Monday, 31 October 2011

More Sketches

I haven't started looking at the actual technology of the Nautilus yet - I'm currently looking at getting the right blend of cramping and claustrophobia and grand architectural vision. I've been referring to mansions and cathedrals as well as submarines, hence the absurd doorway and high, vaulted ceiling. I want the interior of the submarine to be quite unsettling, both beautiful and disturbing, so lighting from below = instant eeriness. I saw one of those chandeliers with spherical bulbs and loved it, but it seemed ungainly hanging from the ceiling, so it was relegated to the floor, with the added bonus of unusual lighting.

And some kelp, with dramatic lighting. You may have noticed that I love dramatic lighting, so this is definitely an angle I intend to investigate further. Again, very simple and loose, just a very quick study.

Petrified Forest Study

One of the descriptions that most fascinated me in 20kLUtS was that of the petrified forest through which Aronnax and Nemo pass to reach the ruins of Atlantis. As I haven't really drawn or painted trees much before, I had a bash at it. The composition is insanely busy, but actually getting to grips with the twisty, winding shapes was handy.

Also, apologies for not being in on Friday, I was somewhat busy being in A&E and getting my broken foot cast. Could somebody let me know what I missed? Thanks!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927)

Fig 1. Metropolis poster.

Perhaps the easiest way to describe Metropolis to a contemporary viewer would be ‘like Avatar, but with Marxism instead of white guilt’. Perhaps best (and most deservingly) remembered for its glorious set design, Metropolis creates a dystopian cityscape with the sleek angles of expressionism, turning them from heralds of a wonderful future to dismal tools of the oppressors.

The underground scenes are dark and reminiscent of the less pleasant elements of Dickensian London, while above ground all is light and high technology. The film uses this distinction to highlight its very socialist message; the importance of striking a balance between the ‘heads’ (those who conceptualise grand ideas) ‘hands’ (who construct said grand ideas) is a key theme of the film. In addition, the balance between humanity and technology is discussed; clearly the machinery makes the lives of the upper classes above ground comfortable and opulent, but at what cost? “The geometric patterns formed by buildings and workers alike vividly shows how the two are meshed symbiotically in this future hell.” (Cannon, 1997).
 Fig 2. City still.

Alan Diment captures the film’s visuals perfectly; “The towering cityscapes and huge sets shown in the film are a marvel. What the film might have lacked in available technology it more than makes up for in imagination and wonder. “ (Diment, 2010). The comparatively low-tech sets and effects may seem off-putting, but actually make the film all the more impressive. With 25,000 extras and clever mirror-work to incorporate real actors into miniature sets, Metropolis spares no expense in creating a glorious spectacle.

The film’s message of mutual understanding between workers and employers (‘the mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart’) is resonant even today, and though Lang later admitted that the message was a gross oversimplification, the film nevertheless is still uncannily relevant. While a setting such as Metropolis and the Depths in which the workers are held has not yet come to pass, as a metaphor for capitalism the sets are unmistakable.
 Fig 3. ‘Moloch’ still.

The film uses biblical imagery extensively, from the Tower of Babel to the Whore of Babylon. This spirituality hammers home the message of tolerance and kindness to those beneath you even further, “drawing on religious imagery and inspiration in advocating non-violent reconciliation between classes” (Greydanus, unknown), and yet does not feel at all out of place. With a machine in the guise of the workers’ saint becoming the embodiment of the seven deadly sins, it looks at how easily one can fall to decadence, and the retelling of the Tower of Babel as not a tale of divine retribution but the breakdown of relations between employer and employee is, yet again, very Marxist indeed. Even the real workers’ saint, Maria, rescuing children left behind as the workers’ city floods courtesy of their parents’ bloodlust is evocative of the story of Noah’s ark.

