Portrait of Professor Aylish Wood

Professor Aylish Wood

Professor in Film
REF Coordinator

About

I have been at Kent since September 2003, having previously taught at the University of Aberdeen. I completed my PhD in Film Studies at the University of Nottingham in 1999. Prior to this, I had a career in Biochemistry, a discipline in which I also hold a PhD.

My research primarily focusses on digital media in cinema, animation and games. My interest lies in the capacity of these popular media to reveal contemporary concerns about technology, from how technology looks, what it does, and the ways in which we interact with it.

Research interests

My research is informed by an interest in the relationships between technology and moving image media. Since undertaking a PhD on images of technoscience in American Cinema, I have developed a cross media approach, working with animation, digital games, installation art and cinema. Areas of study have included images of humans and technologies, and the impact of digital media on cinema aesthetics, animation, digital games and installations. A number of these projects have benefitted from awards from the Leverhulme Trust, the AHRC and the BA.

My current research is focused on 3D animation software and its use in visual effects, animations, adverts, and science visualizations. Funded by an AHRC Fellowship, this research has involved interviewing animators, developing a framework that draws on software studies, ecologies of technologies, and digital materialities, as well as cinema studies. 

I am also involved in ‘fx works’, a collaboration with other UK-based academics interested in visual effects and imaging technologies more widely.

Teaching

Animated Worlds: the module introduces the diversity of animation, from cel-animations, to puppets, 3D computer animation and on-line animations. We study shorts and features from around the world, exploring animation as an aesthetic and cultural phenomenon. 

Digital Domains: beginning with the history of special effects, we look at the shifting terrains of digital filmmaking. Charting a course from familiar effects films, we move towards more experimental works and the changing opportunities for filmmakers and audiences alike.

Cinema and Technology: Following the rapid developments in digital and computer media, interest in cinema and technology has grown. This MA module draws on an interdisciplinary framework from media and cultural studies, science and technology studies, philosophy and film theory, exploring changes in the cinema within a broadly defined technocultural shift.

Supervision

I am open to enquiries about PhD projects interested in the relationship between digital technologies and new ways of thinking about or experiencing space in a wide range of media. I welcome projects that explore questions across media or via a single one, and have an interdisciplinary perspective. Proposals on animation, games, visual effects, 3D cinema and VR would map well onto my research focus.

Areas I have supervised include:

  • Animation and theories about character
  • Animation, cartooning and theories of satire
  • Hybrid images
  • Animation industry: gender and production culture
  • Superheroes in American Cinema since 2000
  • Games and cinema
  • Comics and cinema
  • Trailers and cinema
  • Alternative Porn
  • Digital uncanny
  • Italian American Masculinity in the 1970s
  • Trans identity in the cinema

