A1 – Visual Culture in Practice
Assignment One: Visual Culture in Practice
The purpose of this assignment is to enable you to explore and develop initial ideas and research as part of a dissertation scoping and planning process. It is a key moment to reflect on possible relations between your ongoing research of visual culture with ideas relating to your photographic practice. The assignment requires you to reflect on how visual culture research and practice can weave together and support each other.
Write a 1000-word essay (+/- 10%) (or 5 minute equivalent presentation) that relates your Body of Work to an aspect of visual culture discussed in Part One. Your piece should be fully referenced and illustrated with your own photographs plus supporting figures where appropriate.
I am a NERD!
For many years if you liked or played Dungeons and Dragons or were into fantasy or swords and sorcery, maybe played World of Warcraft, you would find that you may get marked as a Nerd, and be subject to some ridicule. Whilst I have never actually played Dungeons and Dragons in its paper-based role-playing form I have played numerous computer games based on it,
I have played World of Warcraft for something like 17 years I am a full-on Nerd, I played Warhammer and painted miniatures I love fantasy-based fiction above all else. I am even thinking of going to the local game shop to play D&D properly.
Now does this mean I should be mocked? Apparently not so much, the nerd is seemingly the new hipster, its now cool to be a geek, games like world of warcraft are now really popular so it seems the mockers are the underclass now the world is being overtaken by the geeks and nerds cool people like Vin Diesel openly play D&D, Critical Role is now Main Steam and Comicon is the coolest place to be now.
My work is very much influenced by these things and the deeper I let myself submerge into this work the more it embraces the Geek in me and I am happy with that. Since I was about 12 years old and read the Lord of the Rings for the first time I have been a devotee of the world of fantasy, and from the early days of my photography I have been struggling to let this out, Early in Level one I discovered an article on the concept of Photofact and Photofiction and I instantly took the concept of Photofiction to heart, I think its why I don’t really like shooting a documentary. I felt it was important to nail my colours to the mast I embrace the nerd culture and want to make it even more mainstream. Hopefully, through this work, I can show this. The plan is to start at the roots with the uncanny valley and expand from there into the various discussions that this inevitably leads too.
Dr Mori’s work seems to me to be somewhat ahead of his time, it was conducted in 1970 when there was very little stimulation of the human form other than robots. Indeed his paper focuses on the development of human-like robots which were being made in ever-developing and improving plastics.
I was somewhat perplexed by his reference to Banraku Puppets, as these Japanese puppets are not meant to be a close representation of a human and often appear as acaracature of the human form.
Despite this Mori was definitely on to something, which seems to have surfaced much more strongly much later in popular culture and in the development of CGI, faster more powerful computers etc.
Lucasfilm have been pioneers in the development of CGI in movie making and the Starwars franchise has been at the front of their work, they have mostly managed to find ways to defeat the uncanny valley, in the first set of images they de-aged Carrie Fisher for the Rogue One film and if you look closely there is some definite straying into the uncanny valley, but in the same film, the CGI of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin was amazingly good. the last image is actually the latest attempt by the studio and is the de ageing of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamil) and is also a really good fit into the TV series The Mandalorian.
There is much debate on the existence of the uncanny valley, but to my mind, there is enough evidence around to say something makes us react to human facsimiles that do not quite measure up. The big question is what causes it, and I have not yet found any compelling research that answers that question.
I can look at a CGI image and tell you it looks wrong but it is far harder to describe why. In the early images of robots used by Mori et al., the faces looked too stiff like they could not move but in a still image, they cant move so what qualities make us think the face is stiff.
It strikes me that the way to understand the uncanny valley would be to take a picture of a real person and use CGI to reverse engineer their image until it felt uncanny. Sadly I have not yet worked out what I would have to change to achieve this.
Under the Luke Skywalker image is one of my images from the experimental graphic novel for BOW A2, the female was created from a rigged skeleton in DAZ studio and rendered into an image, she is very realistic but I think she shows signs of the uncanny valley, Studying the image long and hard makes me think that it is often something in the eyes or around the mouth that induce the uncanny, though if you look at the closeup of her eyes they look remarkably real.
This poses something of an issue for me in developing my body of work, I can tell by looking at an image that it is suffering from the uncanny valley, but I don’t as yet know how to fix that problem. In the film world, there have been some epic failures and some definitive withdrawals in response to the Uncanny Vally. As I mentioned in my blog post Films like Final Fantasy iv and Polar Express did really badly at the box office because people did not like the characters. The film Shrek made Princess Fiona more cartoonlike because a reference group of little people burst into tears at her original form. The incredible did something really clever they made human characters that were not much like a real human and dodged the Uncanny Bullet.
VFX Artists and Youtubers Fix the Scorpion King
This is a youtube video made by the Corridor Crew, a bunch of talented VFX artists I linked it here because their analysis of the thing that make this scene one of the worst CGI film sequences ever is spot on and offers some real inside into the causes of the Uncanny Valey. They actually go on to largely fix the scene though the only shame is that the solution to the face is to sample real images of Dwane Johnston. That said the solution is brilliant.
The Uncanny Valley:
The Original Essay by Masahiro Mori
“The Uncanny Valley” by Masahiro Mori is an influential essay in robotics. This is the first English translation authorized by Mori.
An article in IEEE Spectrum: https://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/humanoids/the-uncanny-valley
Translated by Karl F. MacDorman and Norri Kageki
In order to have a debate on the Uncanny Valley I thought it would be useful to read the original paper which is unfortunately in Japanese however, luckily for me it was neatly translated and published in the June 2012 issue of IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine. and then posted to their web magazine IEEE Spectrum this was a useful starting point for me.