Reading and discussion question for Monday

The reading for Monday is “The Materialities of Maya” by Casey Alt, which can be found here.

We’re going to try something slightly different for the discussion question. This time I’ll ask you to reflect on an issue related to the reading for next week, not this week.

The question is: What does Alt mean by “materiality”? How is his understanding of materiality similar to, or different from, the other concepts of materiality we’ve encountered this semester? What does this suggest about the differences or similarities between print and digital materiality?

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Published in: on February 5, 2010 at 10:58 am  Comments (11)  

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  1. In “The Materialities of Maya,” Casey Alt describes the process of computer graphics in general as a “disembodied” process; that is, it takes place without real physical interaction- only on a computer. This is the concept she uses to define materiality in the digital sphere. According to her paper, the materiality of digital media is nothing more than a compilation and “disembodiment” of traditional print media. That is, when one views a piece of paper on a screen, one is really only viewing the screen, and so paper is no longer the media which is being viewed. In a way, this experience is somewhat transcendent, as in the case of Virtual Reality, where a participant is not actually in a different world, but instead is having the experience of being somewhere different.

    This, in a way, is very similar to the concept both remediation and transparency as stated by the crystal goblet theory. It is remediation in the sense that, in the example with a piece of paper, one is taking the paper and putting it somewhere where there is an infinite amount of paper- the limitations of paper on a computer are much more broad than the limitations of a physical piece of paper. This is the key different between digital and physical media, though there is a certain amount of security to be had with using physical paper. The “embodiment” factor holds true with physical media, while digital media becomes less and less embodied.

    The crystal goblet theory holds for this in that in cases such as Virtual Reality, the animation is supposed to work just like text in a book- it is supposed to be completely transparent, so that the participant is transported into that scene and as such has a transcendant, imaginary experience.

    Alt’s theory combines both of these into a complex form that is evinced by the concept and existence of Maya, and thus how we perceive digital media and realities.

  2. Casey Alt seems to suggest that materiality should be transparent and invisible; its purpose is to focus our attention on the meaning being presented. Alt applies his definition of materiality to the digital world, while also stating that traditional print media is being taken apart when it is transferred into digital media. When we see traditional print media on a computer screen, we are now viewing digital media instead of the original print media. Print media is embodied while digital media is disembodied; we can easily tear up a piece of paper, but we cannot tear up the screen in which we type words on.

    Alt uses Virtual Reality as an example. Alt states that Virtual Reality is “often portrayed as a means for freeing perception (vision) from the constraints of the flesh…” The materiality in Virtual Reality provides users with a sense of being in an entirely different world, though they really are not; it achieves transparency.

    Alt’s definition of materiality is similar to Beatrice Warde’s theory of The Crystal Goblet. Both Alt and Warde state that materiality should convey the thoughts, ideas, and images of the author clearly to the reader. Digital media is better than print media in the way it presents this materiality because it can visually, thus more transparently, show us the meaning of a text.

  3. In “The Materialities of Maya,” Casey Alt says that “Virtual Reality” has implied a “seamless, three-dimensional, hyper realistic “world” of computer graphics”. People don’t realize the multiple factors that play a part in the simply put Virtual Reality. By “materiality”, Alt means that digital media is something that only exists on the screen and nowhere else. Something that happens instantly and nearly magically for the viewing pleasure.
    Alt says that Digital Media does not simply happen; rather they are constructed through “complex power negotiations of people and groups”. Alt goes on to explain that they each have their own specific financial, technical, and social interests in how the media is manifested, marketed, and modified.
    Digital media is superior to print media because it can manipulate images and computer made objects in 3D, creating less work for the animators and a more realistic final product.

  4. Alt’s ideas on materiality seem to represent a conscious rejection of what people often describe as the “genre of 3D effects” or the “genre of animation”. Alt argues that such classifications are unnecessarily constricting, implying, for instance, that all animation is required to fit a certain model exclusive to that of other more traditional media (like live-action film). This sort of classification fails to recognize that these aren’t so much genres like “Mystery” or “Action/Adventure”, but simply new media capable of all the genres the human mind can conceptualize with them. This also arbitrarily conscripts such new media as intrinsically a remediation of older media, a situation exacerbated by the transference of older media to digital representations. Alt differs from the “crystal goblet” approach here in that he accepts Maya as a specific form of media with it’s own materiality and not just a container through which previous forms of media are reconstituted in new ways.

  5. Casey Alt discusses the aspects and elements of virtual reality, 3D graphics and animation manipulation in Maya, and object-oriented design in computer languages such as Smalltalk and Java in his piece entitled “The Materialities of Maya.” Each of these media are comprised of certain materials that aid in their development and analysis.

    For example, at the most basic level of object-oriented programming, actual objects with properties are created in Java that perform simple routines and then message their results to other objects until certain parameters or constraints are met. These objects are virtual materials consisting of properties that can be manipulated in the virtual environment. Similarly in Maya, any 3D object created in the program’s interface consists entirely of nodes which allow the user to physically change and manipulate the structure of the object.

