What's in a Model? A History of Human Modeling for Computer Graphics and Animation, 1961-1988
In the 1960s, scientists, engineers, artists and animators experimented with analog and digital computer graphics, animating stick figures and humanoid forms visualized on cathode ray tube screens. Over the next two decades, as research and creative work in 3-D computer graphics and animation developed at several research hubs and production companies across the United States, and as digital imaging formats superseded analog ones, the transformability and manipulability of digital images proliferated and along with it the occurrences of 3-D humanoid renderings. Studying the history of 3-D computer graphic modeling, and treating the models as objects of inquiry in the many forms that they take, reveals that the existence of the model, an original object or objects of reference, whether living or inanimate, matters to the way that computer graphic modeling developed and how that history unfolded. Traces of recognizability extend through the many transformations and manipulations of the 3-D model, attesting to the staying power of the body model and the material underpinnings of computer imaging practices. Analyzing the history of practices in 3-D computer graphic modeling using a material culture studies approach adds nuance to histories of computerized imaging and draws attention to the array of objects and people deployed to get information about human bodies into computers. This project shifts emphasis from the “pioneers” of computer graphics to the models recruited to help them carry out their work. By “following the bodies,” we gain an understanding of body and beauty standards that informed practices of computer graphic modeling, guided by a combination of craft-based and computer-automated techniques to digitize the surface information of human bodies and the way they move. By the 1980s, computer-generated humanoids in television commercials and in films signaled their synthetic nature and contributed to a visual culture of computing, characterized by ever-shifting terms of photorealism, uncanny clones, and self-reflexive pastiche. This is the digital world we have inherited; replete with libraries of ready-made 3-D body models whose electronic binary code has corporeal traces written into it.
History; 3-D modeling; Information technology; Computer animation; History of technology; Computer Graphics; Body studies
Kline, Ronald R.
Villarejo, Amy; Prentice, Rachel E.
Science and Technology Studies
Ph. D., Science and Technology Studies
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis