SIGCIS 2012 Workshop, Parallel Session II: Dissertation Session

Name: Rebecca A. Perry
Institutional Affiliation: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
E-mail address:
Paper Type: Work in Progress
Paper Title: Digital 3D Modeling and the Seduction of the Real
Paper Abstract: Special effects and digital manipulations have become ubiquitous in films, games, advertising and even live sporting events (as with the augmented reality “first down” line digitally painted on the football field). The intermingling of digital and real objects raises many fascinating questions about the status of the virtual and real and our relationship to them. This investigation is aimed at gaining a deeper understanding of the people making digital objects (or 3D models), the ways in which they are making and conceiving of them, and the nature of the objects themselves—objects which I will argue are best described as computational objects. These computational objects—hybrid entities which merge traces of the real (Sontag 1990), literally captured off of the surfaces of actual objects, with idealized, abstracted forms traditionally associated with the mathematically derived models that constitute simulations—form a new type of world experience and identity experience for the many different types of artisans and technologists who collaborate in their creation.

The subjects of my research, computer graphic artists, researchers, programmers and technical specialists spend their days with their minds and hands entwined with a new type of digital tool set. In some cases the tools are visualized in software as abstracted representations of traditional tools for sculpting, carving or manipulating objects. In other cases, the tools represent entirely new paradigms. The tools link the modeler to different temporal and spatial modalities and different representational schemes and technologies. Software such as Autodesk’s Maya allows the user to trace the thread of relationships of parts to the whole—mapping the relationships of the various elements that make up an object, such as forms, textures, lighting and skeleton or bones.
Animators and modelers are being transformed into harvesters of the world’s movements and surfaces. Their expertise in capturing, manipulating and transferring the world to their models becomes part of their professional identities. Practioners see themselves as aligned with craft traditions and values even as they struggle to negotiate a complex, post-modern workplace characterized by distant collaborations and highly subdivided and distributed tasks. The models themselves become cognitive gathering points where bits of the world are wrapped around evocative abstractions. The digital modeler, unlike the one who works in clay, proceeds with one finger on the “undo” key. The feeling of tacit knowledge gained by virtually fingering the surfaces of a database is powerful seduction of the real.