I had always intended to make a movie as my proof of concept for my final major project. My comic book room is a very difficult concept to grasp without concise explanation and even better, stuff to look at to make it real. The problem with video editing is that its quite complicated and time-consuming, and the more imaginative you are, the more problems you cause for yourself down the line when you have to figure out how to do that one really cool thing.
This year I’ve made three movies. In total I’ve probably produced 2-3 minutes of content? I’m hardly an expert but you do the best with what you know. I storyboarded a rough premise and then went about producing visual assets to apply to my sound files. It’s the first time this year I’ve actually had a soundtrack for a movie. It raises all sorts of issues specifically about copyright. It’s not difficult for me to create my own imagery or use my voice to say things, but I’m not a part-time Hans Zimmerman. I found what I could from Creative Commons offerings, and found that I didn’t want to adhere too closely to the stereotype of jazz music, really, because the Jazz I found was decidedly elevator music-y and and most decidedly not grim and cynical, which is what film noir is all about, really.
My movie is vague and evocative. I hope this comes across as a selling point, because that’s how it’s intended. It’s a risky strategy playing on the curiosity of your customers instead of offering them something that you know they can’t refuse. Whether it’s a better idea to be upfront or vague and mysterious is really something some focus group testing could resolve later, I mean if this ever went that far.
I created a few concept art illustrations to try and represent the detective’s room. Only my last one has addressed the issue of chiaroscuro lighting. I’m sure there are better ways to do it, but the idea of simply representing it with carefully placed areas of block black paint or paper appeals to me. The Hollywood movies that use these lighting techniques emphasise these visual contrasts for dramatic effect and they do it using things like reflectors and careful stage lighting. It seems somewhat appropriate to manufacture the desired outcome as well.
And this method means that the room doesn’t actually have to be badly lit, which could result in personal injury or damaged property and we don’t want either of those do we?
Since my FMP is more about the user experience of my comic book detective room, then simply the art direction of it, it seems appropriate to think about the promotional material one would use to well, promote the experience. I looked at a lot of old film noir posters and found a great deal of them were in colour, and not particularly well constructed and wouldn’t really help me get across what I was trying to do if I was to emulate them.
I did come across a fantastic poster for the Big Sleep which played to my preconceptions of what a good film noir poster should look like. After using film noir actors as the basis of my characters, using this poster to borrow the semiotics of it seems like a good idea. I created two versions. One with the text on the wall in the background, And one were the text was just text, in it’s own plane of existence. 1001 fonts had a pretty good noir font which again played to stereotype, since plenty of fonts used for film noir title cards and posters where not particularly evocative of the time period, or maybe what I mean to say is that they weren’t stereotypical enough. Is this what it means to join the dark side? Shouldn’t I be able to move the furniture with my thoughts or something?
Anyway, I applied some of the knowledge I picked up from reading a book from the library about typography dos and don’ts and applied a grid, hierarchy in the size of the font relative to the importance of the information and restricted my use of fonts to no more than two.
As I was assembling the elements to construct the poster, I was struck by how much I liked the black text on a white background. This was in no small part due to the fact I decided that my comic book room should be known as the white room. It’s a very cool name I think. Cool enough, in fact, to make up for the fact that my white room is black and white. I mean come on, it’s just not proper marketing if there isn’t an exaggeration or a pertinent omission somewhere right?
What exactly the people are supposed to do in my comic book room has always been up in the air. Interactivity is rather important, so I had considered whether the people would be fellow detectives working the case, suspects, or maybe simply observers. The more work I created for my FMP, the more appropriate it seemed that the people involved be co-detectives. After all, who doesn’t love solving a mystery?
As I was creating assets to use for my promotional video for my FMP, it seems like a good idea to include suspect rap sheets and use some of my newfound knowledge I gained from my research into film noir for my dissertation: character tropes like the femme fatale and what not. We all have a stereotypical idea in our head of how detectives take their notes, from TV, films and video games. I tried to play to those stereotypes in creating my own rap sheets. There is no cohesive narrative at this point, merely the facade of one. That sort of is the point of a proof of concept after all.
