Monthly Archives: January 2014

From Page To Screen: Visualising Literature 1

There are two strands of research that will be my main focus for the practical side of the MA project. One is the role of the production designer in the science fiction genre, the other is the realisation of film designs from a novel. Many films are adapted from literature and recently  there has been an increase within the teenage/young adult category– The Hunger Games being a good example of a book  developed for the screen. The Hunger Games is the most popular Young Adult dystopian novel to date, still dominating the lists on Goodreads.  https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/12408.Best_Young_Adult_Dystopian_Novels [sourced on 31/01/13]

This is a selection of some of the films that use source material from dystopian books.

pd james  Hunger-Games

Pictures are PD James: The Children of Men  http://www.librarything.com/work/14944#  The Hunger Games http://www.carriesaba.com/blog/the-hunger-games-trilogy-3-books-that-get-you-thinking/

[sourced on 29/01/2014]

I thought I’d look at a few of these books in terms of designing for film before choosing my own source novel, taking on board some of the thoughts and approaches of the Production designers when dealing with literature.  Each film adaption can be different for a number of reasons.

Realism and the director/screenwriter approach

The Children of Men

This film was always going to have a strong guiding force as the director was also the screenwriter. Alfonso Cuaron had definite ideas about where scenes would take place and what details should be included. It was the job of the designers to allow Cuaron’s visions to materialise, solve problems and make sure there was continuity for when the scenes were finally put together.

Production Designer Jim Clay discusses dealing with the screenplay version of the book

Production designer Clay says, “We had to find locations that served all the actions, which are always very clearly in Alfonso’s head from his writing of the screenplay. One of my greatest challenges has been to join all of the pieces together in a convincing way.” http://www.visualhollywood.com/movies/children-of-men/about6.php

Cuaron was also hands on with his approach to the overall vision often adding props to the scene before filming. Actor Michael Caine recalls such a time when the director added  postcards to various areas around the back of the actors ” …It didn’t mean anything to us, but it’s important to him and for the look of his film.”  (www.visualhollywood.com/movies/children-of-men/about6.php)

Detail was also important to the look of the film, particularly when you’re dealing with a near-future England. Here, the director/production designer relationship comes into play as Clay recalls the importance of other creative inputs from Cuaron.

“The job of production designers Kirkland and Clay was to create and provide an expansive, reality-based world full of texture, one with sufficient space to allow for the action of the story. Clay says, “It was very exciting and very challenging for the whole crew, because we were charged with knitting together a series of shots that should hopefully become seamless as one timeless piece of action. Alfonso has a brilliant eye for detail and sometimes, when you’re designing the bigger picture, you forget to put in those detailed elements. He’s constantly reminding us what makes it real.”

There is so much visual information in a novel that it is quite easy to forget important little additions in set dressing. The audience has to be submerged visually from the outset. They have to be told a story through imagery rather than suggested text. Usually in a novel there are descriptions that allow the reader to form elements of scene or props in their imaginations.  Of course each reader will then interpret it in a slightly different way. Readers often flesh out what isn’t always there. (This is often dependent on the wording used in each book as some are more descriptive than others) That’s probably why many readers are often disappointed by the film versions of their beloved stories as they don’t match the images that they have created in their own minds.

Maybe films are and should be treated as  different experiences altogether and it’s the job of the filmmakers and designers to make the story as real as possible. Visually it should speak to an audience on many levels and not just through pure spectacle. Props, visual metaphors and colour palettes help to create a mood and therefore allow the audience to enter the characters heads in a way that might be similar to a book, or as close as possible, through detail and realism.

References:-

Current Young Adult popularity list to date https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/12408.Best_Young_Adult_Dystopian_Novels [sourced 31/01/14]

Images from  http://www.librarything.com/work/14944# [sourced on 29/01/14]

http://www.carriesaba.com/blog/the-hunger-games-trilogy-3-books-that-get-you-thinking/ [sourced on 29/01/14]

Article  information  from   http://www.visualhollywood.com/movies/children-of-men/about6.php [sourced on 29/01/14]

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Categories: dystopian film and designers, Literature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

So What is Science Fiction? Themes and contexts part 2

I’m continuing with my research into science fiction as a whole and the breakdown of the themes highlighted in Science Fiction Cinema: From Outerspace to Cyberspace. Because my project focuses on earth-bound science fiction I won’t go into great detail about some of the themes, but this is a brief description with sample pictures of the next two that feature in both film and literature.

