Digital characters in cinema : phenomenology, empathy, and simulation.
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Sheldon, Zachary A., 1992-
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Digital production practices in the contemporary film industry have reinvigorated discussions of ontology and viewer experience in film studies. Of particular interest is the phenomenon of audiences emotionally investing in and empathizing with digital elements in films, notably digital characters that do not exist in the physical world. This thesis examines the phenomenon of empathizing with digital characters through employing a phenomenological methodology to analyze the character of Gollum based on his appearances in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy and Jackson’s later adaptation of The Hobbit. Phenomenological description and reflection on this character, his appearance, and his interactions with other characters in the films helpfully illuminates the process by which digital characters may form empathetic and engaged relationships with viewers, a process that this thesis terms directed empathy.