Animation as a Medium

I’ve been a huge fan of anime and animation in general for my whole life so I thought I’d use this space to share a few of my thoughts about a medium that I love.  (By the way, all the clips I added here are pretty short.)

At this point, becoming enchanted by Disney’s animated films as a young child is practically a universal experience and an integral part of growing up.  However, Disney style animation that caters towards kids is not the only kind of animation out there.  Over the last two decades Japanese animation, or anime, has seen a steady rise in popularity here in the west. And in particular, its popularity has exploded over the course of the last six years.  Back in 2012, the anime streaming service Crunchyroll had a mere 100,000 paying subscribers, making it a niche streaming service that catered to a relatively small community of fans.  However, last month the service announced that it had reached the 2 million subscriber threshold, a massive 20-fold increase in 6 years. The service now boasts over 45 million registered users and is one of the 10 largest online video streaming services out there (though it obviously lags behind leaders like Netflix).

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This charts the number of paid subscribers to Crunchyroll from September 2012 to February 2017.

Animation as a medium excels at telling stories that are fantastical in nature.  What really makes it shine is that it immediately creates a level of separation between the fiction on the screen and reality.  The fact that the show is either hand drawn or rendered immediately sets up an expectation that the world inside the story is different from reality, which makes it easier for the audience to suspend their disbelief.  To add to this, the nature of the medium also allows for the seamless integration of magical effects into the fabric of the show. When a live action show wants to add effects, the effect must usually be computer generated and then added in after filming. But, the juxtaposition between a computer rendered effect and a live actors and settings can often feel jarring and take away from the immersion.  And, an effect created at the time of filming using real-world techniques lacks the mysticism and feeling of wonder that is so important in fantasy and fairy tales for the simple reason that it can be explained with real world physics. It is far easier make an effect feel like it belongs to the world of the story in animated shows as the artist simply has to draw them both in the same art style.  Also, if we take a look back to old classics like Cinderella, many of the effects in these films probably would have been impossible to do in live action with the technology of the time. For example, I can’t imagine the fallowing scene where Cinderella’s dress transforms would have been feasible in live action with the technology available in the 1950’s.

Another benefit of the medium is that it allows for the creators to have a great deal more artistic freedom.  Creators can get away with more exaggerated expressions and actions in animation than they can in live action, again because of the separation from reality. We expect real people to act in a certain way, but the same expectations are far weaker for those that are animated.  What can reasonably feel like a hyped up battle scene in Dragonball Z would probably end up as just a bunch of dudes screaming way too loudly at each other in live action.

This is a clip from an anime called Nichijou that uses extreme and absurd reactions to great comedic effect.  Such a reaction could never even be considered in live action. It’s just not feasible and would make no sense if the show wasn’t animated.

Finally, animation in the west has this stigma as being a children’s medium.  And to be honest, with how successful Disney has become, it makes sense. But animation isn’t a medium that’s made just for kids.  Over the years it has also been used to depict topics far beyond what would be appropriate for children.  I think the best example of this would be the 1988 film Grave of the Fireflies created by Studio Ghibli and director Isao Takahata.  Yes, this is the same studio that brought us wholesome classics such as Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service. But whereas those two are great children’s movies, Grave of the Fireflies is a devastating and heart wrenching drama about the true costs of war.  In this movie, animation transcends the medium and strikes at the heart of what it means to survive as a human.

Grave of the Fireflies is a fantastic film. I definitely recommend watching it, but be warned, it will make you Sad.

Youjia Wang

Edit: I noticed that in a place or two I accidentally forgot a

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Podcasting — The Future of News Media

With the increasingly shortening attention span of the average person, the printed newspaper has become the least popular medium for news. News is now transmitted through a variety of different formats — such as television, internet, and video — and you would be hard pressed to find anyone that still reads the morning paper. Hell, I cannot even remember a single time I have read a newspaper throughout the 19 years of my life. The limitations of the printed medium just can’t compare with the affordances of new visual and auditory media. As a result, news media outlets are adapting to the current social climate.