Travels in space and  time

Probably one of the most well-known science fiction themes in cinema. It provides stories that can be either realistic in terms of what was technologically possible at the time that the film/book was made, or pure fantasy. With space travel, the genre has taken us from the retro, colourful  This Island Earth (1954) through to the more  realistic visions of Apollo 13 (1995)  in which technology fails and human bravery and ingenuity is at the forefront of the story.

ThisIslandEarth00

This Island Earth picture available from http://www.retrocinema.wetcircuit.com/films/this-island-earth/

apollo_13_16

Apollo 13 picture available from  http://www.blu-ray.poral.net/apollo_13.php courtesy of Universal Pictures

Science fiction not only takes us beyond this world but to other times. A perfect example of this is Back to The Future (1985) in which a DeLorean car is made into a time machine. It highlights the brilliance of the mad scientist but more importantly that time is a concept that should not be tampered with; that every time an alteration is made in the past, no matter how small, it can have far-reaching consequences in the future.

“Time travel broadens the visual scope of science fiction because it allows its stars to be shown in various costume styles and interacting with important historical events” (KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000. pg. 26)

This makes the theme particularly popular in cinema providing the chance to use all manner of technologies and design approaches available to the filmmaker. At the opposite end of the scale, the much darker approach to time travel can be seen in films like The Terminator  and  Twelve Monkeys (1995) both showing the future world as dystopian or post apocalyptic and the present as a preferable time to live in. Here changing things in the present can be seen as a good intervention, preventing the cataclysmic events of the future. In these films maybe we can learn something from knowing what the future is, then time travel becomes humanity’s saviour.

“The Dystopias of recent Hollywood science fiction have a seductive appeal to some viewers, combined with a sense of horror.” (KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000. pg. 27)

Time travel, post apocalyptic and dystopian themes combine well with horror and is another good example of themes overlapping in science fiction. I will look at some of these cross overs in later posts.

twelve-monkeys-bruce-willis

Twelve Monkeys available at http://www.scriptgodsmustdie.com/2010/09/format-18-screen-direction-the-absolute-last-word/ courtesy of Universal Pictures

terminator 2

Image from  The Terminator 2: Judgement Day  available at   http://www.imdb.com/media/rm1147444736/tt0103064?ref_=ttmi_mi_all_prd_41

References:-

KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000.  Science Fiction Cinema: From Outerspace to Cyberspace. London: Wallflower Press

http://www.retrocinema.wetcircuit.com/films/this-island-earth/ [sourced on 22/01/14]

http://www.blu-ray.poral.net/apollo_13.php [sourced on 22/01/14]

http://www.scriptgodsmustdie.com/2010/09/format-18-screen-direction-the-absolute-last-word/ [sourced on 23/01/14]

http://www.imdb.com/media/rm1147444736/tt0103064?ref_=ttmi_mi_all_prd_41 [sourced on 23/01/14]

Categories: General research, Science fiction research | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

So What is Science Fiction? Themes and contexts part 1

Science fiction or science fact? For me it’s a case of science fact to come… It’s a speculative future based around what is already known, what is being discovered and possibly what  could be if  humans continue with over consumption or certain kinds of technological advancement.

According to KING & KRZYWINSKA science fiction can be broken up into different themes. I will look at each of these in turn over the next week or two:-

Human versus science (technology)

Dystopian versus Utopia

Travelling in space and through time

Gender and sex

Images of the scientist: from nerd to madmen

Others: Aliens, Cyborgs and Artificial Intelligences

Horror

post modern

“Spectacle and speculation sum up two key dimensions of the genre. In imaginatively figuring the future(or an alternative past or present) science fiction films can be seen to some extent as measures of the hopes and fears of the cultures in which the films are produced and consumed”(KING, G., KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000)

I think that this statement does go some way to explain what the genre is and  the reasons behind the popularity of science fiction as a whole.

