Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Stories, Fables, Myths & Legends - Can graphic moving image access emotion through narrative?

13.08.2013 Karl Foster MAVA – Unit 2 Reflective Essay

How I got here
I am a storyteller. I’ve found meaning through reviewing; making and exploring storytelling formats through science, religion and personal relationships. I want to know what happens next. A good story will manipulate this need to know and draw you in. Masterful storytelling will change your life. That has been my experience and that is why I want to join this elite group of conjurors. The seven basic plots have been told and re-told over the centuries, mutating to meet the concerns and desires of the assembled audience. I have absorbed the contents of novels, poems, comics, movies, plays and biography and filtered this output to help me find my own voice through a personal visual language. When I am creating art I feel that I have a purpose and that my life has meaning. The rest of my life is pretty mundane when compared to the creative process and intellectual explorations.

Influences - in what way do they affect me?
At the heart of my interest is the search for that feeling of satisfaction where I can experience a sense of success and development. The cultivation of my mind in my search for meaning is as necessary to me as breathing. I have matured a great deal over two decades due to my responsibility to pass on knowledge and lead out keen and not so keen minds. My Grandfather drummed the ideal of education as a means of personal liberation into me; my life achievements are proof of his credo. My education was aided and abetted by sitting riveted in front of the film language pioneered by Campion, Ford, Hitchcock, Lean, Lynch, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Roeg, Powell, Welles and Wyler. This ongoing investigation has been focussed on the film noir genre over the last year.

Influences - why are they important to me, what do they really mean?
When I started the course I wanted to develop my skills through a medium I thought could best express my thinking. I wanted to produce a Graphic Novel called 100 DATES. I believed that making a novel whose narrative is related through a combination of text and art using a comic strip form was my best course of action. I reviewed the production time of the best book length comics and discovered that some stories took several years to write and draw. I was aware that my drafting skills might not be proficient enough for me to complete the 10 stories as I’d planned. I went to seminars featuring graphic artists like Craig Thompson (Blankets & Habibi) and Shaun Tan (The Lost Thing & The Arrival) looking carefully at their work. I also absorbed the output of Dave McKean (Cages & Mirror Mask) and Joe Sacco (Palestine & Footnotes In Gaza) and it became clear to me that my working methods would not help me to create an effective outcome. 100 DATES plot was originally conceived as a love story set in a dystopian society. Now my plot also has a distinctly noir quality. I knew I had to find visual cues to help the audience to engage with my original content. Nobody would know the context so I had to find ways to make my project accessible. I knew I had to try to make the viewer care about the content as much as I do. No easy task and much frustration and anxiety have visited me since January 2013. Despite these worries I know I will never give up on this objective.

What I did
‘100 DATES’ is a story of love in unusual times. I designed characters (dramatis personae), developed their back-stories and the ‘plausible world’ they inhabit. I looked closely at science fiction writing and dystopian fantasies to add believable drama and narrative drive to my story. Orwell, Philip K. Dick and Alan Moore heavily influenced me. The story is in plot form to help me produce the drawings for a graphic novel. 100 DATES was originally inspired by my own romance with my wife. I felt that no one would want to read about two strangers wonderful relationship so I decided to retell the story filtered through a dramatic adventure set in an alternate world that I could fully control. After a crit with Christopher Brown in March 2012 I concluded that 100 DATES text could be used for a screenplay and my illustrations will contain the information for a Storyboard. This ‘blueprint’ helped me to depict the sequence of the key scenes (setting, dialogue and action). It has since evolved into a moving image sequence. More accurately put my project is an animated storyboard trailer.

Analysis -why have I written an original story?
As this project has progressed I have had some doubts about my decision to present an original piece when I could have adapted someone else’s source material. This is the type of work I completed during my 13 years as a freelance illustrator so I am an expert at this. However I wanted my time on my MA to serve me and me alone. This was a risk but I knew I could use my new knowledge in the long run in my teaching and creative practice. I decided that originality was the whole point of pursuing my studies at this level. My passion for my personal vision could not be quelled. Recently I quickly created a title sequence storyboard for the 1947 film Black Narcissus. This was a very useful exercise and it helped me fully realise that I have not been making a title sequence piece. Once you can name what you are doing then you know exactly what to do next.

Analysis - why did I choose to create a work that was so different from my professional practice?
I know that if I had employed my previous approaches and ‘style’ to help me make the artwork for this project I would have probably been more successful. However I wanted to do something that would really stretch me. This is something that I have encouraged my own students to pursue over the last 14 years. My obligation was to renew myself and to work in a manner that was relevant to my teaching. I could have played it safer but I think I would have despised myself for doing that.

