It’s possibly partly true that before the arrival of “Cinefex” magazine in 1980, what we now term “VFX” was called visual or special effects – for anything created to represent the fantastical or technologically advanced in a film or beyond the capabilities of normal filming – and Cinefex can be credited with popularizing the acronym.
Throughout the late 70’s and into the 90’s I was an avid collector of fanzines, scouring the pages for all and any information on how visual effects were created in the films that I grew up watching and that filled me with wonder – information that had previously been confined to a corner of the local public library in a few specialist books like Raymond Fielding’s “Techniques of Special Effects Cinematography”, which I borrowed repeatedly when trying to experiment with shooting special effects in 8mm, and later 16mm film, at home, or simply to get my head around the complex technical processes involved in, for example, creating the giant “Genii” in Alexander Korda’s “The Thief of Bagdad” – it was all there in-between its’ covers and to my knowledge has never gone out of print.
I bought my first copy of Cinefex in a final year at art college and distinctly remember walking from London’s Covent Garden – the location of the college annex – to Denmark St, off Tottenham Court Road, and the location of “Forbidden Planet” bookshop, relocated at that point from its’ original site in St Anne’s Court in Soho, to snap up issue #1, devoted to the visual effects for the recently released big-screen “Star Trek-The Motion Picture”.
Prior to Cinefex the history of fanzines was littered with short-run magazines that never survived beyond, at most 10-20 issues following the release of “Star Wars” – a phenomenon that resulted in a publishing frenzy largely driven by fans eager to satisfy a growing appetite for any information on the glut of visual effects films that followed in its’ wake – so there was a sense that this may also be short-lived.
However, you only had to pick up a copy and hold it in your hands to realize that this was something else entirely, both in terms of the unusual dimensions of the magazine and the sheer quality of production and level of journalism of a subject that up to that point was plagued by inaccuracies and generally poor quality writing.
However, publishing being what it is and taking into account the vagaries of public taste and delicate market forces that determine trends in cinema, I did wonder if this was another flash in the pan as I took it back to the rostrum camera room where I was shooting my graduation film to read intently under the illumination of hot camera lights.
Apart from the odd break determined by my lack of interest in a particular film release, I bought every issue of Cinefex from issue #1 onwards right through until the late 90’s when the gradual shift from analogue visual effects to digital resulted in a creeping lack of interest in the subject.
In fact, Cinefex itself had anticipated the shift in one of its’ earliest issues by speculating on how “VFX” production would become almost “real-time” and without the need for waiting for film to be developed or for heavy and complicated machinery like optical printers to be used, thanks to the advances in computer technology, and while I had embraced computers for animation at an early stage, I could see the value and advantages of analogue work, and frankly, it just looked like a whole lot more fun compared to sitting in front of a computer monitor.
By the turn of the millennium it looked as if Cinefex was here to stay as the primary source of information for sc-fi film geeks and professionals alike and indeed thanks to an appetite stoked by a succession of visual effects blockbusters, its’ future as a magazine seemed assured as it expanded to include an online version of the physical magazine.
So it was sad to hear the news that, like many businesses hit during the global pandemic, Cinefex is to publish its’ last ever issue, now possibly no longer viable as a result of falling advertising budgets – advertising being one of the main reasons why magazines can stay afloat – and not because of a drop in films requiring complex visual effects, and the last issue will cover the groundbreaking VFX for “The Mandalorian”, a series that is, perhaps fittingly, a spin-off of the film that created the fertile climate in which Cinefex was born, George Lucas’ “Star Wars”.
Perhaps it will re-emerge in a different format, like TV documentaries for streaming services, though there is something about holding a well-produced magazine in your hands as a “thing” and flicking through its pages in anticipation that can never quite be replaced by something digital.