Database for Animation Studies


The Birth of a Stereoscopic Nation: Hollywood, Digital Empire and the Cybernetic Attraction

This article argues that Avatar (James Cameron, 2009) is a key moment in the development of stereoscopy, cinematography and animation. On both an aesthetic/formal level and in terms of its narrative, Avatar talks back to the origins of Victorian stereography, American cinematography and the racist discourses of ethnography and ecocide that ensued. Echoing 19th-century stereographs of ‘natives’ and their resource-rich environments, together with DW Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, Avatar also attempts to negotiate the atrocities of the past and to relate them to our present. But this negotiation also takes place on a more subtle ontological level: originating within the structures of a ‘cybernetic empire’, Victorian stereographic imaging is strikingly indicative of Avatar’s contemporary position as a work of culture in the age of cybernetic systems. It has been argued that monographic imaging reputedly replaced stereographic forms in popularity because the latter disrupted the scopic regimes of modernity by emphasizing the role of the body in the process of vision. Avatar’s computer generated composite form circumvents this equation, however; while photography may have sought to minimize viewers’ awareness of their own bodies in the process of beholding the indexical form, such a framework is questionable in an age of fabricated CG composites. If the origins of stereography predated photography, and if its founding image was hand drafted, then what originally appeared a technical footnote in the history of stereography now becomes a key factor in understanding Avatar and the new ‘cybernetic regime of modernity’.

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Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal
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