[-empyre-] PS queer new media artists (avatar faciality)

Amanda Phillips aphillips at umail.ucsb.edu
Tue Jun 5 17:12:16 EST 2012

Margaret, the question of "realistic" is a really important one,
particularly in technological reproductions like CGI faces. In video games,
technological advances are usually focused on making faces more
photorealistic - obviously not a culturally neutral term, but one that
suggests attention to details that mimic so-called natural phenomena:
shadows and lighting, skin and hair textures, wrinkles, acceleration and
deceleration of parts, etc. There has been some critique of how this
approach limits creativity and aesthetic possibilities in games, but the
industry is pretty dominated by it.

As far as the uncanny valley goes, there certainly does seem to be a
fluctuating sense of what "realistic" or comfortable CGI images of humans
look like. Every few years you get a new technology or game to emerge that
claims to have climbed out of the valley (see this graphic representation
of the valley if you're unfamiliar to get a better sense of affective
response vs. human likeness:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mori_Uncanny_Valley.svg), and this
continuing displacement of "realistic" representations discredits those
that came before it. On a purely anecdotal note, I am continually amazed
when I look back at footage from games a few years back and find myself
with a much different response to the quality of representation than I did
at the time. Researchers like Karl MacDorman have followed up with studies
on the uncanny valley that complicate the picture a bit, such as the
creepiness not necessarily being tied to human likeness. I have attempted
in some of my graduate work to grapple with the uncanny valley from a
psychoanalytic perspective, as well, theorizing an uncanny abyss for a
class on anxiety (naturally).

Jennifer Robertson is another interesting robotics researcher to look at,
as she theorizes how robots become gendered in Japan and contribute to
gender and race roles in Japanese society. True to your question about
cultural specificity, Robertson suggests that Japanese robophilia is at
least partially rooted in a desire to provide caretakers and a workforce
for an aging society without relying on an immigrant workforce. I find this
reading a tad problematic, and would love if anyone with more experience or
knowledge of Japan could comment on it further.

As humanists we might have predicted this, but social science research into
avatar identity has tied uncanniness to gender expression; Kristine Nowak
and Christian Rauh found that avatar androgyny affects the degree to which
human observers attribute anthropomorphism and trustworthiness in avatars (
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563207000933). As
queers and queer theorists, we certainly recognize that this phenomenon is
not limited to digital representation of humans, nor is androgyny anything
other than culturally specific.

As a final note, on the animation front, I know many of the techniques
involved in animating digital faces rely on creating a map of facial
skeletal and musculature, and since you've brought up Darwinian charts, I
think you'll find it interesting that I've run into animation textbooks
that use Guillaume Duchenne's gallery and charts of facial expressions
stimulated by electric pulses to facial muscles. Here we get into very
troubling territory re: race, gender, and so on, because some of the
discussions in the textbooks get downright close to physiognomy for my
liking. Is it possible to acknowledge depict difference without reducing
gender or race to dimensions of the skull, nose, lips, and so on? I'm not
sure there's a good answer to this question, which is one that haunts the
poster I made.

But many of the cutting-edge animation technologies of today involve either
motion capture or, more efficiently, image analysis that converts video of
human performers into guides for computer programs to generate these facial
animations. I find these techniques really fascinating because they turn
face into pure surface.

More on deformance tomorrow!

On Mon, Jun 4, 2012 at 10:07 PM, Margaret Rhee <mrhee at berkeley.edu> wrote:

