Making it in Post-Production: Special/Visual Effects Distinctions and Digital Disruptions in the Screen Production Process

Presentation at the Australian Screen Production Education and Research Association (ASPERA) annual conference, at the Victorian  College of the Arts (VCA) in Melbourne.

27–29 June, 2018

Conference programme

The 2018 ASPERA conference was hosted by the School of Film & TV at the VCA in Melbourne, Australia. Focused on the theme “Screen Interventions,” this conference was interested in the ways that screen production could be used to ‘intervene’ in wider cultural, social and political ideas and debates: how interventions might be made with, by and/or for the screen and what interventions have taken place in screen production education and research. 

My presentation extended my ongoing research on visual effects artistry  to consider the intervention of digital production in the screen production process, specifically in how it complicates the relationship between principle and post production processes. 

“Making it in Post-Production: Special/Visual Effects Distinctions and Digital Disruptions in the Screen Production Process”


This paper employs a production studies framework to consider the impact of digital production on the screen production process. In particular, I examine the relationship between principle production and post-production—more specifically, the distinction between special and visual effects—and argue that digital production disrupts the industrial relations maintained across the traditional movie-making process. 

Traditionally, the production process is constituted by the linearly and discretely organised stages of pre-production, principle production, and post-production; even though the various sites of production continue to shift across global and technological boundaries, industrial protocols and structures—like the labour line that separates above-the-line creatives from below-the-line crew, the lack of unionisation in the visual effects sector, and the insufficient artistic credit for post-production work—still perpetuate a hierarchy in how production work is valued and acknowledged. With specific regards to special and visual effects, the terminological distinction between these practices demonstrates division between principle production and post-production, in which “special effects” designates in-camera practical work that is captured during principle production, and “visual effects” refers to digital work created in-computer during post-production. I aim to direct necessary attention towards this terminology distinction to understand how these terms reflect upon the broader industrial relations effecting post-production and its close, even integrated, relationship with principle production.

Film and screen scholarship often conflates the terms special and visual effects under one label, depending on the focus of a specific study; while this may seem like a positive merging of stages and practices, it also obscures the complex industrial structures maintained across the production process. As Allain Daigle has argued, screen scholars need to “consider how visual effects are not naturally passive work despite their predominant consideration as such in film analysis and industrial organization” (2015, 162). For this reason, the terminological distinction is important to realising the division that occurs between production stages, at least where effects artistry is concerned, because it maintains a privileging of principle production as the stage where and when movies are “made.” In this paper, I build upon Daigle’s assertion and realise post-production as an active contributor to expressing artistry. 

ASPERA 2018 Presentation, VCA