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Diane Manuel, News Service (650) 725-1945;

Special effects will be focus of Feb. 11-12 symposium

From the deus ex machina of classical theater to the mothership of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, high technology has generated effects of the magical, the spectacular, the marvelous.

"Special Effects" will be the focus of a two-day symposium on Feb. 11 and 12 at the Cantor Arts Center that explores the intersection of technology and spectacle that has produced, throughout history, parallel worlds of unusual or heightened experience.

All sessions are free and open to the public.

Sponsored by the Stanford Presidential Symposium on Engineering and the Humanities, philosophers and cultural critics will join in discussions with leaders in the entertainment and computer animation industries. Blending historical reflection with audiovisual presentation, the program will feature the work of anthropologists, theme-park designers, sociologists, film critics, computer-design experts and visual artists.

Professors from the School of Engineering who worked with humanists to plan the symposium were eager to invite practitioners from industry rather than peers from the academy. Patrick Hanrahan, a professor of computer science who in 1993 won an Oscar for a visual effects program he developed that was used in the movie Jurassic Park, was particularly helpful in recommending provocative and imaginative speakers, according to Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, professor of comparative literature and director of the presidential lectures program.

Panelists will include historians of cinema and experimental filmmakers, designers who developed special effects for the movies Titanic, Toy Story 2 and Antz, and an astrophysicist who looks at black holes and neutron stars as if they were special effects. Hent de Vries, a professor of philosophy who holds the endowed Chair of Metaphysics at the University of Amsterdam, will talk about miracles, and Samuel Weber, a critical theorist who has worked in major German theaters and opera houses, will speak about "Theatricality and Special Effects." Other topics include "On the Eucharist" and "Special Effects from Apollo 13 to Titanic."

"It is so remote for humanists to work with engineers we never come together," Gumbrecht says about the exchanges that took place in the planning stages for this symposium and that have marked previous programs in the series.

"One of the byproducts is that intellectual relationships have been created because of the presidential lectures that have never existed before. A year ago, for example, I would never have guessed that Steve Chu and I would end up presenting a seminar together at the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro."

Chu is the Theodore and Frances Geballe Professor of Physics and Applied Physics and winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics.

The symposium will be organized into five panels that will cover aspects of the historical background and contemporary significance of "special effects." The Friday evening session will feature executives from Pixar, PDI, Sony ImageWorks and Riverbed discussing the "State of the Art" of special effects in film at the Gates Computer Science Building, room B01.

The Stanford Presidential Lectures and Symposia series was inaugurated in 1998 by President Gerhard Casper to explore the future of the humanities and arts in an academic setting. Since March 1998, more than 20 specialists have participated in symposia on the humanities and sciences, medicine and law. "Special Effects" concludes the symposia series with a look at the interface that exists between Stanford and Silicon Valley.

For more information, go to or call (650) 723-7532.



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