Publications

Article

  • Wood, A. (2014). Behind the Scenes: A Study of Autodesk Maya. Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal [Online] 9:317-332. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1746847714546247.
    Automation lies at the centre of many debates surrounding computer-generated animation. Rarely used as a neutral term, it is frequently a marker of changing practices somehow outside the control of human users of technologies, often threatening the terms on which agency is founded. This understanding of automation and computer animation software can be complicated by insights from software studies. Accordingly, 3D animation software Autodesk Maya is explored through a methodology that places an analysis of the visual organization of the user interface alongside interviews with users of the software, in particular modellers and animators. Discussion of the interview material is framed through Noah Wardrip-Fruin’s ideas on expressive processin and Adrian Mackenzie’s account of software and agency. The argument put forward is that users experience the automation of software via their interactions with the user interface, and that inputs generated through human users and automation counterpoint rather eclipse each other.
  • Wood, A. (2014). Contests and Simulations: Tron: Legacy and its Connections with Technologies. Journal of Film and Video.
  • Wood, A. (2013). Intangible space: three-dimensional technology in Hugo and IMAX in The Dark Knight. Convergence: The International Journal of Research Into New Media Technologies [Online] 19:1-13. Available at: http://con.sagepub.com/content/early/recent.
    Intangible spaces exist as a particular gathering together of influences, including those of people, things,
    locations and technologies. They are fascinating for thinking about how technologies influence cinematic space. This discussion of digital three-dimensional (3D) technologies in Hugo and the image maximum (IMAX) format in The Dark Knight uses paratexts to elaborate on this idea. Paratexts released in conjunction with Hugo are used to introduce an understanding of digital 3D cinematic space as something that is built as opposed to recorded. Those of The Dark Knight show film-makers encountering unexpected spaces arising from their use of IMAX technologies. By paying attention to the parameters of intangible space in The Dark Knight, the IMAX format is configured not as seamlessly immersive but as a location that offers multiple points of engagement for an audience. Both these examples demonstrate how thinking in terms of relationality, mediation and entanglement describes a cinematic space given shape by and through technologies.
  • Wood, A. (2012). Where Codes Collide: the Emergent Ecology of Avatar. Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal [Online] 7:309-322. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1746847712456261.
    Ecological approaches give an insight to the story-world of Avatar. They are extended in this article to facilitate an exploration of the connectivity between the feature film and its associated texts (production culture disclosures, making of featurettes, interviews). Drawing on the ecological thinking of Gregory Bateson, Félix Guattari and Jane Bennett, this article argues that Avatar and its associated texts are considered as an ecology of emergent space. The materiality of such a space is drawn from the various entities involved in its configuration: animation software, motion capture technologies, actors, designers and filmmakers. This argument is pursued primarily through a discussion of the ways in which real-time motion capture technologies alter our understandings of the ecologies of CG imagery in Avatar. Remaining focused on only the realism of these images, or the traces of humanness within them, misses the way in which such spaces emerge at an intersection of codes.
  • Wood, A. (2012). Recursive space: play and creating space. Games and Culture [Online] 7:87-105. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1555412012440310.
    Space is reconfigured through the participations of both gamers and the game, where game is understood as the programming and hardware of a game technology. Extending our understandings of the contributions of both gamer and game, the outcome of play emerges as the agencies of each are co-constituted. This space is recursive, based on feedback between the state of the game (relations between the objects) and the state of the gamer, which includes their knowledge, skill, mood and attention. The idea of recursive space is developed in two ways. First, as another means of describing a gamer's engagement with space, one that gives a greater account of the participation of technology. Secondly, it gives us a way of thinking about play as a process of creating space.
  • Wood, A. (2011). Digital afx: digital dressing and affective shifts in Sin City and 300. New Review of Film and Television Studies [Online] 9:283-295. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17400309.2011.585860.
    In Sin City (Robert Rodriguez, 2005) and 300 (Zack Snyder, 2006) extensive
    post-production work has created stylised colour palettes, manipulated areas
    of the image, and added or subtracted elements. Framing a discussion around
    the terms ‘affect’ and ‘emotion’, this paper argues that the digital technologies used in Sin City and 300 modify conventional interactions between
    representational and aesthetic dimensions. Brian Massumi suggests affective
    imagery can operate through two modes of engagement. One mode is
    embedded in a meaning system, linked to a speci?c emotion. The second
    is understood as an intensi?cation whereby a viewer reacts but that reaction is
    not yet gathered into an alignment with meaning. The term ‘digital afx’
    is used to describe manipulations that produce imagery allowing these two
    modes of engagement to coexist. Digital afx are present when two competing
    aesthetic strategies remain equally visible within sequences of images. As a
    consequence the afx mingle with and shift the content of representations
  • Wood, A. (2008). Proliferating Connections and Communicating Convergence. Fibreculture [Online]. Available at: http://www.journal.fibreculture.org/issue13/issue13_wood.html.
  • Wood, A. (2008). Encounter at the Interface: Distributed Attention and Digital Embodiments. Quarterly Review of Film and Video [Online] 25:219-229. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10509200601091490.
  • Wood, A. (2007). ’Pixel Visions: Digital Intermediates and Micromanipulations of the Image’. Quarterly Review of Film and Video Film C:72-94.
  • Wood, A. (2006). Re-Animating Space. Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal 1:133-152.
  • Wood, A. (2004). The Metaphysical Fabric that Binds Us’: Proprioceptive Coherence and Performative Space in Minority Report. New Review of Film and Television Studies 2:1-18.
  • Wood, A. (2002). The timespaces of spectacular cinema: crossing the great divide of spectacle versus narrative. Screen 43:370-386.

Book

  • Wood, A. (2015). Software, Animation, and the Moving Image: What’s in the Box?. [Online]. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan. Available at: https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9781137448842.
  • Wood, A. (2007). Digital Encounters. Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.
  • Wood, A. (2002). Technoscience in Contemporary American Films: Beyond Science Fiction. Manchester University Press.

