Lev Manovich

Computer as an Illusion Machine

Date 12/8/97

Affiliation Artist, University of California, San Diego


During the twentieth century, the production of illusionistic representations became the domain of the media technologies of mass culture photography, film, and video. Today these machines are everywhere being replaced by digital illusion generators computers.

How is the realism of a synthetic image different from the realism of optical media? Is digital technology in the process of redefining the standards of realism determined by our experience with photography and film? Do computer games, motion simulators, and VR represent a new kind of realism, one that relies not only on visual illusion but also on the multisensory bodily engagement of the user? In my talk I will discuss a number of characteristics that define visual digital realism in virtual worlds.

By virtual worlds I mean 3-D computer-generated interactive environments accessible to one or more users simultaneously. The examples are high-end VR works that feature head-mounted displays and photorealistic graphics; arcade, CD-ROM, and on-line multiplayer computer games; low-end desktop VR systems such as QuickTime VR movies or VRML worlds; and graphical chat environments available on the Internet.

I will also show "Reality Generator," an interactive virtual world which I am currently designing. In this project I try to systematically invert the key conventions of commercial virtual worlds and of computer imaging in general.

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