Monthly Archives: November 2013

Maps of Places That Don’t Exist

Arkham (H.P. Lovecraft)

Arkham (H.P. Lovecraft)

Maps of places that don’t exist are not a new idea. Whether or not maps are provided with a story, or whether fans map it out themselves, people like a sense of place provided with a story.

Here are a few examples I have found.

Arkham (H.P. Lovecraft)

Arkham (H.P. Lovecraft)

There haver been several iterations of Arkham and Innsmouth, by fans and through more official means, but the main things remain the same. Once you have provided a series of locations, and you know their vague relation to one another, you can start to map it out. As we know that Arkham and Innsmouth are in Massachusetts, we know that there will be a sort of grid pattern to the layout. If this were anywhere else, the layout would be slightly different. Knowing a vague location can change the interpretation greatly.

Innsmouth (H.P. Lovecraft)

Innsmouth (H.P. Lovecraft)

Middle Earth (J. R. R. Tolkein)

Middle Earth (J. R. R. Tolkein)

Middle Earth has had a map since its conception, to the best of my knowledge, but nevertheless, we know that it represents England and Ireland. People have made their own versions, but the major regions and the rough layout will be the same.

Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman)

Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman)

Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman)

Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman)

Neverwhere is quite an interesting one, because London exists. We know how London is laid out, we know how it works, but Neil Gaiman has used the template of London and reimagined it in his own way to produce a shadow version of London. We can follow the story on the map, however we know that because the London is not quite the same, it would not be the same experience. Using somewhere real as a template is an interesting technique, one used in the His Dark Materials Trilogy, and The Raw Shark Texts. Once again, we know the rough layout, but the world that is written about exists beneath what we can see, so there is still some room for artistic manipulation of space.

Twin Peaks (David Lynch)

Twin Peaks (David Lynch)

Twin Peaks is another interesting one, because we know roughly what it looks like. In the series, maps appear in various locations, and even reasonably detailed maps appear at one point in the Owl Cave, and on the blackboard in the Police Station, but this does not stop people from imagining it in their own way. Even given a very basic layout allows people to explore and imagine it in their own means.

Twin Peaks (David Lynch)

Twin Peaks (David Lynch)

 

Would it be best, then, to completely invent a new place, or to base Malice-Upon-Woe on a place that already exists? Could I borrow some locations from some places and make a hybrid of several towns? Should I be very detailed, or leave it more open to people’s imaginations? These are all things worth considering, and will change the way I create the maps.

For now, it is good to see the amount of detail that goes into other peoples ideas of what places look like.

Soundtracks

Although not entirely relevant, I always think it is useful to consider the style and genre of music used in soundtracks, especially if they are composed for the film. I will post a few I find particularly interesting, just as examples of how score can be used to accentuate moments in films. The style, genre, choice of instruments, everything changes how a film is perceived, so it is important to know what tools you are working with.

The soundtrack for Akira is massively varied, but uses a lot of percussion and vocals throughout. It reflects the erratic and unstable nature of business and life in NeoTokyo.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The soundtrack is incredibly understated and quiet, gentle. It is an unusual contrast to the usually gruesome or intense nature of the film.

Sergio Leone often worked with Ennio Morricone, who is one of the most famous film score composers I can think of. The theme used in For A Few Dollars More is incredible famous, especially for the use of a signifier as regards the watch, the theme coming in to play in order to highlight the watch itself.

When talking about Soundtracks, it would be remiss of me not to mention John Williams. The theme for Jaws acts both as a soundtrack, and as a signifier for Bruce. It is not unusual for characters to have themes associated with them, signifying their presence without even needing to mention or see them, but this is perhaps one of the most famous examples of this.

Hans Zimmer is another whose soundtracks are world reknowned. This track, from the Inception soundtrack, once again, has a slow build, very rhythmic and a structured building of layers. It seems that horns and strings are used mainly when someone wants to create drama through their music.

The theme for Requiem For A Dream has been used so much now, it is often forgotten that it is associated with this film. It is incredibly dramatic, using a string orchestra to full potential. It is very simple, with only a few notes, but the Kronos Quartet know nothing if not how to produce a lot from a little.

Thomas Newman is probably one of my favourite composers when it comes to film scores. He uses gentle, delicate melodies and is quite the contrast to the Kronos Quartet. They are often used to impart quite a different message to that of the Kronos Quartet or John Williams, for example.

Perhaps the antithesis of Thomas Newman would be Vangelis, whose electrical soundtracks are famous through many films during the 1980’s. He has a tendency to lay down one underlying track which will span the length of any song, and then layer up various melodies over the top, often mixing it up a little bit more than most composers, who will work on variations of a few themes throughout one track. Vangelis often uses stabs and strange electronic effects as artefacts throughout his music.

The Godfather Theme, by Nino Rota is another famous theme. In The Godfather, there is one melody, however each character has their own version of that melody which accompanies them, thus allowing us to identify each character through variations on a theme.

