BY AUSTIN BURBRIDGE. LOS ANGELES (CINEMA MINIMA) — This publication supplements its stories with explainer links, because so many persons work in the movie business, in so many different specialties, that it is not reasonable to assume that everyone knows everything. For example, directors and cinematographers may know what “a practical” is, but a publicist, or a screenwriter, or someone whose English is not fluent, may not grasp to what, exactly, that term of art may refer. The same obtains for “visual effects.”
Recently, Cinema Minima published an item about the visual effects business. For the benefit of those readers who do not ordinarily read about such things — and for those sixty percent of Cinema Minima readers for whom English is not the mother tongue — an “explainer link” was offered, pointing to a nice, concise article at <showwatcher.com>.
I had first turned to Wikipedia for a concise reference for the explainer link, because Wikipedia is a well-known and convenient place to look for such things. A link to an article on Wikipedia can be made very easily (guessing the subject title, and replacing spaces with underscores usually works). Another benefit of pointing to a Wikipedia article is that it frequently offers versions in several languages, which is valuable for a publication with many readers for whom English is a second language, such as Cinema Minima.
But I couldn’t use its article on visual effects. What I found was, in my opinion, junk: grammatically correct, perhaps; but hardly more useful for the general reader than, “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.” Here is the first sentence …
Visual effects (commonly shortened to Visual FX or VFX) are the various processes by which imagery is created and/or manipulated outside the context of a live action shot.
… which, while not inaccurate in a narrowly technical sense, is entirely unsatisfactory as an explanation for the general reader. It is at once vague — “various processes” and “imagery” — really? and yet, too specific — “live action shot.” The problem is, the sentence does make a certain amount of sense — if you already know what “visual effects” is; and thereby, it may pass a cursory inspection as adequate; but the general reader deserves something more concrete — more easily apprehended — than this opaque declaration.
A person who may not be already familiar with visual effects in movie making — and its argot — may come away from reading the Wikipedia article, not really any better informed than before. The entire article treats its subject with abstraction. It talks around the subject, without ever saying what it is, and without examples which would clarify the plain meaning, and focus the discussion. Moreover, it does not offer a basic and simple clarification of the difference between special effects and visual effects.
Wikipedia is — sometimes — a useful reference, but such junky, substandard articles make it an unreliable one. That’s a pity, since <wikipedia.org> is handy.
I wish that someone who is not only expert in the art of visual effects, but who can also use words to tell a story well, would login to Wikipedia, and give the article an overhaul. Wikipedia’s readers would benefit from some clarity and precision, and visual effects artists would benefit from a popular representation which would be accurate.