News media outlets such as Vox Media and Vice News have taken advantage of the growing popularity of YouTube by creating informative, infographic videos that incorporate animations, video clips, and graphics with the spoken word to capture the audience’s attention. On the other hand, broadcast companies such as Fox, NBC, and CNN have taken advantage of television broadcasting to disseminate the news and reach broader audiences. These visual mediums have infinitely more potential to capture one’s attention than the small black and white words that fill newspapers.

Just take a look at the video and newspaper below. Which one would you be more likely to read or watch?

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The video, right? I agree. There is simply no comparison between the two mediums. With print newspaper, there is just not enough stimuli to compete with these other forms of news. Just like the common idiom states, a picture is worth a thousand words, and there is no way in hell I am going to read a thousand words; so, just show me the picture.

While these mediums do a great job of capturing your attention, they require your complete and undivided attention. People are busy. Most work 9 to 5 jobs, more people than ever commute to work, and a lot don’t have the time nor the energy to engage in these news mediums. So, how can the news be translated in another way to adapt to our busy lifestyles?

Podcasting has emerged as a new, great alternative for consuming the news. It allows for the average person to keep up to date with the news, while performing their routine day-to-day tasks. Depending on the type of job you have, you could be listening to podcasts the entire workday. News media outlets need to take advantage of this emerging medium. With podcasting, news media outlets have the opportunity to be in the ears of the masses for large portions of the day.

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Newspaper The New York Times has taken advantage of this opportunity with its podcast The Daily. They take the most significant current news stories and thoroughly examine them in a condensed 20-40 minutes. This audio format affords them a lot more freedom than print newspapers. For the Blasey-Kavanaugh hearing, they took actual recordings from the hearing, brought in guest speakers who have personal connections with Kavanaugh, and commented on specific key incidents that occurred during the hearing. There is a lot more nuance that can be conveyed in this format.

By listening to the actual hearing itself, a lot more is conveyed than words on a page. You can hear the intonations of their voice and emotions in their speech, and you can form your own opinions based off them. It makes it much more difficult to take out of context, and it holds a much more significant impact when you actually hear the words coming from their source. Podcasting also gives the audience a much more human take on the news. Hearing the reporter’s analysis through his or her voice helps the audience identify the difference between analytical opinions and objective facts.

With that said, podcasting offers an exciting, new alternative to traditional forms of newscasting, yet few news broadcasting companies have begun to utilize it. Podcasting is slowly growing in popularity, while these other forms are quickly declining. These companies need to advance into the future and pick up this growing medium. It is only a matter of time before podcasting becomes a significant component of news media.

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/dir-33yyz-4bc4d9f

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/n7abi-4b59fac-dir?from=share&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&download=0&vjs=1&skin=1

*Sorry, I know it’s annoying to click a link, but WordPress is being a butthole and I have been trying to fix it for hours.

Ethan Nguyen

New Adventures in Old VR (And Vice Versa)

The Adventure Science Center, located about an eight-minute drive from Vanderbilt University’s campus in Nashville, Tennessee, is an incredibly fun place to explore, learn, and, in my case, work for. I was an exhibit attendant and front desk operator for ASC for quite some time, and in my tenure, I was able to witness first-hand the effects of new media and technology on kids’ education.

One of my jobs was to maintain and run the Blue Max Flight Simulator, which was a two-person pod capable of recreating the flips and turns of a digital roller coaster, or the flight of a fighter jet. The concept was not new- arcades and play places had similar devices in my childhood, but this was the first time I was technologically familiar with the ride. The roller coasters were more like incredibly active movies, in which the viewer watched a tightly shot screen of a digital roller coaster and the pod moved to simulate the drops and flips. The roller coasters were not the most realistic things in the world (we had ones where you rode over space, or through a volcano), but even the ones simulating a realistic experience still gave away their simulation through graphic composition, or through the incredibly loud Red Hot Chili Peppers mix blaring through the speakers.

The fighter jet was user-controlled, with joysticks located on the sides of each seat, and again, the graphics left a lot to be desired. But, the kid’s sense of realism was more than fulfilled by having the pod respond to their joystick movement, actually putting them into a dive or repetitive barrel rolls. Physical movement, it seemed, made up for the pixellated images.

