Proximity Fuse (2013 DOWNIE KAISER)

Proximity Fuse – an exploration of desktop 3d documentary was a digital humanities research project created for the then-chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities, Jim Leach, under a special chairman’s grant. We completed the study and an early prototype in summer 2013.

The project pursued two intertwined goals.

One was formal — to create a radically new kind of documentary, an alternative to the usual documentary format that shifts back and forth between talking head experts and loosely coupled archival clips, often to tedious effect. Instead we sought to exploit new techniques of 3d capture and editing that are now possible at a scholar’s desktop rather than at a full-fledged film studio. This new form also called for new strategies of representation, nine of which we implemented.

The other goal was thematic — to examine the wartime advances of science that underpin today’s digital society, and to do so from the distinctive perspective of Iowa, where space exploration flourished first under the physicist James Van Allen and to this day under Donald Gurnett. Our method was one of radical juxtaposition, which took us in an unexpected line through ancient Chinese fireworks, the intertwined Japanese samurai, Zen, and kamikaze traditions, Nazi zeppelins and V2 rockets, the strange bedfellows and outcasts of the Cold War, open versus closed machines (Model T vs iPhone), and much more.

Our White Paper includes a full account of our techniques and strategies as well as the complete script of our prototype, which represents what would be the first third of a final work.