Monday, 29 October 2012

The Secret Lair of the Clockwork Solider

The concept of a clockwork soldier is equal parts fascinating and frustrating. Fascinating because the two elements are wildly incongruous; clockwork is often associated with children's toys, not the stuff of warfare, and frustrating because steampunk, the genre most closely associated with clockwork, has been touched upon so often as to become a cliché in and of itself. Now would probably be a useful time to mention that, of all the -punk genres, steampunk is my least favourite for two reasons. One, most of it seems to be Victoriana + cogs + airships = steampunk. Two, it's not actually a -punk genre; -punk implies deconstruction of a concept, while steampunk seems to romanticise the Victorian and Edwardian eras. I am sure there is deep and challenging steampunk fiction out there, but I have yet to find it.

As a result, I am deciding not to reference the steampunk genre at all for this project, unless I should find myself in dire circumstances regarding ideas and need something Right Now. Either that, or I will take steampunk and make it -punk.

The element I am particularly interested in is the soldier. The term 'soldier' has very different implications than, say, 'warrior', or even 'fighter'. 'Soldier' suggests a degree of discipline and organisation, of being part of a bigger unit or army. The concept of a soldier is also quite broad. They could be a mercenary, a military guard, a front line fighter, a guerilla, a combat engineer, a medic, a pilot (either of land or air vehicles), a paratrooper, a marine, a cavalry soldier (I can almost hear Phil shouting at his monitor), a special forces soldier, a militia soldier, a drafted soldier, a supersoldier...

There is also the question of rank, which will be critical in determining the nature of their space. Are they a commander, with a huge war room at their disposal, or a private with a dinky little billet not much better than a cell? Is the space shared? How does military discipline (or perhaps lack thereof) affect the layout of the room?

The other element, clockwork, is tantalisingly tricky. To me the most important thing is the time period in which the soldier exists. Are they in the far future, reaching back to simpler times through old technology, or are they in the past where clockwork is on the cutting edge? How does the clockwork integrate with the character? Are they a toymaker drafted into the military, are they partly or wholly clockwork themselves, are they a zany engineer with a fondness for clockwork gadgetry? Is the clockwork a metaphor for a strictly regimented military life? Are little clockwork gubbins stress relief or mementos? Do they have a suit of clockwork power armour? Does the clockwork replace a steam or internal combustion engine for convenience, having no fuel needs other than a pair of strong arms to wind it, like a knight without a squire might paint their armour black for easier cleaning?

I've probably typed way too much. My apologies if you sat and read all of that.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Roger Vadim's 'Barbarella' (1968)

Barbarella exists as a time capsule of the 1960s’ concept of femininity and changing sexual mores. The film, while somewhat lacking in the revolutionary (or even competent) storytelling department, does portray gender and sexuality in a light almost unheard of previously, at least outside of pornography. The eponymous Barbarella has a great deal of sex over the course of the film, but at no point does the film shame her for it. Sex is treated as a mutually enjoyable act, and Barbarella is an active participant in it, not simply a provider of sex for men while lying back and thinking of England.

Fig. 1. Barbarella promotional still.

Female sexuality is also weaponised throughout the film; Barbarella's sexual appetite gains her the cooperation of multiple male figures, and saves her life when placed inside a 'piano of pleasure' that will supposedly kill her with sexual ecstasy. Through this, sex is shown as not inherently evil, particularly as despite her sexuality Barbarella is constantly treated as being 'innocent', an innocence which ultimately saves her from being devoured by a sentient, evil, all-devouring lake. Innocence, then, is portrayed as a character trait, completely separate from a person's sexuality.

However, even though sexuality is depicted as being a positive, or at least morally neutral, force, the people of the evil city of Sogo (a portmanteau of the first syllables of Sodom and Gomorrah, two biblical cities destroyed for their decadence) are shown to be evil because... they have a lot of sex. Regarding Sogo the film seems caught between two concepts of sex; that of being healthy and enjoyable and of being wild and decadent, and at no point does it define the difference between the two (if there is any at all).

Fig. 2. Pygar & Barbarella still.

Barbarella adopts a traditionally ‘male’ role throughout the film, particularly in regards to the blind angel, Pygar. Ultimately, Pygar’s role in the film is that of the damsel in distress, along with being a useful mode of transport. He embodies traditionally female story roles; that of the gentle lover, the victim of kidnapping and sexual crimes, the one whose confidence hinges on the affection of a member of the opposite sex, the forgiver, et cetera.

In contrast, Barbarella acts as his guide and protector, leading him when he flies and shooting and killing their assailants. She does not nurture him as a woman of the time might be expected to do, and Pygar only carries her because he can fly and she cannot. The single time Pygar assumes an aggressive role is under the guidance of Barbarella, a scene much more familiar in the form of the male hero instructing the female love interest on how to use a gun. The film thus suggests that passivity and activity are character-bound, and not gender-bound. This gender reversal of damsel and knight is unusual even now.

Fig. 3. Great Tyrant & Barbarella still.

The camera, however, is still distinctively male, as is the intended audience. Babarella still suffers from the 'fainting woman' effect, often requiring rescuing by men. Furthermore, despite being a competent female character, she is still treated, at least visually, as a sex object. Her clothing suffers a spectacular amount of damage, and her wardrobe revels in showing off every curve and contour in her body and going through perhaps half a dozen changes over the course of the film.

Her wardrobe, along with the entirety of the visual design of the film, is a distinctively Sixties' vision of the future. Catsuits, plastic and surface pattern and texture are the rule, along with impossibly short shorts and equally impossibly high boots. Chainmail is also de rigueur, for no readily identifiable reason (even less explicable is how it perfectly moulds itself to Barbarella's breasts).

