For my latest film I’ve been doing a lot of shopping for props. At the store I picked up some chairs, a lamp, an oil rig, a cathedral and a sunken ship. I was tempted to buy the City of London but I didn’t have a spare £100. In the world of CG animation this is just how we roll. When I mentioned my prop-buying process to the team at Animate Projects (who are commissioning my film) they seemed intrigued. Perhaps it’s not common knowledge that people making CG animations buy props in the same way that people making live-action films do. But it happens all the time. To a CG artist, it’s ridiculous to spend a day modelling a 3D bike if you can buy one for $10.
As part of my set-building process, I needed to browse through a bunch of CG asset libraries, some dating back almost 20 years. I found myself thinking about the specific flavour of these assets. They were all made for one reason or another - few, if any, for real-world applications (CAD models, for example). Broadly, the two main origins of the CG models available online are the architectural visualisation and computer games industries.
Drawing from these asset libraries is like only being able to paint with certain colours.
The purpose of architectural visualisation (‘arch vis’) is to sell something that hasn’t been built yet: an apartment block, a vacuum cleaner, a car, or the next great skyscraper for the City of London. The quality and breadth of CG asset libraries is almost exclusively down to the arch vis industry. Imagine the number of CG models generated for the construction of Dubai: all those investors, eager to take a virtual tour through their tower or hotel or resort to be sure of it’s quality and finish before ploughing hundreds of millions of dollars into construction. All those marble columns and 12-poster beds and ventilation ducts and sprightly saplings are now sold like spare parts online.
You can understand, therefore, how repurposing items from this archive feels like an ideologically loaded act. CG arch vis assets, however digital and intangible they may be, were generated to please the tastes and requirements of the most crudely capitalist forces in the world. So it’s interesting for me, as I construct my art film about the end of the world , to draw reference from such a specific palette.
As I mentioned, the other big contributor to the asset libraries is the games industry. In many ways the models made by games studios are the mirror opposite of the arch vis models: where a Qatari investor wants a perfectly realised, opulent resort with full fixtures and fittings, the games industry has a lovely habit of generating endless models of rubble-filled, war-torn middle-eastern towns. The symmetry here is pleasing, ironic and a little unsettling.
In repurposing these arch vis and games assets, I was prompted (by Abigail at Animate Projects) to consider an art history link I hadn’t previously made: that is, how reappropriating a CG asset for my film might compare to Marcel Duchamp’s famous act of reappropriation: the 'readymade’. For those who don’t know, the readymade (or 'found object’) was born when Marcel Duchamp exhibited a urinal as a work of art in 1917, entitling it "Fountain", rotating it 90 degrees and signing it 'R.Mutt’. He elevated a crude and functional object to an art object simply by changing the context in which it was apprehended.
Personally, I think that "Fountain" was a practical joke whose punchline has taken on a life of it’s own, but the idea stuck and the urinal has become ever more complex as critics have decanted(?!) ever more significance into it. It is pretty complex, though. It’s about the artist’s job, the culture of art, the status of objects, class, money and value. Which is why a trillion essays have been written about it, including my own dissertation, not presented here for your benefit.
Having been scratching away at a draft version of this post for a month or so, I’ve attempted to make a whole bunch of direct comparisons between the Duchampian readymade and the CG readymade. Most rang false because of a key difference, and that’s to do with the meaning and activity or Duchamp’s act: his was extremely mischievous and transgressive - almost like pissing in a gallery. The 3D readymade - at least as evidenced by my film, Z, is not employed to the same radical ends, and is not intended to be interpreted as such. But that’s not to say it couldn’t be in another context.
My question, therefore, is how we would start to approach comparing these two types of readymade. How are they the same and how are they different? Am I right to try making the comparison, or is the appropriation of CG models a different practise entirely?