Distinguishing Phenomena from Techniques

Introductory, TV Commercials Comments Off

One of the basic approaches of The Virtual Space Theory is that it separates the discussion of pictorial phenomena from that of the technical procedures used to create them.

Let’s take the following TV commercial as an example:

A common reaction many people have when watching it, especially for the first time, is to immediately ask “How did they do that?” or “Is it real?” In other words, the improbability of seeing thousands of colorful balls bouncing down the sloped streets of San Francisco makes us wonder what it is exactly that we are seeing. Is it a filmed report of an actual event, or some computer-generated wizardry? Before I give the answer, let’s take a look at one more video:

As you might have guessed by now, the first video was filmed on location in San Francisco, and the technique which was used for it was to dump rubber balls from trucks located further uphill. The second video is computer-generated, demonstrating a real-time rendering application called Cryengine (‘real-time’ means that rather than preparing the images in advance, such software is capable of producing each frame of this video as it is viewed – or roughly in 0.04 seconds).

And yet, from the point of view of The Virtual Space Theory, the virtual places created by these videos are essentially identical. In both cases, what we see is a virtual space version of San Francisco with colorful balls bouncing down its streets [update 02/2010: The CG video originally discussed here is no longer available, so I replaced it with another version of it which shows bouncing teapots instead of balls, but the principle remains the same]. Just like in the case of the Eiffel Tower discussed in an earlier post, the fact that the first video was filmed in San Francisco, does not make the physical city of San Francisco somehow float behind your computer screen. In both of them, all you are actually seeing is a virtual place which looks like San Francisco. The only difference between them is in their techniques of production.

Now let’s extend the point further to also cover the phenomenon of motion, by using another example from the same series of TV commercials:

The question, this time, is whether or not there actually are colored plasticine bunnies hopping about sidewalks in New York City. The visual style of this video hints to us that it was made using the stop-motion technique, since the movement of the bunnies is continuous, whereas that of the passers-by and shadows is rather erratic. In the physical city of New York, then, what was actually there were pre-made models of bunnies in different poses, which were interchanged and moved around by the film crew in between the shootings of each frame. The hopping bunnies you just saw as a result, however, are not and never were in physical New York. These are virtual bunnies, and they exist only in virtual space – as part of the virtual New York City of this TV commercial.

Therefore, as you watch the following final video, see if you can look at it beyond the automatic tendency to ask “…but how did they do it?!” Instead, how about considering it to be nothing more than a visual Concerto for Paint and Apartment Blocks played out inside of a virtual place in virtual space. From the point of view of this discussion, then, you might find that the answer to your question about the technique is another question:

“Does it really matter…?”

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