Rigging Demons

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Rigging Demons

Sina Seifee

An efficient particle-based rig for self-attractive dispersal nCloth objects in the 3D software Maya. Sina Seifee, 2020

Coming from the pirate infrastructure of Iran, computer black-market by default, sometime in my early youth I installed a cracked version of Maya (3D software developed at that time by Alias Wavefront). I was making exploratory locomotor behaviors, scripting postural coordinations, kinesthetic structures, and automated skeletal rigs. Soon after, doing simple computer graphics hacks in 3D became a pragmatic experimentation habit. Now looking back, I think it was a way for me to extend a line of flight. Doing autonomous affective pragmatic experiments in a virtual microworld helped me to exit my form of subjectivity. Something that I will unpack in the following text as counter dispossession through engagement with the phantom limb.

“Counter” is perhaps not quite the right word, play is more accurate. Because play happens always on the edge of double bind experience (a condition of schizophrenia). Our relationship with media technologies is a “double bind patterning”, a system of layered contradictions that is experienced as reality. Following Katie King’s rereading of her teacher Gregory Bateson, double bind happens when something is prohibited at one level of meaning or abstraction (within a particular communicating channel), while something else is required (at another level) that is impossible to effect if the prohibition is honored.[1] Our relationship with the phantom limb is at once experienced at the level of terror (being haunted by it) and companionship (extend one’s being in the world).

Disintegration of a demon in Charmed, season 1, episode 20, © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc, 1998. Collage: Sina Seifee

This text develops a system of references and compositional attunement to a technical craft-intense practice called rigging in computer graphics. My aim is to apply the idea of volumetric regimes to rigging, and its media specificities, as one style of animating volumetric bodies particularly naturalized in the animation industry and its techno-culture. I will highlight one of its occurrences in film, namely the visual effects that are associated with disintegration of “demons” in the TV-series Charmed and will propose the disintegrating demon body as a multi-sited loci of meaning. Multi-sites require inquiries in more than one location, also combining different types of location: geographical, digital, temporal, and also demonological. Disintegrating demons are less interesting as a subject for analogies of body politics and more as an object of computerized zoomorphic experimentations. They are performed in specific ways in digital circumstances, which I refer to as doing demons.

I am going to take myself as an empirical access point to think about the ecology of practices[2] or the ecology of minds[3] that involve computerized animated nonhumans, and arrest my digital memories as a molecular material history, in order to share my sensoria among species that shape our relationships with machines. This text is also an exercise in accounting for my own technoperceptual habituations. The technoperceptual can refer to the assemblages of thoughts, acts of perception and of consumption that I am participating with—a term I learnt from Amit Rai in his fabulous research on the technological cultures of hacking in India.[4]

Charmed soap operatic analytics

Disintegration of a demon in Charmed season 1, episode 2, © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc, 1998. Collage: Sina Seifee

I was recently introduced to a multimedia franchise called Charmed. Broadcast by Warner Bros. Television (aired between 1998 and 2006), the adaption of Charmed for television is a supernatural fantasy soap opera, mixing stories of relations between women and machinic alignments. Faced with the cognitive chaos of a hypermodern life in an imaginary San Francisco, as main characters of the soap, the three sisters-witches deal with questions of narcissism (self-oriented molar life-style), prosthesis (sympathetic magic as new technologies they have to learn to live with without mastering), global networks (teamwork with underworld), and dissatisfaction (nothing works out, relationships fail, anxiety attacks, and loneliness). In the series, ancient forms for life-sources, characterized as “demons”, are differentiated and encountered via the mediation of a technical life-source, characterized as “magic spells”. The technology is allegorically replaced by magic.