    This view of materiality differs from a piece such as Felix the Cat “Comic Calamities” in that every object created digitally exists only as ones and zeroes in the computer and has no real life physicality. Graphite or ink exists in print physically and can be manipulated without the additional medium of the computer. The materialities are similar in that the objects created in each world are restricted to that plane and may only be witnessed in that residence.

  6. According to Casey Alt, the definition of materiality is extended to add this new remediaization or the usage of Maya and other similar programs as material themselves. His definition is an extension of the already established materiality definition in which it is simply the media that expresses the world or view it is trying to show without bring to much attention onto itself. Though this extension can be simply defined at remediaization it in itself begins to reduce the importance of print media and instead focuses one’s attention on the digital field. With the increasing usage of CGI or similar programs the use of actual actors, props and even sets will decrease as the technology for the models increases over time. Though both print and digital media try and accomplish the same thing, digital can bring out the image in one’s head into reality. Thus the increasing allure of digital media over print.

  7. In Alt’s “The Materiality of Maya” she explains how Digital Media has created something beyond what traditional print has ever been able to accomplish. Maya has enabled us to render more realistic interpretations of objects and ideas. There is, of course a certain about of remediation that goes on with Maya. Instead of traditional pen and paper suddenly characters, places, ideas and technologies can be created digitally. It expands the possibilities. Yet Alt tries to establish the fact that while this is all being created in a digital world, it is in no way any less “real”, it’s simply a different media form that we have been used to in the past.It is no less material. As technologies advance and expand we need to re asses our definition of materiality and incorporate what computers can add to out understanding.
    Maya has created a world of seemingly endless possibilities, while we have in the past, been constrained by what we can create, computers and digital media allows us to enter into arenas that were previously unattainable. Something such as Jurassic Park is a prime example of how materiality has changed and increased. The dinosaurs and technology in that film as extremely realistic, they are as much characters in the movie as Sam Neil or Jeff Goldblum, showing that computer rendered characters are no less material.

  8. In the article, “The Materialities of Maya: Making Sense of Object- Orientation” by Casey Alt, Alt definition of materiality is digital media instead of other media discussed in the course. Based on certain theorists like Bolster and Grusin, and film critics the understanding of materiality and its similarities or differences from other concepts of materiality encountered this semester vary. In essense, digital media just like Maya, is another type of medium being developed not so much a form of remediation in that it actually uses all the other forms of media as a whole. Stetchpad, CAD, 3-D rendering, and computer graphics helped to formulate Maya; but Maya is itself its own invention of digital media. Our culture now prefers the mediation of compputer graphics and 3-D rendering versus the medium that preceeded. Immediacy is more plausible with this type of digital technology than the works of comic books and cartoon animation. But I believe that Maya is different from all the other forms of media in the case of hypermediacy; the audience is reminded somehow of the medium, unless breaking of the fourth wall. And with video games like Nintendo’s Mario Bros. is a form of immediacy, the game player is “disembodied” from the actual reality of the game sequence.
    “They are machines which mediate and stabilize our representations” (408). Also pages 408-409 Alt examines and tells the differences of Maya and other medium.

  9. Alt points out that the materiality in Maya rests heavily on its own user-interface. The production of any media requires a high level of technical skill and familiarity with the program. With that in mind, anything produced will be highly affected by Maya’s specific restraints. I believe Alt is making it clear that the resulting materiality is caused by a lack of agreement between the artist’s goals and the program’s output. In a sense, this occurs in every medium, in which skill and technology limit an artist’s ability to express.

    In contrast to the other forms of media we have discussed so far (print, ink and paper, etc.), digital media brings in a new dimension of perspective. Current digital materiality stems out of the challenge of viewing complex three-dimensional objects and scenery from a two-dimensional screen. Even with the ability to shift angles, pan, and zoom, these actions direct attention away from the content and on to the medium.

  10. As digital media becomes more and more ubiquitous, its role and identity shifts. applications of digital content and techniques have shifted from an extension and remediation of classic and narrowly defined avenues such as film making into a panoptic resource. As shown by Maia, digital content has become, in a sense, standardized. the myriad forms of inscription now use, and output, this digital form which can be easily translated into nearly any medium.

    As to digital materiality, Casey invokes many of the same concepts as we discussed about imagination. he rejects the concept of virtual reality as a sort of rendered landscape, or ocular mimic. instead, he posits it as formless and completely mutable. The physicality of the effect remains recessed as numbers in a databank.
    yet, this substrate is wholly unbounded by the physical limitations of any other substrate. it endeavors to act as a sort of pure mediator between raw imagination and bounded output. he demonstrates its insubstantial yet powerful properties by showing how Maia can display shapes from all perspectives simultaneously as well as in different modes of perception

  11. According to Casey Alt, the new wave of media, such as virtual reality, is portrayed as a means for “freeing perception from the constraints of the flesh.” This is pretty similar to what the materiality of older forms of media was trying to attain. However, the use of technology has made the remediation of other media to amount to the dissolution of media differences into a single, immaterial stream of information. Basically, remediation, instead of improving the materiality of media, has made it lose its originality and made it harder to achieve its ultimate purpose – to free the reader of physical restraints, and transport them to another world (In the case of Promethea, it’d be the ‘immateria’).


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