Book section

  • Wood, A. (2019). Where Do Shapes Come From?. In: Harris, M., Husbands, L. and Taberham, P. eds. Experimental Animation: From Analogue to Digital. London, UK: Routledge. Available at: https://www.routledge.com/Experimental-Animation-From-Analogue-to-Digital/Harris-Husbands-Taberham/p/book/9781138702981.
    In this essay, I take abstraction, a familiar term from discussions of experimental animation, and expand it via design theorist Johanna Drucker’s idea of performative digital materiality. In this way I explore digital images through their associations and connections with people, processes and cultural domains. First, I connect abstraction in animation to its usage in computer science, and then establish a link to performative digital materiality. Based on these connections, I draw comparisons between Where Shapes Come From (Semiconductor, 2016) and Category 4 Hurricane Matthew on October 2, 2016 (2017), a visualisation of Hurricane Matthew created by the Godard Science Visualization Studio. Both Where Shapes Come From and Category 4 Hurricane Matthew use data to drive the motion of their CG elements. Consequently, while concerned with events in physical environments, they rely on algorithms to facilitate motion and so have a digital materiality too. Though sharing a similar technique, their associations and connections each reveal different performative digital materialities. The algorithm facilitating motion in Category 4 Hurricane Matthew’s is linked to consensus building, whereas that used for Where Shapes Come From maintains the interrogative gap essential to the experimental animation’s engagement with scientific discourse.
  • Wood, A. (2015). Inception’s Timespaces. In: North, D., Rehak, R. and Duffy, M. eds. Special Effects: New Histories, Theories, Contexts. BFI: Palgrave Macmillan / Bloomsbury, pp. 254-266. Available at: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/special-effects-9781844579044/.
  • Wood, A. (2013). Sonic Times in Inception and Watchmen. In: Vernalis, C., Richardson, J. and Herzog, A. eds. The Oxford Handbook of Sound and Image in Digital Media. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 417-437.
  • Wood, A. (2008). Cinema as Technology: Encounters with an Interface. In: Furstenau, M., Mackenzie, A. and Bennett, B. eds. Cinema and Technology. Palgrave Press.
  • Wood, A. (2005). Vectorial dynamics: transtextuality and complexity in the Matrix. In: Gillis, S. ed. The Matrix. Wallflower Press.
  • Wood, A. (2005). The Animated Queer. In: Griffiths, R. ed. Queer Cinema in Europe. Intellect.
  • Wood, A. (2004). The Expansion of Narrative Space: Titanic and CGI Technology. In: Street, S. and Bergfelder, T. eds. Titanic As Myth and Memory: Representations in Visual and Literary Culture. I.B.Tauris, pp. 225-234.
  • Wood, A. (2004). The collapse of reality and illusion in The Matrix. In: Tasker, Y. ed. The Action Reader. Routledge, pp. 119-129.
  • Wood, A. (2001). Fresh Kill: Information Technologies as Sites of Resistance. In: Munt, S. ed. Technospaces: Inside the New Media. Continuum, pp. 161-174.
  • Wood, A. (1998). "You ever fuck a mutant?" Technology, Gender and Identity in Total Recall. In: Ainley, R. ed. New Frontiers of Space, Bodies and Gender. Routledge, pp. 191-202.