What I’ve learnt
It is my assertion that graphic narratives will become the dominant form of storytelling. If the human race wants to stay literate it will have no choice. It is part of our evolution. All our major ideas will be conveyed using visual communication. This trend has been on the increase for several years.
Using storyboard templates helped me breakdown the visual structure of my trailer. It helped me to look at the contrast, affinity, space, line and shape, colour and movement essential for engaging content. The book The Visual Story by Bruce Block has helped me to adapt my illustrations in line with the established conventions of Film and TV visuals.

Process - why is sound so important?
One of my observations at the start of the course was “if only I could get sound into these 2D illustrations.” I had the sound for this project in my head. I thought about making a CD that could be played while the reader enjoyed my graphic novel. Film 4 interviewed Director Danny Boyle and he spoke of how the sound was the most important innovation in cinema. He claimed that 60% of the film story was conveyed through the sound alone. If you’ve ever seen the opening title sequence for Sergio Leone’s 1969 film Once Upon A Time in America you will understand what Boyle means. It excites me to think that my sound design will be used to manipulate the emotions of the viewer of my project. I have composed my own ‘House’ music theme that is used within the project.

Process - timing and length of trailer how was this decided?
My research paper focussed on Film Title sequences where I reviewed and critiqued the title sequence work of designers E. McKnight Kauffer, Saul Bass, Kyle Cooper, Daniel Kleinman and Tom Kan. My project is timed-based therefore the duration of the piece is of paramount importance. My first instinct was that the viewer wouldn’t engage with a piece that was over 5 minutes long and also could I produce the content for that amount of time. The length of title sequences varies but the average duration is 129.6 seconds. These examples bear this out, The Lodger – A Story of the London Fog 1927 – 31 seconds, The Man with the Golden Arm 1955 – 80 seconds, Touch of Evil 1958 - 214 seconds, Casino Royale 2006 – 186 seconds and Enter The Void 2009 – 137 seconds. I have settled on a 180 seconds piece.

Process - how do you balance use of software with the need for experimentation and research?
Rather annoyingly I’ve found that my use of digital software as a part of the making of my project has been questioned and I get a sense of hostility towards the use of these established professional tools. All I can say is that the work could not have been created without me extending my exposure to these tools. I haven’t blindly relied on software I’ve merely used it to help me communicate my thinking. At the heart of this project is the idea. I have approached this aspect of my studies as a researcher and experimental imagemaker. No matter what medium I create with if my ideas are weak then the work will be weak. I hope that my work will speak for itself and exonerate me here. We will see.

Process - what’s the appeal of using CCTV as a camera?
The trailer plays out seen through the ‘gaze’ of surveillance equipment. These ‘eyes’ watch us all of the time but also my characters are observing each other. The ‘gaze’ is intended to exaggerate the paranoia and claustrophobia felt by the chosen few in my story. This parallels our own experiences and our fear of the erosion of civil liberties. Note the British Governments recently introduced CCTV Code of Practice as part of The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 for England and Wales.

Process - why does Type divide opinions?
All the way through this project my use of type has divided opinion. I feel totally at ease with the incorporation of type into illustration when it is used appropriately. Some ideas cannot be conveyed by images alone. As the viewer is unaware of the context when they approach this project the exposition and text based references to the main characters opens up the opportunity for the viewer to grasp my intentions. I have discovered that there are conventions in film and TV production for the placing of text restricted to specific width across the screen. I have adapted my project to ensure that the text follows these rules because this guides the viewer in their understanding of the story.

My initial question might have been superseded by a more urgent desire to create a moving image piece of design that contains audio elements. Looking at the writing of Christopher Booker and Joseph Campbell and drawing heavily on the 15 hour documentary by Mark Cousins’ ‘The Story of Film’ I want to establishing whether the format of moving image output is more relevant to the future direction of storytelling than more traditional forms.

I have completed my animated storyboard to promote a new story. The desire to engage or entertain the gathering audience in the auditorium when coupled with the designer or artist’s eye for sensitive and meaningful image sequences raises not only the quality of the story but also gives us pause to reflect on the significance of what I call the ‘introduction etiquette’ of cinema. The communication of complex ideas to a diverse but visually sophisticated audience is still essential. We still need our emotions catered for and to that end the incorporation of sound with vision is now the main focus of my personal working agenda.

I think it is vital for my development that I test my output with a range of audiences, using feedback to assist me in the production of the next formats/stories. This is the type of work I wish to continue to create. Post course I intend to adapt a novel as a screenplay and to complete one for my own story 100 DATES. I will build a portfolio show reel of my work and use this to help undergraduates discover the power of this medium. My academic career has been enriched by the challenge of proving myself at this level of study. I conclude my course with many problems solved but also I have discovered a brave new world to explore beyond the post-graduate level.


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Madden, M. (2005) 99 ways to tell a story: exercises in style. London: Penguin Books.
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 (2007) Uncredited – graphic design and opening titles in movies. Amsterdam: BIS Publishing.


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