic reality” (170). Furthermore it also shifts the object and focus of traditional “perceptual criteria for realism” to “imagination, fantasy, and the counterfactual powers of possible worlds”(170).

The above discussion about realism and digital compositing is mainly focused on the final composition in film text, in which the works of digital compositing mean to be invisible. For example, in the first scene of visual effects breakdown of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012, Peter Jackson). The scholars above are concerned mainly with the outcome of digital compositing, which is the character Gandalf’s interaction with the Hobbits in their Hobbit hole. However as shown in the video, digital compositing is a process, during which the images of the characters and different backgrounds of the scene in Hobbit were being manipulated and put together. Therefore, further research need to be done to reveal the process of compositing, especially relating to the current industrial workflow for the creation of digital visual effects in Hollywood cinema. Furthermore, the researchers discussed above indicate that digital composting offers more space and chances for the influence of human on the compositing. The human influences identified by them are: the perception of the compositor as well as the audience (Prince: 1996), and the imagination of filmmakers (Giralt: 2010). This research will investigate more about the way that the factors influence the look of composition during the process of digital compositing.


Davise ,D.(2011), Digital Technology, Indexicality, and Cinema Rivista di estetica, 46(1).

Giralt, G. (2010), Realism and realistic representation in the digital age. Journal of film and video,62(3),3-16.

Prince, S. (1996), ‘True Lies: Perceptual realism, digital images and film theory’. Film Quarterly 49 (3), 27- 37.

Prince,S. (2004), ‘The Emergence of Filmic Artifacts: Cinema and cinematography in the digital era’. Film Quarterly 57 (3), 24-33.

Prince, S. (2011), Digital visual effects in cinema: The seduction of Reality. Rutgers University Press, US.

Rodowick, D.N. (2007), The virtual life of film. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England.


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