The soap presents the sisters, Prue, Phoebe, and Piper, oscillating between demon love and demon hate, and constantly negotiating the strange status of desire in general. These negotiations are fabled as the ongoing tensions between hedonism (to refuse to embody anxiety for polyamorous sexual life) and tolerance (the recognition of difference in the demons they must fight to the death) and those tensions are typically worked out melodramatically by the standards of the genre in the 1990s. The characters are frequently wrapped in and unwrapped by emotional turmoil, family discord, marriage breakdown, and secret relationships. They often show minimal interest in magic as a subject of curiosity, and instead they are more interested in spells as a medium through which their demons are externally materialized and enacted. Knowing has no effect on the protagonists’ process of becoming only actions. As such Charmed insists on putting “the transformation of being and the transformation of knowing out of sync with one another”.[5]

Past techniques of making species visible

The demons of Charmed are particularly interesting for multiple reasons. First, they are proposed taxonomically. Every demon is particular in its type, or subspecies, and classified per episode by its unique style of death. The demons are often mean-spirited aliens (men in suits), are less narrated in their process of becoming, and rather interested more in the classification of the manner of vanquishing them. They are “vanquished” at the end of each episode. To be more precise, exactly at minute 39, a demon is spectacularly exploded, melted, burned, or vaporized. One of the byproducts of this strange way of relating, is the Book of Shadows, a list or catalogue of demons and their transmodification. Lists are qualitative characteristics of cosmographical knowledge and my favorite specialized archival technology.

As a premodern cutting-edge agent of sorting, list-making was highly functional in the technologies of writing in the 12th and 16th century, namely monster literature, histoire prodigieuse or bestiaries. I have been thinking about bestiaries these past years, as one of the older practices of discovery, interpretation, production of the real itself. Starting off as a research project about premodern zoology in West Asia, Iran in particular, I found myself getting to know more about how “secularization of the interest in monsters”[6] happened through time. Bestiaries are synthesized sensitized lists of the strange. In them the enlisted creatures do not need to “stick together” in the sense of an affective or syntagmatic followability. That means they are not related narratively, but play non-abstract categories in their relentless particularities. A creative form of demon literacy, mnemonically oriented (to aid memorization), which is materialized in Charmed as the Book of Shadows. The melodrama affect of the series and emphatic lense on the love life of its cast-ensemble, allows a form of distance, making the demons becoming ontologically boring, which is paradoxically the subject of wonder literature (simultaneously distanced and intimate). On one hand the categorical nature of demons are anatomically and painfully indexed in the series, and on the other hand the romantic qualities of demonic life is explored.

Disintegration of a demon in Charmed, season 1, episode 22, © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc, 1998. Collage: Sina Seifee

Soap operas are among the most effective forms of linear storytelling in the 20th century, an invention of the US daytime serials. Characteristic of a soap operatic approach, is the use of the cast-ensemble, a collective of (often glamorous and wealthy) individuals who “play off each other rather than off reality”.[7] This allows the reality in which the stories go through to be rendered as an ordinary, constant, and natural stage. The soap often produces (and capitalizes on) a fable of reality, as that is the environment where multiple agencies are characteristically coordinated to face each other rather than their environment. Through the creation of banal and ordinary sites of getting on collectively in a romantic life, soup opera series are perhaps among the best tools to create cognitive companions (fans) and the sensation of ordinary affects, which are essential in “worlding” (production of the ordinary sense of a world).

Disintegration Effect on self by Surfaced Studio in “After Effects Expression Controls Tutorial - Visual Effects 101”, 2012, https://youtu.be/jslSJNtoNcg

The second reason to become interested in Charmed demons, is because of its visual effects. The disintegration effects of Charmed demon vanquishing can be perceived as “low tech”, meaning that its images develop a visuality that does not immediately integrate into high-end media in 2021. Its images, as I watched them in my attentive recognition (of a phenomena that is not complying with expectations) and partial attunement (to its explicit intensities), they cultivate my vision as the result of a perceiving organ. Why do I find demon species that depend on “expired” visualization technologies more interesting? This can be due to my own small resistance against new-media. Not a critical positioning, but more a sensation that has sedimented into an aesthetic taste (that is my consumption habit). The particular simulacral space of contemporary mediascape, with its preference for immersion, viscerality, interactivity, and hyperrealism, has to do with the way new-media makes meaning more attractive and (in a Deleuzian sense) less intensive. Charmed’s mythopoetic dreamscape now in 2021 has lost its “appeal”, therefore it is available to become tasty again. A witness to the gain and loss of attractivity in media culture is the process of fixing “bad” visual effects in the popular YouTube VFX Artists React series by Corridor Crew, in which the crew “react to” and “fix” the media affect of different VFX-intensive movies.[8]

