California Dreaming the World

Vibeke Sorensen, Professor and Founding Chair

Division of Animation and Digital Arts

School of Cinema-Television

University of Southern California

February 23, 2001



This article discusses the development of experimental animation in Southern California and comments on its relationship to the art and entertainment industry. The focus is on the role of animation in the development of global digital communications media.


Networked multimodal communication, or digital multimedia animation, is being pioneered here in Southern California, just as previous visual media have been, most notably Hollywood feature films and television. But the primary difference is that this new paradigm and the cultural products emerging from it emphasize multiculturalism as opposed to the predominantly mono-cultural view of Hollywood . This new form of communication is being adopted internationally as quickly as it is developed due to the immediate dissemination process fostered by the very same technology. The commercial model associated with it is also in flux, as production and distribution has become decentralized. It is hard to separate what is done first in Southern California from what others adopt around the world. It is not the same as Hanna Barbera, Warner Bros., or Walt Disney exporting their production to Asia, and then the Asians deciding to open their own studios afterwards, having 'learned' how to make films from Hollywood companies. Digital animation is fluid and dynamic, reflecting a process that evolved out of a need for and history of an alternative to the traditional 'lowest common denominator' model of mass communication associated with Hollywood , one that left far more people out than it included.

Moreover, people today all over the world consume the languages of communication associated with new technologies as fast as they appear. However, there is little awareness of the history of the cultural influences that led to their development. Normally people think that computer scientists alone developed them, or that it grew out of the entertainment industry directly, but this is not so. These misunderstandings can lead to problems not only in academic scholarship but also more broadly in education, where dynamic visual language is used on a daily basis but rarely contextualized historically. This compromises understanding of the processes that continue to inform its development, and thus the potentials and limitations of the technologies that use it.

Experimental animators, or fine artists working with movement, regularly combined dance, painting, music, theater, and science. Starting over 100 years ago, they were multidisciplinary before multidisciplinarity was acceptable or fashionable. Its central process, that of working with discrete image elements, the deconstruction and reconstruction of movement, has been transferred to all other dynamic digital media. Experimental animators pioneered this transfer long ago, working early with movement, text, sound, touch, and even smell. They were the first to embrace computers, and have continued to pioneer their humanization, creating alternative approaches to real-time interaction, artificial intelligence, networking, and more recently embedded systems and ubiquitous computing. Experimental animation is multidisciplinary and multimodal, and should not be considered merely as a sequence of moving images, or strictly as cartoons. [1]

Multimodal means the use of and interconnection between many senses. New connections that new technology provides is leading to new communication structures and processes, and new ways of thinking about the human brain and consciousness. The study and creative exploration of memory and dream, in particular, contribute to this. In the west, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung's work in dream theory influenced many scientific and artistic fields during the last century and continues to inform work in the digital realm today. Although different cultures regard dream and memory differently, all people in the world experience the dream state and posses personal and cultural memory. The active cognitive processes in the brain, common to all, are directly related to computing, as the processing power of computers draws closer to that of the brain. Moreover, the specific content of dreams and memory are part of daily communication between people all over the world, and therefore, digital communication processes that activate and incorporate them in multimodal ways have the potential to enhance the exchange of ideas and knowledge.

Digital technology inherited western mathematical and spatial concepts of the ancient Greeks, including the World of Forms, developed by Plato (427–347 BC) in which pure and idealized versions of everyday objects existed, immaterial perfect forms (in Greek, ideas ), without gravity or the irregularities and uncertainties of the real world. Three-dimensional computer graphics developed in the west is Platonic, being equally free of gravity and the complexities of the real world, containing mathematically defined idealized objects. Those using computers to create photo-realistic models of the physical world do so with great difficulty, though with mathematical sophistication and elegance, largely because of its ideological separation from the real, physical world. Although algorithms that result in conformation between the physical and the virtual are considered affirmations of the accuracy of the mathematical models, contributing to our understanding of how the universe works, they nonetheless exist separate from the physical world and frequently yield unsatisfactory results. Even Plato knew that because the physical world is in constant movement and flux, real objects differ from the ideal. [2] However, computer graphics has matured over the past 15 years, largely through intervention by artists and animators, some working in artist-scientist teams, and others possessing double competencies in mathematics and art. Computer scientists with dual competencies in art contributed greatly to these changes, helping to bring other forms of conception and representation of the world to it. Much of the scientific work, including initial development of the internet, took place in Los Angeles , especially at the California Institute of Technology (including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory) in Pasadena , and at USC in downtown Los Angeles , both of which continue in this work today. [3]

Southern California has long had an alternative art and animation community that has served as an incubator of creativity and ideas, many of which were quickly appropriated by the entertainment industry. The experimental animation community in particular has directly informed the development of emerging media and its languages, most especially digital multimedia. The conceptual and technical processes pioneered by these artists embrace an alternative definition of individual and shared vision based on a need for self-representation, new and non-hierarchical forms of collaboration, as well as decentralized production and distribution processes within a global context. Not only are many of these artists of international origin, bringing with them a wide range of rich cultural knowledge, but by living and working in Southern California , they exist within in a huge and growing multicultural community that exposes them to many different viewpoints. The constant juxtaposition of cultures leads to new connections between them. The digital network, including the world-wide-web, catalyzes connections, thus amplifying and accelerating this crossover. For the new digital paradigm developing within this context to be humanistic and ethical, it must therefore be highly inclusive and have the potential to empower rather than erase cultural heritage. The tension between inclusion and exclusion, technological 'haves and have-nots,' is reflected on a global scale, where forces of globalization typically mean de-culturation rather than re-culturation. It remains for each country and culture to decide for itself, if and when to embrace new technology as it brings with it both productive and destructive possibilities. In Southern California , strong forces of multiculturalism are influencing new media development towards models of inclusion, which are being quickly disseminated globally.


