Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Jack Skellington and virtual aesthetics

There's an ongoing discussion that appears from time to time, most recently and eloquently in Doreen Garrigus's fine blog Original Detail, about avatar shapes and in particular height inflation and unrealistically slender avatars (and thence to women's body image and anorexia).

This being the holiday season, another example of the virtual aesthetic came to mind: Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas.

The average and stocky characters are figures of fun (or menace, in the case of Oogie Boogie). Ah, but the hero and heroine!

Somewhere I have a wonderful book on the making of TBNBC, and I wish I knew where it is, because among the working drawings and photos may well be one that defines the appearance of Jack Skellington. Lacking that and guesstimating from a photo on the web, the Pumpkin King looks to be around thirteen heads (skulls?) tall. (Hmmm, thirteen... was that intentional?) Jack, when not dressed to scare, is elegant and debonair, Fred Astaire with a very busy pituitary. He's also as impossibly slender as he is impossibly tall. There's a photo of an adult dressed up as Jack--the result is as if a three-year-old were dressed up for Halloween by his mother. Any actual person who tries to dress up as Jack Skellington will fail miserably.

Sally the Rag Doll, nearly as I can tell, is about nine heads tall, with long legs, a very long neck and tiny ankles. (Speaking of ankles: in an ironic echo of physically impossible standards of beauty, Sally's socks are a compromise. Tim Burton wanted Sally's ankles so slender that it would be impossible to make an armature for her. The socks made the armature possible, while preserving the desired proportions.) She only looks voluptuous next to Jack's skeletal figure.

We identify with them both, but are they beautiful? I think so, but I don't think I can separate my aesthetic judgment from that identification.

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