Shapes in Space

I just love, love, LOVE this clip!!! And the story behind it is so bittersweet. Here’s the abbreviated version: This was the test done by special effects legend Phil Tippett to show Steven Spielberg that hyper-real stop motion animation was possible. And as you can see, it very much is/was. I mean damn! Just look at it! It looks like it’s breathing!!! So tactile. So THERE. Apparently it wasn’t ‘there’ enough; Spielberg—dazzled by what Dennis Muren and his team accomplished with computer generated imagery in Terminator 2: Judgment Day—decided to forgo Tippett’s go motion in favor of computer generated animation.

I didn’t find out about this until many years after I’d seen the movie. Ever since then, I have wondered what certain scenes might have looked like with go motion dinos instead of CG ones. Especially this one…

Imagine this scene rendered in shot-with-a-real-camera stop motion that was momentarily covered in beautifully overcompensating motion blur like this…

Instead we got overcompensating fluidity. The highly viscous virtual rubber quality of computer generated animation is incredibly intriguing to me. It’s like a new type of matter that seems dense, but only cursorily adheres to the physical restraints of our world. The following scene from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones illustrates this perfectly; just peep how the subtle gestures of the human actors contrasts with the intended-to-be subtle movements of the digital ones…

This scene dances back-and-forth between two worlds—not just a human and alien one—but two different atmospheres; two different sets of the-way-things-move rules. In the human world there is a REAL sense of weight (the lightsaber duels demonstrate this quite beautifully). However, in the alien world everything seems floaty. There is very little ‘hitch’ to the movement.

Before I continue, I must say I do not know much about the art of computer animation. I’m sure I could jump on YouTube and in a few short hours learn how to shade something in Maya or Video Toaster or something, but why would I devote that much time to something I only begrudgingly like? (Okay, sometimes love—the uncanny valley effect that occurs when dude tries to close the umbrella is just gorgeous) So I’m just gonna talk spitefully outta my ass. But first, a little bit about mass, space and gravity (well, actually a whole lot about mass, space and gravity; pretty much the whole damn article). Here’s the nonsensical, but kinda fun Twitter version of what I’m about to get into if you don’t have the patience. For everybody else…

It’s all about space.

Masses moving through space…

All kinds of spatial concerns had to be addressed during the creation and subsequent performance of this animatronic: The roof had to be raised to accommodate its rapid evolution, and then on set precautions had to be taken to avoid injuries to the cast and crew. The MACHINE, albeit no more than a scaled-up puppet, was LETHAL. Same holds true for the creation and performance (sans lethality) of the wire armatures used in stop motion animation. But spatial concerns are just one part of the equation. There’s something else we need to factor in…

Good ol’ gravity. The force created by constant cyclical motion that causes things to converge on a point. In our planet’s case, things heavier than our atmosphere rush towards its core; fortunately, our planet has evolved a (relatively VERY thin) surface that keeps those things and us away from the fire within. Interesting how the place where the fire is found becomes down (the ground, the bottom) and the sky becomes UP…but when you go way, way, way up the ground becomes ROUND.


Up, down…nowhere to be found.

CGI seems to operate out there. Just floating around. Not bound to any ‘grounding’ force. Stop motion animators on the other hand, have to play a delicate game with gravity. The animator has to physically manipulate the puppet within actual space, both during its design and performance…and there are all sorts of gravity-impacted electrical things going on in his/her body while engaged in both of these actions; all which translate to the puppet. A ‘self-portrait’ of how the animator interprets gravity is the result. Question is: Can this be done virtually? Can a computer simulate a ‘force?’ The space/gravity AI has to be perfect for the movement to be perfect. This is very hard to do, that’s why the perpetual few-steps-behind, underwater, gelatin-like quality exists. The machine can’t recreate the force. Even when we motion capture real people the resulting animation does not translate one-to-one. It is still ‘off.’

Maybe we could add REAL weight to the virtual masses we create. May be we can create virtual grams. Scratch that, let’s go smaller—virtual nanograms. The smaller the virtual bit the REALER the virtual masses will seem. We can create virtual fat, virtual muscle and wrap it up in virtual skin all created from our virtual bits! We will finally be able to avoid that jelly-filled-ragdoll-in-space dynamic. All we would have to do is mo-cap actors and imbue our hyper-dense, hyper-real digital flesh-and-bone characters with their performance!!!

But then again…would it be REALLY real? Or just a reflection of reality? Simulacra that appears at first glance to be real but cannot hold up to ABSOLUTE scrutiny.

Just like us.

We’re simulations creating simulations…

Under a microscope our skin looks like this…

Yet this is not what we see when we look at our skin, but then again it kinda is. Everything you see in the video is there, you just can’t perceive it. And if we zoom way out into space we disappear, only the land masses can be seen. There are a little over one-billion people in this picture, yet we cannot see a single one, but they’re right there! We’re looking RIGHT at them.

What this demonstrates is a binary-like, naturally-occurring programming. Space and matter facilitate all sorts of perceptual possibilities. NONE of them absolute. And it all works via relative distances maintained within infinite space; planets relate to their solar systems’ central stars and the solar systems relate to galaxies and galaxies relate to each other…and whatever else lies beyond.

Space is a place free from time and relativity, and its most monumental ‘feat’ may simply be infinite room to ‘be.’ Spatial ‘opportunity’ that allows matter to be as more or as less as it wants. What we make of this phenomena is entirely up to us1. There are a plethora of ideas out there to choose from and we can pick as many or as few as we’d like. Hell, we can even make some shit up if we so desire. Space will accommodate. Always.

1. We are the literal difference. A difference engine really (dividing up space). You, me and everyone-and-thing else. We all MAKE this universe. We are its substance, it’s material; and along with being the raw ingredients we are also part of the machine that churns it into all sorts of relatively diverse stuff.

It’s a loop and this loop creates the energy that sustains the illusion! But why? Why the need for the an infinite ruse? Why all the cosmic special effects? Is ‘something’ trying to impress us? Entertain us? If so, why do we have to be a PART of the show? Both the spectators AND the talent. That means we gotta do shit…like cut infinite shapes in infinite space. Our bodies (like all matter) CUT shapes into space that must be accommodated for. Space does this by becoming part of us…to the point where there becomes no separation between it and us. Yet we are here. We will always be here. Just in myriad different shapes…because we are composed myriad different shapes. But is there a pure shape? A pure piece of matter that links every last thing that exists? Something OTHER than space. SomeTHING that ACTUALLY exists. Yes, I know space ACTUALLY exists, but it’s nothing. I want something, something real. Yes, I also know space is real, but I’m looking for a PURE unifying piece of matter.


I get it.

Nothing is pure.

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