[-empyre-] visualization as the new language of theory
Thomas LaMarre, Prof.
thomas.lamarre at mcgill.ca
Mon Feb 8 03:22:22 EST 2010
I hope to make this archive available in the future to researchers. Right now at McGill with two colleagues we're making a 'moving image research laboratory' that will include access to this 100,000 hours of Japanese animation. The copyright issues are a bit sticky, so it will be by research access only (but of course you and your students would be warmly welcomed).
I started this archive in the early 90s when I realized that one couldn't do research on large-volume heterogeneous production of animation in Japan by using what was released on video or later on DVD. So I've archived pretty much everything circulating in other circuits, largely fan circuits in SE Asia, China, Europe and North America. With various student organizations, and with two computers running fulltime for over 15 years, the actual volume is daunting. But we're going to try to create a database of these materials, with genre, keyword, and image recognition searches (this latter is still pretty difficult to do). And in conjunction there is four terabytes of manga, and we've a grant to digitalize film and animation journals in order to cross search 'discursive' connections (I use the word discursive loosely here). I imagine it will take the next 3-5 years get this going well.
So the cultural analytics of which you speak would be exceedingly appropriate.
If I have reservations about such research developments, it is not in the spirit of objection or rejection. What is more, it is clear that if we don't undertake any of these challenges in the humanities, we won't set any of the directions or agenda, since researchers, largely in cognitive science, are leaping in it, and with a massively scientifistic attitude - perhaps to compensate for the fact that, at the end of the day, actual scientists (chemists, physicists, biologists) don't consider such work any more scientific than Freudian psychoanalysis. Agreeing with Foucault, however, that institutions are not structures but sites of confrontation, I am willing to confront.
So my reservations about some of these methodologies come more from my prior training as a scientist than as a humanist, whence my emphasis on experimentation and the importance of undertaking apparently scientific endeavors in those terms. For experimenters know that the set-up is directed toward a certain problematic, and if the results are not predictable in advance, they will nonetheless fall in a certain range and register of experience. Without foregrounding some of these issues, I think we risk capitulation to neoliberalism and the university as hedge fund, to put it crudely.
At the same time, having done some intermittent collaboration with curators in Montreal, it is clear that 'self/other' formations of sovereignty still have some kick left in them, because in expositions in Montreal it has often proved difficult to move beyond the notion that such anime networks are all about exotic Japan, to contrast with our Quebec identity, etc. Even when we try to show how inappropriate the model of national culture is to understanding what is actually happening, that model is astonishingly persistent, often with signs of being a panic formation.
Thanks for pointing toward Fishinger and your work on it - I found some of the preliminary comments on line.
On 06/02/10 8:27 PM, "Lev Manovich" <manovich.lev at gmail.com> wrote:
thank you for your most intriguing and generous remarks abd ideas.
This has been a really productive discussion, and we have already
discussed some of these issues in my lab in terns of how we may use
our techniques on anime. My PhD student William Huber is focusing on
Japanese culture and he knows Japanese, and in fact we already earlier
dowloaded a few hundred hours of amine and were planning to work on
them anyway. (Currently we are focusing on visualizing patterns across
1.2 Millon Manga pages which cover 912 titles.)
Yout point about fans reading animations to focus on visual changes is
very important, just as your notes on earlier precedents for
aesthetics of "total variability" in anime. My own examples of this
are abstract animations by Fishinger - especially the one where he was
modifying a painting over time and exposing one frame after each
modification. However, as much as motion graphics today cab be
understood as 20th century abstract paintings which "came to life,"
there are also some fundamental differences due to digital technology
such as the use of transparency and frequent use of a virtual camera
moving through a 3d space.
You mention the archive of 100,000 hours of anime - do you mean a
particular localized collection which we can actually access and
analyze? If yes, what is it?
On Saturday, February 6, 2010, Thomas LaMarre, Prof.