And finally, John Murphy’s soundtrack to 28 Days Later has to be up there. This scene, with the track ‘In The House/In A Heartbeat’ uses the slow build perfectly. It implies dread, foreboding, and crescendos with Jim’s rampage. It, again, has been used a lot, however I cannot hear it without associating it with thumbs in eyes.

Soundtrack can be incredibly important, but it is vital to know what you are doing and what you want to achieve from it.

I’ll finish on this; Ecstasy of Gold from ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’. The final scene lasts almost ten minutes before anything happens, with this song accompanying the drama and raising the tension. I love this track, and to me, it just encapsulates Spaghetti Westerns. This is what I think of when I think of Sergio Leone, and a way of building drama over ten minutes with almost no action.

The silence as soon as shots are fired, and the ricochet sounds just after Clint Eastwood kills Lee Van Ceef, the cicadas and the birds are the juxtaposition to the final speech and the final section of soundtrack.

It is also worth noting how the tempo changes throughout the course of the song, and what that does to the emotion. I also think it is strange how this is the main theme for The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, but it not as famous as the theme from the opening credits.

Sound Production

These two videos from Twin Peaks are both excellent examples of what I would like the sound production to be like on my series. Understated, minimal, but used highly effectively.

Harmonics, unusual sounds, very little soundtrack and only a bit of enhancement, the sound is unsettling because it is almost too silent. The Red Room has no ambient sound, there is no room noise. It is not a place as we know it. The less a sound is used, the more potent we notice when it is there.

The Coen Brothers know the importance of silence and how sounds can be used more effectively when they’re used sparingly. The above clip, from No Country For Old Men uses absolutely minimal foley just to give space to the room, and that is all. The below clips, from A Serious Man show, once again, how sound can be used incredibly effectively, especially when used rhythmically.

Both the slow layering of rhythms in the trailer and the minimal foley used in the end scene work as a way of suggesting foreboding, but in different ways. By layering, we are made to be very aware of each sound, wondering what it is building up to. The other example, however, makes us recognise the lack of sound, making us feel uneasy by highlighting silence.

Once again, it comes back to my two friends: Eerie and Uncanny.
Apparently, these can work just as well with audio as they can in any other medium.

There Will be Blood uses clashing chords and an off-key soundtrack to add a sinister element to the film. As with below, Oldboy, strings can be used to great effect to add a sense of dread, without needing to resort to the Cats On Violins technique favoured by so many horror films.

Graham Reynolds soundtrack to A Scanner Darkly combines several unusual effects, using traditional instruments (such as guitar) but treating them in unusual ways. Such as going absolutely nuts on the whammy bar, and using a resonator to get an unusual metallic sound. There is also a lot of use of a theremin, or something like it. Changing tempo and time signature throughout the film settles into one pace, before being pulled out and shoved into another. This can be quite jarring.

Welcome to Night Vale – Episode 2: The Glow Cloud

Welcome to Night Vale was a huge inspiration when coming up with the idea for this project, and I still maintain they know what they’re doing when it comes to sound design too. Minimal use of music or sound effects, only used to highlight certain things. Although I want to make it feel like it is more of a story being told, the way in which Welcome To Night Vale delivers the audio is a prime example of narration as a medium.

Breaking Bad uses audio to fantastic effect, especially during the earlier series. Frequently, an edit will be made with a piece of foley, recontextualising it from one scene to the next. Don’t Look Now famously did this at the top of the movie, transforming a scream into the sound of a drill.

The Pianist, again, uses silence to great effect. The energetic sound of the piano is harshly juxtaposed with silence in this scene. The sound of the piano makes the silence seem all the more complete once it is gone.

Pixar know how to do sound design. The wonderful thing about Wall-E is that there is no dialogue for substantial part of the film. Indeed, with the opening credits, we are treated to a section from Hello Dolly as we fly through space, but as soon as we arrive at Earth, the sound drops out. Once this happens, everything for the next few minutes is entirely diegetic, the music still being audible, but as played from Wall-E’s speakers. The reflections off the buildings adding extra dimensions and location to the sound.

And finally, one of my favourite films: Akira. There is almost no sound used in the opening scene, but once again, there is wind initially to contrast with and highlight the silence that follows. During the titles, there is the sound of a drum, which recurs throughout the film. It is often used to punctuate something, as it is here, and with massive amounts of reverb, it makes it known that this information is important. Unfortunately, in this version, it’s in German.

Sound can be used to create a space, as well as describe it. This is an important thing to remember.

Tracking Sound

In trying to consider what Malice-Upon-Woe would be like sonically, I have been looking around for things that I think represent the mood of the place. I have asked my friends, the Twittersphere and various places to find some pieces of music that I hope will help my sound designers consider what they might be trying to represent in Malice-Upon-Woe.

Here’s some of the stuff I’ve found. It’s not all completely suitable, but worth looking at. I will whittle it down when I want to give my sound designers an audio palette to work from.

