Comments – week 10

__________________________________________________________________________________________ The Great Radio Reflection

Radio really turned out to be an exciting and fun project, I seriously lucked out in getting such a cool group to do it all with.  The core of the show was a live D&D adventure, so the bulk of the project was fun as hell when we played through our noir story.  The adventure was to solve a murder in a city full of corruption.  We talked, sneaked, and fought our way to the truth behind the conspiracy.  It was even an authentic investigation since Matt, our DM, was the only person to actually know the story.  It was also a great dynamic way to bring life into our noir characters as they responded to situations as they unexpectedly arrived.  I got to expand Jim Sardic’s personality through example, which turned out to be a very memorable way to deepen a character’s experience.

I suppose the most difficult aspect of the show was the background stuff.  Setting up the mics was interesting.  We signed out some serious gear from the school and set aside a study room in Mason Hall to set everything up.  It took a while to get all the recording equipment where it needed to be, adjust levels to account for the party members moved around in their seats, and get all the feeds to record into the memory.  We had to stop recordings every once in a while to make sure everything was still working correctly and everyone was still being recorded.  The files were uncompressed as well, so during those breaks we would transfer all the recordings into a larger hard drive to make more room.  Luckily it all went smoothly once we had our system in place.  There was only one real hiccup, where we went through about 15 minutes of content before we realized the mics were off.  That didn’t even show up in the actual radio show though, it was of a later point in the story.

The full D&D game took a long time to make.  The clip we put up for the radio show was the first episode of many.  Throughout them we continue to investigate the murder.  It took a few days, but eventually we solved it and defeated the killer in his mansion.  In total, I think there’s about 10 hours of content, each split into 1 hours episodes.  Not all of them are edited yet though; it turned out to be a lot more content than anyone anticipated.  It will be a cool thing to have once it’s finished, the complete set of our adventure.

Looking through the comments on my group’s sites on our show, I was pleased to see that people really seemed to like the show.  I felt like we were hogging time by taking a full day’s worth of radio show broadcast time, but I’m glad others in our class enjoyed it.  The two shows I listened to, NOIR Not the Father, and Dinner Party at Six, were both fun to listen to as well.  It was great to see the vastly different takes each group had on the project.  NOIR Not the Father was also a murder investigation scenario, but extremely different in its approach.  The investigation was in the style of a game show of sorts, with the moderator examining evidence, testimonies, and the suspects responses to them.  It was a classic noir story of deceit and crime, and we got to see it through the lens of the aftermath.  It acts like the epilogue of a story, and we’re getting to glimpse in with the details and evidence that the investigators managed to find.  Dinner Party at Six, alternatively, was more of a live show.  I love the format that these kinds of shows use, with the written story being unveiled live on the radio show.  It was a murder mystery, with the motives behind the potential murders slowly unraveling for us as time goes on.  It was reminiscent of the movie version of Clue; nobody knew who the dangerous one among them could be.  There were technical mishaps; the group was communicating through skype and the various call sound effects came up sometimes in the show.  It wasn’t too much of a problem though, since it was mostly just in the beginning.  If I were to suggest anything, it’d be to either edit out those parts or just plan out the recording technique among everyone to avoid technical background stuff bleeding through.  Regardless, I enjoyed the show a lot.  Murder mystery is a great backdrop for a noir story, and this was a good rendition of it.

Overall, I enjoyed the hell out of the radio weeks.  I had a great group who I got to know over a very social game, all while expanding my character’s personality and depth in an improvised, interactive story.  And after that, I got to listen to some other cool shows, and see all the different ideas people came up with when they had such artistic freedom.  Here’s hoping video will be just as interesting!

__________________________________________________________________________________________ Inspire – Cody’s heel

This inspire goes out to Cody Walker for his daily create, Heel Concept.  I thought the heel concept day was a good one for quick creativity, and I’m not quite sure what it was about it, but I couldn’t help but crack up when I saw Cody’s version of it.

