‘A Scanner Darkly’: Animation or Special Effects?

‘A Scanner Darkly’, originally a novel by Philip K. Dick, is a science fiction thriller film released in 2006, with well known actors including Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves. The movie was filmed as a live action first, and then ‘animated’ using interpolated rotoscope. Which basically means they traced over the digital film. I watched this film recently and I have to say it was unlike any style I’ve ever seen before. It was certainly something different but I still question how successful the technique was.

Taking the plot into consideration, I can understand why they went for this technique and certainly I think the use of it shouldn’t be considered by any other theme of film. This is a story of deception in a near-future dystopia, where the main characters minds are deteriating through the use of a drug  called Substance D.  The effect of the rotoscoping does work in this way, as it makes the viewer feel like they themselves could be on something or other. It looks like a big mind trip. It’s a very strange effect. The animation is very floaty and doesn’t seem natural due to it being created with live action footage. The movement is not always convincing. I think for something to be animated you need exaggeration. The principles of animation were developed by Disney’s original animators, The Nine Old Men, and Walt Disney who said “We oughta be looking for entertaining ways of doing things. We don’t want to get straight, y’know? – we’re not copying nature!”

Though the rotoscoping does parallel the theme of the film appropriately, for me it was also the downfall of the movie. I found the visual effect distracting from the already confusing plot. Keeping the audience’s attention is something fundamental when making a film of any kind. If you don’t have that, then the story is futile.

On the question of whether or not this film can be classified as an animation or not, I believe not. In fact, no animating was done here. Animation means ‘breath of life’ and since the characters are traced over digital film, it was not the drawing that brought them to life. That job was taken on by the camera. It is no wonder that most the ‘animators’ that worked on ‘A Scanner Darkly’ were actually illustrators and comic book artists.

‘A Scanner Darkly’ has been interesting enough for me to write about and that is because it is a unique piece of work. I think it should be recognised for that accomplishment. I would definitely like to read the book; it seems like it would be an interesting story.

Narrative: A World of Knowledge

Storytelling has been around since our beginning as we are inveterate storytellers. The first theory on narrative came from Aristotle who believed a story should be created within a ‘unity’ of time, place and action. It should be told in the same location, in real time with action moving towards a logical conclusion. Then there’s the 19th Century Novelist and Dramatist, Gustav Freytag’s narrative structure which he developed through studying ancient Greek and Shakespearean drama. He broke up narrative into stages (Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, and Falling Action and Catastrophe/ Resolution. Vladimir Propp’s theory was formed in the early 20th Century who found that there was always 8 type of characters in a story; the hero, the villain, the donor, the dispatcher, the false hero, the helper, the princess and her father. Each character has a sphere of action like the one below. All these theories are still seen in narratives of films and books today.

There is something within the human brain that has a need to reflect on life experiences and put them down into a narrative. Stories are a delight to the mind. They take reality and excite it. Poetry is a delight to the ear and the mind. Plato, however, did not agree with this and believed poetry and storytelling to be ‘a crippling of the mind’. The reason for this is because Plato says only absolute truth is ‘good’ as that is true knowledge. He saw poetry and stories to be ‘bad’ as they fictitious and the poet or author has no real experience with what they write about. Plato’s pupil, Aristotle, of course did not agree and believed poetry and stories to be beneficial as a poet’s job is to be a poet and therefore does not have to have had experience with everything he writes about. It prepares the audience for real life and teaches pathos and empathy.

I believe stories to tell and listen to, are important for everyone, whether told orally, through novels, poetry or cinema. It builds imagination and increases your sense of empathy which is arguably the most important thing for a person to have. It is passed on experience and knowledge told in a way that is understandable and appealing. That is why the storyteller has such a responsibility to consider what their story is saying to the audience. Ethics is fundamental for the storyteller. The story could be around for much longer than that of the author’s life.

One of my life’s greatest joys is hearing stories and being an animator, being able to tell them. Film, books, poetry, photos, paintings all have a story to tell. These stories can be passed on and change the way a person perceives the world. The Bible contains many stories that has impacted billions of lives. Imagine where we would be without it? Or where I’d be without Disney’s telling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves! I think I’d be a completely different person without the many films and books on my shelves.  Here are some of the stories that have affected my life.

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Illustrating Text and Perceptions

Illustration translates text to image, but for each illustrator, it is never in the same way. It reflects the perception of first the author, then this is perceived by the illustrator, and then on a deeper level it also reflects how society perceives their world. Illustration has been around a long time, going back to prehistoric cave paintings. When we look back to these illustrations we can get an insight into the people of the time and narrative they tell.

What made illustration have such an impact was the progress of methods for mass production. In the 15th Century books with woodcut illustrations became available. In the 16th and 17th Century it was engraving and etching. By the end of the 18th Century, lithography made it possible for even better illustrations to be reproduced. Printing has taken illustration a long way and now there is little limits holding it back.

