Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Despereaux's Nose

Every day on my way to work I get the visual equivalent of a wet handshake.  Despereaux, diminutive mouse of questionable French lineage and hero of his own film, looks at me from behind the moist pink bulb of his all-too realistic nose. It is hard to say exactly what is so off-putting about Despereaux's nose, but it is up there with Edward G. Robinson's lips for Hollywood's most disturbing creature effect.

Far more unnerving than the Saw posters in every subway and bus stop, Despereaux's nose is grotesque in its perfection.  Too perfect.  A textured, glistening fob of digital perfection.  The amount of man hours placed in getting the moisture to sit just right, to make the skin look like living tissue: it all strikes me at the same time and my body invisibly lurches.  I get the icks and shudder. 

What merit is there in making the eye believe that this hero mouse has an ultra-realistic nose?Ultra-realism is, of course, unrealistic.  Nobody sees the world with the level of ultra-fine detail apparent in most computer animation.  The visual sourcing for most computer animation seems to be early Renaissance masters, like Fra Angelico and Piero Della Francesca, where a certain stiffness reigns amongst the figures but the perspective and level detail feel infinite. There is no call to summarize, no need to make it into a cartoon.  The surface is full, because funding is in tact.  

But if Fra Angelico painted on his knees for the greater glory of god, what exactly is Desperaux serving?   If his nose is just a symptom of our own technological superabundance, a widget on the way to an artificial age, what instinct in man calls it forward? Our own love of artifice? We normally call this level of detail pornographic, as in nothing is left to the imagination. I hate to think of what the future of porn will be once the kids who grow up on Despereaux come of age and bring their libidos to bear.  If they are subversive they'll just keep the lights off.   


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