Transmission of media affects

I have an affinity with disintegration effects. I remember from my early childhood trying to look at one thing for too long, and inevitable reaching a threshold at which that thing would visually break down and perception deteriorate. This was a game I used to play as a child, playing with attention and distraction, mutating myself into a state of trance or autohypnosis, absorbed, diverted, making myself nebulous. Through early experimentation with my own eyes as a visualization technology, within childhood’s world of the chaos of sensation, I sensed (or discovered) the disconnected nature of reality. This particular technoperceptual habituation might be behind my enduring attunement to simulacra and its disintegrative possibilities. The demons of Charmed are encountered via spell, metabolized, and then disintegrated. They become ephemeral phenomena, which accord with demonological accounts of them as fundamentally mobile creatures.

But perhaps I like Charmed demons mainly because of my preference for past techniques of making species visible, the business of bestiaries. In popular contemporary culture, the demon is an organism from hell, out of history (discontinuous with us). They are uncivilized incarnations of a threatening proximity not of this world. And who knows demons best today? The technical animators, working in VFX Industry, department of creature design. Computer technical animation is an undisciplinary microworld, situated in transnational commercial production for mass culture, where hacker skills are transduced to sensitized transmedia knowledge as they pass from the plane of heuristic techno-methodology to an interpretive plane of composing visual sense or “appeal”. To think of the space of a CG software, I am using Martha Kenney’s definition of microworld, a space where protocols and equipments are standardized to facilitate the emergence and stabilization of new objects.[9]

A disintegrative body rendered in Maya and composed in Fusion (eyeon). Being part of the technical animation industry, over the years I built and rebuilt collapsing bodies and disintegrative rigs for mesh objects. Sina Seifee, 2007

To get close to a lived texture of nonhuman nonanimal creatureliness, the technical animators have to sense the complexity of synthetic life through modeling (wealth of detail) and rigging (enacting structure). In other words, they need to get skilled at using digital phenomena (calculative abstraction) to create affectively positive encounters (appeal) with analogue body subjects that are irreducible to discrete mathematical states (the audience). This is a form of “open skill”,[10] a context-contingent tactically oriented form of understanding or responsiveness. Creature animation defined as such is, essentially, a hacker’s talent.

Following this understanding of technical animation, I want to highlight one of its actual practices as the focal point of interest in this writing, namely rigging. Rigging can be understood as staging and controlling “movement” within a limited computational structure (the microworld). Rigging is the talent associated with bringing an environment into transformational particularities using itself. It involves movement between the code space of the software environment (structural determination) and techniques they generate in response to that environment (emergent practice). In other words, the givens of computer graphics software are continually reworked in the creative responses CG hackers develop in relation to the microworld with which they interact. Rigging understood as such, is a workaround practice that both traverses and exceeds the stratified data of its microworld.

RANDOM / Maya Advance Rigging by Blender Sushi 2012, using Maya, underlying skeleton with IK/FK switch, muscle spline, spline IK, knee lock, and deformable head, https://mayaspiral.blogspot.com

Rigging almost always involves making a quality of liveliness through movement. That means, technical animators, through designing so-called rigs, have to create an envelopment: a complex form of difference between the analogue (somatic bodily techniques as the source of perceiving movement) and the digital (analytical ways of conceptualizing movement). This envelopment (skin) reduces what is taken as a model to codified tendencies that encourage and prohibit specific forms of movement and action. As such, rigging is a technological site where bodies are dreamed up, reiterated, or developed.

