The Animator as the Computer User: from the Tinkerer to the Inventor

Project Details


Recent animated blockbusters appear to favor stories about the inventor. 3D computer animated movies such as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009, hereafter Cloudy), Despicable Me (2010), and Big Hero 6 (2014) are so well-received that they have sequel(s). All three film series feature an inventor protagonist, whose ambitious technology wields power on a collective scale. For the sake of discussion, I will call these animated films the “inventor cluster.,,From the vantage point of animation history, the inventor character in computer animation is of particular interest. In the so-called Golden Age of American animation (1910s-1930s), the inventor character is rather a humble tinkerer who nurtures an intimate relationship to the machine. In sharp contrast to early animation, the contemporary inventor cluster entertains a more aggressive relationship to technology. The new inventor protagonist steals the moon, tempers with the weather, or plays with dangerous technology. Although the more recent inventor cluster can be seen as a renaissance of the tinkerer cartoons, the profound change in the characterization of the technical figure signals not only the change in the medium of animation itself but also the shifting landscape of the social and cultural spheres. But more importantly, the labor condition that helps mold such characterization holds the key to the understanding of such transition. The present project will therefore frame the transition in the changing mode of production that involves the dialectical relationship between medium (drawn animation to computer animation) and production relations (hierarchy and labor rationalization to network collaboration). In the broader context of contemporary digital culture, the transition is also useful to identify the transition from the Fordist mode of production, epitomized in the conveyor belt, to the post-Fordist, undergird by networks of communication and information processing. Through the analysis of the inventor character conditioned by the post-Fordist mode of production, the project will explore the new digital utopianism and control anxiety of the computer user.
Effective start/end date1/08/1631/07/17

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals


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