Why “ California Dreaming the World”?

The title California Dreaming the World refers to the hit song from the 1960s called California Dreaming by the popular music group, the Mamas and Papas. It presents the image of California , then and now, as a place that attracts dreamers, people with imagination and vision. It also refers to the dreams and nightmares of colonists and capitalists seeking their fortunes, from the time of the missionaries and colonists to the Gold Rush of the 1890's, its more recent counterpart in Silicon Valley of the 1990's, and the new digital economy of the 2000's. The title also refers to the Dream Factory of Hollywood, which is increasingly multicultural and global, and its complex relationship with the fine art and animation community. But it primarily addresses the active state of imagining and dreaming that is central to creativity and consciousness in all fields, including animation.

Australian aboriginal people refer to the time of creation of their ancestors as “Dreamtime,” a time when people emerged from the earth in harmony with nature and the universe, a concept central to their worldview. [4] By extension to other people of the world, the concept of “Dreamtime” has the potential to place all people into harmony with nature and the universe, and each other. This was the goal of a series of shows of art and animation works in Australia during the Olympic year, 2000, called California Dreaming the World. Organized by Australian painter-animator Kathy Smith, it included many pieces in diverse media by international artists in the Division of Animation and Digital Arts at USC. They were meant to honor the lives and visions of the original Australians, who, like native Americans and other oppressed minorities all over the world, suffered terribly, while contributing greatly to our knowledge of nature and the potential of human imagination. The goal of these shows was to celebrate human creativity in all cultures of the world, extending the hopes and dreams of humanity for peace and understanding in alliance with the Olympics and other international events celebrating cultural diversity. [5] These models of multiculturalism are directly applicable to people working with global, digital communication technologies.

California Dreaming

In the 1960's, California Dreaming by the Mamas and Papas served as a metaphor for a restless and idealistic generation of young people flocking to California . It was the center of the “counter culture,” that emerged from the free-speech movement on campuses in the 1960s, during what was a tumultuous political period catalyzed by the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement. Many Americans and even more Vietnamese died in the Vietnam war, and as body bags came home, people all over the country questioned the values they felt led to such senseless loss of life. Many saw the same forces at work in the struggle for civil rights. The American Dream had become the American Nightmare. Many joined political movements, some “dropped out” and others sought alternative lifestyles. Many came to California . Perhaps influenced by the immigrant populations present here at the time, especially from Asia , young people often looked to other cultures for insight and inspiration, to help redefine themselves in a more humanistic and environmentally sound way. The counterculture movement became multicultural. The California Dream was in many ways the dreams of many different people, and was many different dreams.

the World

The addition of “the World” to “California Dreaming” is an attempt to recognize the many diverse cultures that constitutes the identity of California , both historically and currently. It is a multicultural dream where the complex and varied esthetic languages of diverse cultures are brought together to participate in a global, dynamic visual dialog.


What is Animation and why is it important?

Animation means “to give life to.” Originally associated with ritual meant to put people into harmony with the universe, many forms of animation have existed over the centuries, finding expression in the media available at the time. Whether animated by the heat and light of fire or by the flickering of smoke and shadows cast upon them, paintings on the walls of caves made thousands of years ago probably appeared to move. [6] For thousands of years, dancers all over the world brought life to paintings and other materials applied directly to their bodies. In theatre and performance, changing light cast on sets and scrims caused the scenes to transform subtly or dramatically. Over the past few hundred years, dynamic images shown via magic lanterns, zoetropes, film, video, interactive computer graphics, websites, videogames, CDROMs, and virtual reality, have continued the development of animation as an artform and as an increasingly global mode of cultural communication.

Through the sheer magic of movement, animation in its many forms fundamentally affirms life. We respond instinctively to movement and gesture in all of our senses, no matter how they are mediated, simply because they are central to life and survival. We recognize it because we are alive, and see ourselves in the reflection of others, whether in a simple breath and beating of a heart, or through the grasp of hands holding each other tight. Through various dynamic media, we have explored and expressed what it means to be alive, questioned life's constant changes and transformations, good and bad, and celebrated its mysteries and magic, its cycles of birth, growth, aging, and death. Our concern with time, space and movement has been explored in all cultures and artforms. Thus animation transcends time, space, culture, senses, and media, and therefore embraces them all. It is dynamic art, art in motion, and the art of motion. We engage it everyday, it is based in our bodies, and we use it to share our personal and cultural memories, thoughts, and dreams.


Experimental Animation, Hollywood , and the Fine Arts

Experimental animation as a fine artform closely associated with painting, sculpture, and music, has long existed in Southern California, serving both as an alternative to Hollywood and as an incubator for it. It has been a deep well of creativity, a rich source of new ideas and techniques useful for feature film visual effects and entertainment. Although Hollywood quickly adopted the new techniques pioneered by experimental animators, the artists and their original visions were frequently marginalized both by the film industry and the fine art community, the latter only recently recognizing what has existed for well over 100 years, and still not accepting it as an artform.