Alice and Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is a story that has been reinterpreted by many illustrators and continues inspiring today. Sir John Tenniel’s Alice illustrations are some the most famous ever made. These are some of my favourite illustrations. It’s something about the cross hatching technique and the charming style of Tenniel that appeals to me. Also the composition of each drawing that has been re-used by not only illustrators of Alice but also film makers. It so successfully translates the text visually that they have become something that makes the text what it is. The text and image play off each other.

A recent discovery is of a contemporary Spanish illustrator called Gabriel Moreno who has done a lot of commercial work. His work is beautifully detailed and imaginative. Birds pop up a lot in his work. I find his work inspiring. Here’s a link to his website.  Enjoy!

http://www.gabrielmoreno.com/work.htm

Postmodernism

Jean-François Lyotard defined postmodernism as ‘incredulity towards all metanarratives’. This basically means a skeptical attitude towards all claims of absolute truth. This follows the Modernist attitude of having belief in scientific fact and certainty. But this rejects that and says there is no definite way to explain reality. It promotes the idea that apparent realities are only social constructs.  The closest way is to explain only your own personal reality by experience, and this is not universal or certain. Postmodernism is such a wide ranging term that can be applied to disciplines of art, literature, economics, philosophy, architecture and fiction. There isn’t even any definite meaning of it which I suppose is fitting.

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Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’, a silent film released in 1927, is an amazing piece of postmodern work. It was co-written by his wife at the time and the “Metropolis” novel author, Thea von Harbou. The films architecture and backgrounds are a piece of artwork themselves and a vision for the future. The film suggests that technology and class divisions are dangerous to society and prevent us from having a true sense of self. It portrays technology (machines) as a monster that makes humans look insignificant and swallows them whole. The workers who live below amongst the city machinery are only held together by hope manifested in the shape of the spiritual female character. It does makes you wonder what Lang was trying to say when he seemed to contradict himself by passing this warning of technology by using the new medium of cinema. Perhaps that was the deeper metaphor within itself.

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Though it is true that we may lose something when using technology (in this case interaction with a real audience like in theater), we also gain new opportunities to creatively express ourselves, but the old mediums should not be forgotten because it is those that led us here. I believe we are still within this postmodern era. Some kind of strange transitory stage between Modernism and something else we have yet to be led to.

Reading Images

What we see is what we think we know. It is hard to separate the eyes from that faculty of the mind that says ‘that is a cup’ or ‘that is a foot’. This is the battle every artist must fight when drawing from life. Our preconceptions of an object blur the real image that we are seeing in front of us. Nietzsche says ‘An artist should see nothing as it is…’, and my point is an artist should see nothing as it supposedly is.

To illustrate this point, just try looking at your own hand. Now, try drawing it taking into consideration everything you know about hands. They have four fingers, and one thumb, connected to the palm, they have fingernails, they can bend and so on. The moment we start racking through our brains for this information is the moment we stop seeing what is really there in front of us, and so it becomes much more difficult as we start to rely on memory to substitute for our sight. Forget about all that information. Pretend you don’t even know what a hand is, and you start noticing the detail that makes this hand.

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On the other hand, signs and symbols are images that use sight in conjunction with what we know, so we understand the meaning. For example, toilet signs. We know which image is indicating which gender because we know women wear skirts, and men don’t. The sight of these images relies on this knowledge or they become redundant.

Symbols meanings are decided by society and so can change through time. The Pentagram is a symbol which you might associate with Satanic cults, but it has only been the past century or so that it has been used in these cults and the pentagram must be inverted. The Pentagram has been associated with many different religions in the past, such as Paganism, Judaism and early Christianity. Even the cross, belonging to Christianity, is changing its meaning when put into different contexts (though Christianity has not been the only religion to use this symbol). Today, it seems to be creeping up everywhere in women’s clothes shops. The cross has been plastered everywhere on t-shirts, leggings and jewellery. Sometimes even inverted crosses and this links to Satanic cults again! And sometimes they decide to put both the cross and an inverted cross side by side on a t-shirt! Apparently, when symbols and fashion mix, they become meaningless. Typical.

Graphic Design

Communication Design includes the disciplines, Illustration, Animation and Graphic Design. All of these disciplines strive towards designing a visual message that is understandable to the audience. What interests me most about Graphic Design is the psychology of it. Everything must be shown in one image or even one tiny logo. Graphic Design needs to persuade a response out of the target audience. It needs to get people to do what the designer wants. Graphic Designers want people’s attention and they need to understand people in order to get it.

First, of course, they need the technical and creative aspect. But in order to be successful, i think psychology is fundamental. The psychological aspects of colour, shape and font, combined with the image/ text is what will make the design effective or not. Looking at the recruitment posters for WW1, we can see how convincing they would be at the time, and how they worked.

