Terrorists Teaching Themselves Cinema 4D, and Other Graphic Coming of Age Stories
April 4, 2012
Yesterday this collection of terrorist propaganda, created using sophisticated 3D modeling software, precipitated an internet-wide meltdown.
The images are the work of a forum member on a terrorism-associated discussion board (in the “art and design” section). They show a jumble of hyper-cultural symbols rendered in graphic uniformity: a bloody sword resting on a laptop, bloody credit cards, and the 3D words “Al Qaeda: Coming Soon Again in New York” set against a romantic Manhattan cityscape. The author talks about his self-described “humble attempt” on the forum, saying that he overlaid two separate images of New York in Photoshop, then rendered the whole thing in Cinema 4D (a simple rendering software used mainly by graphic designers).
Pretty typical, right? A forum member posting the results of his home made software tutorial. Yet the images provoked tons of chatter and reaction yesterday. So, beyond their novelty, why does it surprise us that terrorists, who clearly already have mastery over Illustrator, have moved on to Cinema 4D?
Gawker calls it a meme, which indicates that there’s something inherently funny about the contradictory messages or symbols portrayed in the images. As one of my co-workers said yesterday, “people imagine someone making propaganda in a cave. Not a kid doing it in his dorm room.” Our culture conceives of terrorism in one of two ways: the rational (“terrorists are often highly educated and internet-fluent”) and the irrational (“all terrorists live in caves”). These images pair that irrational image of terrorism with the mundane familiarity of software tutorials and peer critique. As one commenter on the forum says, “what a terrific job. The integration [of Photoshop and Cinema 4D] is very well done.” The media likes to portray terrorists as “the other,” when really, the self-taught tech geek is an archetypal character in every culture, radical or not.