Illustration List
Lang, F. (1927). Figure 1. Metropolis poster. (Accessed on 27/10/11)
Lang, F. (1927). Figure 2. City still. (Accessed on 27/10/11)
Lang, F. (1927). Figure 3. ‘Moloch’ still. (Accessed on 27/10/11)

Cannon, b. (1997). (Accessed on 27/10/11)
Diment, A. (2010). Hackney Hive. (Accessed on 27/10/11)
Greydanus, S. (unknown). Decent Films Guide. (Accessed on 27/10/11)

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Initial Influence Maps




I sat down and dug up some images relating to cyberpunk and dieselpunk, and some submarine imagery, to try and get the ideas moving. At the moment I'm leaning more towards dieselpunk than cyberpunk, but it's still a close competition. Cyberpunk has that air of claustrophobia and oppression dressed up in prettiness that I really want to look at, but dieselpunk has that old-timey, optimistic look that would go so well with fascist and communist propaganda. And now I'm wondering why not something raygun gothic-y, combining elements of both?

Monday, 24 October 2011

Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)

 Fig. 1. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari poster.

Though to jaded twenty-first century filmgoers The Cabinet of Dr Caligari may seem dull and hackneyed, in 1920 it revolutionised cinema. It ushered in the concept of unreliable narration and presented the first filmic example of a twist ending, as well as defining the horror genre.

It is “a film of delusions and deceptive appearances, about madmen and murder, and his characters exist at right angles to reality. None of them can quite be believed, nor can they believe one another” (Ebert, ). In terms of production design, the sets are bizarre and uncanny. Everything is made of paper, there is not a right angle in sight and wild patterns cover everything without any apparent logic to them. Shadows are painted onto the sets, creating a disconnect between the characters and their surroundings. At the end of the film we are shown that the entire story was the raving of a madman, retroactively explaining the aesthetic. The fiercely jagged lines and sharp points evoke and add to the narrative, suggesting that Holstenwall (the town in which the film is set) is dangerous, perhaps the result of the protagonist’s paranoia.

Fig 2. Caligari in Holstenwall still.

The famous twist ending can be interpreted in two ways; firstly, one could see it as a groundbreaking piece of innovation, albeit one insisted upon by the film’s executives; alternatively, it could be seen as a watering-down of the film’s impact, explaining away the mad scenery that could have represented the world’s confusion and disarray in the wake of the Great War, and how it seemed that the very structure of the world had shifted, rather than the imaginings of a madman – “instead of being a worldview that a viewer is forced to adjust to, it is one that is now explained away with the safety net of only being a madman’s delusion, not unakin to the old “It was all a dream” ending” (Scheib, 1999).

Fig. 3. Cesare and Jane still.

Apparently the twist ending was never the writer’s intention; it “appalled the original writers, as it was never their intention to portray Dr. Caligari in a kindlier light” (Richter, 2000). The original script, without the framing device, was the result of Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer’s (the film’s writers) dislike of authority at the time. Mayer had suffered at the hands of a bigoted military psychiatrist, and wanted to show the public the darker side of the psychiatric profession. Nevertheless, the film is widely celebrated for its ending, and ultimately it is up to the viewer to decide whether it is an act of genius or terrible executive meddling.

Illustration List
Wiene, R. (1920) Figure 1. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari poster.  (Accessed on 24/10/11)
Wiene, R. (1920) Figure 2. Caligari in Holstenwall still.
cabinet-of-dr.-caligari-screenshot.jpg  (Accessed on 24/10/11)
Wiene, R. (1920) Figure 3. Cesare and Jane still. (Accessed on 24/10/11)

Ebert, R. (2009) (Accessed on 24/10/11)
Richter, I. (2000) (Accessed on 24/10/11)
Scheib, R. (1999). Moria Science Fiction, Horror & Fantasy Review. (Accessed on 24/10/11)

Unit Two: Space

For Unit Two I have been assigned three extracts from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a story with which I am only vaguely familiar but a quick TV Tropes search has told me that it's a lot darker than I thought it would be. I already have a handful of initial thoughts, so here they are in muddled, bullet-point format to be referred back to as the unit progresses.

