[-empyre-] CG and all things fuzzy, and some thoughts on ethics

Suzanne Buchan sbuchan at ucreative.ac.uk
Sun Feb 14 05:01:38 EST 2010


(I can't turn off HTML on the email I'm suing, so I hope the inserted line breaks improve reading.)

 Many practice-based animation and film programmes - as well as photography and design -
 are increasingly replacing analogue with digital, with all the implications.
 While I'm not a hands-on 'practitioner' per se – I don't teach practice – I can say that
 my university has two programmes, and both use digital tools but foreground
 fine arts-based style, process and students attend life-drawing classes.
 There are others who follow the same material-based philosophy, including
 Simon's and the RCA' this is not, however, representative of the wider general
 shift to digital. 

With the current disastrous funding cuts at HEIs in the UK, a room of
 computers is more sustainable than puppet animation studios and
 art rooms; hence it is becoming digital almost everywhere. This has 
implications on how students learn, speeds up production instead of 
slowing down, the process of drawing, painting and model building 
is very much part of developing narrative, and good analogue films 
need time. Others here in empyre who are practice-based can probably
 answer your question better.

Your question about CGI brings me to another set of thoughts about the
 digital and the artefact and some ethical implications that arise from the
 use of CGI in animation and film. Since the digital shift, the manipulated
 moving image has been the focus of heated debates around representation,
 truth values and ethical responsibility of its commissioners, makers and 
distributors. The unreliablility of the photographic image as it became
 enhanced or altered by digital technologies has had a profound effect 
on audiences, a topic thematised by Thomas Elsaesser, Lev Manovich
 and Siegfried Zielinski, ethical philosopher Jane Bennett (The Enchantment
 of Modern Life, 2001) and by others who may be on empyre. 

The increasing convergence, barrage and resulting pervasiveness of 
manipulated imagery, including traditional and digital animation, has 
overwhelmed many of its viewers, and this has pressing philosophical
 and ethical connotations. In terms of the status of indexicality and truth
 claims of the visual, in 1998 Elsaesser suggested a crisis was evolving:
 "Any technology that materially affects this status, and digitisation 
would seem to be such a technology, thus puts in crisis deeply-held
 beliefs about representation and visualization, and many of the
 discourses – critical, scientific or aesthetic – based on, or formulated
 in the name of the indexical in our culture, need to be re-examined." 
(Elsaesser, Thomas, "Digital Cinema: Delivery, Event, time", in: 
Cinema Futures: Cain, Abel or Cable?,1998. Pp. 201-222)

While following these debates, I became sensitised to one specific i
mpact of manipulated images during a screening of Roland Emmerich's 
1994 Independence Day. In the rather naive encounter between the
 American missionaries and the alien Mother ship we witness a brief
 moment, only a few frames, when a fireball engulfs the pilot on impact. 

Now in itself, this is not an unfamiliar scene, and it has been repeated
 in action and war films to excess. My point here is that the image 
manipulation was of the 'invisible' sort, i.e. not 'in-your-face' CGI that
 creates spectacle that is highly aware of its difference to so-called
 normal perception and representation. 

The fireball in the cockpit was created to look like live action. 
So –  what's the problem? Well, in that fraction of a second of ID4, 
an image flashed in my mind that, depending on your generation, 
may also be indelibly etched in your own.: this 1963 photo by Malcolm Brown 


The mental image of this while watching ID4 was an emotional response
 on my part, a response of what could be described as 'negative empathy'
 that incited ethical awareness about the inherent 'wrongness' of this scene. 

This personal example might illustrate why we need articulated critical 
reactions to films like these, to  facilitate a sober understanding of the
 impact such films are having on our collective sense of ethics.

 In light of the inane acceptance of violent images 
just because we are 'used to them' and the role CGI and animation 
has to play in this, addressing the crisis rooted in the loss of indexical 
truth could effectively address a re-examination of the discourse around
 ethical responsibility in image production. Discussions around animation –
 especially the kind we are not supposed to see – have tended to focus
 on technical wizardry and the properties of programmes to create the
 impossible. It may be part of a new body of work for critical investigations
 of spectatorial manipulation in a digital age, a territory that needs
 ethical navigation to understand the philosophical  consequences of
 this kind of imagery. 

The next issue of the ANM journal (5.1) will have an essay by philosopher 
and cultural studies scholar Elizabeth Walden that explores just these issues
 and discusses a puppet animation film; she discusses how "elements of 
the narrative structure and the camera work give the materials used in the
 character’s project a moral standing in the film, which draws audience and
 filmmaker as well as the character into an ethical situation which is 
significant to our shared moment in the digital era." 

So I'll leave this for now, and see if anyone has some thoughts on it.

I'm also happy to engage with the Quays' works, if there is interest out there.


-----Original Message-----
From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au on behalf of Renate Ferro
Sent: Sat 2/13/2010 04:37
To: soft_skinned_space
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] CG and all things fuzzy
Dear Paul and Suzanne,

Can you both talk about how CG fits into your animation programs?  At
Cornell, Computer Graphics and 3D animation is taught by Computing
faculty.  It is in the art department where students, particularly
recently, have been creating stop action, frame by frame, roto-scoping,
drawing based and a medley of other fuzzies. Whether working  from
photography based or original drawing. their novel, quirky rendering
styles, interdisciplinary interests and criticality make their work fresh
and innovative.

How does it work in the UK?


Renate Ferro
Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of Art
Cornell University, Tjaden Hall
Ithaca, NY  14853

Email:   <rtf9 at cornell.edu>
Website:  http://www.renateferro.net

Co-moderator of _empyre soft skinned space

Art Editor, diacritics

empyre forum
empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au

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