Animating Race : The Production and Ascription of Asian-ness in the Animation of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra

Agnoli, Francis (2020) Animating Race : The Production and Ascription of Asian-ness in the Animation of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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How and by what means is race ascribed to an animated body? My thesis addresses this question by reconstructing the production narratives around the Nickelodeon television series Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-08) and its sequel The Legend of Korra (2012-14). Through original and preexisting interviews, I determine how the ascription of race occurs at every stage of production. To do so, I triangulate theories related to race as a social construct, using a definition composed by sociologists Matthew Desmond and Mustafa Emirbayer; re-presentations of the body in animation, drawing upon art historian Nicholas Mirzoeff’s concept of the bodyscape; and the cinematic voice as described by film scholars Rick Altman, Mary Ann Doane, Michel Chion, and Gianluca Sergi. Even production processes not directly related to character design, animation, or performance contribute to the ascription of race. Therefore, this thesis also references writings on culture, such as those on cultural appropriation, cultural flow/traffic, and transculturation; fantasy, an impulse to break away from mimesis; and realist animation conventions, which relates to Paul Wells’ concept of hyper-realism. These factors contribute to world-building and the construction of cultural signifiers, which in turn can project identities onto animated bodyscapes. This thesis is structured around stages of production, including art design, writing, storyboarding and directing, martial arts choreography, music and sound design, voice casting and acting, and outsourcing final animation. At each stage, below-the-line personnel make creative decisions that result in the ascription of race. My findings challenge John T. Caldwell’s conceptualization of how production cultures operate, identifying multiple interlinked groups instead of just one. They expand upon the concept of the bodyscape to account for aural components in the construction of a racial identity. Finally, they build upon Maureen Furniss’ definition of animation as a continuum between mimesis and abstraction to incorporate the impulse toward fantasy.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 21 Oct 2020 13:56
Last Modified: 21 Oct 2020 13:56

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