The characters are actually based on actors and actresses from old noir films. Rather famous ones actually. It’s not very often I find myself in a position where I find myself opting to support the commonly held perception of anything, but I think a lot of the draw of certain elements of film noir is that they meet our expectations. If this comic book room was to happen, it would be most certainly a commercial venture, whether participants were expected to pay or not. That reality certainly is colouring my thinking. And if I know anything about anything, I know that the nostalgia sells. Just ask the video game industry. And Hollywood. And everyone else.
These mugshots bring up something very exciting and challenging about storytelling in general: when telling a story involving professionals, your story always comes off more competent when you have an understanding of how those professionals actually do their job, or at least play to the common perceptions of how they do their jobs. As I am trying to not only create the art style for a location, but reference a genre of movie with all of its idiosyncrasies, as well as do justice to the professions involved, mainly the detective, there’s an awful lot to learn and represent. Like I said, exciting and challenging.
After covering the book successfully, I decided to see what would happen if I tried to cover a table. Almost every single item in my black-and-white detective room needs consideration in how it becomes black and white. The wall can be covered with paint, or paper, painting the book seems like a pretty bad idea, but what does one do with furniture?
Since I have an abundance of newsprint paper from an earlier project in the year, it seemed like a good idea to get through some of that. After all, newsprint paper is usually used to do rough mockups. Covering the surface of the table wasn’t very difficult, but trying to wrap the legs while keeping the surfaces flat and distinct most certainly was. I tried as much as possible to hide the means by which I was securing the paper to the table. One of the difficulties of this entire concept is that everything in the room should look like it is actually drawn, even though it obviously isn’t. My fear of painting objects like the chairs and such, is that the paint streaks give the game away. Just with blue tack and some masking tape, I covered half of the table, not especially well, then went about trying to represent the details of the table with some ink pens. I used a fine-liner and a brush-pen for the small and large details respectively when I was working on the book. The increase in scale meant an increase in the size of my tools.
Of particular difficulty was attempting to apply consistently placed lines on the edges of the table legs. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to apply ink to the edge of anything without your hand slipping. I managed to invented a technique of steadying one hand with the other while using the side of my brush pen. In trying to understand what I had started doing instinctually, I actually took a step backwards. I have no doubt that trying to meticulously craft every object in this room is a full-time job for several people. Several talented and very, very patient people. It was always going to be likely that I would simply have to present the idea, not actually create the room, and these prototyping exercises emphasised that point.
My first physical prototype for my comic book room was a whiskey glass. As I conceived the process I would use to create this paper facsimile, my thinking was mostly sound. It didn’t take long for me to realise I’d overlooked something rather obvious: the whiskey glass is round. Round objects, especially transparent ones filled with liquids, change dramatically based on the eye level of the viewer. I had come up with a representation of the glass from the top and from only one eye level. As a result, unless this whiskey glass was placed at the very back of my room in a position where you could only see it from one angle, it was going to need to be revised.
This setback made me reflect on the validity of the entire notion of representing real objects in such a rudimentary fashion. I decided to take the easiest shape to cover in paper and see if I could achieve my desired results. There was a copy of Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky sitting in my house and since the book could conceivably be found in the office of detective, and being a book, it is a comprised of nothing but flat surfaces, I decided this book would become my new prototype.
After covering the book in some newsprint I had lying around, I illustrated the front cover in black ink and added black lines to every edge of the book. It was a little rough around the edges, literally, but the finished article matched the idea in my head. To truly do justice to the book, it would have to actually be a rebound so that the black-and-white cover wasn’t just a dust jacket, but an integral part of the book as it was produced.
Using newsprint made it easier to manipulate the paper when applying it to the book cover. It allowed me to show that the idea was possible. However, using something stiffer would make it easier to prevent wrinkling over time but might increase the difficulty of covering the object in the first place. Such negotiations are an inevitable part of working with real materials. It is in understanding those negotiations that you develop experience and knowledge of your craft.
