Safeguarding digital telecinematic history and culture: Archiving film and television visual effects records

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Over recent decades, digital visual effects (VFX) have evolved into a global industry and have become an integral component of modern film and television (TV) production practice and telecinematic discourse. In pursuit of guiding audiences into new visual storytelling domains, studios engage with VFX companies to create computer-generated imagery (CGI)—digital animations, visual spectacles and seamless composites produced via complex, global production pipelines of people, code and machinery. This thesis presents the findings of an inclusive study with the film and TV VFX industry to investigate their records and current archiving practices. It reveals that VFX companies do not presently hire records and archives specialists and subsequently, have insufficient recordkeeping and archiving policy and practices in place. The research findings also show that there is a lack of consistency from studios about the types and formats of records they require, and a need to conduct holistic appraisal within VFX companies to identify records of continuing value that extend beyond production outputs. In addition, this research demonstrates that there is deficient representation of digital VFX in film and TV cultural heritage organisations’ collection policies and holdings. This research proposes that improvements, which align to archival theory and methods, and established library, archive, and museum (LAM) practices should be adopted to assist the industry in archiving their records more effectively. In aid of this proposal, the research presents an appraisal model (a visual diagram that depicts functions, records and domains associated with VFX archives), as well as six recommendations to improve current VFX archiving practices. It does so to support industry recordkeeping and production business activities and facilitate the formation of VFX archive collections. This will help ensure that valuable evidence of VFX production—records about the technologies, artistic process and working life of an important, yet unsung field of film and TV practitioners—is preserved over time for future generations.
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