Drawing by Katarina Countiss
Excerpt from What Technology Wants by Kelly, Kevin (Book – 2010) page 317-318
Most evolved things are beautiful, and the most beautiful are the most highly evolved. Every living organism today has benefited from four billion years of evolution, so every creature live—from a spherical diatom to a jellyfish to a jaguar—displays a depth that we see as beauty. This is why we are attracted to natural organisms and materials and why it is so hard to create synthetic objects with a similar glow. (Facial beauty in humans is a different phenomenon entirely. The closer a face hews to an ideal average human face, the more attractive we find it.) The complex history of a living creature gives it a patina that holds up to inspection no matter how close we get.
My friends in Hollywood special effects business who create the lifelike virtual creatures for movies like Avatar and Star Wars series say the same thing. They first engineer their made-up creature to follow the logic of physics, and then they make it beautiful by layering on history. The monster on the ice planet in the 2009 film Star Trek was once white (in its virtual evolution), but after it became the top predator in its snowy white world, camouflage was no longer necessary, so parts of its body shifted to bright red to display its dominance. The same creature once had thousands of eyes not visible in the movie, but these organs shaped its form and behavior. Watching it on the screen, we “read” the results of this fantasy evolution s authentic and beautiful. Sometimes directors will even transfer the development of a creature from one designer to another, so that it does not acquire a homogenous style but feels deeper, more layered, more evolved.
The world-making wizards create beautiful artifacts in the same way. They give a prop the convincing heft of reality by layering on “greeblies,” or intricate surface details that reflect a fictitious past history. To produce a stunning cinematic city in one recent movie, they took photographic bits of decaying Detroit buildings and added modern structures around the ruins according to a backstory of past disasters and rebirth. The resolution of the detail was not as important as historically meaningful layers.