Tag Archives: anime

“It’s Showtime, Girls”: A “Magical Girl” Transformation Made Real through the Intersections of Magic and Technology

Kyrie Caldwell, CMS Grad Student

My Trick++ rather erroneously ended up being design work on a more ambitious, larger trick that will become my semester-long project in stages. With little previous design experience, this is a large undertaking and will require plenty of iteration and catch-up methodological work, so please bear with me!

Research Question
The initial idea came through my interest in and exploration of anime and video games’ representations of women as well as the cosplay communities around these two media forms. Cosplay is a portmanteau of “costume” and “play,” which captures both the fashion design and performance elements of the practice, which includes creating or purchasing and then wearing outfits and accessories in order to emulate favorite characters, usually from anime or games (digital or tabletop). Knowing of the magical girl anime genre and its leaks into games, I decided to explore the “transformation” sequences that appear ubiquitously in the genre.
How does one leverage technological enhancements into magic, illusionist, mentalist, etc. performances while still retaining the sought sense of wonder, often built through the showmanship and preparatory work of the performer? Alternatively but similarly, how does one incorporate the work of such magic performances into the front-end development, demonstration, and use of technology, such as via user interfaces and user experiences?
Also, how might the socio-cultural implications of the “magical girl” genre translate into real-world performances? How would this contribute to cosplay performances, namely through practitioners’ experimentation with media representations of women and through “D.I.Y.” approaches to cosplay and the status of such creator-performers in cosplay communities? These questions are somewhat out of the scope of the current project but could lead to rich research using the results of the design work represented here.

Trend Research
Although deeper research into the “magical girl” genre in media and in cosplay performances again lie outside of the current project’s scope, understanding of the aesthetics of the genre is critical here. Popular representatives of the genre include Sailor Moon and Prétear in anime and Final Fantasy X-2 in video games. In the case of Sailor Moon and Final Fantasy X-2, the action centers around an all-female main cast; in Prétear, the main cast has one female character and a group of male characters (a version of the “harem” genre, in which a male/female character is surrounded by characters of the other genre, with sexual/romantic, usually gendered respectively, antics ensuing). In Sailor Moon and Prétear, the transformation sequences mark a shift from an otherwise normal girl to one with spectacular (literally, in the sense of the spectacle) powers; in Prétear and Final Fantasy X-2, these transformations are also dependent on the powers that will be gained, resulting in different outfits for different sets of skills and abilities.

Overall, these transformations take place in a usually unnamed realm that is separate from the main setting, shown through a lack of or abstraction (moving colored light fields) of the background. The character who is transforming is often outlined as a body without clothes levitating in space as those clothes transition, either in one bright flash of light, or materializing in stages. Then the character appears again in the main setting, now in a different and usually much more elaborate outfit, complete with the new powers afforded by it. 

Trend research also here includes magical performances, such as the levitation and quick change sequences that will be included in the current project. There are several ways to approach each illusion, but they are based around similar ideas. For levitation, the key is to control where the audience is looking so that very simple optical illusions become the audience’s only way of seeing the performance; that is, if a mirror is used, making sure that the audience sees the mirror not as a reflection but as a part of the flat visual landscape, requiring either a symmetrical room or a setting with visual ambiguity (such as plants or other objects that cloy where shapes begin and end). Other methods use the expectation that shoes will accompany feet, even when the latter has discreetly exited from and is moving independently of the former. For quick changes, there is almost always an obscuring element (e.g. a sheet, a burst of confetti, a flash of light) for the moment of the change. The speed of the change is usually enabled by specially-made clothes that look like normal garments but have a quick release mechanism, such as snaps.

Brainstorming
Brainstorming the performance was an exercise in thinking about what has been done and could be done through researching trends as outlined above. Each part of the performance (aesthetics, quick change, levitation, and the material/technological components needed for each) was considered as its own element. I generated ideas around each element, eliminating ones that seemed beyond my capacity in terms of technical/physical skills and temporal/financial constraints.

Concept
The working concept is a physically performed sequence set to sound and visual effects taking place in a reasonably symmetrical room with lights that can be dimmed remotely. The performer and audience is situated across from each other, oriented to maximize symmetry between the audience’s and performer’s halves of the room. The performed theatrically discusses what she was about to perform, such as needing to quickly get ready for a special performance, either theatrical or in efforts against a vague evil. The pre-programmed audiovisual sequence would begin, in which the lights would dim, a projector behind the performer would cast an animated field of colored light, and a coordinated sound effects track would play. The performer would mount the mirror levitation as a Microsoft Kinect would track her body, projecting visual noise (e.g. shimmering light) onto her. Meanwhile, the performer is carefully manipulating the quick change clothes as much as possible without showing this to the audience. The light from the projector and Kinect and the sound effects would crescendo, culminating in a flash of overhead light, during which the quick change would be performed and the mirror dismounted. Then the ambient lighting return to its dim state, and the projector and the Kinect effects would fade away as the audience’s eyes readjust to the performer’s silhouette, now in a different costume.

Storyboard/Flowchart and Enabling Technology2015-03-15 13.24.50

Timeline
Considering my inexperience with this kind of production, my timeline will be slightly more extended than might be otherwise required. The initial design work has taken two weeks, and it would be expected that perfecting each part of the performance would need similar timeframes. I am estimating two to three weeks to practice the levitation and quick change maneuvers, another two to three weeks for editing the audiovisual effects sequence, and a final two to three weeks for putting together all the elements into one performance.

Revision
I am expecting that the design will shift as the prototyping and storyboarding is attempted in real time/space. The current design is accounting as thoroughly as possible for all constraints, but iteration is likely and will be recorded as the production is realized.

Included below is the slide deck for the first presentation of my design work. Videos and GIF files are rendered here as static images.

Trick++ Slide 1 Trick++ Slide 2 Trick++ Slide 3 Trick++ Slide 4 Trick++ Slide 5 Trick++ Slide 6 Trick++ Slide 7