Initially I liked the project No Ghost Just A Shell, 2002, by French artist Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno because of the collaborative nature of the work. The two French artists purchased the copyrights to a manga character, that they named Annlee, from the Japanese agency Kworks, in 1999 for only $428. The Huyghe and Parreno worked on the digital file themselves as well as allowed a few other artist friends to work on “Annlee” free of charge. This character had no type of backstory or real distinctive qualities to draw in viewers. This character was basically a “blank slate” (Wolff) for every artist that worked on her. (p. 1). Each artist could create their own history behind this character and change her in anyway they feel. In the words of Huyghe and Parreno “We bought a virgin,” (Wolff, p. 1). After about three years of being active the artist ended the project. They transferred the copyright of Annlee to a foundation that belonged to Annlee herself. Their reason for doing so was to prevent the entertainment industry from exploiting her. This is when I became more interested in the copyrights of the character rather than the collaborative meaning behind it.
No Ghost Just A Shell is the work that inspired me the most. My project, No Fool Just Cool, consists is a mock website that I created on WordPress. The purpose of the mock site is to offer a MB file that contains an Autodesk Maya binary scene. The scene contains a character that I modeled based on the character Canti from the anime FLCL, 2000 (pronounced in English as Fooly Cooly). Similar to what Huyghe and Parreno did, the site would allow other digital artist to download the MB file and whatever they chose to do with it. The artists would be encouraged to play around with the character whether they decide to create a scene with the character or tweak or possibly re-model the character itself. After the artists are finished with their works, they are encouraged to send in their works to be posted on the site. They can also leave comments on other artist’s works. The initial idea was for other artist to be able to in a way collaborate with one another and create distinctive pieces. The idea was to allow artist to start at the same point but end up at these different conclusions. Because this is a pre-established character, the same level freedom that was allowed with Annlee would be harder to achieve. Still I think it is possibly to take this character and make it your own in the same way the Annlee character was.
As the project progressed my initial objective shifted. I started to think about the fact that they only paid $428 for the rights to Annlee. Annlee wasn’t something they created or even something that they were appropriating. Annlee became their own personal property and they were free to do whatever they wanted with it. They were able work on and distribute the Annlee freely without any concern of legal action. What is even more impressive is they took an already manga character with a preliminary design and still were able to make it their own. This can be compared to Andy Warhol’s iconic Marilyns, 1962. Warhol purchased a publicity photograph of actress Marilyn Monroe from the film Niagara, 1953. In the piece, Warhol painted several different color variations of the same picture. Even though Warhol did purchase the photo, he did not have the legal rights to Marilyn Monroe’s image. A large reason why Andy Warhol was able to do this was because copyright laws weren’t heavily enforced as they were now. (Ryan). People probably saw his painting and didn’t see anything wrong with the subject.
My project began with me being interested No Ghost Just A Shell. We briefly talked about the work during the first day of class but we didn’t really go into a lot of detail. For some reason the piece really stood out for me. Since we didn’t spend a considerable amount of time on No Ghost Just A Shell, I decided to do research about it on my own. I was very interested in what the two artist intentions were for the project and why they would just buy the copyright to a random no-name character. What I failed to realize originally was that when Huyghe and Perreno bought Annlee, she was at her most basic form. She was a fully design character in the sense that she had a form but their was no life in her. Her form had no personality or even a name. The artist treated the Annlee like a template. They viewed what they received as a jumping off point to expand on the previously modeled character. They remodeled her and made her slightly older and began making videos and narratives around the character. They began to flesh out the character and give it an identity. They also allowed other colleagues of theirs to do the same in whatever media they chose, whether it is a painting, sculpture, etc. Even though there is no consistent identity assigned to her character, each artist was able display her in the way the imagined her.
After gaining an understanding of their work, I wanted to choose a character to use in a similar manner as Annlee. The character that I chose was Canti from the popular anime Fooly Cooly. This draws similarities from the previously mentioned Marilyns by Andy Warhols because I simply got an image from Google and I didn’t receive the copyrights of the character. I chose Canti because it is sort of an empty vessel the same way Annlee is. In the anime, Canti is a robot that fights other giant robots that attacks his city. Even though capable of showing some human like emotion, such as embarrassment, he still doesn’t really have much of personality. He doesn’t speak or have a lot of one-on-one interaction with other characters. His mainly provides action and fight scenes while other human characters in the series get more character development. I felt like he was the perfect character to mirror what Annlee was to No Ghost Just A Shell. I then designed a low poly-model based on Canti in Autodesk Maya. Originally I thought about distributing the file to a few other digital art students comparably to how the original artist did it. After some consideration, posting the file on a website seemed like a better idea. This way instead of just being accessible to a small group of people, Canti would truly be an open source character. I liked the format of a blog because it seems like a miniature community where people could receive the file but also show their work. Last thing was to give the project name. I wanted incorporate both Fooly Cooly and No Ghost Just A Shell into the title, so I chose No Fool Just Cool.
The primary reason why the website is not a fully functional website is because unlike Huyghe and Parreno, I did not purchase the copyrights to the Canti character or any type of image. Even though $428 is an exceedingly good price to pay for all copyrights of a character, it is still a rather large sum of money. Since I don’t have the rights to Canti, I wouldn’t be able to profit from it. Larry Lessig argues that this wouldn’t be a form of piracy. Larry Lessig is a prominent author and copyright lawyer that push for more relaxed legal restrictions concerning copyrights. Lessig believes that the copyright laws are not keeping up with current technology. In 2012 we have so many forms of digital media at our disposable. For instance, this project was done almost entirely on my laptop using programs such as Autodesk Maya and WordPress. All of my research was done online. The Internet makes accessing works of other artist easier than it would be in Andy Warhol’s time. Lessig suggests that these people “are using other peoples content, to say things differently,” (Lessig). Lessig doesn’t think people should be extremis and reject copyrights and openly fight the law. He believes in finding a balance between the two. Since the objective of No Fool Just Cool is not for commercial use and is to re-imagine a character, this would not be piracy according to Lessig. I believe the mock website has a lot of potential. The work could be improved by firstly making the Autodesk Maya binary scene downloadable from the website. Another improvement would be to possibly incorporating different medias for the artist to uses such as drawings. This gives more accessibility to people who would want to be involved but don’t own Autodesk Maya.
One issue that was mentioned in the article “We bought a Virgin” by Rachel M. Wolff was whether or not No Ghost Just A Shell truly succeeded in their goal to give freedom to the character Annlee and stopping others from exploiting her. Wolff argues, in reality that they did the opposite and “ensured the artists’ control over the work,” (Wolff, p. 1). When they changed the rights and ended the project in 2002 to prevent her exploitation, they actually denied others the opportunity to use their work. They also trapped the character that they were trying to free, according to Wolff. Another issue would have been if I just distributed Canti to only people that I know. This raises the question whether this is open-source or net because the person distributing the source material still has control over the project.
In conclusion, No Fool Just Cool aspires to capture the same creativity that Hughye and Parreno did with No Ghost Just A Shell. It allows artist to re-imagine a character and put his or her own creative twist on it. It also lets them showcase their work and view the works of others. Like the works that inspired it, No Fool Just Cool also deals with the issue of copyrights in digital media. According to Lessig, in a generation where anyone with a $1,500 computer is a potential digital artist the restriction on copyright laws should be reworked to accommodate the changes in time. As both a digital artist and a fan of different forms of digital media this is an important issue that others in the field should be constantly aware of.