It is educating and allowing us to test our fears, push them to the limits. Science fiction is about the good and bad in society and my project  sub genre of the dystopian and post apocalyptic story  takes the audience or reader into the realms of terror, albeit as a result of man  or as an act of God ( meteors, earthquakes, viruses).

“Many science fiction films can be read as explorations of the fate of humanity in a world often depicted as increasingly dominated by the products of science, technology and rationality.” (KING, G.,KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000)

A brief description of the themes:-

Human versus science (technology)

Within this theme we see films that show the central character as a human, usually fighting against or having to deal with technological advancements, good or bad including aliens, cyborgs, artificial intelligence etc.. They often use the fear of technology as storyline and show the potential or fate of humanity. These stories usually show human emotion and intuition as obsolete and the rational thought of science as the dominant  force.

Dystopian versus Utopian

Two complete opposite worlds. Utopia is shown as perfect untroubled worlds in which there is no crime or disease. Science is seen as the saviour of mankind. These worlds are idealistic but are often  soulless and less human. In Utopia, the scientist is heroic and a visionary. But, there is a tendency to use the utopian film to show that perfect usually means oppression.

“Science is supposed to offer a means of challenging ancient superstitions, beliefs and prejudices, providing a more rational way of understanding and behaving” (KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000. p 13)

But this approach to science removes the human and is a form of oppression. This leads to dystopia.

logans

Image above from Logan’s Run (1976) picture courtesy of MGM available at http://www.imdb.com/media/rm3395655680/tt0074812?ref_=ttmi_mi_all_sf_3

A perfect example of utopian becoming dystopian, an idealistic life with one draw back–that life has to end at the age of  30.

Dystopian worlds are utopian worlds that have failed. In these films science and the scientist are seen as evil. Technology is a threat to  humanity which in turn puts the human and human emotions back in the centre of the story. This is probably one reason why Dystopia is more dominant in cinema as the characters are more believable and easy to relate to. It also provides the emotion needed for good story telling.

“Any kind of realised utopia might be rather tedious., lacking the tension and conflict often basic to narrative” (KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000. p 16)

Both the themes of human versus science and dystopia versus utopia can overlap, as the central driving force of science and the control/advancement of technology are present. Films like The Matrix (1999)  fall into both themes as humans are used as energy to power a race of machines.

the-matrix

Image sourced from http://www.repugnant-conclusion.com/the-matrix.html courtesy  of Warner Bros

References:-

KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000. Science Fiction Cinema: From Outerspace to Cyberspace. London: Wallflower press

http://www.repugnant-conclusion.com/the-matrix.html [sourced on 21/01/14]

http://www.imdb.com/media/rm3395655680/tt0074812?ref_=ttmi_mi_all_sf_3 [sourced on 21/01/14]

Categories: Dystopian and post-apocalyptic philosophy, General research, Science fiction research | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Science Fiction: A brief history

This last week I  looked at the origins of science fiction. What’s interesting is the way the genre reflects its time, not only socially but aesthetically. Science fiction as a genre began back in the 1890’s with writers like H.G. Wells with such novels as War of The Worlds and The Time Machine both of which show a cultural fascination with the future of mankind. Combining science and the power of the divine apocalypse, stories of dying worlds and alien attacks opened up the imagination and spurred on the continued growth and interest in the genre throughout the 20th Century. As cinema developed in the early 20th century novels were turned into film, with H.G. Well’s The Shape of things to Come. The visually bold  Metropolis in 1927 depicted the city as a vertical, mechanical image of capitalism, which aesthetically and socially was very much a product of its time. (BARNWELL, J., 2004, p100). Metropolis introduced the world to the city of the future.