__________________________________________________________________________________________ Radio Listen In – NOIR Not the Father

This week I listened in to NOIR Not the Father, a crime investigation radio show.  The show took the form of a mock trial, or live public investigation of the murder of a woman, Jackie Steel.  The two suspects, or contestants in this case, are the the woman’s husband, Billy Steel, and her extramarital lover, Mick.  The show consisted of of a moderator, Stella Vaughn, who asked each suspect questions regarding their relationships to the woman and their potential motive for killing her.  Unbeknownst to either Billy or Mick, one of them was the father to Jackie’s unborn child.

Throughout the questioning, we learn that these two men were in a love triangle with Jackie, and that Billy’s marriage with her had all but collapsed years ago.  He goes so far as to say that when he found her dead in their home, he made himself dinner before calling the police.  Mick had fallen in love with Jackie recently and believed the child was his.  It turns out that neither of the two men were the child’s father; it was a third man who impregnated Jackie.  In the end, we learn through polygraph that it was Billy, Jackie’s husband, who murdered her.  Billy was taken away by the guards, and Mick was free to leave.

The show was entertaining.  It’s a classic noir formula: there’s a murder, an investigation, an affair, and perhaps Jackie acted the femme fatale in life.  There was a twist in the formula in that the whole story is presented in the format of a game show-esk trial.  As Stella Vaughn questions the men and presents evidence, an audience reacts to the revelations throughout the show, gasping, yelling, and cheering accordingly.  In the end, it wasn’t much of a surprise that Billy was the guilty man of the two, since he did not try very hard to act like he cared his wife had been killed.  It was quite the twist though that neither of the suspects were the father of Jackie’s child.

The commercials in between segments of the show were very entertaining.  Many of them were morbidly funny takes on what was going on in the show.  For example, there was a commercial for a cleaning service that would essentially help cover up murders.  I got a good laugh out of those ads.  Overall, it was a very enjoyable show.  I liked how the narrative of a noir story was condensed into the trial of everyone who was involved after the fact, and presented as evidence.  It was a cool way to tell the story.

__________________________________________________________________________________________ Vignelli Canon – the science of the art

Though almost all forms of art are subjective and and can be taken in ant direction, I believe it is generally agreed upon that there are decidedly correct ways to approach a work of art.  Graphic design is no exception to this rule; there are specific elements that make up a graphic, and practicing good technique in those aspects as you create your art will help make for a better result.  In his book, Vignelli seems to be most concerned with the elements that make up a graphic’s structure and how to properly approach working with them.  He focuses on these distilled, universal elements of graphic design rather than worrying about the creative, artistic side of the process.  I feel that this makes for a particularly useful guide since it covers the fundamentals of any graphic.  Though these teachings can be applied to any graphic design project, they do not interfere with the creative process.

Vignelli starts his book by covering the more ephemeral aspects of graphic design.  He discusses discipline, concision, and other conceptual factors like when it is appropriate to include certain “riskier” elements like intentional ambiguity.  Then he moves on the concrete, tangible aspects of graphic design, like space, coloring, and lettering.  The fact that Vignelli’s time was before the age of computer graphic design becomes evident here.  He mentions the use of certain objects like rulers and overlaying grids to assist in creating designs.  Many constraints that would cause you to require such aids are handled by computers now.  In this way, I suppose computers and graphic design programs have greatly streamlined the process of graphic design.  I enjoyed how he incorporates the elements he mentions into the text itself to provide examples and context.  It helps to make his points on what makes for good design, regardless of the content.

What Vignelli seemed most interested in throughout his book was the use of space.  He spends a great deal of time explaining all the different ways spacing and sizing parts of a graphic are hugely influential on the result.  He often reminds his readers that a graphic is largely the sum of its parts, and your spacing will affect every other part of your design.  For this reason it is crucial to understand good technique regarding spacing; if any one part of your design fits a certain way in its size and spacing, the rest of the design must follow suite.  He explains this through the use of grids.  When something is put on a sheet, a correspondingly sized grid is placed over the sheet.  For the design to look its best at this point, the rest of the objects placed on the sheet must make sense according to the grid.  I feel the most important thing to take from Vignelli’s book is the importance of good spacing.  It is a fundamental aspect of graphic design, one that is used in every project.  Mastering the use of spacing is a crucial way to improve any design you make.