Conference or workshop item

  • Wood, A. (2015). Making Movements: Technological Imaginations of Animators and Algorithms. In: Society for Animation Studies 2015.
  • Wood, A. (2015). Excavating Software Algorithms. In: Society for the Cognitive Study of the Moving Image.
  • Wood, A. (2015). Aardman! In an Adventure with CGI!. In: Aardman Workshop.
  • Wood, A. (2014). Software and Visual Effects. In: Society for Animation Studies.
    This paper presents a study of Autodesk Maya informed by software studies, and explores what thinking through software adds to debates about visual effects. The user interface of Maya is a hybrid space, the familiar spaces of objects coexisting with the more intangible spaces of software processes and procedures. The latter are visible through a range of materials: interviews carried out with animators working within different industrial sectors, as well as training and publicity materials. Critical approaches relying on photorealism and representational strategies draw digital entities into the world inhabited by humans, and discursively treat them as though they are a little like us. Exploring digital space in terms of procedures and processes allows access to digital space as digital space. It is a space that is intangible and computational, and plays a structuring part in all kinds of ways. Thinking procedurally adds another register to debates about digital entities and visual effects. Not only can we think about how we digitally construct variations on our world, but also how digital spaces coexist beside our more familiar ones and shape their possibilities.
  • Wood, A. (2014). Software, Animation and the Moving Image: What’s in the Box?. In: Creative Animation Knowledge Exchange Conference.
    From its early use in the Oscar winning effects of The Matrix to its continuing use in films such as Hugo and The Dark Knight Rises, the feature length animations Rango and Epic, and games such as Journey, Autodesk Maya is pre-eminent amongst animation packages. It is used in the visual effects, advertising, and television industries, science visualizations and the games sector. Much insightful work exists on the creative opportunities image software offers filmmakers, but less attention has been paid to the software. This paper presents a study of Autodesk Maya informed by software studies, and explores what thinking through software adds to debates about digital images. The user interface of Maya is a hybrid space, the familiar spaces of objects coexisting with the more intangible spaces of software processes and procedures. The latter are visible through a range of materials: interviews carried out with animators working within different industrial sectors, as well as training and publicity materials. Critical approaches relying on photorealism and representational strategies draw digital entities into the world inhabited by humans, and discursively treat them as though they are a little like us. Exploring digital space in this way gives access to digital space as digital space. It is a space that is intangible and computational, and plays a structuring part in all kinds of ways.
  • Wood, A. (2014). Software, Animation and Autodesk Maya. In: Digital in Depth.
  • Wood, A. (2014). What’s in the Box?. In: BAFTSS Annual Conference.
  • Wood, A. (2013). Introducing ’more-than-representational space: software and visual effects. In: The Magic of Special Effects.
  • Wood, A. (2013). Intangible Spaces: Tracing Technologies in the 3-D Space of Hugo. In: CRASSH: Joining the Dots.
  • Wood, A. (2013). Hugo and 3D Space: tracing digital contours. In: Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference 2013.

Internet publication

  • Wood, A. (2013). Talking about Maya [pdf]. Available at: http://www.kent.ac.uk/arts/staff-profiles/profiles/film/wood.html.
    ‘Talking about Maya’ is a resource for people who want to
    know more about how animators create using software.
    The document brings together a detailed sample of
    answers given in response to questions focussed on using
    Autodesk Maya. The interviews were undertaken during an
    Arts and Humanities Research Council funded
    project exploring computer-generated (CG) animation. Part
    of the project involved asking animators (this loose use of
    the term ‘animator’ covers modellers, riggers and
    animators) to describe their experience of working with
    software.

Review

  • Wood, A. (2014). Gravity. Science Fiction Film and Television [Online] 7:441-444. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3828/sfftv.2014.25.

Thesis

  • Declercq, D. (2017). A Philosophy of Satire. Critique, Entertainment, Therapy.
    What is satire, what can it do and what not, and why should we care about it? Since its introduction as a classification of artworks in Roman times, these fundamental questions about satire have been continually addressed by satirists themselves, their fans, their detractors, political and moral authorities, art-critics, and, not in the least, scholars. These longstanding debates about the fundamental issues of satire have often been fruitful and enlightening. Still, the fundamental questions about satire's nature, its function and its significance have remained unanswered. In this thesis, I aim to resolve these issues by engaging with satire throughout the ages in various media, with a specific focus on contemporary moving images. While satire was traditionally a literary phenomenon, it is nowadays most widespread on the screen, especially due to commercial success on American television (Gray, Jones and Thompson 2009, 19). For this reason, although I do not ignore debates in literary studies and other disciplines, I primarily engage with recent scholarship in film, television and media studies (e.g. Day 2012; McClennen 2011; Jones 2010; Baym 2010). Apart from moving images, I also discuss a variety of comics, because I argue that satire is characterised by similar storytelling techniques as cartoons and caricatures.

    My investigation aims to clarify fundamental, general and abstract questions about the nature, function and significance of satire. In order to realise these aims, I introduce and develop methodological frameworks from analytic aesthetics and philosophy. I draw mostly on methodologies in philosophy of art to address my research questions and clarify closely related concepts to satire, including irony (Wilson and Sperber 2012), humour (Carroll 2014), fiction (Friend 2012), genre (Abell 2014), aesthetic experiences (Stecker 2010), entertainment (Shusterman 2003) and narrative interpretation (Currie 2004). I also engage with scholarship which has sought to appraise the nature, function and significance of satire by comparing it to philosophy (Gray 2005; Higgie 2014). On the one hand, such comparisons are problematically vague and, under scrutiny, the differences between satire and philosophy quickly become apparent (see Diehl 2013). On the other hand, these comparisons are valuable because they rightfully highlight that satirists and philosophers share a moral concern for truth, which situates them in a similar existential framework. Still, concepts like 'truth' and 'ethics' have remained problematically vague in recent debates about satire, especially in the wake of postmodernism. In order to redress this situation and introduce greater clarity to the debates, I develop a meta-ethical investigation rooted in the quasi-realism of Simon Blackburn (1998).