A simple rigged bipedal character in Maya. Sina Seifee, 2020

Animal animation industry

In his research on the nature of skill in computer multiplayer games, James Ash suggests that the design of successful video games depends on creating “affective feedback loops between player and game”.[11] This is a quality of elusivity in the game’s environment and its mode of interaction with the players, which is predicated on management and control of contingency itself. This is achieved by interactively testing the relation between the code space (game) and the somatic space (users). Drawing on Ash’s insights, I would like to ask how affective quality of liveliness are distributed in the assemblages of various human and technical actors that make up rigging? Exploding demons; what kind of animal geography is that? This is a question of a non-living multi-species social subject in a technically mediated world. I follow Eben Kirksey’s indication of the notion of species as a still useful “sense-making tool”[12] and propose that the demon’s disintegrative body is a form of grasping species with technologies of visualization. In this case, rigging is part of the imagined species that is grasped through enacting (disintegrativity as its morphological characteristics).

Enacting is part of the material practice of learning and unlearning what is to be something else. To enact is to express, to collect and compose a part of the reality that needs to be realized and affirmed by the affects. To (re)enact something is a mutated desire to construct the invisible and mobile forces of that thing. Enactment is not just “making”, it is part of much larger fantasy practices and realities. The most obvious examples are religion and marketing as two institutions that depend on the enactments of fans (of God or the brand). The new-media fandom (collectivities of fans) venture in a social and collaborative engagement with corporate engineered products. But as Henry Jenkins has argued, this engagement is highly ambiguous.[13] Technical animators often behave like fans of their own cultural milieu. For instance when the Los Angeles based visual effects company Corridor Crew tells their story of fixing the bad visual effects of the Star Wars franchise, they enact a fan-culture by modifying and thus creating a variation. They participate in shaping a techno-cognitive context for engagement with Star Wars that operates the same story (uniform cultural memory) but has an intensity of its own (potential for mutation).[14] As we can see in the case of Corridor Crew, technical animation is always a materially heterogeneous work. The animators don’t sit on their desks, they enact all sorts of materialities. Animators use somatic intelligibility (embodiment) to fuse with their tools and become visual meaning-making machines that mutually embody their creatures. Therefore, the disintegration rig can be thought of as a human-machine enactment of a mixed-up species, a makeshift assemblage of human-demon-machinic agency enacting morphological transformations—bringing demon species into being. Doing demons is a social practice.

The animation industry is a complex set of talents and competencies associated with the distribution and transmission of media affects. Within VFX-intensive storytelling as one of the fastest growing markets of our time,[15] animation designers work to create artifacts potent with positively affective responses. The ways in which affect can be manipulated or preempted is a complex and problematic process.[16] Industrial model of distributed production is coalescence of conflicting agencies, infrastructures, responsibilities, skills, and pleasures where none of them is fully in command.[17] Animation technologies has evolved alongside the mass entertainment techno-capital market as a semi-disciplinary apparatus and its constituent player: fans, hackers, software developers, corporates, and pirate kingdoms. I prefer to use the term “hacker” (disorganized workaround practices) when referring to the talents of technical animators. CG hackers working in each other’s hacks and rigs, through feedbacked assemblages of skill sharing, tutorial videos, screenshots, scripts, help files, shortcuts. The assemblages are made of layers of codes and tools built on each other, nested folders in one’s own computer, named categories by oneself and others, horde of text files and rendered test JPGs, and so on. These are (en-/de-)crypting extended bodies of subjectively constructed through the communal technological fold interpreted as the 3D computer program. An ecology of pragmatic workaround practices that Amit Rai terms “collective practices of habituation”, which Katie King might call “distributed embodiments, cognitions, and infrastructures at play”.

FK (forward kinematics) simple one-dimensional rigging in Maya, Sina Seifee, 2020. The rotation value of each “joint” is accumulated through the chain

I propose to understand CG hackers and technical artists with their practices of habituation, as craft-intensive. This implies understanding them as intimately connected with a particular microworld, the knowledge of which comes through skilled embodied practice that subsist over longer periods of time. I worked for some time as a generalist technical animator for both television and cinema, many years ago. An artisan’s life and a set of skills that I acquired in my youth, which are still part of my repertoire of know-hows that makes me expressive today. As many others have argued,[18] crafters attune to their materials, becoming subject to the processes they are involved in. Then, rigging as a skill can be understood as a form of pre-conceptual practice. By pre-conceptual I mean what Benjamin Alberti refers to as processes through which concepts find their way into actualities. Skilled practice is also the mark of the maker’s openness to alterity.[19] An alterity in relation to that which the machinic entity becomes quasi-other or quasi-world.[20] Is it possible to invoke epistemological intimacy (a way of grasping one’s own practice) through the processes of crafts? What is Charmed’s answer to this?