> Dear Amanda,
> I love this so much. Your poster is fantastic. Im actually obsessed with
> faces.
> How you seen The Face of Another?
> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rK5Rz6txcDU
> Fantastic 1966 Japanese science fiction film about post-war Japan and the
> face.
> So I'm trying to finish revising my paper on Asian Am drag kings and
> arduino from our Queer Studies conference panel, rereading Jack
> Halberstam's very inspiring Female Masculinity, The Drag King Book, and
> Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior. So on my mind is butchness, drag
> kings, and embodiment and couldn't help but think back to your fantastic
> presentation at the conference and your illuminations prompted questions
> for me on form, gender, and drag in video games and virtual worlds.
> In terms of the face and avatars. Im not a gamer and I dont analyze games,
> but I love scholarship and pedagogy that deals with gaming. I think they
> tend to be very queer. I think your work on the face, and of course Zach's
> new work yields itself to really fascinating questions of biometrics,
> virtuality, and reality. ie certainly the most real virtual images get,
> the less real and comfortable they are for us.
> Yet, Im interested in how we are defining 'realistic'? And the real? Such
> a term is so fraught and ever changing today, no?
> The face is def a 'densely packed site' as you've written below. And I've
> always loved Anzaldua's introduction and her theorization of interfaces.
> always think about the quilt and the strong material in between fabric is
> the interface.
> Im interested though in how your positionality shapes your analysis of
> hegemony, "reality," and "deformance" in analyzing these avatars? What
> does it mean to take from literary theory into a new media analysis? Have
> you grappled with interpellation? Im also interested as I've been
> theorizing faces within digital media and connotations of evil.
> Specially, working through theorizing the face through the digital images
> of the shooter Seung Hui Cho of the 2006 Virginia Tech Tragedy.  In an
> article published in N + 1 Welsey Yang talks about the face, his own face
> and Cho's face, the racial face.  At the posthuman conference Julian
> Savulescu's current work also deals with posthumanism, mass shootings, and
> ethics, in particular the horrific shooting in Norway. While not centrally
> of the face, I can't help but think about has the face transformed within
> our contemporary technological moment? What about the racial face?  The
> face of evil.
> ie the face has always been a central site for racialization. So Im
> interested in how might contemporary categorization of avatars relate to
> Darwinian charts or eugencis during the turn of the century? What might
> technological advancement has to do with it. How about our future face of
> America? http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19931118,00.html
> This is a crudely articulated question, but during my MA at SF State,
> would discuss with Tomas Almaguer's on racism's work as believing your
> parents are ugly because of ideology. How much of our ideological notions
> of these deformances? subvert notions of normative beauty and ugly? of the
> Face and Body? And how does queer theory relate or intervene in this all?
> Thanks for this, its really fascinating and look forward to hearing more.
> take care,
> Margaret
> >> I'd love to hear from Amanda on how embodying butchness and creating
> >> butchness in gaming informs your scholarly work and how it may trouble
> >> and/or expand definitions of play? How might play be a political
> >> intervention? and a queer intervention? How about race? Does #TRANSFORM
> >> DH
> >> play or game?
> >>
> >>
> > Margaret, the questions I have about avatar creation systems are kind of
> > the inverse of those Zach is working with in his Fag Face project - where
> > he's interested in what it means that a face can be read by a machine,
> I'm
> > interested in what it means for a machine to make a face to be read. So
> > the
> > avatar customization systems go hand-in-hand with facial animation
> > technologies, motion capture techniques, and the limitations of
> > communicability in digital faces. The face is such a densely packed site
> > of
> > information and communication that computers simply can't reproduce them
> > in
> > a way that is realistic enough for us, and as they get more graphically
> > sophisticated, they feel more and more eerie  - what roboticist Masahiro
> > Mori called the "uncanny valley."
> >
> > So my avatar customization experiments, both with the gender-bending I've
> > done and the deformations that you may not know about but can see on the
> > poster I created for the recent Research Slam (
> >
> http://english236s2012.pbworks.com/w/file/54068342/making%20a%20face%20research%20slam.pdf
> )
> > try to reverse-engineer these systems and root out cultural assumptions
> > that lie, for example, in the limitations of slider bars that control
> > facial features, or in the underlying skeletons that exist in different
> > avatar "types" organized by gender and/or race. How do the artists,
> > programmers, and technology in these systems codify assumptions about
> what
> > a particular gendered and racialized face looks like - and what its
> > maximum
> > and minimum dimensions are?
> >
> > In terms of a political intervention, I've been running through different
> > political theories of the face to think about that - Levinas, Deleuze &
> > Guattari, Agamben - and I think I've finally settled on Gloria Anzaldúa's
> > introduction to _Making Face, Making Soul/Hacidendo Caras_, in which she
> > talks about women of color negotiating the space between their true faces
> > and the masks imposed on them by a white racist society. Very tellingly,
> > she calls this space between face and mask the interface, after the
> > reinforcement placed in garments to add structure to collars and cuffs.
> > These avatar interfaces are another such struggle between the self and
> > hegemony, where one's ability to customize their own likeness (or
> whatever
> > digital likeness they desire) butts up against a restrictive system. And
> > for Anzaldúa (and also Agamben), making a face is a manifestly political
> > act.
> >
> > Best,
> > Amanda
> > _______________________________________________
> > empyre forum
> > empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> > http://www.subtle.net/empyre
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au/pipermail/empyre/attachments/20120605/0d8b5e5b/attachment.htm>

More information about the empyre mailing list