Fig. 4. Duran Duran's laboratory still.

The rest of the film's aesthetic walks the boundary between impressive and silly. The backdrops are heavy on recurring shapes, making the whole film seem slightly psychedelic and constantly keeping the eye moving through the scenes. Tubes and lights are used to a great extent, partly to direct the eye and partly to give the sense that they actually do something. The shapes often lie halfway between being mechanical and organic, highlighting not only the science-fiction elements of the film but also the physical, raunchy elements.

Fig. 5. Labyrinth still.

Similarly, surface texture is almost everywhere, from the lifeless, dusty rocks of the Labyrinth, to which moral souls are cast from Sogo, to the smooth, slightly wet-looking glass, metal and marble of Sogo, to the luxuriant shag pile coating the interior of Barbarella's spaceship. This texturing helps immediately identify each area, giving it its own distinct visual language. Of particular interest is the overall design of the area surrounding Sogo; the warm and cool tinting of ground and sky respectively is reversed, making the sky rich orange-red and the ground washed-out blue-grey. This serves to make the environment bizarre and unsettling without it being readily apparent why, immediately establishing that the area is unnatural.

Fig. 6. Labyrinth establishing shot.

Barbarella has its flaws, and in terms of story it weaves between being mediocre and utterly nonsensical, but its presentation of women and female sexual liberation, as well as many of its design decisions, mark it as a piece of worthwhile cinema.

Illustration List:
Fig. 1. Forest, J. C. (1968) Barbarella promotional still. (Accessed on: 24/10/12)
Fig. 2. Forest, J. C. (1968) Pygar and Barbarella still. (Accessed on: 24/10/12)
Fig. 3. Forest, J. C. (1968) Great Tyrant & Barbarella still. (Accessed on: 24/10/12)
Fig. 4. Forest, J. C. (1968) Duran Duran's laboratory still. (Accessed on: 24/10/12)
Fig. 5. Forest, J. C. (1968) Labyrinth still. (Accessed on: 24/10/12)
Fig. 6. Forest, J. C. (1968) Labyrinth establishing shot. (Accessed on: 24/10/12)

(You may be asking 'but Meg, where are your quotes?'. If you are, the answer is twofold; one, I'm not being graded on this so I can write however I like, and two, I somehow became far more invested in this review than is probably healthy, and I couldn't bear to put other people's words in what was my rant. Phil, if you want me to I'll happily throw in a few references, but I'm taking my chances and leaving it quote-less for now.)

Monday, 15 October 2012

Maya Characters

Aaaaand... a final render, before all the preliminary work! Muggins here forgot to save the Maya files as ASCIIs to make them (sort of) backwards compatible, so I'll get the un-textured models up here tomorrow. Sorry about that.

Damn, now that I look at the render it seems really under-lit. I'll add 'fix the lights' to my to-do list.

Photoshop Exercises 2

And part two, the more refined stuff. #1 was originally just an attempt to get out an idea that's been chasing me for years and has never quite come out properly that accidentally became an exercise in three-point perspective. #2 was just noodling with colour and composition, while #3 appears to be me channelling myself this time last year when I did 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. What it's actually supposed to be I don't even know any more.

Photoshop Exercises 1

Aaaand this is part one of two of what I've been up to in Photoshop Phil's classes. First four are quick thumbnails to get a feel for composition, last two are (rather obviously) perspective exercises. #2 feels like it could go somewhere, if I zoomed it out and threw in some curvature to the bridge, as well as define the three 'layers' of the painting more. #3 was a (possibly ill-advised) attempt at replicating a fisheye lens. Not sure if it worked, but it was interesting if nothing else.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Initial Thumbs

 The Magic Shop - I have distinctive memories of trips to London and finding impossibly narrow shops full of sundries and strangenesses, which I want to channel into the magic shop. Perspective remains a struggle for me, hence why I am glad I'm doing interiors because I really need the practice. In order to get a better idea of how things might sit within the shop/glorified corridor, I hashed out a couple of possible floorplans as well.

The Red Room - this extract has more 'stuff' in it - that is, there are more objects and things mentioned in the text that need to be accounted for. The bed, the fireplace, two great mirrors, the barricade of furniture, the many, many candles and, of course, the dark little alcove in the wall that so fills the protagonist with dread. This one will probably also need a floorplan.

H G Wells Excerpts

Because I really, really need to get back into blogging.

H. G. Wells' The Red Room is a horror story  about a supposedly haunted room in an old manor house, said to be trod by the ghost of an earl's wife who died of fright, but actually home to the 'spirit of darkness' that killed her. Architectural and structural details are sparse; three main areas are described, the manor caretakers' house, the halls and stairways leading to the red room, and the red room itself. Lighting is critical in this story, as candles and fireplaces are devoured by the spirit, driving the protagonist almost to madness with fear.

Wells' The Magic Shop is far less sinister than The Red Room, a seemingly lighthearted story of a father and son discovering a shop that sells 100% genuine magic. The shopkeeper takes the pair through his old, cramped shop, showing off wonders and marvels as he goes, and then into his showroom, where even more magnificent things can be found. While the shop and showroom seem whimsical, there are a few scattered hints that all is not quite as it seems. The shopkeeper mentions the price paid for magic, although he says it is not so steep as people might think, while the boy's father at the end ponders the bill for the toys his son comes away with. As such, while the locations themselves seem harmless and playful, I would like to include a few hints at something a little darker.