FK one dimensional rigging in Maya. Sina Seifee, 2020

Demon disintegration zoomorphic writing technology

CG stands for computer graphics, but also for many more things, computational gesture, and creature generator. In the example of demon disintegration that I gave earlier, I suggested the presence of zoomorphic figures (demons) as an indication for thinking about rigging as a bundle of the digital (calculative abstraction), the analogue (body appeal), and the nonhuman (zoomorphic physiology). Zoomorphic figures are historically bound with animation technologies. The design and rigging of “creatures” are part of every visual effects training program and infused in the job description. Disney Animation Studios is the example of critical and commercial success through mastery over anthropomorphized machines. Animation has been a technology of zoomorphic writing.

Automata and calligraphy’s mimetic figures

Engraving of Digesting Duck, an automaton in the form of a duck, created by Jacques de Vaucanson, 1739. Image from A Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures, and Mines, 1839

Zoomorphic writing technologies are not new. The clockwork animals, those attendant mammalian attachments, were bits of kinematic programming able to produce working simulacrums of a living organism. Perhaps rigging is a manifestation of the desire to produce and study automata. For Golem, that unfortunate unformed limb, the rig was YHWH, the name of the God. Another witness is a variation of calligraphy, the belle-lettre style of enfolding animals into letters, which is as old as writing itself. The particular volumetric regime of making animal shapes with calligraphy operates by confusing pictorial and lexical attributes, mobilizing a sort of wit in order to animate imaginary and real movements. Mixing textuality and figurality is something like a childhood experience. A kind of word-puzzle which uses figurative pictures with alphabetical shapes. It is a game of telescoping language through form, schematizing a space where the animal’s body and language form one gestalt. In my childhood I was indeed put into a calligraphy course, which I eventually opted out of. Although extremely short, my calligraphy training taught me how the world passes through the mechanized, technical, and skillful pressure of the pen, hand, color, paper, and eye as an assemblage. At that time I experienced calligraphy as an entirely uncharismatic technology. Yet I found myself spending endless hours making mimetic figures with writing. I felt how making animals with calligraphy conflates language and image and thus makes it liable to move in many unpredictable directions. The power of the latent, the hidden relationships, the interpretable. A state of multistability that I enjoyed immensely as a child.

Rigging demons as an occasion of contemporary zoomorphic writing technology suggests that the enfoldment of “morph” (the transformation of an image by computer) and “zoon” (nonhuman animals) is both that which nonhumans shape and that which gives shape to nonhumans. Bodies of demons in the software are enveloped with the appropriate rig for a specific transmodification (movement, disintegration, etc). But because of the presence of zoomorphism—like the case of calligraphy—they don’t move as pure presuppositions. In rigging the deformation and movement are always in question.

Zoomorphic writing, opaque lapis-lazuli based paint and gold on paper, Iran, 12th century

Rigging as prosthetic technology

Following an understanding of technical animation habits in terms of their descriptive capacities, or a pre-conceptual craft-intensive zoomorphic writing practice, I would like to enlarge the understanding of rigging as an essentially prosthetic technology. Prosthetics simply means the extended body. They are vivid illustrations of human-technology relations in terms of the body (prosthetics are perhaps the exact opposite of Morton’s hyperobjects). As the philosopher of virtual embodiment, Don Ihde has argued that the extended body signifies itself through the technical mediation. In this sense the body of the technical animator is an extended lived-body, a machine-infused neuro-physical body. Benefiting from a notion of apparatus developed by Karen Barad, namely apparatus understood as a sort of specific physical argument (fixed parts establishing a frame of reference for specifying “position”),[21] rigging can be thought of as a sort of articulation. We can now ask how rigging, as a specific prosthetic embodiment of the technologically enhanced visualization apparatus, matters to practices of knowing about the world, species, and demons?

