Jaron Lanier, Adapted for Storytelling, with Apologies

March 29, 2007 - posted in sundries


A bastardized quote:

How do we make beautiful films? General animation principles… are good enough to create elegance, but not beauty. Beauty requires an awareness of human affairs outside the studio.

…and another one:

When storytelling decisions aren’t made in reference to human concerns, they can only be made in reference to each other, leading to a self-referential bundle of nonsense suspended by a sky hook…

When we treat our stories as no more than conduits between human imaginations, grand vistas open up.

I’m far, far removed from the main animation community, being an amateur who lives in the Midwest. But I do read some animation blogs and books here and there. Many seem to be concerned with industry related matters, or with craft, or with technical issues. Rarely do any of them talk much about why in the hell anyone would make or watch cartoons in the first place. Where does the original impulse come from? What is their real, useful function in the world, and how are they different from live-action films, comics, theater, and music?

I find thinking about this stuff helps me to put off doing my work.

Jaron Lanier is a computer programmer, musician and humanist. Oddly, I think he has produced more inspiring and useful writing on these matters than most people — even though he’s usually talking about software. He has a beautiful mind. (also, he’d make a wonderful cartoon character, wouldn’t he?)

The bastardized quotes from above are from an essay he wrote for the Association for Computing Machinery, on the subject of “hope in the next 50 years of computing.” With apologies to Mr. Lanier, I replaced a few words (”software” with “film,” etc.) and presto! the quotes seem to apply to animation.

I suppose these particular excerpts might apply to just about any creative profession.

Still, there are some strange parallels between the software and animation businesses. Both are faced with figuring out how to make money when everything can be duplicated and downloaded easily… Both are perpetually locked in a struggle between the needs of large, industrial proprietors, and those of small, independent or individual innovators… If they expect to thrive, both industries must figure out how to escape the shadows and defy the legacies of some powerful, looming corporations.

There might be real human usefulness to be found somewhere in both fields. Maybe (as Mark Mayerson has suggested) animation has never warranted this kind of consideration. Maybe it’s all just childish little drawings made by lonely introverts. Ugh. It’s so easy for animation to lapse into self-reference. Our cartoons are way too often derived solely from older cartoons.

I don’t know what my point is. I’m just putting off my work. I hope I have helped you put off your own work for a few minutes.

Below are the real quotes from Lanier’s essay.

Lanier:

How do we make beautiful software? General engineering principles… are good enough to create elegance, but not beauty. Beauty requires an awareness of human affairs outside the computer.

…and:

When software design decisions aren’t made in reference to human concerns, they can only be made in reference to each other, leading to a self-referential bundle of nonsense suspended by a sky hook…

When we treat information systems as no more than conduits between human imaginations, grand vistas open up.

Untitled Document