The case for Improvisation: New Approaches to Animated Digital Sculpture


Session Title:

  • Technology (Papers)

Presentation Title:

  • The case for Improvisation: New Approaches to Animated Digital Sculpture




  • For creative artists, a suite of digital tools offers steadily increasing production capacities and broadening opportunities. But inherent in these tools is a complexity of machine operations which often impose a programmatic approach to art‑making at odds with spontaneous and emergent visual practice. The unique conversational encounter with materials is often lost. According to Brooks, cultural evolution relies on accidents, mishaps, and incursions of the unexpected, yet digital tools in 3D animation production imply rational planning, structure and intention. For 3D animators and CGI artists, the technical rationalism imposed by software systems may limit both the visual results and the responsive art‑making experiences available to practitioners.

    Malcolm McCulloch questions whether eventually the mind, working with the stream of ‘fleeting, freely‑associated’ imagery may eventually be reunited with the knowledge‑bearing ‘hand’ through the development of software sufficiently intuitive in its interfaces and operations to facilitate the expressive spectrum of human abilities and imagination. Citing Focillon, McCulloch outlines a desire to return to a “pure phenomenology of sensate presence” imagining a software based reversal of the erosion of concentration and calmness, and a return to contemplative, rather than analytical evaluative visual responses to digital crafts.

    Working with the perpetually moving stream of new software opportunities, how might the digital artist circumvent restrictive practices? This paper explores opportunities for improvisation in the 3d animation workflow through the ad‑hoc re‑purposing and intentional mis‑use of 3D production software. This exploration will focus on a current project using improvised, animated digital sculpture to re‑inject spontaneity and open‑ended creativity into digital practice. This re‑injection of improvisation and attempt at bypassing the multiple ‘removals’ between the hand (and eye and mind) of the artist and the produced artefacts draws on the notion of the extended mind, and material engagement. Lambros Malfouris describes the synergistic site of this action on, and direct manipulation of material culture as an ‘act of thought’; a cognitive act. As digital artists come to consider their use of tools as intuitive, embodied and even unconscious, these computer/artist relations become important both for the artists using the software and for software developers focussed on “artist friendly” toolsets.

    The visual results of digital improvisation are unpredictable, raising questions about the status of digital artists as artists or as production specialists and this question of industrial/cultural status may return an impact on production methods and tools. This is relevant for many practitioners and theorists as it reflects a common tension in electronic art between poesis and praxis.