Many western fine artists since the turn of the last century worked with time and movement inventing new ways of exploring their ideas in time, extending and transforming their work in traditional media through movement. [7] Animation crossed many boundaries in the arts and developed into genres variously called motion painting, motion graphics, kinetic art, time-based art, experimental film, experimental video, video art, mixed media, installation based animation, new genres, etc. As a temporal art of spatial choreography, it has also been called art in motion and the art of motion. [8] But fine arts institutions only rarely exhibited works by animators, in some cases stating directly, that "because they move, they are not art." Even today, animation history, including contemporary experimental animation, is almost never taught in fine arts departments, despite the fact that more artists than ever before are working in this area, and informed directly by the languages and techniques innovated by experimental animators. There is a general lack of knowledge of the history of animation in the fine arts, and therefore scholarship outside of cinema and media schools regarding this field is weak. This is despite the fact that every time anyone makes a sequence of moving images, they are actually paying an unspoken, unconscious homage to experimental animation. As animation scholar, Dr. William Moritz states, “they are adopting unconscious models.” [9] The ubiquitous, dynamic visual languages of animation are deeply embedded in our communications languages and its corresponding media technology. Everyone who engages it has inherited it, whether they know it or not. It sits on desktops all around the world.

John Whitney, Sr. (1917-1995) is widely credited as the 'father of computer graphics.' Living and working in Los Angeles, he was a fine art, experimental filmmaker and animator who, beginning in the 1940's aspired to making a visual music by finding a common metaphor for the language of light and sound based on physics. Working with waveforms, he was the first person to use computers to create images in the late 1950's and in 1966, he became the first ever artist in residence in a computer company, IBM. [10] Working independently, he was often sought after by Hollywood for his new techniques and visual language using optical as well as digital processes. Among many achievements are his pioneering work in slit-scan techniques, borrowed by Douglas Trumbull for use in the famous 'star-gate corridor' sequence of the 1968 Stanley Kubrick film classic, 2001. Whitney received the "Medal of Commendation for Cinematic Pioneering" in 1986 from the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences for this and other work. He continued his work linking images and music with computers throughout the 1970s and 80s, working at UCLA and California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and publishing his seminal book, Digital Harmony: On the Complementarity of Music and Visual Art in 1980. [11] His sons, Michael and John, Jr. also became experimental filmmakers, the latter starting Information International, Inc. together with Caltech student Gary Demos in the 1970s. Computer s cientists at Caltech and JPL, especially Dr. James F. Blinn and Dr. Alan H. Barr, in continuation of the artist-scientist paradigm, welcomed other early computer artists and animators, including David Em and the author of this chapter in the late 1970's and early1980s. Their work contributed to the development of many of the fundamental processes now used throughout digital multimedia, all of which integrate sound and moving images, a living legacy of Whitney's pioneering vision.

The entertainment industry, although recognizing the usefulness of experimental animation to extend film language and special effects, thus referring to it as 'effects animation,' more often took what it wanted and threw out the rest. Feature films usually turned beautiful dream-like imagery, originally created by artists to express spiritual or sensitive states of mind, into nightmarish and violent sequences, or to dress up otherwise weak films. Whatever the reasons, with few exceptions, the visions of experimental animators have traditionally been excluded from films made by the “Dream Factory.”

Hollywood excluded the visions of artists from other cultures as well. Even when production was exported to other countries or when markets in other countries were considered, the content was almost always westernized and the result was usually considered offensive to those cultures. [12] But this situation is changing as access to digital production and dissemination has decentralized, fostering a growth in indigenous content production around the world. Students coming to USC and other Los Angeles area film schools now study interactive multimedia animation for the web in addition to classical character animation. A recently graduated USC engineering and animation student, Mr. Napat Jungpatanaprecha stated that in his country, Thailand, the low cost of computers and connection to the internet is leading to a rapid growth in local animation and multimedia production by Thai artists who are drawing directly on their own culture, reflecting more accurately and truthfully their concerns and experiences. [13] Mr. Noel Goin, a USC graduate animation student from Trinidad , animated a unique, traditional folktale in a manner faithful to the indigenous symbolism of his culture. After seeing his work, Dr. Panivong Norindr, Professor of French and Comparative Literature at USC, has been learning digital animation media so that he can use it to preserve and disseminate his own Indonesian cultural heritage. [14] The same is true of many other artists and professionals coming from a wide range of countries and backgrounds to learn animation and digital arts in Southern California, many of whom return to their homes with an alternative approach to new media that is open to them and the richness of their cultures.

The quickly growing digital telecommunications environment is increasingly hungry for animators and artists who can infuse the magic of life and movement into data made perceptible, and make it leap out of the cacophony of information on computer screens and into the hearts and minds of viewers. Animators are in demand as huge audiences look to the web not just for news and stock market information, but for new ideas, imagination and insight, to see what is possible when technology is fused with art and culture.