Manual understanding abstract animals

As I have been showing, technical animators are manual understanders of nonhuman cyber-physiology. They have to be good at two things: morphology and its mathematization, or to be more precise, analytic geometry. Analytic geometry is not necessarily Euclidean or rigid body dynamics, because it also covers curved spaces, n-dimensional spaces, volumetric space, phase space, etc. As I was being self-educated in 3D animation, I learned to understand the space of the software as a n-dimensional manifold; X, Y, Z, the dimension of time, of texture, of audio, and so on. The particular way that technical animators look at nonhumans (animal or nonanimal) creates a mode of abstraction that reduces the state of amorphousness (model) to position and structure, like an anatomy, or as I call it, a rig. Less concerned with external resemblance (shading), rigging is particularly busy with building internal homologies. It is a comprehensible order (skeleton) that permits systematic animation, but also allows complexities and accidents to occur.

Homology is a morphological correspondence primarily determined by relative positions and connections. As soon as technical animators start thinking about rigging, they are doing anatomical work, a science of form. They use comparative biological intuition to imagine an isomorphic system of relations. Through building an abstract animal, they respond to the question of morphological correspondence or analogue. They become thinkers of organic folding. Analogue in homological terms means when a part or organ in one assemblage (an imagined animal) is isomorphic (it has the same function) to another part or organ in a different assemblage (virtual microworld). Rig is the analogue of the animal’s body.

In their presentation of the project hosted by The Gnomon Workshop, Weeds: The Making of an Animated Short Film, a group of Disney tech-artists working on a distributed project that they did on their personal time, talk about how they cared for the dandelion in the process of rigging Dan in 3D animation Weeds.[22] Kevin Hudson, one of the animators, mentions how he started with attention and observation (opening their bodies to a variety of affective states): “The inspiration for the story came when I was out front of my house pulling weeds that pop up in my lawn. I looked across my driveway at my neighbor’s yard, which was never watered, and the lawn is dead with only a few dying dandelions clinging to the edge of the sidewalk”.[23] In the talk, we can see how the creation of “appeal” is understood as the creation of “care” in the animation culture industry. In the making of Dan, the pictorial effect of appeal is done to Dan’s face as the substance of subjective singularity. Faciality as the medium of the anthropomorphic expression of the facial body (for example in Weeds the whole body becomes an expressive face) is one of the main mediums of the animation industry. The artists of Disney draw from understandings of the mammalian-affective structure (face) and technical agencies (rig) to create interactive dramas of psychological bonding.

My prosthetic experience with CG affirms with Ihde’s notion of multistability. Technologies are multistable. That means they have unpredictable side-effects and are embeddable in different ways, in different cultures.[24] In a world where technologies and humans interactively constitute one another, I find Ihde’s variational methodology quite useful. It simply means that through variations, and not only through epistemic breakdowns, new gestalts can be forefronted. Fan based contents are generated precisely by variational creativity in the multistable plane of consumption. Ihde’s variational approach is to be understood in contrast to the epistemological breakdown as a revelatory means of knowing—when something that had usually been taken for granted, under breakdown conditions, gets revealed in a new way. Following Ihde’s indication, we can think of mechanisms of the production of differences as variations (how something varies, and is not simply breaking down) in the routines of rigging. They are technologies that are both effective and failing, obscuring and making visible the nonhumans that hackers like to realize. Through abstract speculation and variational (craft-intensive) inspection of the mundane technological mediation of monsters, I have been trying to propose a case for the heterogeneous relationships between human beings, the world and for artifacts used for mediation. I have been doing that to think about this question: How do CG hackers make their animals more real? In order to extend my response to that question, and still taking myself as an empirical access point, I will look at my extended being at work with computer graphics and make a case for phantom limbs.