    In the first chapter, I challenge the idea that satire is a spirit or mode which can only be characterised by a cluster account (Condren 2012). Instead, I define satire as a genre with the purpose to critique and entertain. This definition highlights a fundamental tension in satire between a broadly moral purpose to critique and a broadly aesthetic purpose to entertain, which explains the ambiguous reception of satire: hailed for its truthful moral interventions (Gray 2005), enjoyed for its aesthetic pleasures (Griffin 1994), but also dismissed as frivolous pastime that cultivates cynicism (Webber 2011). In the second chapter, I frame the significance of satire's definitive tension as corresponding to a fundamental conflict in ethical life between the demands of critique and its limits. Although I acknowledge that satire's purpose to entertain limits its political impact as critique (Holbert 2013), I revalue entertainment in satire as therapy to cope with the limits of critique. In the third chapter, I investigate the cognitive contributions of satire as critique, even if they are moderate. Acknowledging that fictions are epistemically risky (Currie and Levinson 2017), I acknowledge that satire can deceive, but I also defend that good satire can teach non-trivial truths, including moral truths. Nonetheless, I advocate a careful cognitivism which acknowledges that satire's cognitive contributions need to be complemented with further inquiry. In the fourth chapter, I explain that satirists often cultivate a humorous irony to cope with the limits of critique. In dialogue with psychological research on the therapeutic function of narratives (Roberts and Holmes 1999) and the correlation between humour and wellbeing (Martin 2007; Ruch and Heintz 2016), I conceptually clarify the therapeutic dimension of humorous irony in satire as a narrative strategy to cope with the absurd gap between the demands of critique and its limits. I conclude that further research about satire should focus less on proving that satire changes the world and more on how it copes with it.
  • Turner, C. (2016). Spectacular Rhythms: Cultural Conflict in the Contemporary Superhero Film.
    This thesis proposes a new analytical perspective to the interplay between the entertaining escapism afforded by spectacular action sequences and the expression of cultural themes in the 2000s-present contemporary superhero film cycle. In the introduction I give a review of the spectacle and narrative debate to explain how current studies on popular action film have tended to primarily focus on the way spectacular displays support narrative progression by driving forward the film plot’s narrative chain of cause-and-effect over time. However, the review then explains that whenever the cultural themes invested in these action film narratives are concerned, there is often an assumption that thematic values only surface intermittently as symbolic motifs at certain moments, and so do not really benefit from this kind of storytelling momentum to the same extent. The introduction then sets up my claim that spectacle not only aids the progression of plot by energising narrative causality and temporal progression, but spectacle also contributes other rhythmically kinetic arcs of narration able to developmentally evolve thematic tales of cultural conflict, which I term as narrativised spectacle. I explain my method as one combining a genre theory framework to uncover the cultural contradictions invested in action narratives alongside a neoformalist analysis of the rhythmic components of physical motion, editing, framing, composition and digital visual effects that express these thematic tensions. Examples are then given to show why contemporary superhero films depend on such kinetic kinds of spectacular rhythm, and provide a key case study to work with. Each chapter finds evidence for my claim by analysing how different kinds of kinetic arc are generated by the audio-visual rhythms of spectacle: able to introduce, challenge, destabilise, conflate, reinstate and eventually reconcile a series of conflicting cultural themes akin to an evolving tale. In the first chapter I explore the physical and spatial spectacle of action sequences. In the second chapter I look at the melodramatic theatrics of performance techniques. In the third chapter I critically interrogate the violent action of the superhero film alongside the themes of masculinity invoked therein. In the final chapter I deal with superheroines. Although these heroines employ these same thematic rhythms as male superheroes, the kinetic arcs are noticeably far more interrupted, due to being burdened with themes of androcentrism. The conclusion then summarises exactly what narrativised spectacle contributes to existing debates on spectacle and narrative, and why it is particularly useful for studying the contemporary superhero-action film.

Forthcoming

  • Wood, A. (2020). Mad Max: Fury Road and the toxic storm: the transcalar possibilities of digital images. Screen [Online]. Available at: https://academic.oup.com/screen.
  • Wood, A. (2016). Digital Contours, Chases and Spaces: thinking about space through software. In: The Magic of Special Effects. University of Chicago Press (unconfirmed).
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