<thomas.lamarre at mcgill.ca> wrote:
> Thanks for such cogent and insightful presentation of the question of continuous variation in digitally produced images. This is one of the really interesting developments in animation and cinema, and as you've noted elsewhere (if I am not mistaken), it is one that entirely shifts the relation between cinema and animation and even between full and limited animation, in a way that makes animation generally an important paradigm for understanding new media - due the the greater emphasis on what happens to a broad range of elements within the image or in the frame, which leads to transformations in movement between images (at the same time that it is harder to speak of a single discrete space between images in the manner of celluloid filming with snap by snap footage).
> Two things interest me about how the continuous variation a number of elements in the image impacts designers who are working on films, series and OAVs that are still called animation.
> First, even though today there is greater control over the variation of a number of elements with digital computers, there are techno-aesthetic precedents within certain lineages of limited animation, which were worked out between interactors (otaku fans) and producers (who were themselves otaku fans), from the late 1960s, but especially in the 1970s and 1980s. For instance, with the introduction of the VCR, 'viewers' transformed into co-producers or co-operators because they began to watch these animations in terms of variations of elements within the image by replaying the animations over and over again, noting how the variation of elements (changes in colour and line) could be 'read' independently of any overall narrative or directorial vision (usually not much in evidence). In fact, this sort of interaction began to take precedence over the modes of perception and interaction that today we tend to attribute to analog media. So, with the development of digital computers
> , there was not a strong sense of a break but rather a transition that confirmed, reinforced, and extended what was already happening. Many animators avoided the American models for digital animation entirely, seeing them as reactionary throwbacks designed to hide or compensate for continuous variation.
> I don't think it a coincidence that this happened in the context of large-volume production across a number of small heterogeneous studios in Japan, rather than in the much smaller volume large studio productions typical of North America (although there was always a great deal of interplay between these at some level). I also don't think it a coincidence that it is the same animations that enjoy the greatest transnational popularity, not to mention the greatest presence on line, and go hand in hand with micro-masses (sometimes called fan cultures or subcultures). See Tinami and Wikipedia. In other words, these transformations are worked out not merely at the level of producers making animations to consumers (classical communication/consumption model) but also at the level of socio-aesthetic formations wherein the role of consumer (already reworked socially by shifts in the relation between production and consumption) shifts toward interaction or co-production. The idea of
> a cooperator in emergence theory probably captures something of this interaction better than terms like co-producer, though.
> Second, if we take seriously the long history of scientific thinking about, and experimentation on, materiality that begins, in the late 20th century, to draw more and more heavily on radical empirical notions of continuity and continuous variation (non-atomistic approaches), it seems to me that the term 'continuous' should not mislead us in thinking continuity or continuum in simplistic brute materialist terms. Rather, the materially and phenomenologically continuous is at once discrete and continuous. It implies a spacing that is traversed by a force or forces (to use the term generically), in a non-dualistic or interactive dualistic way. So the question of the impact of such 'constant change' might well be asked at the level of 'material spacing' and 'force.' Constant change may well become a ground that is at once acknowledged and ignored at the level of media competency and literacy. Nonetheless, we're still dealing with forces, and thus a mobile active ground and n
> ot a foundational moment that is itself unchanging. (Analogously, even if there is greater emphasis on what is in the frame, there are still questions about saturation and about outside of the frame, which cannot be kept forever outside.) Otherwise, it is a model that cannot accept disruption or disjunction in any guise, in defiance of what we actually think to be true scientifically of matter and materiality.
> It is to address such issues that I proposed that we consider animations not so much as objects (or conversely ideas) but in terms of a machine in Guattari's sense. The emergence of an animetic machine - a materially specific spacing based on technical assemblages that channel a force - can be demonstrated empirically. And interestingly enough, this machine (again not an object or a form/idea) persists throughout the introduction of new techniques and expressive machines precisely because it relies on its spacing and thus on a harnessing of force, to fold expressive machines into it (and to explicate new ones). Thus continuous variation can be folded into the animetic machine, as I discussed above (issue 1).
> Of course the question of whether the 'continuous variation machine' (if such it is) will generate a radical inversion of these relations can be posed, but it may have to posed at the level of forces rather than objects or brute materiality. I can't help thinking that cultural analytics are in some sense designed to do precisely that, to generate such an inversion. I don't think that they are neutral techniques that will allow us to get at the truth, even if we can get at a truth or a set of truths with them.