During my time with Mark Collington, Head of BA Animation, he showed me a few interesting things. One I have already mentioned a couple of times is this. Calvin and Hobbes in 3-D. It is the closest thing I have come across that matches the thinking behind my FMP. It’s a rather rudimentary 3-D model that mimics a 2-D comic book page. I am also seeking to mimic a comic book page in a simple and novel way. The original idea of my FMP is for people to enter this room, Have a look around and go “Wow. This is pretty cool.”
Another thing Mark showed me was a stop-motion animation about Tchaikovsky that also used light projections. They were used to represent Tchaikovsky’s past, a little bit like home movies, well they were home movies, I guess. The images are shot right on top of sets in the background and are an excellent example of matching the medium to the idea you are attempting to realise. The thoughts are difficult to pin down. They float, they drift and representing them through projected images captures both the impermanence and transitory nature of them as well as borrowing from the semiotic nostalgia of seeing old movies of your past.
Marc showed me another example of the power of projection with the Icebook. A simple set is created out of paper or card which is transformed when the projector is turned on. You can create some very interesting narratives when you can incorporate moving image in unexpected ways in unexpected places. If the budget and ambition was to grow for my FMP, I could use Millumin or something to create back stories for the characters in my noir tale. Or vignettes to promote it and play them on the side of dilapidated buildings in the middle of the night, or something equally dark and grim.
Being a good designer is little bit like being a good magician. You can achieve great results and create a sense of wonder by being unconventional and dynamic. Easier said than done, right?
Millumin is a program designed to work with the light projectors. It allows you to project moving images onto a wide variety of surfaces, even if those surfaces have an irregular shape or are in-fact several different surfaces. Mark Collington, the head of BA Animation gave me a quick run through some of the basics. It’s not so different from something like Adobe Premiere Pro. A big part of film noir is dramatic lighting. While the room would be full of objects which would all be white with black outlines on all the edges to represent being drawn by ink pen, there would have to be some overall affect applied to the room to represent the chiaroscuro lighting so frequently present in noir films.
I spent an afternoon trying to figure out how I could apply this technology to my concept and as Mark showed me things to consider, my opinion swayed heavily when shown Calvin and Hobbes in 3-D. While Millumin offers a great deal of flexibility to rescale what I do, I would run the risk of damaging the interactivity of the experience. If the participants aren’t allowed to go into certain places because they block the projectors, I’m not sure I’d be happy with that. It’s also a technical and logistical cost that might not be necessary. Also, only the animation department has access to Millumin, so it would be something of a tall order to expect to become proficient with it in my given timeframe and with my general lack of access to it.
After seeing a 3-D representation of Calvin and Hobbes, I was really taken with the idea of trying to do that myself. The very nucleus of my FMP is a 3-D representation of a 2-D medium designed to replicate reality. Adobe After Effects allows the user to create a 3-D space and position both cameras and lighting in that space.
The idea of having a camera (representing the participant) walk around this room I wish to create is a very powerful promotional tool. The idea in my head is that of the viewer walking towards the back of the room and walking past the detectives desk. After Effects would allow me to have the camera moves towards the back of the room, but unless the table is a 3-D object, the camera can’t go around it.
Cinema 4D is a 3-D program of immense power used to creates all sorts of things for movies. It would not tax the abilities of the program to create a simple 3-D room with 3-D furniture. My abilities however, would be very taxed. I watched some YouTube tutorials explaining the basics but found that the idea of using Cinema 4D was becoming increasingly undesirable. It was supplanted by the notion of going back to basics and trying to make something out of paper and card. After all, the best way to show a real world representation or something is to make it in the real-world. I’m sure I’ll come back to cinema 4D. 3-D modelling is on my Bucket list just like video editing and voice acting. I don’t intend these things to become my central focus, but I do intend to have a go.
The great thing about having friends is that they have good ideas too. A friend of mine pointed out that the 2017 Big Brother set’s diary room used an art style not dissimilar to my concept for my room. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to try and use the internet for reference images of a vague idea it is very difficult to pin to specific keywords. The diary room it’s very useful as a mood board piece both in terms of showing an example of my thinking, also in offering an example of the finished product, with the production method I could theoretically emulate.