- The Nautilus (the submarine on which the protagonists travel) is both a grandiose, wondrous place and a prison; Captain Nemo will not let the three main characters leave for fear that they will reveal his existence. The submarine becomes a gilded cage, and nearly drives one of the protagonists  mad. These layers of the Nautilus will definitely be interesting to look at.
- Nemo claims to loathe despots an yet, in a way, becomes one himself - I may look at fascist aesthetics and propaganda to get that upbeat yet horrifying-in-retrospect feel.
- Real submarines are incredibly cluastrophobic and tight-pressed for space, like ships but more so. Sure, the Nautilus is this magnificent spectacle, but it might be interesting to consider it as a more conventional sub.
- Everybody takes a very Victorian/steampunk-with-electricity look at the story - why not try a cyberpunk or dieselpunk aesthetic?

Friday, 21 October 2011

Thursday, 20 October 2011



Submission Disk Artwork

Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010)

 Fig. 1. Black Swan poster.

Black Swan is a very strange film. One can never be sure of what exactly is happening, and whether it is actually happening – the film documents Nina (Natalie Portman)’s obsession with perfection and the resulting mental illness and emotional breakdown. Many of the scenes are bizarre and hallucinatory, shot deliberately close to the actors to ramp up the claustrophobia – “there seems no difference between inside and outside. Everywhere is claustrophobic” (Bradshaw, 2011). Mirrors are used in almost every shot, starting out innocuous but eventually showing uncanny doppelgangers and serving to unhinge Nina further. Forced to break out of her virginal innocence to portray the Black Swan as well as the pure White Swan in her corps’ performance of Swan Lake, Nina must break out of her (maternally enforced) childhood.

Duality is one of the major themes of the film – the fearful mirror images, the tension between Nina and Lily (Mila Kunis), a less technically skilled but infinitely more passionate dancer, Nina’s internal conflict over being both Black and White Swan, her struggles between adulthood and childhood… The film is shot in very desaturated tones, the only colour coming in when Lily is on-screen, a clear metaphor for Nina and Lily’s respective lifestyles. Nina is a broken woman from the outset, and Black Swan merely details her further descent into madness. One could argue that this makes it very difficult to emparthise with her, not helped by the fact that the film focuses more on the spectacle of her madness rather than the characterisation. “Black Swan is a film obsessed with movement, colours, sets, sound design, Clint Mansell’s clanging score and, of course, performance” (Graham, 2010). However, the film pulls off the spectacle spectacularly, so perhaps the lack of characterisation is not too terrible a thing.

Fig. 2. Nina still.

The film uses location very carefully. In the first act we see several shots of Nina on the train, a few quiet moments of repose in her hectic life. After a run-in with a lascivious man, however, these scenes are dispensed with, at about the same time the film take its turn for the bizarre. This suggests that Nina has finally lost the little link to sanity she had, and that it is all downhill from here.

Fig. 3. Nina still.

Black Swan does not seek to be coherent – that would be to lose the very thing that makes its plot. Nina’s story runs parallel to the story of Swan Lake, showing how she is becoming psychologically embroiled in the production. She sees Lily as the evil Black Swan seeking to take what is rightfully hers (the part of the Swan Queen), though “the story is told from [Nina’s] point of view, but it’s increasingly clear that she’s an unreliable witness to her own life” (Gritten, 2010). In fact, this could be said of anything in the film; it is entirely possible that, after the film has ended, Nina wakes up from a very, very odd dream.

Illustration List
Aronofsky, D. (2010) Figure 1. Black Swan poster.  (Accessed on: 20/10/11)
Aronofsky, D. (2010) Figure 2. Nina still.  (Accessed on: 20/10/11)
Aronofsky, D. (2010) Figure 3. Nina still.  (Accessed on: 20/10/11)

Bradshaw, P. (2011). The Guardian. (Accessed on: 20/10/11)
Graham, J. (2010).TotalFilm. (Accessed on: 20/10/11)
Gritten, D. (2010). The Telegraph. (Accessed on: 20/10/11)

Face Studies

Four doubleplus quick face studies. Quick and dirty, but they do the job.

