Link to the University of Pittsburgh Homepage
Link to the University Library System Homepage Link to the Contact Us Form

Digital Alchemy: Matter and Metamorphosis in Contemporary Digital Animation and Interface Design

Silva, Michelle Ramona (2006) Digital Alchemy: Matter and Metamorphosis in Contemporary Digital Animation and Interface Design. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

Primary Text

Download (1MB) | Preview


The recent proliferation of special effects in Hollywood film has ushered in an era of digital transformation. Among scholars, digital technology is hailed as a revolutionary moment in the history of communication and representation. Nevertheless, media scholars and cultural historians have difficulty finding a language adequate to theorizing digital artifacts because they are not just texts to be deciphered. Rather, digital media artifacts also invite critiques about the status of reality because they resurrect ancient problems of embodiment and transcendence.In contrast to scholarly approaches to digital technology, computer engineers, interface designers, and special effects producers have invented a robust set of terms and phrases to describe the practice of digital animation. In order to address this disconnect between producers of new media and scholars of new media, I argue that the process of digital animation borrows extensively from a set of preexisting terms describing materiality that were prominent for centuries prior to the scientific revolution. Specifically, digital animators and interface designers make use of the ancient science, art, and technological craft of alchemy. Both alchemy and digital animation share several fundamental elements: both boast the power of being able to transform one material, substance, or thing into a different material, substance, or thing. Both seek to transcend the body and materiality but in the process, find that this elusive goal (realism and gold) is forever receding onto the horizon.The introduction begins with a literature review of the field of digital media studies. It identifies a gap in the field concerning disparate arguments about new media technology. On the one hand, scholars argue that new technologies like cyberspace and digital technology enable radical new forms of engagement with media on individual, social, and economic levels. At the same time that media scholars assert that our current epoch is marked by a historical rupture, many other researchers claim that new media are increasingly characterized by ancient metaphysical problems like embodiment and transcendence. In subsequent chapters I investigate this disparity.


Social Networking:
Share |


Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Silva, Michelle
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairSterne, Jonathan
Committee MemberEgolf, Donald
Committee MemberLyne, John
Committee MemberKrips, Valerie
Date: 7 July 2006
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 15 April 2005
Approval Date: 7 July 2006
Submission Date: 9 December 2005
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Communication: Rhetoric and Communication
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: alchemy; animation; digital; interface; Paracelsus
Other ID:, etd-12092005-115035
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 20:09
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:54


Monthly Views for the past 3 years

Plum Analytics

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item