A Brief Visual History of Virtual Reality

by Charlie Gallagher

I began trying to understand virtual reality (VR) by looking at its early history. This clarified how VR came to be; however, it left me with more questions than when I started. Chief among them was how to define VR. For this, I turned to the Crerar library and eventually to reading a large portion of the textbook Understanding Virtual Reality, by William Sherman and Alan Craig. While it was an excellent text, it was very vague in defining virtual reality. This led me to investigate how VR works. I began to understand virtual reality as a give and take between the many types of inputs fed to a VR system and their corresponding outputs. While my understanding increased, I was not much closer to a working definition. My goal with this blog is to trace out a brief history of VR to supplement my power-point (link at the end).

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Immersion: How Punchdrunk Moves You

by Ben Ratchford

Punchdrunk is best described as an immersive theatrical experience. It is structured as follows: spectators enter an abandoned warehouse or office space or other such nondescript building, dressed all alike and wearing masks which obscure their whole faces – they are instructed not to speak. After the opening, spectators may find a number of different “scenes” throughout the building, where unmasked actors play out different moments in the story, which move, change, and interact with one another at all times throughout the show, and in which the audience members are, at times, encouraged to participate, either by interacting with the environment, or directly with characters themselves. Thus the audience members, although they must wear masks and cannot speak, have the opportunity to (or, more often, have no choice but to) get close up to developing scenes and engage with the world in front of them.

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Spirited Away: A Masterclass on Color, Sound, and Silence

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By Paul Chang

Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece Spirited Away (2001) tells the story of a ten-year old girl, Chihiro, and her trials through the world of spirits.  Chihiro first appears to be a normal, if a bit sullen and introspective, child.  However, she encounters a series of shocks: her parents are turned into pigs; she cannot leave because the river has flooded; she starts turning into a spirit herself before Haku helps her, and so forth.  Despite these unexpected changes, Chihiro handles the challenges with aplomb.  She persists and earns a job from Yubaaba, the bathhouse witch, then earns the respect and trust of many bathhouse guests by cleaning the river spirit and by taming the No-Face spirit.  Chihiro thus grows through her triumphs and setbacks and emerges with a mature, intelligent demeanor when she finally leaves the mystical land with her (human) parents.

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Photography in Cel Animation

by Niky Charouzová

Though used rarely today, celluloid animation has brought us many cartoons and animated movie classics, such as the Looney Tunes series by Warner Bros, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by Walt Disney Productions, or the first 13 seasons of The Simpsons by 20th Century Fox. The production method of celluloid animation consists of drawings that are made on plastic sheets called cels, which are photographed in sequence in order to provide the illusion of movement. On rare occasions, errors do occur in the photographing of cels; this occurs namely in accidentally taking a photograph of the cel with the camera operator’s fingers in it, reflecting the camera apparatus in the cel so that it is seen in the frame, or improperly placing the cels on top of each other, resulting in colour changes in the frame. Dust and dirt particles can also accumulate on the film, as can the fingerprints of the cameraman. Hannah Frank’s Traces of the World challenges a theory of cinema where it is believed that “the animation camera is only incidental to the cartoon’s production”, rather than being a key part in it (Frank 23). Be it with mistakes or without, celluloid animation is arguably a phenomenon that, per Andrew Wilson’s claim, “reveal[s] traces of the humans and technology that produced them” (Frank 23).

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Cel Animation and Novelty

by Emil Sohlberg

As studios ramped up the production of live-action features, hand-drawn animation underwent a similar revolution with the invention of cel animation. Cel animation was defined by the division of an animated shot onto different transparent celluloids, which could then be overlaid. With this technique, a background, which previously would have been redrawn for every frame, could be reused for a scene, while just the cels that contained the movements of characters would be updated. Even moving characters could be split into different cels; after all, if the only moving part of a character was their face, then their body could be reused if on a separate sheet of celluloid. While inherently cost- and labor-saving, cel animation also allowed for a natural specialization in the animation process, where different animators could work on the same scene simultaneously by splitting that scene’s cels, with some working on backgrounds, or on character poses, and so on.

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Michel Chion’s Soundscapes

by Charlie Donnelly

The majority of meaning in film is derived from association. Whether this association is present in the form of the eyeline effect or the Kuleshov effect, no larger message can exist without relying on the audience’s ability to join elements in their minds. To Michel Chion, the associations made between visuals and sound seem equally important as any visual association.

In his discussion of the association between sound and visuals, Michel Chion, a prominent film theorist and the author of Film, A Sound Art claims there are three categories of sound that can be coupled, blended, and traversed in a multitude of different ways as opposed to the simplistic categories of only “offscreen” and “onscreen” audio.

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A Man Escaped (1956) – The Many Uses of Sound in Film

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by Aditya Tandon

A Man Escaped, directed by Robert Bresson, is a film based on the remarkable escape of Andrew Devigny from the Fort Montluc prison in Lyons during the Nazi occupation of France during the Second World War. It tells the tale of Fontaine, a man from the French Resistance, his experiences in prison, the other inmates he meets, the escape plan he hatches, and a young boy named Jost who joins him in his final days.

Given the title of the film, there is obviously little suspense as to the outcome of Fontaine’s period at Fort Montluc, and yet, Bresson succeeds in keeping the audience fully invested during the 101 minutes duration of the film. Principally – although certainly not purely – he does this by giving enormous importance to the sounds in the film and the various purposes they serve, amplifying the volume to such a great degree during many parts that he is almost forcing us to pay extremely close attention to them.

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