Tag: performance

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...)

Looking Ahead to 2014: Living Analytically

I am proud to say that The CASTAC Blog has become a truly impressive archive of scholarly and practical information for research, applied practice, and teaching. Last year the Blog saw a rich set of posts on research, pedagogy, and practice that may yield inspiration for student papers, future trends in scholarly articles, and cross-pollination of ideas for new research projects. Indeed, I encourage my anthropology of technology students to peruse the site for inspiration about current topics of interest in the STS community. Of course, it is impossible to cover the contents of an entire year of material in a single report, but I would like to continue the yearly tradition of calling out a few themes that emerged across several posts. These themes include: nuanced ideas about performance; debates about intensive engagement with personal analytics; discussions about taken-for-granted, everyday infrastructures; and re-imaginings of the future of past waste. Interestingly, these themes are not isolated but have their own intersecting echoes and intellectual provocations. (read more...)

On Being a “Natural” Human

Bodybuilders, split between “all natural bodybuilders” and those who, in failing to specify, are marked out as “drug” bodybuilders, are explicit about both the health consequences of using growth hormones and steroids, and the fact that they are absolutely necessary to success. “All natural” I was told, “is dead.” “You can’t get anywhere without taking drugs.” Yet these same interlocutors also told me that “drug bodies are fake.” With drugs the muscles are not “you,” “it’s just this skinny little guy in a muscle suit.” Setting aside, for a moment, the fact that “you” is always a “guy,” though when this conversation took place we had actually been talking about women, I want to think/talk/write for a moment about the tension, the distance between fake and winning bodies. I come to this discussion out of the excellent recent post by Chris Furlow on competitive cycling. Chris suggests that discourse amongst (read more...)

Moving Beyond Doping Scandals: Toward an Anthropology of Science, Technology and Performance

One of the many things I appreciate about anthropology is that we ask big questions like “What makes us human?” and “What does it mean to be human?” Whatever our specific research topic, no matter how narrow it may seem, we reflect on the connection our research has with these big questions. In this blog, I’d like to do just this in connection to my latest research interest: science, technology, and performance. This topic is a major departure from my previous research on Islam and science, but quite closely connected to cycling which has been a part of my life for three decades, longer than anthropology or STS. My training in the anthropology of science, technology, and medicine gives me an interesting perspective on cycling and especially the doping scandals that have plagued cycling and sport in general in recent decades. While journalists focus on specific details like who took (read more...)