Mastery of the phantom limb

I like to propose that prosthetic skills are intimately connected to the mastery of the phantom limb. Phantom limb is a technique of cognitive prosthesis, which allows for the creation of artificial limbs. A post-amputation phenomenon, phantom limbs are the sensation of missing limbs. Elizabeth Grosz has discussed the problematic and uncontainable status of the body in biology and psychology, and that the phantasmatically lost limbs are persistently part of our hermeneutic-cultural body. Is the embodiment through technologies, the technoperceptual habituation of the 3D software, a mode of engagement with the body image? Over longer periods of time, mediating technology can become an artificial limb for the subject. It can reach a state of instrumental transparency. That means that through skilled embodied practices the technical animator’s interaction with their microwork achieves an intuitive character, a techno-perceptual bodily self-experience. The n-dimensional space of the animation software becomes part of the condition of one’s access to spatiality. It becomes one’s “body image”. Simply put, the body image is the picture of our own body which we form in our mind. It is experienced viscerally and is always anatomically fictive and distorted. The concept of body image, coined by psychoanalyst Paul Schilder and neurologist Henry Head is a schema (spatiotemporally structured model) that mediates between the subject’s position and its environment.

Allan McKay’s tutorial on doing disintegration effects.[25] McKay is known for the dissemination visual effects that he achieved as the digital artist for the movie Blade: Trinity, 2004. Increased over the years, perhaps tripped by the 2018 film Avengers: Infinity War, a whole family of disintegration effects have become part of the entertainment industry’s volumetrics[26]

A strange experience of engagement with phantom limbs can be found in religion. In Catholic theology to be sanctified involves the ritual of mortification of the flesh. Mortification refers to an act by which an individual or group seeks to put their sinful parts to death. As both an internal and external process, mortification involves exactly the continuity of missing parts (of the soul) with the living parts. Lacan called it “imaginary anatomy” and designated it as part of the genesis of the ego. Grosz makes note of this and further gives the example of a child becoming a subject through the development of its body image, in various libidinal intensities. Sensations are projected onto the world, the world’s vicissitudes are introjected back into the child. The child’s body image gets gradually constructed and invested in stages of libidinal development: The oral stage and the mouth, the anal stage and the anus, and so on. Children’s bodies, like the process of modeling, move from a state of amorphousness to a state of increasing differentiation.[27]

Actors learn to constantly use the concept of body image. In an acting group that I was part of in the early 2000s, part of our training was to control and distort the body image at will in order to insinuate real affective states in one’s self. Without naming it as such, we learned how the body image can shrink and expand. How it can give body parts to the outside world and can incorporate external objects. This is a mode of engagement with the phantom limb, in which the subject stimulates a state of possession of the body through external means. This is also the case in music improvisation. Everyone who has improvised with a musical instrument knows that playing music is not merely a technical problem of tool-use. I have been playing setar on and off for 20 years. Setar is a string-based instrument, and like lute it is played with the index finger. I learned it through a tacit and cognitive apprenticeship (not using notation), starting when I was still a teenager. Mastering a musical instrument as such becomes something personal, distributive, and bodily contextual. The strange phenomena of “mood” in playing the setar—which is the key to its mastery—is perhaps part of the difficulty of learning how to play the instrument. Getting into the mood is precisely the libidinal problem of how the instrument becomes psychically invested, how it becomes a cathected part of the body image.

Rigging as the mastery of the phantom limb made sense to my young self. As a shy teenager I was experiencing a discord between my psychical, idealized self-image (body image) and my actual undesired lived-body that felt like a biological imposition. As Grosz has also mentioned, teenagehood is precisely the age for philosophical desire to transcend corporeality and its urges. My relationship with CG technologies can be understood through ambivalent responses within puberty to the threat of inconsistency of the world. I was changing my body image through visualization of phantom limbs. And thus escaping a state of dispossession (a state of freedom from phantoms). This is what I am calling counter dispossession through engagement with the phantom limb. A mode of prosthetic cognitive engagement with phantom limbs, perhaps against what Descartes warned as the deception of the inner senses. I am still attached to the world of unbelievable images, with its own immanent forms of movement. Witches exploding the body schema of the demons.

