Friday, July 1, 2016

Week 2 (Unit 3): Robotics + Art

The collaboration of art and robotics has slowly changed the culture of appreciating such works of art. More specifically, when I say robotics, I am referring to the automated production that has taken over popular culture in the past few decades. There are both positive and negative consequences of such changes.

I see many positives that have emerged from this automation of art. Take, for example, the animation industry. In the past, animated films were painstakingly drawn by hand, from the drafts to the final product. Though those results was impressive, today's graphic artwork adds more depth and dimension to the scenes with the help of computers.

In 1959, Disney's Sleeping Beauty was animated mainly by hand. The artists drew every small motion in order to create the illusion of a continuous film.

Twenty-first century animators have the ability to create characters that resemble a realistic human figure more than a two-dimensional image. Animating companies such as DreamWorks, Pixar, and Disney incorporate math, graphic design, and computer science to make these imaginary figures and landscapes come to life on the screen. David Torres, supervising animator for the film How to Train Your Dragon 2, described his participation in this new media that is revolutionizing the art industry, "I'm an animator by trade, but the more I've done this technology, I can now consider myself an emotional sculptor".

In the 2014 DreamWorks animated film, How to Train Your Dragon 2, animators used online tools and software to 'sculpt' the expressions and motions of the characters. 

One negative aspect was analyzed in philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin's 1936 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. In describing the change from paintings to film, he says that "The spectator's process of association in view of these images is indeed interrupted by their constant, sudden change" (Benjamin 5). He refers to how the viewer of a painting has the freedom to take as much time as needed to reflect upon the image. The viewer can look upon all aspects of the painting and interpret what the artist was trying to express with each. For instance, in the painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel fills the scene with symbolism and story. The farmer and shepherd are seen staring off into the distance while in the bottom-right corner, the small image of Icarus's legs flail as he falls into the water. A spectator can interpret this depiction in several ways after taking into account all the details in the painting.

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (1560s)

On the other hand, a film is a series of rapidly changing images in which Benjamin argues "distraction became an alternate for contemplation" for the audience (Robinson). In today's popular films, many action scenes flash between characters and settings within seconds in order to keep the audience interested. I agree with Benjamin in that this type of production removes from the experience of enjoying a work of art because the audience has almost no time to analyze the contents and meaning of a scene before it changes again. For example, the 2015 film Avengers: Age of Ultron was filled with action-packed fight scenes. Much of the excitement of watching the film comes from the loud sound effects, quick shots of characters' expressions, and fast-changing scenes. Movie-goers typically pay more attention to the action than to the filler conversation scenes.  The opening fight between the Hulk and Ironman captured the audience's attention before the storyline was fully revealed.

Scene from Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Before listening to the lecture and reading Benjamin's essay, I had not considered the unfavorable effect that automated production has had on popular culture. His work, though it was written in 1936, still reflects the ongoing influence on how we view art as it becomes more mechanized. "Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art." Indeed, the contrast between the reactions to paintings and films is very evident when one analyzes the amount of contemplation that the audience has for each media. Nowadays, as our world moves faster from the use of machines and computers, ideas and innovations are created more quickly and efficiently. As stated in "The Futurist Manifesto" by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, founder of the movement, "We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed" (Marinetti). However, people have become quick to lose interest, quick to be "distracted", when art does not adapt to its fast-changing environment.



Benjamin, Walter. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." 1936. Print.

Marinetti, F. T. "The Futurist Manifesto." 1909. Print.

Sofi. "Animation, Past & Present: Why It's Today's Ultimate Tool." The Wideo Blog. Wideo Inc., 2014. Web.  Accessed 29 June 2016.

Robinson, Andrew. "Walter Benjamin: Art, Aura and Authenticity." Ceasefire. Ceasefire Magazine, 2013. Web. Accessed 28 June 2016.

Vesna, Victoria. DESMA 9 Lectures on Robotics + Art. 2016. Video. Accessed 24 June 2016.


Avengers: Age of Ultron. Dir. Joss Whedon. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2015. Film.

Bruegel, Pieter. Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. 1560s. Oil on canvas. Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Belgium.

"Dreamworks Animation - Behind The Scenes." YouTube. YouTube, 2014. Web. Accessed 29 June 2016.

"Sleeping Beauty - Live Action: Princess Aurora's Movements." YouTube. YouTube, 2012. Web. Accessed 28 June 2016.


  1. You made a really interesting point of the cross between robotics and art by taking the analysis of the two and making a pros/cons comparison of the movement throughout history. I had not thought of the example in how producing film drawing versus digital can add more depth and dimension. It even makes me curious to how Benjamin, a critic of the digital age in art production, might react to this claim and how he'd balance the trade-offs.

  2. Art and technology can never be put apart. It's very cool to learn about the history of motion picture. It stroke a chord with me when I read you post. I am personally very motivated by computerized animation and have done many short projects. One thing that is worth mentioning is that one of UCLA math professors actually took part in the production of movie Frozen. This is the result of the combination of art, math and technology.

    1. By the way, good citations! I'll learn from you.