__________________________________________________________________________________________ Audio in noir

The first thing I noticed in terms of audio when I watched the original version of the opening from “Touch of Evil”  was the use of diegetic music throughout the uninterrupted shot.  Despite the music’s origin at the building where the couple leave, it follows them down the street, filtered to sound like it is in the background of the environment, but constant.  It’s as though it is being played through speakers through the streets, following the car and people surrounding it.  The music contrasts the dire situation we as the audience know about; the couple in the car are sitting next to a time bomb.  But it reflects the mood of the characters we are watching; it’s cheerful, flowing, and care free, much like the car’s blissfully ignorant passengers.  This juxtaposition of music to its setting is a common trope in noir, and it reflects the cool-headed nature of these movies despite the danger in the story.  Characters, whether they know it or not, are often in extreme danger when the setting appears harmless or welcoming.  This use of music also reflects the deceitful nature of noir; people are always lying or hiding something in this genre, and put up a comforting facade until they decide to strike.  It can be seen in almost any film noir, when an investigative character is meeting with a villain at his office, or at a social event.  I appreciated how in the NO-restored version of “Touch of Evil”, the music was made to sound less diegetic and more to the viewer’s benefit.  We know the couple in the car are doomed; the film is letting us in on a macabre joke by playing the upbeat music as we watch them drive to their deaths.

I knew the sound design was an integral aspect of noir, especially in film noir, but through the Ambience of Film reading, I realized how important it was to sound as a whole in films.  Film noir sprouted up shortly after sound was introduced to film; while noir had already existed in other mediums, it was simply impossible to convey it well in film until sound could be added to the equation.  Sound design was such a crucial part of film noir, it showed all the interesting ways it can be used in other films.  It only makes sense that sound would be a requirement for film noir; it is a style that is inherently investigative since it surrounds crime and deception.  Because of this, we as the audience must be able to fully understand the situations that occur around the characters, and this can only be done if we can hear what is happening as well as see it.  Aside from giving information to the audience, sound is also important in setting the tone for a film.  This is also fitting seeing as noir is a style that is very concerned with setting a specific tone.

Sound design in film noir is easily as important as the visual aspects that reoccur in the genre.  As I’ve noted in earlier entries, noir is a very specific style of story writing.  So it is important to convey certain elements in the tone, elements that can be captured only in sound.  Music, sound effects, even characters’ speech can be tailored to fit the style of noir.

__________________________________________________________________________________________ Cinematography of film noir

As I’ve said in previous posts, noir is a rather specific theme of storytelling; this makes the genre of film noir an extremely easily recognizable one.  Certain filming techniques are integral to noir and even neo-noir films, the most notable of which are lighting and cinematography.  The two stills I chose for this post highlight the creative choices often made in film noir.

Chinatown still

In this still from Chinatown we see Gittes and Evelyn Mulwray driving down the street.  The camera is facing them from the hood of the car in a medium shot, looking through the convertible’s windshield.  The lighting is low-key and very dim, a popular choice for scenes in noir.  The light source seems to be originating from directly below the camera, illuminating both characters, but creating deep shadows on half of their faces.  The frame of the car itself is minimally lit, and we cannot see anything beyond it.  The only indicator of the outside world is the reflective light of other cars’ headlights on the windshield.  These lights serve to show the car’s movement, and are kept to the side as to not interfere with the shot’s portrayal of the characters.  Chinatown is an interesting case of cinematography; it ranges from total minimalism to grandiose sets, depending on what the scene requires.  This still depicts a moment of minimalism, where we focus only on the characters and not any plot devices.

Hitchhiker still

This still from The Hitch-hiker shows another popular choice of lighting in film noir.  Again, this shot uses low key lighting from a very defined direction.  However, instead of dim lighting, the source over-saturates O’Brien from the direction he is facing.  This creates distinctly shaped shadows across the rest of this body, a key aesthetic choice in noir.  Most film noirs have this style of lighting in scenes that take place outside and at night.  The unrealistic lighting makes distinct shapes in the characters, creating a sharp and harsh tone for the scene.

