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Software, Animation and the Moving Image brings a unique perspective to the study of computer-generated animation by placing interviews undertaken with animators alongside an analysis of the user interface of animation software. Wood develops a novel framework for considering computer-generated images found in visual effects and animations.




What do we already know about computer-generated animation? When Frozen (USA, 2013) or The Lego Movie (Australia, 2014) gain wide-spread acclaim, and publicity surrounding their success sparks various debates (about princesses in Disney or the nostalgia of Lego), the look of computer generated figures and storytelling practices have a wide reach. Such high profile features are only the tip of what’s out there, as computer animation is commonly behind visual effects in live-action films, forms the basis of all kinds of computer games, is widely used in making adverts and data visualizations, and found on many websites too. What we know about all these computer-generated animations is often based on what we see on the screen. Frequently this tells us about an increasing capacity to simulate or depict physical reality, whether as extraordinarily photoreal imagery in films such as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (USA, 2014), amusing adverts like The Pony (UK, 2013) for Three (featuring a moon dancing Shetland pony), or the spread of touch screen smart phone and tablet games including Angry Birds (Finland, 2009), BADLAND (Finland, 2013) or Monument Valley (UK, 2014). Through television news reports and documentary based programs, animation’s facility to inform is visible as well. From this diverse range of increasingly pervasive animation, we can see and hear the ways in which computer animation software is a highly pliable technology whose capacity to become embedded in existing forms of storytelling, information sharing and marketing is fully exploited.
Aylish Wood

1. Getting to Know Software: A Study of Autodesk Maya

Drawing on software studies, Wood offers an original methodology for approaching software by analysing the user interface of the 3-D animation software Autodesk Maya in the context of its paratexts. This entails scrutinizing the operational logic of the software as it appears on the user interface, the frames and patterns associated with the surface and also the deeper structures of the software. In Getting to Know Software, Wood also looks back into Maya’s history and gives an account of the context of Autodesk Maya’s production and release, and a media archaeology of movement algorithms more generally. The discussion draws on interviews with users of software. This material provides many insights into what animators do as they create moving images using software.
Aylish Wood

2. Software and the Moving Image: Back to the Screen

Introducing an innovative approach to digital images, Wood explores what software tells us about moving images. Her discussion starts with the logic of realism informing representational spaces in many moving images found in live-action films, games, animations and data visualizations. These are contrasted with sequences found in Iron Man 3, Oblivion, Rango and Journey that map onto a reality drawing its contours from ‘digital space’. Describing digital contours, Wood builds on her discussion of software based on interviews and analysis of Autodesk Maya. Digital contours are explained as movements and proximities in a digitally configured space. Based on non-representational theories used by cultural geographers, Software and the Moving Image puts forward more-than-representational space to explain the experience of digital contours in moving images.
Aylish Wood


Knowing more about software involves knowing not just what it does, but also how people use it, think about it as well as through it, when they construct digital things. As digital technologies continue to develop, so too does their potential to transform the ways we work and interact with the materials in which they are embedded. For animators working with software, it changes the ways they work with the entities they create, how they see and interact with them. Exploring what this means requires finding a way into software. As David Berry notes: ‘What remains clear … is that looking at computer code is difficult due to its ephemeral nature, the high technical skills required of the researcher and the lack of analytical or methodological tools available’ (2011, p. 5). This high technical skill, and perhaps a perspective that technologies are ‘only’ tools, leads to a tendency to talk about digital things, including images, without paying attention to software: ‘writings on digital media almost all ignore something crucial: the actual processes that make digital media work, the computational machines that make digital media possible’ (Wardrip-Fruin, 2009, p. 3).
Aylish Wood


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