T&T student Nathan Snow, pictured here on the top of the screen, successfully defended his dissertation on April 5, 2018.

Nathan’s dissertation title is Touching the Unreal: The Definition, Narrative Strategies, and Aesthetics of 3D Cartoon Narratives.

Despite it being one of the most popular, profitable, and influential forms of media available to audiences today, the 3D animated cartoon, which includes Toy StoryHotel TransylvaniaKung Fu Panda, and Wreck it Ralph, lacks a working definition and there are few scholarly works that examine this art form in detail.

“Touching the Unreal” follows the structure set out by Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics to argue that understanding cartoons is serious business and requires that we define the art form, outline its basic tenets, and theorize how the mind understands it. The dissertation argues for a new definition of 3D computer generated cartoons by providing historical context, beginning with the most basic definition applicable to all forms of animation and taking into account each new technological development before arriving at the 3D cartoon narratives we see today.

The dissertation outlines the basic facets of 3D CG cartoons in terms of narrative and aesthetics, arguing that, in spite of the technological changes required to produce the art form, narrative strategies have not changed significantly from cartoon narratives to 3D cartoon narratives, a history spanning over 70 years. Rather, the 3D cartoon narrative aesthetic is focused primarily on synthetic, sculptural materiality rather than principles of motion to create a tactile, haptic viewing experience unavailable in any other form of animation.

The dissertation advances theories of how the mind understands 3D cartoon narratives, starting with how these films guide the spectator to pre-determined conclusions based on character identification, flow theory, and mirror-neuron cognition. As a result of their narrative, aesthetics, and reception, these films constitute a new form of posthumanism and operate as a node in the modern viewer’s web of distributed cognition, enchanting viewers through the ability to touch the unreal, synthetic images common to the modern world.

“Touching the Unreal” contributes to the media field by providing a definition for 3D computer animation in all of its facets as genre, narrative, aesthetics, and ideology.

Major: Texts and Technology

Educational Career:
B.A., Brigham Young University, 2011
M.A., University of Bristol, 2013

Committee in Charge:
Dr. Barry Mauer
Dr. Anthony Grajeda
Dr. J.D. Applen
Dr. Darl Larsen

Congratulations, Nathan!