hg wells npr images7U5SULWN met metropolis-from-above

Above images from Metropolis and War of The Worlds http://2012.futureeverything.org/music/dieter-moebius-polinski/    https://film110sp12.pbworks.com/w/page/50385313/Metropolis’s%20Influence%20on%20Future%20Film   http://www.war-ofthe-worlds.co.uk/war_of_the_worlds.htm

It’s no surprise that aesthetically films took on elements of the decades in which they were made. Metropolis used art deco for its posters and Russian constructivist art, an art movement  that spanned the years between 1913-1940s. “Constructivist art is committed to complete abstraction with a devotion to modernity, where themes are often geometric, experimental and rarely emotional”

VladimirTatlin-Monument-to-the-Third-International-1919-20

Art work by Vladimir Tatlin: Monument to the Third International” (1919-20, Moscow) http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/constructivism/

Science Fiction continued to reflect the social, political and cultural climate as it progressed through the 20th Century. During the 1950’s the film industry turned its attentions to the teenage audience also, producing low-budget B movies that were built on the popularity of magazines such as EC Comics and Weird Tales (1923-1954) (KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000. p4). So cinema was constantly drawing on inspiration from literature. It also drew on the political climate.

“Many can be related to concerns about the cold war and/or nuclear weapons, including a large group labelled ‘invasion narratives’ ”

This was hardly surprising given the devastation seen world-wide at the end of World War 2 with the bombing of Hiroshima. We saw what was possible with science, both the good and the bad, and science fiction continued to feed on this.  Invasion films were also in the social arena at this time as the momentum of the space program grew., though this was not a new concept with the earlier works of H.G.Wells. Technological advances made it possible and all the more real. Space travel was driven by the cold war and space race between USSR and the US and in 1957 the world saw Sputnik 1, the first man-made object in space, closely followed by the first human in space in 1961.

Then came the films during the 1960′ and 70’s that looked at science fiction in everyday life with mundane suburbia being turned on its head with films like Village of the Damned (1960) and  The Stepford Wives (1975). This was a result of America’s sociologists fearing that the American suburban family was ” … sinking into a morass of suburban conformity and complacency.” ( KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000. p 6)

So science fiction continued to find inspiration in the social contexts and it seemed that audiences wanted more. The film industry knew that these kinds of films were a lucrative business. “Suddenly, science fiction films were viewed as financially profitable and audiences  flocked to the theatres and craved more” (filmsite.org. on-line)

Money had its part to play in the audience/popularity story and later in the 20th century cinema was able to take audiences to far off galaxies in a visually realistic and engaging way with Star Wars (1977). Star Wars used the age-old tale of good versus evil and was often referred to a ‘western’ in space ( KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000. p 10). It mixed genres including fantasy with the presence of a magical force that binds everything together known as ‘The Force’. Spectacle had finally arrived in Hollywood and technology seemed to be leading the way in terms of how things were being produced and were going to be produced in the future.

But the social context always had an influence over the story that was to be told. The years following saw Virtual Reality/ computer versus human films  like The Lawnmower Man and The Matrix Trilogy . Invasion films like Independence Day continued to pull the audiences with special effects and the post apocalyptic/dystopian futures have seen a rise in popularity again due to environmental issues/politics and the war on terrorism  with The Hunger Games , The Road , The Terminator  combining horror and science fiction and creating all too believable outcomes for humankind.

References:-

KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA Science Fiction Cinema: From Outerspace to Cyberspace. 2000. London: Wallflower Press

BARNWELL, J., Production Design: Architects of the screen. 2004. London/New York: Wallflower Press

http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/constructivism/ [sourced on 15/01/14]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_exploration [sourced on 15/01/14]

http://www.filmsite.org/sci-fifilms2.html [sourced on 15/01/14]

http://2012.futureeverything.org/music/dieter-moebius-polinski/  [sourced on 15/01/14]

https://film110sp12.pbworks.com/w/page/50385313/Metropolis’s%20Influence%20on%20Future%20Film [sourced on 15/01/14]

http://www.war-ofthe-worlds.co.uk/war_of_the_worlds.htm [sourced on 15/01/14]

