Animating the News: How Videogame Technologies Can Alter Our Perceptions of Real Life Events

Before photography caught on in newspapers, artists rendered their conceptions of newsworthy events through woodcuts. These pictures served as a basis for shaping perceptions among consumers of the news.

Now, a Chinese company called Next Media has pioneered videogame animations to offer its readers artists’ conceptions of events through online animations. Gordon Crovitz over at The Wall Street Journal notes that millions have seen Next Media’s conception of Tiger Wood’s car wreck.

Just as in the 19th Century, when there was no camera present an artist visualized what the scene must have looked like, and presented it to the audience through the dominant medium of the day (newspapers). Now, when there is an incident not recorded by video camera, artists again are imagining what the scene must have looked like, how things transpired, and presenting it to consumers through the dominant medium of the day (the web).

As before, Crovitz notes, those on the tail end of this technological and media revolution are protesting, and are being dragged kicking and screaming into the new way of things. But technology keeps steaming along. Here’s Crovitz’s key paragraph:

These animations are the latest brainstorm of Jimmy Lai, the founder of Next Media, which launched what are now the most popular Chinese-language newspapers in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Reflecting on how newspaper stories have more background about events than television news reports have, as he told me last week, “I thought, hey, why not make those missing images of the background into animated images?” He hired 160 software developers and engineers in Taiwan, who spent more than two years perfecting the technique. Reporters describe their interpretation of what happened to engineers and actors who serve as the models for the animation. Mr. Lai says that his team can create an animated video in 90 minutes, producing about 20 a day.

Are there issues with this technique? You bet. For one thing, what if the reporters’ and artists’ conception of events is entirely wrong? If their video is widespread enough, the wrong conception may be permanently etched into public memory. One could see how public opinion could be greatly manipulated were this powerful new media tool misused. Probably only a matter of time: Crovitz indicates that Lai is working on advancing the technology, making the animations more realistic as techniques and tools develop. He is also intent on sharing the technology with other media companies across the globe.

References:
Crovitz, G. (2009, December 14). Tiger Woods and the animation of news. The Wall Street Journal, A23. [Online.] Retrieved December 14, 2009 from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB20001424052748703757404574592093833268688.html


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