Demonological intimacy

What I am proposing here is to make a site of negotiation with the cyberbox of CG spaces, and to recognize rigging as a mode of engagement with such spaces. Rigging is a trajectory-enhancing device, another trajectory of human-nonhuman relational being that happens in the digital interface. If we take CG animation with its often nonhuman-referenced starting-point, and its prosthetic phenomenology as an extended technologically mediated nurturer of zoomorphic bodies, we can ask the following questions. Which species are socialized through machinic agency of rigging practices? What is the body schema of the hacker in CG as a microworld where there is no near or far? What is experienced as their Gestalt? What kind of grasp is automatically localized? What are their phantom limbs? These are all questions of volumetric regimes. In this essay I have been trying to create a site where responses to these inquiries can be constructed and played with, by observing myself playing and giving a bit more specificity to the demons of Charmed. And taking the hints that Grosz and Ihde give, understand myself as to be thinking and acting in the midst of the pervasive proliferation of technoperceptual phantom limbs.

To think of demon vanquishing visual effects as a model of synthesis, implies learning to see old and new forms of confusion, attachment, subjectivity, agency, and embodiment in mass media techno-culture. A postmodern machinic fantasy in which animators are technical computational de-amputators, exploding the guts of demons. This is a supra-reality hybrid craft in digital form that suggests a mode of intimacy with nonhumans ambivalence. In demon rigging technical animation, the demon arrives as an older model of agency to inspire causality. It is a computer-cyberspace machinic intimacy but also demonological. Demonology is not necessarily only an ecclesiastic discourse (related to the church), but a variational practice of empirically verifying hybrid human-animal creatures from long-standing popular conceptions of a shared non-fictive reality. Call it a fandom spin-off of theology. They are part of the vast repertoire of composite and cross-disciplinary network of nonhuman causality and transmedia writing (bestiary).

Talisman in the form of a warship (with the names of the “Seven Sleepers of Ephesus”) signed by Abdul Wahid ibn al-Haji Muhammad Tahir, Indonesia, 1866, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Coined as a technique of sailing vessels, rigging is not a metaphoric thought. It refers rather to a cheat, a hacker’s talent, in which one selects and puts components in place to allow them to function in a particular way

In order to make a scene (not an argument) about computerized zoopoetics, and learn something new about the perceptual selectivity of the CG hackers tangled in social machinery of animation tools, I tried to attend to my technohabitual experiences as a CG generalist amidst an increasing awareness of the multistable nature of media technologies. This was done by patterning of scales: the scale of individual attention to particular fringes of one’s own mini experiences, and the scale of the experience of a shared inhabited world. I couldn’t help using “we” (and “our”) more than once in the essay. The determiner “we” is a simple magic spell, a transcendental metaphysical charm through which one speaker becomes many. I associated myself with the “we”, to evoke the possibility of a witnessable scenographic truth-telling, in order to demonstrate (to vanquish and to fabricate simultaneously) a multidimensional microworld of effective rigging in CG, where the social conjoiner of we would matter. Did I evoke Charmed and Corridor Crew as part of this “we”? And, is “we” a sympoiesis or an acknowledgment of a true collective difference? Is “we” always needed to pull back to include alternate knowledge worlds? Like how it is done in soap operas.

Perhaps my relationship with Charmed is like Prue, Phoebe and Piper to their demons, between love and vanquish. I have been using the notion of multistability to think about the relationships that bind humans to virtual explosive demons as their significant “other” (according to Charmed). In Rigging Demons, a digital folktale, I have proposed rigging as a sensory medium (a mode of nearness and appropriation) and as exosomatic practice (prosthetic): extending part of one’s subjectivity beyond the skin through engagements with digital animation technologies as phantom limbs. Every demonic dematerialization in Charmed, every vanquishment, is also a relinquishing—of materializing forces that create a network out of that which this essay is inspired. This text is itself part of the play with the consciousness of technical animator, CG interface, soap opera, my affective involvement (being spellbound to the series), and an unmetabolized speciation in the style of bestiaries. Exploding demons area visceral non-mammalian animality located within a spacetime that is coordinated by commercial entertainment, transmedia writing technologies, zoosemiotic registers, and all sorts of agents that I am part of. I have been trying to propose a variational understanding of the 3D software as an interactive and augmented microworld of objects, beings, zoons and tools for the visualization of multistable cognitions, a form of transnational knowledge work that many agents (market, demons, machines, hackers) are involved in but none is in full control over.


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