The Computer Industry

Given the proximity of the computer research community to the entertainment industry in southern California , it is not surprising that movies would be considered an application area for computers. However, the computer industry, in contrast to Hollywood , has in recent years supported experimental animators creating their own artwork as researchers in technology and its applications in civil society. Companies such as Intel, Silicon Graphics, and Apple have supported artists in the Los Angeles area, including USC, UCLA, and California Institute of the Arts, by donating hardware and software to educational programs and providing research funding for innovative projects. The computer industry is made up of a mix of scientists and artists, and has what is widely regarded as the most PhDs per capita of any industry. This industry understands the short distance between research and economic development, and see artists as researchers much like scientists: as people who innovate new applications and, as a by-product of their work open up new markets. Art is a window to the future, and artists working with technology prototype new civilian uses of it, pioneering new modes of communication. While the content or message of the artwork is less important to the computer industry than the technology itself, it is generally understood to be the driving force, an integral element that will be imitated and adapted by users in the communications and entertainment industries, and the general public. Artistic activity with computers over the past 30 years has catalyzed technology development broadly in media communication, most recently in networked multimedia and the world-wide-web.

Qualities unique to computers that are being explored include memory, computational prowess, networking and bandwidth, interactivity and real-time transformation of data, ubiquitous computing and embedded systems. They are exploring new ideas and possibilities unique to the new media environment, and new modes of production and distribution, including interactive visual-music performance, new forms of narrative, such as the database narrative, [15] and other new forms resulting from increased interconnectivity between diverse and seemingly unrelated fields, including art, architecture, cinema, music, literature, the social and natural sciences, engineering, and many others.

Potentials and Limitations of the New Media Paradigm:

Thoughts about the New Frontier and the American Dream

There is already much good that has come from networked multimodal multi-media. Most celebrated is the great potential to connect people around the world who would otherwise never meet. A fundamental limitation, however, is that it takes place in a virtual rather than physical world. Many of the limitations of the virtual world reflect problems in the real world. For example, overpopulation in Southern California is becoming a serious problem, taking its toll on a fragile ecosystem, what was once the 'new frontier' that attracted so many people seeking alternative or better lifestyles. Much of the natural wonder of the region is disappearing forever in the gold rush of new housing developments. The wide open west is closing, and the American Dream of owning a home is turning into yet another American Nightmare, not just for the displaced creatures quickly and quietly becoming extinct, but threatening long term survival of people too. Despite public concern for the environment, development has accelerated in Southern California with little regard for land, town or community. The model of a nuclear family reflected in the building of ever-larger single-family tract homes, is continuously reinforced in Hollywood media and catered to by advertising and consumptive capitalism. It is propagating at an alarming rate, repeating itself in larger and more frequent iterations like a virus racing across a huge population of victims unable to do anything about it. Automobiles with 1 person per car remain the predominant mode of transportation, strangling the lungs of the living and crowding the ever-expanding freeways. In retreat from the deteriorating physical environment, new virtual 'frontiers' have been created, complete with virtual 'open land' available to would be homesteaders on such websites as “Alphaworld.” [16] But the problem with this model is that, while it offers the possibility to prototype alternative models, instead users often imitate the very same practices seen in the physical world, reinforcing the same destructive forces of development. Few webizens create cooperative and humanistic environments, driven not so much by dreams of creativity, democracy and freedom, but rather by the dreams of personal rather than cultural wealth and reinforcing values associated with greed and domination.

It is not a surprise that Silicon Valley and many e-commerce companies arose in California . The world-wide-web became a new kind of gold rush due initially to the promise of something better, of alternatives and imagination. But so many sites are interchangable, uninteresting duplicates of each other. Not surprisingly, initial interest in the internet has subsided and many 'dotcoms' have gone out of business. Technology is not the biggest problem, although it deserves some blame, but rather it is the limitations of the people who create and use it. We need technology that is productive, imaginative and idealistic, esthetically, socially and politically, and helps us to solve common problems of survival, putting us into harmony with the world. In order to realize the potential of technology for positive and productive ends, there is an urgent need for people with vision and empathy, ethics and conscience to participate in its development. There is a need for artists, architects, animators, designers, musicians, writers, and many others working together towards a more humanistic and idealistic vision of the virtual world and its connection the physical world.


Animation, Multimedia, and Multiculturalism: Networked Digital Media

Networked digital media, being decentralized, allows entry by people and cultures from all over the world. It allows people to produce and distribute work from and to any place connected by the web, bypassing traditional access and distribution structures. Although those without the economic means to participate are prevented access, a situation that must be recognized and addressed, the multicultural influences upon our new media are increasing as most of the world's population, which experiences life quite differently than does those traditionally portrayed in Hollywood television and movies, is increasingly engaging it. Cultural differences and realities not only provide an increasing wealth of information about the human condition, and give insight into our collective cultural heritage, but they are essential to understand if we are to find new ways of working together to solve common problems, especially on a global, international level. The visual, musical and other esthetic languages we use to represent ourselves and to communicate with each other, embed a great deal of complex information in them, often transcending spoken or written words. If we hope to gain entry into other cultures, we must be open to those not included. This is important to any industry that sees itself as global, especially telecommunications media.

Civilian technology is used primarily to enhance communication, and what people most often discuss with each other, is their memories and dreams, or culture and art. Multicultural art opens windows of understanding and exchange between people all over the world. Given the convergence of entertainment and e-commerce, cultural content or art, is the currency of the new digital economy. Therefore, those who embrace multiculturalism will have content that is globally oriented. Those who develop new means of embedding multicultural content into this technology, using it as the driver of technology development, will be most relevant to this economy and will have an advantage over others in being able to communicate on a global level beyond the limitations of traditional media. Access to the new digital media must remain democratic and open to the public so that free and open communication between all cultures is protected and development in the best interests of humanity and the global environment can be assured. Otherwise, it will lose its value and appeal to the vast majority of the world's populations.