I spent a lot of time watching the rides in the Blue Max bay on the screen on the control panel, listening to the shrieks and swears of passengers, and the weirdest thing happened: it started to get old. I was bored of the standard rides and loops, could repeat the theme music for each ride, and became more concerned with how long it took for patrons to empty their pockets. A child was sitting at the desk next to me playing with the flight simulator that was identical to the one in the pod, the joysticks and buttons controlling a wide array of turns and data. He had figured out, all on his own, how to work the joysticks, shoot, and switch camera angles. And he couldn’t have been more than seven years old.

The ASC recently added a VR center for kids ages 13 and up, and currently has a program designed to put the kid directly in the center of the process of building a skyscraper in downtown Nashville. The equipment was clunky and hard to work with, and more than once, we found minor inconveniences could shut down an entire station. No one wanted to work at the VR station. It was boring. All you did was watch people hooked into a complicated system raise and lower their hands and turn around in a blank, empty space. But in the players’ eyes, they were lifting cross beams, choosing window styles, and directing cranes.

It is a strange feeling to work with VR, to see the detached human side of the virtual playground, and it is easy to get bored with it, like it is with any job. But, looking back, the extent to which VR incorporated itself as a normal part of our lives and work environment was disconcertingly quick (the new exhibit was installed in a month, we were trained for a week, and then it went live). It raises a lot of questions for me about the future of this sort of technology, and the ease with which we adapt to it. Where do we go from here?

Achievements in Video Games

 

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An example of what an Xbox One achievement looks like when earned. Source

Achievements are a huge part of video game culture.  Almost everyone who owns a console or Steam has earned at least one, and many gamers stake their gaming reputation on how many achievements they’ve gotten or how hard the ones they’ve completed are to get.  There are multiple websites and videos designed to help gamers complete their achievement list for the games they’re trying to complete, and there’s even an entire YouTube channel called The Completionist geared around, among a few other things, collecting every achievement in whatever game they’re covering that week.  There’s no question that achievements help give gamers a goal to work forwards when playing games, especially for open-ended games or match-based games where there might not be that much drive to continue playing the game without them.  However, are achievements really helpful to gamers, or do they merely distract players from the important parts of gaming?

Continue reading “Achievements in Video Games”

Walking Simulators and the Importance of Narrative

In class on Thursday, one of the complaints that people had towards That Dragon, Cancer was that it wasn’t really a “game;” instead, it was more of an interactive narrative.  They went on to say that, since they were expecting a more gameplay-driven experience, the extreme focus on story and lack of choices that That Dragon, Cancer had left a disappointing taste in their mouths.  However, I would argue that lack of choice is incredibly important to the story.  Furthermore, I would argue that That Dragon, Cancer does count as a game, because the very act of playing serves a purpose and communicates core concepts to the player.

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A scene where gameplay matters.  Source

A major theme of That Dragon, Cancer is the sense of helplessness that Ryan and Amy feel.  At a certain point, they realize that there’s not really anything they can do to save Joel’s life.  While faith (specifically Christian faith) gave the pair a way to cope, by the end of the game they realize that there is nothing they can do.  While it is subtle, much of the gameplay in the game leads you to have the exact same feeling.  The scene shown in the screenshot above is a good example of this.  In it, you play as Joel and eventually a man who died of cancer in the family’s church.  While there is a lot going on in this scene, one thing in particular stands out.  If you are good at fighting the dragon, Cancer, (see what he did there), then you will realize something interesting; no matter how long or how well you play the game, you will eventually succumb to the dragon because the dragon will never die, but stay at 1/2 heart until you eventually die.  What is interesting is that the game is not exactly hard; if you’re good at retro video games (which I am not) and figure out the pattern(which I did not), you can theoretically stay alive and continue fighting indefinitely.  However, if you want to continue the game, you have to give up.

There are many other places where you have to give up in order to continue.  Specific scenes where this is a theme are the Temple of God scene where you have to stop moving to continue and the scene where you play as Ryan and the only way to continue forward is by swimming deeper into the ocean.  These scenes serve to make an important point-moreover, they make you, the player, feel the point in a way you would not from simply hearing the characters describe it.  This is why I consider it, and many other “Walking Simulators” like it, games: because games aren’t just narratives that you affect, they are narratives that affect you in ways that a novel or movie does not have the ability to. Thanks for reading and I hope to hear from you guys in the comments!