Regarding Maya

So nobody assumes I haven't actually done the Maya assignments, I have had something of a catastrophe with it. My own copy of Maya has decided 'rendering is boring, crashes and error messages are much more fun', and when I tried to take my work in to uni to render it there, Maya effectively said 'backwards compatibility? Pff, you wish'.  Simon and Alan are both aware of it, and I will be doing what I can to sort it, but for now you'll just have to make do with the two bits I could render. Sorry!

Life Drawing Weeks 2, 3 & 4

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Final Piece Progress

And some work-in-progress shots of my final piece. I settled on the fish-on-a-horse idea because it was splendidly unusual and stubborn. The orientation of the first sketch is actually the correct one, I just kept saving when it was flipped. Also swatches, swatches everywhere.

Last Thumbnails

Will discuss these later and upload final piece progress, gotta jet right now.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Vincenzo Natali's Splice (2009)

 Fig. 1. Splice poster.

As always with science-fiction horror, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. At least on the surface, the protagonists of Splice, Elsa (Sarah Polley) and Clive (Adrien Brody) seek to better humanity by splicing human and animal genes – using the understanding gained to combat congenital diseases and possibly even some forms of cancer. Yet under the surface are darker motivations for their violation of law and ethics.

Elsa is the main proponent of creating the hybrid, whom she names ‘Dren’. Initially the child is treated simply as an experiment, but over time Elsa becomes emotionally invested in her. Clive suggests that this is due to her own abused childhood, which resulted in a need to control her own child.

“Splice is as much of a cautionary tale about people having kids before they're ready as it is a time-worn tale of scientists playing God” (Vejvoda, 2010). The story looks at the impact of an abusive childhood on childrearing, taking the unsubtle but unfortunately accurate route of the abused parent becoming the abuser. Elsa is made simultaneously sympathetic and loathsome through this; she is a monster for treating Dren terribly, and yet we can understand why. She both fears and loves Dren, seeing her as a daughter and an experiment, which leads only to trouble.

 Fig. 2. Dren and Elsa still.

Dren is treated by the film as both human and animal – she can turn a scene from sweet to horrifying simply by alternating between human and animal behaviour. Her human side makes the audience engage with her and even feel affection for her; “the humanity in Dren is essential not only to the character but to the entire film” (Goldberg, 2010). Nevertheless, her dangerous animal side is never below the surface, be it in moments of physical or sexual aggression.

Freudian theory and metamorphosis and body horror never seem to be far apart. The film discusses incest without much in the way of commentary besides the expected disgust from Elsa, on whom Clive cheats with her own genetic ‘daughter’. Dren displays both Elektra and Oedipus complexes (courtesy of becoming male in the climax), seducing her ‘father’ and threatening to kill her ‘mother’ and later killing Clive and raping Elsa.

The film also discusses contemporary scientific ethics, not just in terms of the actual science but looks at the behaviour of funding bodies and the increasing influence of business on scientific progress. Scientists are forced to produce rapidly profitable work or lose funding, and businesses, rather than the scientists themselves, are the ones who decide what is studied. Splice is also commendable for presenting a sympathetic view of scientists; “Clive and Elsa are hardly your typical movie scientists. Far more personable, Brody and Polley are effortlessly smart, and we root for them even as we realize these scientists are on heading down a very dangerous path.” (Charity, 2010).

Fig. 3. Dren and Clive still.
In terms of scientific progress itself, Splice taps into the generalised fear of the potential of genetic research, particularly the fear of ‘designer babies’. While people feared a culture in which parents deliberately engineered their childrens’ traits, with all the politics that entails, rather than Frankenstein-esque monstrosities, the film serves as an allegory.

Illustration List:
Figure 1. Natali, V. (2009) Splice poster. (Accessed on: 25/10/11)
Figure 2. . Natali, V. (2009) Dren and Elsa still. (Accessed on: 25/10/11)
Figure 3. . Natali, V. (2009) Dren and Clive still. (Accessed on: 25/10/11)

Vejvoda, J. (2010) IGN Movie Reviews. (Accessed on: 25/10/11)
Goldberg, M. (2010) Collider. (Accessed on: 25/10/11)
Charity, T. (2010) LOVEFILM. (Accessed on: 25/10/11)