Mattie Trumbull – the Small God of Practical Effects

[image description: A ghostly woman floats above the stage amid a swirl of dry ice. She holds a big vase of tulips in her right hand. Because the background consists of tall vertical windows, the wires are more difficult to see. Text reads, “214, Mattie Trumbull, the Small God of Practical Effects.”]

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CGI isn’t easy.  Telling a computer to paint a picture, designing every aspect and angle of that image, and spinning it in a three-dimensional space until it becomes as close to indistinguishable from reality as the technology currently allows, that’s hard.  That’s a task fit for a god.

That’s not the god we’re talking about today.

From the beginning, humans have been telling stories.  That’s how we got gods in the first place.  And from that beginning the storytellers have been looking for ways to transport their audiences more completely into the tales they tell.  A stick, brandished in the right light, becomes a sword; a handful of ground quartz, blown into the air, a gust of magical wind.  The special effect followed the story by only a matter of sentences, human ingenuity finding more and better methods of holding an audience.

From this innovation, Mattie arose, models and puppets and Pepper’s ghosts held in her open hands, intricate costumes and distorting makeup in her dressing room.  She was everything and nothing, and ready to make the storytellers the same.

As time passed, her portfolio thrived.  She welcomed new technologies, mechanical monsters, animatronics and perfect replicas of things that never were.  Jim Henson was one of hers from the cradle to the grave, as was Millicent Patrick, as have been so many puppeteers and circus workers, carnies without number, LARPers and theatrical productions.  She thrived, and so did the stories in her care, uplifted to new and greater heights by her art and the art of her adherents.

Then came the rise of CGI.  Cheaper, faster, easier to pivot on a dime.  (All of these statements are lies, when you speak to the people behind the computers, many of whom still worship at Mattie’s altar when the lights are low: there are always costs.)  Even franchises which had always belonged to her began to shift their allegiance, turning from the puppet to the pixel.

But Mattie, whose effortlessly practical makeup has always left her age open to interpretation, is a patient god.  Patience is not often the province of the divine, and yet in her case, it serves her well indeed.  For as CGI ages quickly, becoming obsolete, an animatronic dinosaur sculpted thirty years ago looks as alive today as it did the moment it first opened its great mechanical jaws and roared.

When the age of CGI is ended, when storytellers once more sit around the fire and tell their audiences tales of movies their grandparents saw, they won’t reach for supercomputers and technologies they don’t understand.  They’ll reach for sticks and handfuls of quartz.

And Mattie, patient Mattie, will be there.

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Join Lee Moyer (Icon) and Seanan McGuire (Story) Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a guide to the many small deities who manage our modern world:





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