Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Avatars and Materiality ISL

My work in Second Life dealt largely with avatar creation. This was an involved process, as I had to learn how to use Maya to model parts of my characters, how to import these into the SL Viewer, how to script, texture, and animate them. What sets SL avatars apart form other playable 3D models - at least until Mesh goes mainstream - is that characters are built using "attachments" fixed to a human figure. A custom avatar is essentially a costume. A part of me has always resented this, for the inconveniences it imposes, as well as the persistent knowledge that my avatar is just a human dressed up as something else. For example, my current avatar is not a real crocodile. I must then remind myself that even a seamless model of a crocodile - or a human - is never the real thing.

Having come to terms with handling a medium that seemed less legitimate at first (only because it did not fit the mainstream model of continuity that I was used to), I decided that it was still worthwhile to pursue avatar creation. The most important point is that any object can be brought to life if it is controlled by a person. Avatars, by mediating the gulf between the virtual and the physical, infuse the body parts they wear (however fabricated they appear) with spirit.

By recognizing that photo-realism is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in second life, I began to notice the aesthetic potentials of the 2D space we perceive as 3D. Objects move in Second Life 3-dimensionally, but we access them through a flat screen. This, together with the computer's tendency to glitch and create artifacts, is what I think of as the material of the computer. My second video, "Claustrophobia", explores the line where 3-dimensionality disintegrates to reveal the materiality of the computer. While this was not my primary focus this semester, I can see working in the future to create more abstract avatars that distort the user's sense of space and reality.

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