Dr. Oliver Gaycken

Oliver Gaycken is an Associate Professor in the Department of English and a core faculty member of the Film Studies Program and the Program in Comparative Literature at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is the author of Devices of Curiosity: Early Cinema and Popular Science (Oxford University Press 2015). His articles have appeared in Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television, Science in Context, Journal of Visual Culture, Early Popular Visual Culture, Screen, and the collection Learning with the Lights Off.


Recursions: Moving Images between Scientific Visualization and Hollywood

My research project considers a specific area of contemporary computer animation. Tentatively entitled “Recursions: Moving Images between Scientific Visualization and Hollywood”. This project will track how visualization has become a shared practice between the cultures of science and entertainment. Beginning with the development of CGI at research universities – for instance, the University of Utah in the 1970s, where, among many notable figures, Pixar’s co-founder Ed Catmull received his PhD – the project will provide an account of the imbrication of academic research and the Hollywood special-effects industry.

I have published and presented research on several case studies related to this project: the paleontological status of the dinosaur animation in Jurassic Park; the watershed moment in the history of CGI when fractal geometry allowed for the representation of increasingly realistic images of nature; and the transit between scientific modeling of complex systems (e.g. flocks, swarms) and special-effects scenes of what Kristen Whissel calls the “digital multitude”.

While at MECS, I will work on a chapter about the special effects in Black Panther, particularly the film’s “vibranium” sand animations. These elements of the film provide an extended example of the flow of images and ideas as they move from Perception, the design lab responsible for many of the film’s visualized technologies, to existing experimental acoustic-levitation technology from the University of Tokyo. The chapter also will incorporate a critical-race perspective centered on the question of how a speculative history of technology might appear when imagined from the perspective of Africa.