Global languages of communication: visual music

People are already communicating on the internet with a global audience, with a mixture of music, animation, text and live events, using special software and hardware that is customizable and flexible. Multimedia performances transmitted live are being webcast. Sometimes these events involve multiple live musicians at more than one site who interact with the images and musicians (or computers), live at another site. In this way, the previously separate communications media traditionally based on our distinct senses and languages for communication, are connected into one. The language of music is extended into that of the visual. The converse is also true, where visual gestures and language are transformed into the sonic. This is the arena of the Global Visual Music Jam Session, a collaborative project between Professor Vibeke Sorensen (this author), and Professors Rand Steiger and Miller Puckette of the Music Department of the University of California at San Diego . [17]

Closely related to synaesthesia, a phenomenon wherein sensory impressions in one modality give rise to impressions in another, “visual music” has existed as a field of research and creativity by artists and scientists for thousands of years. Interest in the relationship between color and music in the west dates back at least to the ancient Greeks, including Pythagoras of Samos (569- 475 BC), who discovered that a musical string wrapped around the edges of a 3:4:5 right triangle, produced an inverted minor triad when struck. Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) discussed the relationship between color and sound in his De Sensu e Sensibili (On Sense and the Sensible, 350 BC). In the Renaissance, Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) associated the colors of the spectrum with notes on a musical scale. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) spent much of his life writing Zur Farbenlehre ( Theory of Colors, 1810) in which he presented a critique of Newton 's ideas and proposed his own theory on color and harmony, which he considered his most important work. Over the past 100 years, the Finnish composer Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) scored for colored lights to be performed together with music of an orchestra in Prometheus, the Poem of Fire (1904), and German painter-animator Oskar Fischinger (1900-1967) made many elegant abstract films precisely synchronized to classical musical scores. He was the first to synthesize sound by painting shapes onto scrolls, which he then photographed onto the optical soundtrack of film. He conceptualized the famous film classic Fantasia (1940), which he realized at Disney in Los Angeles together with conductor Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977), although he left the project part-way due to aesthetic conflicts with Disney. Filmmakers in Europe and North America produced inspiring works in visual music, including Leopold Survage (1879-1968), Walter Ruttmann (1887-1941), Hans Richter (1888-1976), Len Lye (1901-1980), Mary Ellen Bute (1906-1983), Norman McLaren (1914-1987), who founded the distinguished Animation Studio of the National Film Board of Canada, Harry Smith (1923-91), Jose Antonio Sistiaga (1932-), Robert Russett (1935-), and many others, including the Polish composer and multimedia artist, Jaroslaw Kapuscinski (1964-) who came to Southern California to study visual music in 1992. Southern California was particularly fertile for other artists as well, including Hy Hirsh (1911-1961), the brothers James Whitney (1921-1982) and John Whitney, Sr. (1917-1995), Jules Engel (1918-), Jordan Belson (1926-), Tom DeWitt (1946-), Michael Scroggins (1946-), Larry Cuba (1950-), and Mar Elepano (1954-) who produced many works that explored various approaches to what a visual-music could be.

It was popularized and extended through a range of media and related arts, spanning the vibrant light shows of rock concerts in the 1960s, performance and video art, MTV, raves, computer animation, feature films, installation art, location based entertainment (theme parks), CDROMs, interactive games and performances on the internet today. As shapes, gestures and music communicate directly and transcend time and language barriers, “visual music” is a growing area actively explored by artists all over the world. [18]


Sensory Media and Dreams

Today, animation is created using not only visual images, but data from any phenomenon that can be measured and digitized. That data can be transformed into an image or sound, or any another media modality. The common digital foundation that links all data connects all sense media, and allows us to make new connections between them, thus reconnecting and reconstructing their relationships. This is leading us to a more integrated or holistic way of thinking about our senses and associated media, and of animation. Moreover, because as human beings, we model technology and media on our own bodies, new dynamic models of the body and brain are emerging. Given the vast increase in computational power that will soon directly match that of the human brain, it has been proposed by science and technology researchers such as Dr. Larry Smarr, Director of the California Institute on Information Technology (Cal(IT)2), that computers can be developed that have a form of consciousness similar to our own. [19]

In everyday life, we experience the world through a dynamic interplay of sense impressions and stored memories in the mind, both personal and cultural. The meaning we give to our sense impressions as we experience them one after the other, is the basis of narrative. We encode our impressions in language, verbal, visual, and aural, so we can communicate our experience and feelings with other people. Often, we are trying to transfer the entire experience, with all of the sensory impressions associated with it, into someone else's mind. Until recently, our languages for communication have been very limited in their ability to do this, being limited to one or at most 2 (ie. video and film) sensory modalities only, and thus able to communicate only a part of our total experience of an event. But now we can connect all of our senses using digitizing devices and transfer that data through computer media to other people, and transform that data so that elements of one sensory modality become those of another. This data can then be presented to various senses of our body beyond vision and sound, including smell, touch, and taste, and to groups of people spread out around the world. This is a kind of fluid or dynamic synaesthesia.

