This “interactive anthology” was produced in a graduate seminar on “the theoretical implications of close textual analysis,” which I was teaching at USC in Fall 1990. In the wake of VCR’s, many in the field (like French theorist Raymond Bellour) were then predicting the end of textual analysis, yet I proposed we explore how computers and laser discs could transform the process. So I decided we would do a collaborative project, and the students chose the laser-disc version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit as our text. Since our department had no extra computers or laser disc players, I persuaded Pioneer and Apple to donate the equipment we needed and agreed to let Apple do a brochure on the project.
Each of our analyses (on HyperCard) worked interactively with the laser disc, instantly calling up the images we were describing. We each chose a different topic: the history of films combining live action and animation; the reception of American animated films in China (both Beijing and Taiwan); the film’s representation of gender, race and the history of Los Angeles; the interplay between visual and verbal puns, etc. We became so involved in the project that we continued meeting even after the semester had ended. Deeply affecting all of our lives, this project totally transformed my approach to teaching. No longer seeing it as simply a matter of transmitting my knowledge to students, I now saw each class as a unique collaboration, which enables each of us to bring different strengths to the project and become transformed in the process. The class included Charles Tashiro, who had worked on Voyager’s restoration of Lawrence of Arabia and now functioned as our designer and who later would head USC’s Institute for Multimedia Literacy; Mark Wolf, who had been a TA in Animation and would later become a prolific scholar on electronic games; Lihui Zhang and Robert Chen, who did reception studies in China and later became (respectively) Warner Brothers’ chief representative in Beijing and a film professor in Taiwan who led new interactive collaborations. But we still didn’t have a programmer, until our third session when production student Laird Malamed dropped by and asked if he could work on the project, even though he couldn’t take the class. He later became a game designer and producer at Activision, where he worked on the popular Guitar Hero series. Not only did our project include an interview with Robert Zemeckis, who was teaching a class at USC and happy to lend his support, but one of our students went to England to interview some of the animators who had worked on the film. We lined up Image Entertainment (which then distributed laser discs) to publish the project, but at the last minute Disney’s lawyers prevented us from using a single image from the film. We had to settle for presenting the project as a live performance at the annual meeting of Society for Cinema Studies, which just happened to be at USC. Thus, we all learned a valuable lesson about licensing and corporate greed.