> Without experimenting with them myself, I cannot say whether they go beyond the scientifically discredited 'classical empiricism' based on one-to-one correspondences. But with an archive of well over 100,000 hours of Japanese animations (largely from the 1900s to the present, earlier materials are less well represented), I am rather curious to see what might come of a cultural analytics of them.
> What is also interesting about such developments is that the 'animetic
> On 05/02/10 1:48 PM, "Lev Manovich" <manovich.lev at gmail.com> wrote:
> Greetings, and apologies for not being able to participate over last
> couple of days
> I want to add something in relation to the questions of "limited" vs.
> "full animation," animation vs. cinema distinction, and movement.
> In contrast to twentieth-century animation, in contemporary motion
> graphics the transformations often affect the frame as a whole.
> Everything inside the frame keeps changing: visual elements, their
> transparency, the texture of the image, etc. In fact, if something
> stays the same for a while, that is an exception rather than the norm.
> Such constant change on many visual dimensions is a key feature of
> motion graphics and design cinema produced today - in contrast to
> contemporary feature animations or anime where many elements do not
> change because of figurative nature of these works ( for instance the
> colors corresponding to diff. objects normally do not change from
> frame to frame.) We can connect this preference for constant change to
> the particulars of software used in media design.
> Digital computers allow us to represent any phenomenon or structure as
> a set of variables. In the case of design and animation software, this
> means that all possible forms-visual, temporal, spatial,
> interactive-are similarly represented as sets of variables that can
> change continuously. This new logic of form is deeply encoded in the
> interfaces of software packages and the tools they provide. In 2D
> animation/compositing software such as After Effects, each new object
> added to the scene by a designer shows up as a long list of
> variables-geometric position, color, transparency, and the like. Each
> variable is immediately assigned its own channel on the timeline used
> to create animation. In this way, the software literally invites the
> designer to start animating various dimensions of each object in the
> scene. The same logic extends to the parameters that affect the scene
> as a whole, such as the virtual camera and the virtual lighting. If
> you add a light to the composition, this immediately creates half a
> dozen new animation channels describing the colors of the lights,
> their intensity, position, orientation, and so on.
> During the 1980s and 1990s, the general logic of computer
> representation-that is, representing everything as variables that can
> have different values-was systematically embedded throughout the
> interfaces of media design software. As a result, although a
> particular software application does not directly prescribe to its
> users what they can and cannot do, the structure of the interface
> strongly influences the designer's thinking. In the case of moving
> image design, the result of having a timeline interface with multiple
> channels all just waiting to be animated is that a designer usually
> does animate them. If previous constraints in animation
> technology-from the first optical toys in the early nineteenth century
> to the standard cel animation system in the twentieth century-resulted
> in an aesthetics of discrete and limited temporal changes, the
> interfaces of computer animation software quickly led to a new
> aesthetics: the continuous transformations of all visual elements
> appearing in a frame (or of the singular image filling the frame).
> This feature of contemporary motion graphics makes it particularly
> suited to cultural analytics approach. It is quite easy for software
> to measure any visual parameter in each frame - amount of motion, hue,
> saturation, texture, shapes, lines, edges, etc - and then visualize
> how each of these parameters change over time. We can then see the
> patterns of change and compare them across thousands of works. (Of
> course the same approach works for feature length animation or any
> other forms of moving image.)
> Here is an example of how such graphs look:
> In this example I compare four different works:
> columns (left to right):
> Betty Boop cartoon, 1930s;
> Bjork music video, 2005;
> 3D computer animation by Ann Lislegaard (Crystal World, after J. G.
> Ballard), 2006
> video for "Go" by Co_______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
Dr. Lev Manovich
Director, Software Studies Initiative, Calit2 <softwarestudies.com>
Professor, Visual Arts Department, UCSD <visarts.ucsd.edu>
Professor, European Graduate School <www.egs.edu>
Visiting Professor, De Montfort University
email: manovich.lev at gmail.com
web site: www.manovich.net
University of California, San Diego,
Lev Manovich, Visual Arts Department,
9500 Gilman Drive. #0084, La Jolla, CA 92093-0084, U.S.A
empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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