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

Sean Cubitt scubitt at unimelb.edu.au
Thu Feb 18 10:10:30 EST 2010

Hey richard

Try Rpoyskopp¹s video remind me

And check Mitchell Whitelaw¹s data visualisation blog at


On 17/02/10 10:25 AM, "Richard Wright" <futurenatural at blueyonder.co.uk>

>  Hi there,
> I just wanted to respond to a couple of recent posts about animated
> documentary and those thorny indexicality questions.
> I once wrote a proposal called "Data Visualisation as the Successor to
> Documentary Film Making" (thinking actually of animated film making). I wonder
> if Paul or Erik or anyone else had any thoughts about this possibility of
> taking data records and animating them? Either directly and algorithmically or
> using more interpretative or even non-digital techniques? The source of the
> data and the circumstances in which it was obtained can also create difficult
> ethical questions, quite apart from questions of veracity (they might have
> been obtained under torture for example).
> There are very few film examples of this I can think of, not even my own. One
> of the few is Aaron Koblin's "Flight Patterns"
> (http://www.aaronkoblin.com/work/flightpatterns) and another is Jane
> Marsching's "Rising North"
> (http://www.flickr.com/photos/efimeravulgata/3496999939 for a view of the
> installation version of the video). Andrea Polli possibly. Much of it to do
> with climate change data. I'm not mentioning these specific ones because I
> particularly like them (the "Rising North" piece, for instance, looks a bit
> too much to me like deciphering a multimedia interface). But I was struggling
> to think of any others and I wondered if anyone else knew of any film makers
> that were moving in this direction...
> Richard
> On 15 Feb 2010, at 18:37, Paul Ward wrote:
>> Hi, it's me again!
>> A couple of my main research interests are Animation (quelle surprise!) and
>> Documentary, and I've been looking into how animation and nonfiction work
>> together (or not) for some time now. 
>> See Chapter 5 of my book "Documentary: The Margins of Reality" (Wallflower,
>> 2005); plus "Animated interactions: animation aesthetics and the
>> 'interactive' documentary" in S. Buchan (ed.) with David Surman and Paul Ward
>> (Associate Eds.) Animated 'Worlds' (John Libbey, 2006). The latter discusses
>> 'Going Equipped' alongside Bob Sabiston's 1999 short 'Snack and Drink'
>> I think the idea of animation as a 'filter' is apposite - it is the filter
>> through which re-presentations of real people and events are 'creatively
>> treated' (to echo John Grierson again). This also makes some interesting
>> possible connections to animation and memory, or animation and states of
>> mind, and how these areas overlap (or contrast) with 'documentary'.
>> Animations like 'Waltz with Bashir', 'Persepolis' or Andy Glynne's short
>> films 'Animated minds' (about mental health) are all, arguably, sub-types of
>> the animated documentary category, but approach it in very different ways
>> best wishes
>> Paul
>> ________________________________
>> From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au on behalf of christopher sullivan
>> Sent: Sun 14/02/2010 18:22
>> To: soft_skinned_space; Suzanne Buchan
>> Cc: soft_skinned_space
>> Subject: Re: [-empyre-] CG and all things fuzzy, and some thoughts on ethics
>> Hi Suzanne, thanks for the generous discussion. As a "practitioner" I will
>> say
>> that I am really not too bothered by the issues of representation, and truth,
>> or
>> authenticity, I think those are interesting points of discussion, but nothing
>> that will ever be cured. but are we really that confused in the theater? I
>> have
>> found that children for instance have very clear understandings of what is
>> real,
>> what is manipulated, what is fantasy. the idea that media is continuously
>> lying
>> to us, can also lead to a lot of political empathy, 
>>       I teach an alternative animation history class, and one of our weeks we
>> show all non fiction animation.
>> here is the week.
>> Reading: Understanding Animation, chapter 3 Narrative strategies. 68-92
>> Week 6 October 19th NON FICTION-
>> These films all use animations power to manifest images that have no filmic
>> record. The result is a curious take on truth and representation.. Is there
>> an
>> emotional safety in these cartoony depictions, of otherwise unbearable
>> images?
>>  Roger Ebert , speaking about Grave of the Fire flies.
>>  John and Faith Hubley. Sample 1960-75 The Dara Dogs. Denise Topicoff.
>>  -A is for Autism, Tim Web 1998. Champaine by Michael Sporn.
>>   Some Protection, Marjut  Rimmenen,1987 -Brother, Adam Benjamin Elliot 2003-
>>   Going Equipped ,Peter Lords 1989 -Abductees , Paul Vesters 1998
>>  The Fetishist, Jim Trainer 1998- Ryan, Chris Landrithe 2003
>>  A Room Near By, still life with animated dogs, Paul Ferlinger 2002- 2004
>> these films all deal with the strange in between possibilities of animation
>> as a
>> filter for truth. I often show Ryan this week also, The students are always
>> interested in discussing the inclusion of Chris Landreth in the film. it is
>> both interesting and problematic, that his desire to implicate the
>> documenter,
>> is also very problematic. does he truly believe that his state of crisis
>> parallels Ryan Larkin, in a SRO facility?
>> I argue that the real issue of representation through animation is not nearly
>> so
>> complicated. and why do we have to create a theoretical censoring bureau,
>> just make the work, and let it hit people, all sloppy and imperfect.
>> do the questions below really need to be brought to some kind of conclusion?
>> is it truly a crisis?
>> "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 digitization
>>> 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."
>> as media professors, I think we have to also challenge media literacy Dogma
>> which implies that all viewers are completely at the mercy of the moving
>> image.
>> once something is digital, sorry Lev, but it means nothing, it is a technical
>> expedient.
>> Animators have the opportunity to carve out new and wonderful ways of
>> creating
>> work and bringing subjects to the screen that were not possible before.
>> A true act of political subversion is the recent screening of Don Hertsfeilds
>> new films. the audience came to see funny. instead they saw an amazing
>> maturing
>> of his work into a dark and beautiful piece that made me weep several times.
>> He really seized the moment to talk about something important.
>> I say let's focus on content, not media, and get to work making the films
>> that
>> we feel must be made. Chris
>> Quoting Suzanne Buchan <sbuchan at ucreative.ac.uk>:
>>> Renate
>>> (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
>>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Th%C3%ADch_Qu?ng_D?c
>>> 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.
>>> Suzanne
>>> -----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
>>> 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 <http://www.renateferro.net/>>> 
>>> Co-moderator of _empyre soft skinned space
>>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
>>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empyre
>>> Art Editor, diacritics
>>> http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/dia/
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> empyre forum
>>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
>> Christopher Sullivan
>> Dept. of Film/Video/New Media
>> School of the Art Institute of Chicago
>> 112 so michigan
>> Chicago Ill 60603
>> csulli at saic.edu
>> 312-345-3802
>> _______________________________________________
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