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Here we can see they have gone for the guilt trip approach. Any man with children who saw this poster at the time are likely to give it consideration.

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Now the posters are directing it’s audience in both USA and Britain. This makes any passer by stop and listen. Simple, direct, and effective.

Another important factor to consider is context. Below, the advertisement used by Color Bar, a make-up brand, has used an iconic figure known for her beauty and her signature red lips. Perfect for a lip stick advert. The image is also aesthetically appealing and the fact that it shows the it was the lip stick that was used to create the image implies that it’s good quality.  The slogan ‘Be Someone’ is saying, do you want to be like Marilyn Monroe? Well, you could be with this lip stick!

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Representation of Gender and Sex

“Women are passive objects of male visual pleasure.” – Laura Mulvey

The female is the object of consumption, whereas the male is the consumer. This was our patriarchal society’s decision, from a long time ago. Has this changed now?

Linda Nochlin posed the question “why have there been no great women artists?”, and it is true to say art and most other professions has been male dominated until the 20th Century. Things have changed and women have been given new power and freedom. Today, there are well-known female artists such as Tracey Emin. But I believe we are still in the process of completely freeing women from the oppression of prejudice, and this is evident when looking at the roles of gender in art today.

In the Renaissance period, it was not uncommon to see nude paintings of women and that has not changed. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this, i think the body is beautiful! But we can not ignore the fact that a female nude is much more common to see than a male one. This is perhaps because the artists are predominantly male to begin with. This not only reflects the portrayal of women in art but also influences the portrayal of women in society. It is the nature in which they are painted that highlights a woman as the object of desire. The woman is idealised with her sexuality for the pleasure of male viewers. The painting ‘Venus Asleep’ by Giorgione in 1510 shows this.

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The positioning of the suggestive hand makes me wonder what distinguishes erotica from pornagraphy? The clear sensuality in this painting has been disguised with myth using the title ‘Venus Asleep’ and the idealised landscape in the background. The painting has been imitated by many great artists like Titian, Manet and Velasquez, each with their own style and interpretation of the piece. As we look at the progression of this painting by the different artists, we start to see the subtly and attempt to disguise the sexuality diminishing.

So that was then, what about now? Well, in 1985 we saw the formation of the Guerrilla Girls, a feminist group fighting against sexism within the visual fine art world. The group formed in response to New York’s Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition, “An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture” which showcased 169 artists; but only 17 of the 169 artists, were female. The group wears Gorilla masks to mock the sexualization of women.  This was a poster the group used to publicise the problem.

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Sexualization of women does not just happen in fine art, it is everywhere in the media. Music video’s have so many nearly naked women doing provocative dances, it has come to the point of ridiculousness. Sex is the easy way to sell anything from condoms (something in context) to household products (something completely unrelated; but hey who cares apparently!)

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This advertisement by BMW is used to sell cars. Cars, not sex with this woman, though it may appear that way… The advert is clearly aimed at a male audience and the text saying “You know you’re not the first, But do you really care?” I understand the connotation… I think. At least I understand one side of this double meaning for it is not subtle at all but i’m still trying to work out what they are saying about the car! That i wouldn’t be the first to drive the car?? Is that it??? But then again, do you really care? They are using sex and that sells. Creative or intelligent input is not needed.

Then we have an advert by Durex like this. Something funny, clever and in context.

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And another plus about this, is that the image distinguishes the two genders, without actually sexualizing the characters.

Then we have an advert like this, by Lynx, to sell bodyspray to men.

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I must say, my first reaction to this image was fury. Society has been neutralised to the sex images of women in media, and I am also used to it so it wasn’t that which angered me immediately. It was the the turkey the woman (Lucy Pindar) was taking out of the oven. This is a reference to gender roles from the 50’s which we are supposed to have surpassed by now. This is what stopped women from having their freedom to be able to do anything a man can. Then it was the combination of sex with gender role that i found so degrading to women. Apparently, the image is supposed to be ironic but this is an image the whole nation will see and not everyone will see it in this light. Thankfully, some sensible people banned the advert from launching.

Then I read the text to the advert, ‘Can she make you lose control?’. This made me think, who has the power here? The consumer of the image (men) or the woman being consumed? When society decided women are the object of desire, did that actually hand over some sort of power to women? They are being seen as objects which is demeaning  however, just the image of a woman being suggestive can make men buy anything! And now, some women are embracing this power to use it for their own advantage. The likes of Rihanna and Lady Gaga use sex constantly to gain power. And it works. But this gives the image of their bodies power, and not their minds. Who they really are does not possess that sexually gained power.