Augmented Reality: The Postmodern Literature?

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Photo from: Niantic.com

 

If you have found this blog, and you have no idea what this could be about, note that I’m in a course that discusses the ideas of the new media and its connection to literature. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be enrolled in the course to understand what I will be discussing. It seems that everywhere we “Go” (yes, that was a pun) there are new ways in which technology has submersed itself into our own lives. It allows us to be involved in both real-world and fictitious experiences. Essentially, it can be used for practical and recreational reasons. What I’m specifically referring to here, and you probably have caught on based on the title, is a relatively new technological innovation called augmented reality. If your not to familiar with what this is, Merriam Webster defines it as, “an enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device (as a smartphone camera); also :  the technology used to create augmented reality.”

Referring back to the pun earlier, the most common augmented reality around right now is this game called, Pokémon Go. Developed by Niantic. As the definition stated, it pretty much overlays cartoon characters (Pokémon) and one tries to catch the Pokémon with a ball hat the user throws onto the Pokémon. This would be an example of  AR-technology that would be used for recreational purposes.

So what does this say about the way we spend our time. More specifically, I’m discussing how what once was a big book reading world, we now have a very involved technological world. With this new AR invention, does his mean the end for formal literature as we know it. Let’s look at the comparisons. Most books have an exposition, plot and conclusion while video games do as well, including AR. Moreover, books have been a way for anyone to escape to a far away or fictitious land with sometimes  vivid characters. In Pokémon Go, there is the same thing, except a much diminished struggle for the use of imagination. There is still plot and what not, except that not only is it visual, you also have choices. As discussed in our class, this question was brought up: “What choices to we really have when reading a book?” I mean, we could read the book backwards, or read subsections or chapters out of order- but that is really it. This AR experience seems to take it one step further and gives the “reader” (really user) the ability to change the course of the plot by the decisions they make. A regular book does not do that.

It will be interesting to see what the next big interactive technology platform will be. Certainly, we can expect to be even more involved in the plot of whatever comes out next.

And then it shut down

“I was going to go to school, but then it shut down, but then it shut down. I was going to turn in my work, but then it shut down but then it shut down. I was going to work on a paper but then…” (to the tune of Because I Got High by Afroman). Technology is about as reliable an aid in the daily tasks of life as cannabis seems to be for Afroman in his quest for productivity. Computer’s are always catching bugs, programs are always malfunctioning, printers are always not printitng, and projectors are always overheating. Technology may at times be a lifesaver because of the conveniences it has provided but it’s reliability is a sorry excuse for convenience if you ask me.

In this day and age, modern technology(in the form of computers, cellhpones, etc.) has become an integral part of life, especially for those of us living in first world countries. It is essential for instant communication, information exchange, and overall heightened convenience. As a whole, modern tehcnology has had a positive impact on the quality of living. But it’s not all smiles when it comes to figuring out how work these new-fangled contraptions. The world is advancing at an incredible speed and it can be hard to keep up with the thousands of technological advances developed each year. This poses a problem for those attempting to live in the technological world. Every new program I learn is outdated within 2-3 years and I’m right back at square one. Every piece of technology has a specific method of operation that must be determined before using it. It takes so long to figure out how to change from the Macintosh operating system to Windows that I feel like I should just give up.This never-ending cycle of learning provides little reward to the victims (example:me) of this new age of accelerated development.

The only solution that I have found to make it through life without throwing my computer out a window (or taking my printer and going office-space on it) is to try to do things at my own pace. The world is creating, evolving, and generating at an alarming rate and if I can’t figure it out now, I can’t wait until ten years from now. Instead of trying to problem-shoot every new program that comes out, I wait, see how useful each program is, and once I have discerned it is worth the time, I sit myself down and slowly learn how to use it. To say that I will be able to simply not rely on technology is to live in the past. I would rather move forward at a cautious pace,keeping in mind that at least I’m putting forth effort and not out getting high.

Aneel Henry