Categories: General research, Science fiction research | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Derelict Landscape: Nottingham Part 2

I’ve added another selection of derelict building photos from Nottingham continuing the theme and providing more visual inspiration.  Although sunshine doesn’t always set the mood for post apocalyptic scenes, winter sun provides the right light to get some nice shadows and contrast which might be useful.  The light also makes it possible to see some of the detailing in the brickwork and windows. All these photos have had some digital enhancement playing with contrast and colour but I have all the originals for future reference.

building 4

building 7

bus station 6

doorway 1

windows 1

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The Derelict Landscape: Nottingham Part 1

Nottingham is rich with industrial heritage and it’s not unusual to find an abandoned factory or two around the outskirts of the city centre. Derelict office blocks and what looks like an  old bus station are a little bit rarer. I will probably use these as inspiration for my future project and might even use some of the architectural shapes when constructing concepts for film. Abandoned buildings seem to take on an aura of the past and I’ve tried to capture some of the buildings’ history as well.

bus station 5

bus station 4

building 6

building 5

bus station 3

bus station 2

bus station 1

building 3

building 2

building 1

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The Production Designer: Views and roles in an everchanging industry

I have come across various points of view on the changing role of the Production designer.

Essentially film and T.V. is all about story and the act of telling/visualising it and portraying it to an audience. It’s the Director’s point of view and the audience’s experience, blending old design techniques with new.

While this is the case, experiences can vary from film to film for the Production Designer with a few designers feeling that the post-production stage of the film process takes away the control of the designer. However, others embrace it or re-invent the role.

I recently read a chapter in which Production Designer Alex McDowell went on to explain how he sees the role of the Production Designer in the modern world. I was interested to see how he saw his role as a more holistic part of the team; the production designer role having no real boundaries physically or digitally.

McDowell also has the un-popular view that a Production Designer doesn’t always need the set of skills that are taught at art college/film schools including drafting, modelling, drawing abilities etc.

“I think the primary quality is not entirely different from what makes a good director it has a lot to do with the ability to visualise and tell stories, to hold a vision of a world and help your team attain it” says Alex McDowell. (HALLIGAN,F., 2012. p138-141)

While I think that my own development of these skills is important at this stage of my career, I do think there is a lot to be taken from McDowell’s views and experience. I like to see a project as a ‘bigger picture’ and I also like to have an understanding of all the processes even if I don’t have all the skills. I work holistically, a ‘Jack of all trades’ so naturally I see where he is coming from in terms of the overall film process and design.

With this in mind I narrowed down some of his comments and thoughts to help with my research and development below:-

1. The acceptance of the digital age.

2. The ability to visualise and tell stories over the ability to draw or draft.

3. Ability to pitch ideas as both physical and digital. That the design exists in all spaces, both physical and virtual.

4. The role of Production Designer is much bigger now, gone are the days of pre-production/production/post production. The designer is there to see that the overall design follows through.

5. Education in the film industry needs to incorporate these changes.

References:- HALLIGAN, F., 2012. Production Design. Lewes: ILEX Press

Categories: dystopian film and designers, General research, The production designer and art department | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Future Landscapes: Photoshop development

I want to develop my Photoshop skills  further as it’s a useful tool for the Production Designer when producing concept art. I am trained in the more traditional approaches to design such as hand drawn concepts/costume etc. and on Carcass I had a go at drawing concepts and altering them in Photoshop. This time  I have developed images that are made up entirely of photographs. Here is one of my attempts with a few variations on colour, showing some of the stages of adaption.

The sky, moon/planet and city were all different photographs pieced together to create a composite image.

moon background

A cloud scene that is altered in Photoshop using hues/saturation and gradients. Below, the moon is added in stage 2.

moon background 3

Below:- Colour variation. I like to save variations just in case they come in useful for another scene at a later stage.

moon background 2

london-skyline-2012-olympics

The addition of the cityscape. Original photo above.

apoc city 1

…and colour variations below.

apoc banner 3

apoc banner 4

moon background weird

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