It’s my opinion that as long as there is sex, it will be used to manipulate in the media. But things are changing, and already men are becoming the sex objects in advertising as well. I don’t agree with the use of this method of selling, it lacks imagination, lacks any honesty, and turns women into sex objects. We should no longer be just passive objects used for male visual pleasure.

Mass Production and Reproduction

“To an even greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility” -Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ 1937

All works of Art can be replicated or copied. Anyone can try to imitate a painting of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. For the Greeks, the only way of imitating a work of art was by hand or stamping in bronze. Aside from this, everything was unique. Originality in creativity is definitely something to strive for so why reproduce Van Gogh’s Sunflowers? Why design ‘art’ for the propose of being reproduced? Money. And with the primary objective being money, comes a boundary for creativity.

Andy Warhol’s pop art is some of the most reproduced art ever made and partly because the style is so reproducible. ‘Campbell’s Soup Can’s’ was produced in 1962, using printmaking. Though the piece did not gain Warhol much money at the time, it did stir up a lot of controversy  It offended  as it showed mundane commercialism that insulted abstract expressionism’s technique and philosophy. Apparently the reason Warhol painted the 32 cans of soup was simply because he had Campbell’s soup everyday for lunch. From an outsider’s perspective it looks like it could make a statement about art’s sameness when it becomes commercialised.

Now, technology and the ability to mass produce has done a lot for the progression of mankind, including certain art forms. But when I think of a painting like that of Gogh’s, and a person standing in front of that painting, painting it; then for that imitation painting to be photographed and printed in mass production by a machine; I start to think of Plato’s theory of the Forms. Plato believed that the idea (non-material) was the highest form of reality. After that comes our physical world which we experience through the body; this would be the imitation of the idea. Then beneath that comes Art. Plato believes this to be the lowest Form of reality as it is an imitation of an imitation. He thought know true knowledge can be gained from this form and it is not productive for a person to create and/or enjoy. Imagine what Plato might think of a work of art being reproduced! An imitation of an imitation of an imitation! I’m sure he would despise the thought.

Being an artist myself, I of course do not agree, for the reason that art does not hold up a mirror to the actual world. I would agree with Plato if he had skipped out the physical world being a form, and had just stated that Art is an imitation of the (cognitive) idea. If this is true, then when we paint an idea, we lose something between the transition of brain to canvas. The vision and the idea must be great to produce an original physical work of art. Now someone decided this great work of art should be reproduced for profit. They hand this job over to a machine, and the art it started off as has changed. Not only do we see a deterioration in quality, but also the context of the art has changed, making it something completely different. Is the art even art at all now? Our perception of the original image has been altered.

When it comes to the new art forms created by the innovation of technology, we’re telling a whole different story. By this I mean the likes of photography and film. These forms are of course reproducable, however, they do not imitate anything other than the idea of the person/ people. Because of this we do not lose the quality or the ‘aura’ of the art. Our senses are being engaged exactly how it was intended to be by the artist (if done successfully). Perception is amplified by the visual’s of photography, bringing attention to things that would otherwise go unnoticed. With film, we can go further than engaging sight, with audio. The combination can be more powerful than what we see in ‘normal’ reality. We can become so drawn-in to films, that we become convinced that this is reality, and our emotions link us to the characters that our brain has agreed are real personalities. In this art form, a new reality is made with the use of technology.

I think technology will remain the suppressor and liberator of art forever. But as technology continues to develop, the re-assessment of art and the craft of beauty is definite.

Culture of the New: Modernism

This movement in the arts aims to break tradition and progress to a new way of thinking. It started in Western society in the late 19th C and early 20th C. Romanticism is rejected in mid-19th C and Modernism arises to form a new outlook. Modernism re-examined everything. The change impacted art but also the economy, philosophy, religion, science, technology and society itself. It promotes the practical experimentation, scientific knowledge and technology and using these to reshape our world. Modernism rejects the ideology of realism, enlightenment thinking, and the belief of a compassionate, all-powerful God.

Abstract art, atonal music and stream of consciousness, were all Modernist innovations. Abstract art includes Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism and Futurism. My favourite abstract artist is probably Wassily Kandinsky. Image

This painting is called ‘Composition VIII’ by Kandinsky, painted in 1923. This art appeals to more than the visual sense as it appears more like music. It’s easy to see from Kandinsky’s work that he was a musician. He paints the sound with associating colour that he believes resounds in the soul. This takes art to a new level that is on a spiritual plane. His work is trying to show an objectless state using geometry that creates a spiritual experience.  Kandinsky says “Music is the ultimate teacher.”

Here is an animation by Oskar Fischinger that tries to achieve a moving visual form of music using shapes on paper.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnyfysH3h9A&playnext=1&list=PLptColaLE3gsK4slAAEjOfiInCtOnd_rM&feature=results_main

But Modernism doesn’t stop there. It continues right through to present day, which I will expand upon in my next blog on Post-Modernism.