As a theme, noir makes a point of sacrificing environmental realism and focuses on conveying the symbolic or emotional setting.  Stories that occur in noir are dark, often gritty, and shrouded in mystery and deceit.  The cinematography and lighting in film noir reflect these aspects by making the environment literally reflect the the tone of the story.

__________________________________________________________________________________________ Photo Reflection

I have not done much photography in the past.  I’m not much of a photographer, but my sister is very into the art, so I’ve learned quite a bit about the techniques from her.  I still don’t know much about the technical process in which you can control an image with the actual camera, but I still try to capture photos that could be considered visually significant.

I think of photography as an art in the sense that it is left very much to the viewer’s interpretation.  As Jason Eskenazi explains in his video, there is an element of mystery in a photo.  You’re never quite certain what a photographer is trying to get across in an image.  One person can read one story from a photo, while another may focus on another aspect of it.  One aspect of photography that nearly all the readings touched upon is the importance of framing.  This may seem obvious considering medium, but I feel that it can be so inherent to the photography process that people forget to carefully control it.  What you choose to include in an image can change everything about it.  A photographer can choose to focus on one very specific thing, like a person’s face.  Or the photographer can show more, such as the environment surrounding that person’s face.  In the example of Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, the image is very focused.  All we can see is the mother with her two children closely huddled together.  This is a very different image from a zoomed out version that shows the migrant family’s tent and surroundings.

Noir has a specific aesthetic attached to it.  In film, this aesthetic is often portrayed by its lighting.  Film noir almost always low key lighting with dark backgrounds.  By having characters’ faces be illuminated from below or to the side, and having the sets have deep, striking shadows, this lighting creates the moody atmosphere with which noir is usually recognized.  Since cinematography is derived from photography, you can draw from the techniques used in film noirs and insert them into photos.  Using these examples from the films I watched this week, I will try to inject these staples of noir into the photos I take.  I especially want to replicate the use of lighting so often seen in film noir to create the right atmosphere.

__________________________________________________________________________________________ Reflections on prime examples of noir.

Chinatown and The Postman Always Rings Twice both carry several core features of noir.  Though they exist in different formats, they embody the heart of what makes a work of fiction noir.  They contain women who play both the roles of the love interest and the femme fatale.  Interestingly, in both works these women also toward the end of the story, and the male protagonist is blamed for their deaths.  How these women relate to the protagonist is quite different, however.  In Chinatown, Gittes is approached by Evelyn Mulwray in the context of his job as a private investigator.  She needs his help.  This is a classic premise to a noir story, one that many film noirs use to begin the protagonist’s tale investigation of something that is much bigger than him.

The Postman Always Rings Twice is the other side of classic noir stories.  Instead of an investigator, Frank Chambers is just some guy who Cora, our femme fatale, seduces to help her get out of her marriage.  Instead of solving a crime, our protagonists are the ones committing it.  Noir is about both sides of crime: the people who commit it, and those who solve and try to stop it.  After Chambers and Cora make their attempts to murder her husband, and supposedly get away with it, they still manage to find justice.  Cora is killed in the car accident, and Frank is blamed and put on death row.  Justice, and its various means of coming about, is inherently a strong theme of noir, a style that is largely about crime.

Along these lines, I found that The Killers is a more unique version of noir.  It featured no femme fatale, investigators, police, deceit, or conspiracy.  Instead, it gave the impression that the story had already been told.  Whatever Ole Anderson did to get in trouble, the journey had just about come to an end by the time we as the audience arrive.  The two hitmen are there to tie up the loose end.  We don’t know what happened before, or even why the hitmen are there to kill Anderson.  All we know is that Anderson is doomed; we came in on the last chapter.  I found this minimalism interesting; because of the specific nature of noir, we can almost imagine what had happened to bring these characters to this point.  There probably was some element of deceit, maybe there were police or investigators involved.  Maybe there was even a femme fatale who may or may not still be alive.  The Killers represents the all too familiar end of a journey through noir.  And it usually involves death.


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