Author Archives: Rebecca Perry

I am a Research Associate at the National Air and Space Museum and visiting scholar at the University of Virginia, where I have taught the history of computer graphics (CG). I study computing, visual representation and digital 3D modeling. I am especially interested in the creative process and collaborations between CG artists and CG researchers in the entertainment industry, cultural preservation projects and in museums.

Out-of-Body Workspaces: Andy Serkis and Motion Capture Technologies

Over the last two decades, the entertainment industry has experienced a turn to what Lucy Suchman termed virtualization technologies in film and videogame production (Suchman 2016). In addition, production studies scholars have described authorship as linked to control and ownership, sharpening distinctions between “creative” and “technical” work, a divide with significant economic repercussions (Caldwell 2008).  These ideas are useful in understanding film studio workspaces, where visual effects (VFX) workers and actors collaborate in creating believable virtual characters, using three-dimensional (3D) modeling software and motion-capture (mo-cap) systems to capture the attributes and movements of human bodies and transfer them to digital models.  Once captured, digital performances become data, to be manipulated and merged seamlessly with those of live actors and environments in the final film. The introduction of virtualization technologies and computer graphics tools have surfaced tensions over creative control, authorship, and labor. British actor Andy Serkis has been a high-profile apologist for the human actor’s central role in bringing virtual characters to life for film.  Serkis, who Rolling Stone called “the king of post-human acting,” is known for using motion capture (mo-cap) to breathe life into digitally-created, non-human characters. His notable performances include the creature Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003), the ape Cesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), as well as  Supreme Leader Snoke in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), and work on several characters in the 2018 Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, which he also directed. While Serkis’ performances have made him highly visible to audiences, digital labor historians have begun documenting the often-invisible film workers creating 3D models and VFX (Curtin and Sanson, 2017). The tensions between mo-cap performers and VFX workers reveal the contours of an emerging hybrid workspace that combines actors’ physical bodies and movements with VFX workers’ manipulations of digital geometry and data. (read more...)

The Strange Journeys of Otherworldly Artifacts

The list of objects on offer is intriguing: flags that were carried, but never raised on a flagpole; stamps that traveled thousands of miles without being posted; a meal tightly sealed in a plastic pouch, returned uneaten from the journey. These artifacts, and many others like them, are listed for sale on Bonhams’ auction site—under the “Space History” category. Popular items include commemorative medallions, pins, flags, mission patches, and postal issues, authorized by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The auctioneers’ specialized language includes terms of location, movement and possession: objects are listed as “carried,” “flown,”  “signed,” and “rare.” Collectors prepare their bids based on the details of object histories—where they have traveled and with whom—as recounted in accompanying letters of authenticity or fixed in time and place by a photograph. Bonhams’ vivid descriptions and NASA’s authenticating control create a fascination and demand among collectors and the public for objects circulating on Earth that have been to space—and an invitation to support future journeys. (read more...)