Archive for October, 2008


October 30, 2008

The real and the hyperreal; how we are seduced by simulations.


The aim of this investigation is to examine computer generated environments that simulate reality, exposing through commodity the ideal: the hyperreal.


Computer-generated images are increasingly in the backdrop of our everyday surroundings. Whether they’re on TV in motion or as images on billboards, they portray a simulacrum of object and space that parallel the environment around us. I’m interested in how conscious we are now of this simulated world, considering the technological shift has been so prevalent within our culture for so long.

These modes of simulations have been analysed in various fields of academia including cybernetics, communications theory, semiotics, psychoanalysis and poststructuralist philosophy. French theorist Jean baudrillard’s writings on new forms of technology, culture and society are critical to this postmodernist understanding of  our reality and it’s simulation we have created. Baudrillard’s perception of contemporary life as hyperreal, stems from the ideas that simulated feelings and experiences have replaced the real, allowing a culture dominated by the electronic mass media.

‘Hyperrealism is only beyond representation because it functions entirely within the realm of simulation.’

p.144 Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings. Poster M. Stanford 1988

According to Baudrillard our lives are a series of simulated events and choices that blur the relationship between communication, representation and meaning. His theories on consumption and seduction originates with Marx’s notorious concept that the ‘Fetishism of Commodities’ considers us as the consumer to believe the objects at hand are something other than they really are. Baudrillard proposes that every object has two functions;

‘These two functions are inversely proportional to one another. At one extreme the strictly practical object takes on the status of a machine. At the other extreme, the pure object – devoid of function, or abstracted of it’s use – has a strictly subjective status: it becomes the object of collection.’

p. 44 Revenge of the Crystal. Baudrillard J. London 1990

Baudrillard is quick to dissect postmodern culture, criticising how effectively reality and fiction have blended into one. But are his ideas and theories valid or highly irrational? Do we subconsciously attempt to define what is real within this reproduced world? He prophetically writes about the social structures in everyday life and yet he is approaching this from a narrow point of experience. How can we define technology as the downfall of reality when the real has always been an immeasurable point of reference?

‘To seduce is to die as reality and reconstitute oneself an illusion.’

p. 69 Seduction. Baudrillard. J. New York 1991



This discourse proposes how these different forms of simulation are connected and why they bring to light interesting questions about the nature of reality. Simulation on the one hand is social; it’s how we reconstruct reality around us to create the hyperreal. Secondly there is the simulation of commodity as the idealised object. And thirdly how technology simulates these two visually. The word simulation means an imitation of something real, whether that’s symbolised, visualised or objectified forming an alternate representation of it’s true self.

There are many experimental motion graphics artists who have explored abstract animated sculptures over the past five years such as Zeitguised and the collective at Universal Everything. My level of research into artist’s using computer graphics has not been extensive and thus I make it one of my most pressing issues within the first year is to fully research similar artists working in this field and using comparable software.


There are a number of goals I have set myself throughout the next two years of study. One of the main reasons why I chose to study part time came from a realisation that learning a 3D graphics programme like Maya can easily take many years. The software is capable of rendering high definition graphics and is the industry leading choice in film and television, hence the steep learning curve. This is actually one of the reasons for using this software to create my work. Maya is used largely in advertising to create highly polished glossy dynamic objects that become highly impersonal simulacra of consumption.
The output of my research and practical work will come in the form of short video installations which I intend to show via the internet and projections in gallery spaces. Working in the advertising industry has surrounded me with moving image that is widely accessible to the general public. The global reach of say the internet far outweighs the national boundaries of television, and yet it’s television that really interests me as a medium for showing my work. I plan to develop this idea of exhibition and context over the first year of study.


To explore how computer-generated images simulate reality, a full insight into the 3D software package Maya will allow me to visualise the reduplication of the reality as commodity. Autodesk’s Maya is an industry leading computer graphics programme designed to rebuild and simulate photo-realistic objects and environments for film. The process of light simulation and rendering are fundamental when creating real looking computer graphics, hence why particular attention will be paid to this area of Maya. By setting the properties of a light source in Maya you can simulate many of the different types of real-world light sources that illuminate surfaces.

The concern of limiting myself to one software tool throughout this MA is apparent to me at this point in time. However I feel confident that my reasons for primarily using it in my practice are valid, and if my work progresses in another direction then I would not hesitate in experimenting with other digital mediums.

For example, I may introduce video at a later stage in my project, compositing live action footage with CGI. Apple’s software programme Shake allows 3D multi-plane compositing and works through a system of nodes making this the apt tool of choice. This proposition of live video will only be explored in my second year however I will develop my rationale from next term.


Practically, I must start by focusing on all areas in Maya including modelling, rigging, animating, dynamics and finally lighting and rendering. Having used the software tool for almost a year now I feel I have a basic but confident understanding of all the areas at hand. What appears important at this point is addressing the areas that will be of most importance to me, so as to maximise the time I have available to achieve my goals.

Environments are created through projects and scenes, allowing only one of these at a time to be loaded due to the software being hugely processor heavy. The manipulation of surface shaders to create realistic surfaces will prove prominent in the rendering stage along with UV, bump and displacement mapping. Other components in Maya such as animation and modelling will be approached with a similar degree of importance.

Lighting simulation in Maya differs according to the render engine it uses, thus for photo-realistism the renderer of choice is Mental Ray. Various attributes of rendering in Mental Ray will be explored that control light emission and absorption such as final gathering, global illumination, photon emission, reflection and refraction of light.

Through my exploration of the mental ray renderer I will detail the benefit of Image Based Lighting to simulate light emitted from the environment, creating photo-realistic computer graphics. High Dynamic Range Images (HDRI), usually in the form of photographs depict real environments which are needed to illuminate the scene and provide necessary reflections and refractions. This technique is used when Maya is composited over live footage, bridging the platform between computer graphics and film.