This is not "post symbolic communication," as media theorist, Jarron Lanier [20] has discussed, where symbols are not needed as one interacts with data going directly to the senses such as in a VR world. Nor is this meant to suggest that we feed raw sense information into each modality. Rather, this means that organic, playful, and collaborative interaction with sense information can allow us to create new symbols that can express and communicate in a more complete way. Symbolic thinking is inherent to the way the human brain works. Therefore, when we obtain the means to express ourselves and communicate with others in a rich media world, we will naturally do so with symbols. The new symbols are multimodal. New media are developing in this way because it reflects how we actually think, associatively, multi-sensorily, and symbolically.

Multimodal symbols are formed not just by reduction of experience into simpler representations for encoding efficiency, but by recombining full bandwidth information from the senses and using visual and other strategies to link and associate them. We encode the associative strategy or transformation motif as a symbol. This is similar to strategies we use to associate sounds, images, and sense impressions in dreams. In fact dreams can be a rich source of information about how to do this in a way that transcends the limitations and conventions of the physical world. The world of the computer is just such a world, one that can just as easily simulate a world without gravity as one with it.

Dream theory can give us insight into the potential of computers in relation to dreaming. In 1900, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) introduced psychoanalysis to the world in his book The Interpretation of Dreams, in which he discussed concepts of the unconscious and conscious mind, the id, ego and superego, and the importance of free-association in the analytic process . He considered dream symbols the result of the superego, whose role was to censor or cover up unacceptable needs and drives, primarily sexual in origin, through a subterfuge process called "dreamwork" where symbols served as disguises. [21] Carl G. Jung (1875-1961), a student of Freud's, disagreed about the sexual origin of dreams, instead considering them a vital part of consciousness whose roles are to assist the dreamer in resolving problems and restoring a balance between the dreamer and their lives. He felt that dreaming was the result of a complex evolutionary process that led to a brain structure shared by all people of the world, and that the images and symbols commonly arising from it are the basis for the recurrance of symbols across cultures. Further, he postulated that these common symbols are the foundation of all myths, legends, and religions. Jung contributed the concepts of archetype, such as the anima and animus, introversion, extroversion, and collective unconscious to our vocabularies, authoring the book Man and His Symbols, published in 1964. [22] It is possible to analyze dreams based on these theories, model and interact with them using computers. Correlations exist, for example, between stored information in computer memory and the unconscious, and by extension to the network to the collective unconscious. A user or interactor applies their ego to consciously interacting with it, such as when browsing and running programs. [23]

Recent dream research has focused on the REM state (Rapid Eye Movement) and its associated heightened activity in the parts of the brain related to vision and other cognitive processes. Dreaming take place during REM, when the eye movements appearing to synchronize with dream events, and during non-REM sleep, and appears to be necessary for higher brain capability. [24] During the dream, the brain is seemingly unable to distinguish between this and the waking state. It has been shown that when REM deprived, people function less well when awake, and must eventually obtain REM sleep in order to be restored. This has led researchers to speculate that REM sleep is a third basic form of human consciousness, similar to Hindu and Tibetan concepts of waking, non-dreaming sleep, and dreaming. [25] In the case of advanced adepts, there is a heightened awareness during the REM state similar to lucid dreaming, where the dreamer is aware of the dream and able to interact with it. Communicating consciously with the contents of the unconscious mind, the parallel in computing is real-time interaction with visual and multimedia data stored on disks while a program active in memory (RAM) is accessing, associating, and transforming it freely, using processes that allow us to extend beyond the limitations of our conscious minds, allowing us to make new connections otherwise not possible.

The surrealist artists of the first half of the 1900s applied dream theory to literature, painting, and other arts, including the new art of cinema. Meant to free the mind, create connections between people, and challenge rationalism, which they felt led directly to the technologically imposed horrors of World War I, they employed games of chance and free association in the creative process. [26] Digital processes employing serendipity, indeterminacy, and connections between people reflect many of these same concerns and possibilities, challenging assumptions and fostering new ways of thinking and creating beyond conscious limitations. Not only can computers contribute to the creative process itself, they can provide insights into how the mind actually works.


Consciousness, Thinking, and Poetry

Just as dreaming is non-linear, so is thinking (we are constantly interrupted by surprise events that demand our attention, and constantly recontextualize our impressions as we try to make sense out of what we hear, see, or feel). Our computers are also non-linear, and they too allow for spontaneous and improvisational changes as new information from users and devices, including sensory data, passes through them. The computer is thus a dynamic instrument with the ability to change relationships, contexts, associations and meanings in real time. It is an extension of visual music animation to improvised real-time dynamic multimodal media.

The associative qualities of hypermedia , including hypertext, [27] commonly accessed in web browsers for linking between webpages, is fostering associative or poetic thinking in the general population. As the late philosopher Alan Watts (1915-1973) stated, “the power of poetry comes from its associative rather than logical qualities.” This has implications socially, politically, and creatively. Given the added sensory richness of our digital media instruments, coupled with the ability to connect people through high bandwidth networks, we are able to share more of a complete experience of perceiving and thinking, and approach a multisensory form of collective consciousness and shared lucid dream.


Metamorphosis, Montage, and Transformation

Visual transformation from one shape to another is called metamorphosis, and is central to the language of animation. Normally in nature, we see metamorphosis as taking place over a very long period of time, such as in the aging of the human body or the growth of a plant or animal. We use technology to speed it up, as in “time lapse” where one image per minute, hour or day, is recorded instead of continuously at the normal rate of 24 (film) or 30 (video) frames per second. The entire sequence is then played at normal rates, and the result is one of a nearly magical change in perception.

