As the demand for visual effects for cinema has grown, the number of people working on it easily runs into hundreds, sometimes even thousands. In recent years Hollywood has started to divide the visual effects work on a film to multiple visual effects studios, sometimes spreading the work to more then 10 different companies. I argue that this has led to a very generic visual language, with studios becoming in fact interchangeable.

Further elaboration: a quick overview of futuristic cityscapes, and a brief overview of the current state of the visual effects industry.

Although my interest in the craft of digital image making is mostly of an artistic nature, fed by my background as a traditional painter, this context reinforces my efforts to bring a sense of ownership to the work.

Can traditional thoughts and approaches of craftsmanship, ‘bricolage’ and authorship be applied to digital visual effects work?

I am exploring the notion that separating the idea from the execution leads to different results than creating through interacting with the ‘material’, without a detailed blueprint. This is also why it’s important for me to invite team members into the early stages of making a film, so everyone can develop a sense of ‘ownership’.

A lot has been written about the act of drawing, the authorship through the gesture. Whether it’s the graceful fluid lines of Edgar Degas or the surprisingly rough texture on Rembrandt’s paintings, we see the artist at work in the subtle variations of the handling of the material.

As Birgitta Hosea states in her article “Drawing Animation” [1]:  a traditional view on drawing is often associated with immediacy, authenticity and even honesty. This appreciation of traditional craftmanship stands in contrast with the perception of images created with digital tools. Even the common phrase of ‘computer generated images’ has implications of mechanized mass production disconnected from the human gesture, having lost it’s authenticity.

(I elaborate on this here)

So as the question above implies I want to make the digital tools integral to developing the world and the images of  the movies I work on. To not work from elaborate concept art or blueprints that are created beforehand, but include the dialogue between the artist and the tools in the creative process.

‘We might examine drawings as a means of embracing challenge or confronting the unknown; the deliberate and controlled rejection of the comfortable’ (Steve Garner 2008)

In his book The Savage Mind (1962, English translation 1966), French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss used “bricolage” to describe the characteristic patterns of mythological thought. In his description it is opposed to the engineers’ creative thinking, which proceeds from goals to means. Mythical thought, according to Lévi-Strauss, attempts to re-use available materials in order to solve new problems.

When I speak about ‘digital drawing’, I mean imaging from ‘within the world’, interacting with by having a dialogue with the tools. As opposed to using digital drawing as a tool to visualize a preconceived outcome.

Levi-Strauss’ proposition also makes space for tacit knowledge that is applied during interaction with the material, and not so much during goal-oriented engineering.



1 Hosea, Birgitta, Drawing Animation, Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal 5 (3), Sage Pub, 2010, p353-367



Sources that I have on the radar that I have or will look at.

Sennet, R. (2008). The Craftsman. New Haven, USA: Yale University Press.
I have been recommended this book by multiple people, as a good starting point.

Garner, S. (2008). Writing about Drawing. Bristol, UK: Intellect Books
This book contains a series of essays that approach the physical act of drawing from different angles. Some are not so relevant to my research but others are helping me refine my research area – by making me question what is ‘drawing’ in a digital space, and thus led me to interesting quotes by John Berger and Claude Levi-Strauss.

Sarris, A. (1973). The Primal Screen: Essays on Film and Related Subjects. New York, USA: Simon & Schuster.
Andrew Sarris played a role in developing the ‘auteur theory’ in cinema, following Jacques Truffauts essay “Une certaine tendance du cinéma français” (1954).

Hosea, B. (2010). Drawing Animation. Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal 5 (3), pp. 353-367.
Prior to joining the Royal College of Arts (London) in 2015, Birgitta Hosea was Course Director of MA Character Animation and PhD Supervisor at Central Saint Martins. In this article she discusses the act of drawing in the context of animation and how it relates to digital animation. This

Burke, S. (1992). The Death and Return of the Author – Criticism and Subjectivity in Barthes, Foucault and Derrida. Edinburgh, United Kingdom: Edinburgh University Press.
If I decide I need to deepen my research into the philosophy of authorship, this may be a good lead.