Possible Bodies

Worldsettings for beginners

Item number: 007
Item title: Worldsettings for beginners
Author(s) of the item: Blender community
Year in which the item emerged culturally or was produced industrially: 1995
Entry of the item into the inventory: 12 March 2017
Cluster(s) the item belongs to: Disorientation

'If the point of origin changes, the world moves but the body doesn't' [1]

In computer graphics and other geometry-related data processing, calculations are based on Cartesian coordinates, consisting of three different dimensional accesses: x y and z. In 3D-modelling, this is also referred to as 'the world'. The point of origin literally figures as the beginning of the local or global computational context that a 3D object functions in. Using software manuals as probes into computational realities, we traced the concept of 'world' in Blender, a powerful Free, Libre and Open Source 3D creation suite. We tried to experience its process of 'worlding' by staying on the cusp of 'entering' into the software. Keeping a balance between comprehension and confusion, we used the sense of dis-orientation that shifting understandings of the word 'world' created, to gauge what happens when such a heady term is lifted from colloquial language to be re-normalized and re-naturalized. In the nauseating semiotic context of 3D modelling, the word 'world' starts to function in another, equally real but abstract space. Through the design of interfaces, the development of software, the writing of manuals and the production of instructional videos, this space is inhabited, used, named, projected and carefully built by its day-to-day users.

In Blender, virtual space is referred to in many ways: the mesh, coordinate system, geometry and finally, the world. In each case, it denotes a constellation of x, y, z vectors that start from a mathematical point of origin, arbitrarily located in relation to a 3D object and automatically starting from X = 0, Y = 0, Z = 0. Wherever this point is placed, all other planes, vertices and faces become relative to it and organize around it; the point performs as an "origin" for subsequent trans-formations.

In the coordinate system of linear perspective, the vanishing point produces an illusion of horizon and horizontality, meant to be perceived by a monocular spectator that marks the centre of perception and reproduction. Points of origin do not make such claims of visual stability.

'The origin does not have to be located in the centre of the geometry (e.g. mesh). This means that an object can have its origin located on one end of the mesh or even completely outside the mesh.' [2]

In software like Blender, there is not just one world. On the contrary, each object has its own point of origin, defining its own local coordinates. These multiple world-declarations are a practical solution for the problem of locally transforming single objects that are placed in a global coordinate system. It allows you to manipulate rotations and translations on a local level and then outsource the positioning to the software that will calculate them in relation to the global coordinates. The multi-perspectives in Blender are possible because in computational reality, 'bodies' and objects exist in their own regime of truth that is formulated according to a mathematical standard. Following the same processual logic, the concept of 'context' in Blender is a mathematical construct, calculated around the world's origin. Naturalised means of orientation such as verticality and gravity are effects, applied at the moment of rendering. "Blender is a two-handed program. You need both hands to operate it. This is most obvious when navigating in the 3D View. When you navigate, you are changing your view of the world; you are not changing the world." (Fisher, 2014) The point of origin is where control is litterally located. The two-handedness of the representational system indicates a possibility to shift from 'navigation' (vanishing point) into 'creation' (point of origin), using the same coordinate system. The double agency produced by this ability to alternate is only tempered by the fact that it is not possible to take both positions at the same time.

'Each object has an origin point. The location of this point determines where the object is located in 3D space. When an object is selected, a small circle appears, denoting the origin point. The location of the origin point is important when translating, rotating or scaling an object. See Pivot Points for more.' [3]

The second form of control placed at the origin, is the 3D manipulator that handles the rotation, translation, and scaling of the object. In this way, the points of origin function as pivots that the worlds are moved around. An altogether different cluster of world metaphors is at work in the world tab. Firmly re-orienting the virtual back in the direction of the physical, these settings influence how an object is rendered and made to look 'natural'

'The world environment can emit light, ranging from a single solid colour, physical sky model, to arbitrary textures.' [4]

The tab contains settings for adding effects such as mist, stars, and shadows but also 'ambient occlusion'. The Blender manual explains this as a 'trick that is not physically accurate', suggesting that the other settings are. The world tab leaves behind all potential of multiplicity that became available through the computational understanding of 'world'. The world of worlds becomes, there, impossible.

Why not the world? At the one hand, the transposition of the word 'world' into Blender functions as a way to imagine a radical interconnected multiplicity, and opens up the possibility of political fictions derived from practices such as scaling, displacing, de-centering and/or alternating. On the other, through its linkage to (a vocabulary) of control, its world-view stays close to that of actual world domination. Blender operates with two modes of 'world'. One that is accepting the otherness of the computational object, somehow awkwardly interfaces with it, and onother that is about restoring order, back to 'real'. The first mode opens up to a widening of the possible, the second prefers to stick to the plausible.

[1] Fran├žois Zajega, interview, 2017
[2] https://docs.blender.org/manual/en/dev/editors/3dview/object/editing/transform/control/pivot_point/individual_origins.html
[3] https://docs.blender.org/manual/en/dev/editors/3dview/object/origin.html
[4] https://docs.blender.org/manual/en/dev/render/cycles/world.html