Metamorphosis in animation is controlled or limited by “squash and stretch” in character animation, so gestures are exaggerated to communicate specific attributes of a character. It is also used to combine seemingly unrelated shapes such as a flower and an eye, or the leaves on a tree that transform into a flock of birds that fly away. Metamorphosis is used to make connections between shapes as a form of associative visual thinking, or visual poetry. The beginning and ending shapes are freely selected or created by the artist, and every in-between frame is drawn individually. Just as the human mind is free to select and transform relationships between images, the computer can link and transform elements seemingly more disparate, such as sound, touch, and temperature into 2 and 3 dimensional visual effects.

Montage, layering, or visual and temporal juxtaposition are other major ways of combining images that make connections between images, also resulting in visual narrative or poetry. Sometimes a third image is used as a “matte” to combine layered images, where the matte is a kind of keyhole between two images or spaces. Just as with metamorphosis, the computer can assist and employ processes that extend montage into new creative territories. It combines 2 and 3-D capabilities of a wide range of media. Painting, drawing, claymation, photography, film, video, etc, – almost any medium can be digitized and layered in the computer and then output again to static or dynamic media.

With a real-time process, images, sound or text can change at an instant, and if part of a networked process, they can respond immediately to a live process such as an on-line discussion or improvised musical performance. By freeing animation from linear media and fixed relationships, it becomes a part of a new and larger language of communication that provide countless opportunities for solo and collaborative creative expression. We can create on-line events that incorporate physical performances with live people and instruments at various sites, and employ algorithmic transformations of data, projected and interacted with simultaneously by audiences in numerous locations around the world. Installations with multiple screens of animation based on seismic, solar or ozone data can be embedded in a sculpture or architectural structure that respond to a local and remote audiences/interactors. This author's recent research and creative work, Morocco Memory II explored some of this territory . [28] Conceptual web events that exist only on the network, but respond to input from thousands of people through the input of text and images, can be created. It is possible to change the voices, faces, or gestures of avatars or other synthetic identities in virtual communities and prototype new social structures and evolve hybrid virtual creatures. One can interact with the physical environment, where a wide range of natural and physical objects are input to virtual environments, where the interface between the virtual and physical worlds are familiar objects, thus literally keeping one foot in the natural world and one in the virtual. We can extend our brains and limbs to others through the network, making a distributed collective body connected directly with a collective brain. In this way, we become part of a collective body-mind continuum, with a collective memory. Given synthetic life made up of many pieces of many people, a new kind of immortality can arise, as data in computer memory will outlive most of us. Connected to brain monitoring equipment, it is possible for psychologists to study the human brain as it contemplates itself in a new form.



There is a vast hybrid physical-digital world around us to imagine and explore, where fluid transformation of dynamic data, or multimodal animation, is at its core. The computer not only assists animators with drawing and coloring but by transforming data and responding to real-time processes and events. These processes include unplanned events such as free dialog or visual-musical improvisation, as well as algorithms arising from the imagination or modeled on natural processes such as genetics, biology, animal behavior, fluid dynamics, language, or any other natural or conceptual system. Bio-technology and evolution, specifically, are areas of concern in computer art and animation, with complex political and ethical implications. Dialog between artists and scientists about pressing issues such as these has existed for well over 30 years in the field of interactive computer graphics, giving birth to and sustaining the ACM SIGGRAPH Conference since the 1970s. [29] The computer has served not only as a common instrument and tool, but as a vehicle for communication between fields. It has catalyzed connections between them, and led to a re-evaluation and re-contextualization of their relationships to each other and the world around them.

Finally, the dissemination of networked multimedia technology and its associated languages of communication grew up as an alternative to Hollywood . It includes contemporary techniques and ideas, and involves all senses and media. The California Dream today is quite different from that which the Dream Factory originally pioneered and exported to the world. The new paradigm is decentralized, looks less like Hollywood and more like Southern California and the world. It developed as an alternative to Hollywood , is still in progress and changing daily, altering the way we work, think, dream, and play. The power of networked computers, quickly approaching that of the human brain, is enhancing communication and our understanding of how we think and dream, leading us closer to a global, collective consciousness and shared lucid dream.

There are dangers as well as potentialities, as forces both of de-culturation and re-culturation are propagated through it, and as large corporations seek to dominate it. Other dangers include separation from the physical world and the recognition of human suffering of those not part of it. In contrast, the positive potential is to include the free expression and communication of those previously excluded, and promote understanding and tolerance amongst people of many diverse cultures and backgrounds. The most important human qualities to be fostered in this regard are empathy and ethics. This will come from active involvement of artists and humanists whose role is to critique the destructive forces influencing it and create alternative models for others to follow. Decisions made at all levels of involvement will determine whether or not our communications technology will truly contribute to making the world, both virtual and physical, a better place for everyone.


•  Russett, Robert and Starr, Cecile, Experimental Animation, 1976. Van Nostrand Reinhold.

•  Plato, The Republic, The Allegory of the Cave and the Divided Line, 380 B.C.

3. ACM SIGGRAPH, Seminal Graphics : Pioneering Efforts that Shaped the Field, 1998, Association for Computing Machinery

4. Flood, Josephine. Archaeology of the Dreamtime: The Story of Prehistoric Australia and Its People, Yale University Press, 1991.

5. California Dreaming the World , special exhibition of the Division of Animation and Digital Arts, School of Cinema-Television, USC, partly supported by SC/W. Online documentation of events taking place in Australia during the Olympic year, 2000, at

Kathy Smith, painter-animator, artist-in-residence from Australia in the Division of Animation and Digital Arts, USC. Website at

Australia, Images and Perceptions, an on-line exhibition of student artwork inspired by Australian Dreamtime:

6. [c.g. simulation of smoke on cave paintings that suggests it moved, animated. Waiting for reference]

7. Panushka, Christine. Absolut Panushka: a Celebration of Experimental Animation, online festival and history, at (select “Experimental,” then “Absolut Panushka”)1996.

8. Furniss, Maureen. Art in Motion, Animation Esthetics , John Libbey and Company, Ltd., London , England , 1998.

9. Moritz, William. [waiting for reference information from Dr. Moritz]

10. Youngblood, Gene. Expanded Cinema, Studio Vista Pub., London , England , 1970.

11. Whitney, John. Digital Harmony: On the Complimentarity of Music and Visual Art, McGraw Hill, Peterborough , NH , 1980.

For more information about John Whitney, Sr., see the following website:

12. Lent, John. Animation in Asia : appropriation, reinterpretation, and adoption or adaptation, November 2000. On the web at:

13. From a conversation between the author and Mr. Napat Jungpatanaprecha, at USC, February 14, 2001

14. From a discussion between the author and Mr. Noel Goin, at USC, February 22, 2001 [footnote to be updated, waiting for reference from Dr. Norindr]

15. Database narrative is a term coined by cinema and new media theorist, professor, and Director of the Labyrinth Research Initiative at the Annenberg Center for Communication, USC, Marsha Kinder. It describes new forms of narrative made possible by interactive media, wherein a user/interactor is able to create new pathways through a database of narrative elements each time a person engages it.

16. AlphaWorld website is at

17. For information about the Global Visual Music Project of Puckette, Sorensen, and Steiger, see the website at

18. More information on Visual Music can be obtained through the Los Angeles based Iota Center , at

19. From a lecture by Dr. Larry Smarr, physicist and founding Director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, Cal(IT)2, at the Center for Research in Computing and the Arts (CRCA), U. C. Sand Diego, on February 15, 2001. For more information see the website at

20. Lanier, Jarron, Virtual Reality and the Future of Natural and Computer Languages, An abstract of a lecture given at the Columbia University Computer Science Department in 1994. On the web at

21. Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams, 1900. Published in 1976 by Morrow, William, and Company.

22. Jung, Carl. Man and His Symbols, 1964. Doubleday , New York .

23. Dream structure analysis, chance, associative and interactive computer processes based on lucid dreaming has been researched by the author, and taught to graduate animation classes in the Division of Animation and Digital Arts,USC since 1999, in a class called Interactive Animation. For more information about the Division of Animation and Digital Arts, courses offered, and examples of student work, see

24. Goode, Erica. New Clues to Why we Dream, November 2, 1999. The New York Times, Science/Health.

25. Varela, Francisco J. Sleeping, Dreaming, and Dying: An Exploration of Consciousness with the Dalai Lama, 1997. Wisdom Publications, Mind and Life Institute.

26. Brotchie, Alastair and Gooding, Mel. A Book of Surrealist Games, 1995. Shambhala Redstone Editions, Boston .

27. Hypertext is a special type of database system, invented by Ted Nelson in the 1960s, in which text objects and programs can be linked to each other. He wrote about it in his influential book, Computer Lib/Dream Machines, 1974, Tempus Books/Microsoft Press. Hypermedia is an extension to hypertext that supports linking to images, sound, animation, video, music, and other elements.

28. Morocco Memory II is the work of the author, Vibeke Sorensen. An interactive architectural installation incorporating touch and smell in navigation of multimedia materials and the construction of non-linear narrative, was produced for the Labyrinth Project at the Annenberg Center for Communication, USC, in 1999. For more information about Morocco Memory II, see and for more information about the author and her work, see

For more information about the Labyrinth Project, see

29. ACM SIGGRAPH, the Association for Computing Machinery, Special Interest Group in Graphics, was founded in 1973 and has grown into the largest computer conference in the world, today attracting over 40,000 people to its annual conference. On the web at


Short Biography

Vibeke Sorensen is an artist working in experimental new media, including computer animation and digital art, including interactive architectural installation and networked visual music performance. Her work in video and computer art spans 3 decades and has been widely published and exhibited, including in galleries, museums, conferences, performances, festivals, and on cable and broadcast television worldwide. She taught computer and media art at Virginia Commonwealth University (1980-83), Art Center College of Design (1983-85), California Institute of the Arts (1984-94), Princeton University (1990-93), and the University of California , San Diego (1995). She has a long history of collaboration with scientists developing new technologies, including at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, California Institute of Technology, Princeton University , NASA and JPL, and the San Diego Supercomputer Center . From 1994 - 2005, she was Professor and Founding Chair of the Division of Animation and Digital Arts, School of Cinema-Television, at the University of Southern California. She received a 2001 Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship in Film/Video/Multimedia for her new work "Sanctuary." Currently she is Professor of Film and Media Studies and Fellow in the Center for Film and Media Research at Arizona State University in Tempe .