For now, enjoy:

Legend
A collaboration between Japanese band Mono and Evosia Studios to create an epic landscape representation of Iceland. It’s very beautiful, very slow and orchestrally massive.

GodSpeed You! Black Emperor – East Hastings
Incredibly bleak, the second ‘section’ was famously used in 28 Days Later. I love this track.

A Silver Mt. Zion (Thee Silver Mt. Zion) – Broken Chords Can Sing A Little
A Silver Mt. Zion have changed title and lineup several times over the years. This is when they were still A Silver Mt. Zion. Very minimalist, bleak, gloomy. This is perfect.

Mogwai – Take Me Somewhere Nice
This track might actually be a little bit too cheerful or impart too much positivity for what I want to achieve, but the slow crescendo, the ordered building of the layers, the downbeat style. This is what I want. I want people to sit, and listen, and contemplate.

65daysofstatic – Radio Protector
Although 65daysofstatic are a bit more energetic than what I want, I really love this track. I love the energy and the emotion it conveys. This speaks to me of near-apocalyptic last-ditch attempts at survival. I want to be listening to this while I watch the meteor screaming towards earth.
(65daysofstatic also did a live soundtrack to Silent Running, which I still have yet to see, but I am looking forward to it.)

Sleep Party People – Heaven Is Above Us
This is more like what I think I am trying to achieve. Minimalist, haunting, misery. Finally, the ‘Suggested Videos’ tab on youtube shows something useful.

Red Sparowes – We Stood Transfixed in Blank Devotion as Our Leader Spoke to Us, Looking Down on Our Mute Faces with a Great, Raging, and Unseeing Eye
Red Sparowes, the band famous for having track titles which take longer to say than the songs themselves. Again, a slow built crescendos, minor keys, minimalist approach. I think there may be a theme growing here.

Explosions in the Sky – The Birth and Death of the Day
Crunchy guitars, loads of distortion, excellent. Again, this song is a bit too upbeat for what I want to achieve, but it’s a nice opener to an album.

Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto – Halo
A different kind of minimalism, this is a bit more glitchy than all of the previous stuff. Still, pretty much just a piano and a bit of production. This gives me ideas for a different direction to take in terms of sound design, making it a bit more production heavy.

Amon Tobin – Esther’s
Very dark track from the other end of the spectrum. Rather than going for crunchy guitars, this is dark and electronic. Again, perhaps another route to take instead of the slow build with organic sounds.

 

 

I think, from what I have found, I want dark, bleak, melancholy sounds built with perhaps a minimalist approach. An over-produced electronic sound, however, might be an interesting approach. I think it might depend on the story and what is happening in each episode, but in order to build a theme, these are good things to look at.

Building Suspense Seminar

How are people going to navigate the podcasts? How will they know where to start or finish?

Will there be photographs, illustrations, a list? How will they be planned out? Will there be an interactive calendar?

Does listening to one podcast prevent you from listening to any others until a later time?

Is the ‘Main character’ highlighted in any way? If you have photographs, is his large or small?

Do you want to limit peoples options when listening to them?

When you follow the links on the postcard or brochure, where does this take you?

 

CHARACTER IDENTIFICATION

Who is a fish out of water? Is it the listener? How are they introduced to the story?

There are lots of instances of ‘themes’, for example, the barking dog, or the man who smashes bottles. We do not need to be told these things are there to know that they are there. I can use these to create foreboding.

 

DO NOT BE AFRAID TO BREAK YOUR OWN RULES.

 

Building Suspense

How does one build suspense in a story?

(I am having a little bit of trouble with my pacing, so this is important.)

It’s basically two stages of five steps, divided up.

  • Work Backwards
    Start at the end, work out how to get to that point. Once you know what the big mystery or reveal is, you can start to shroud it.
  • Plant Seeds
    Make sure people know what is going on, that they can follow what’s going on. If you plant enough seeds, they should be able to keep up with the main character, and eventually begin to predict what is going to happen next just before the character does.
  • Give hooks
    Draw people along, hook them in. They need to be following the story.
  • Displace the audience.
    Don’t make it too easy. If they are in unfamiliar terrain, they will sympathise with the protagonist, if the protagonist is also in unfamiliar terrain.
  • Emotive Response
    Make the audience feel, make them empathise, make them sympathise with the characters. If they are in the same place as your main character, that puts them in the same position of mystery and discovery, meaning the story is as much an exploration for them as it is the main character’s.

The audience should be just ahead of the main character.

This makes them smart. This makes them feel clever. It also gives them just enough foresight to see what is going to happen, and then give them enough time to wonder how the characters are going to deal with this.

The second stage goes like this:

  • Location as character
    Make the location organic, real, make it relevant. Make it a metaphor for the story itself, make it matter. Choose your locations for a reason.
  • Foreshadowing
    Dropping clues so that people can see what is coming, but not until it is nearly upon them. If people suspect something is about to happen, that puts them on edge. Tell people what is coming. This can be done a number of ways, but a classic example is the cello in Jaws. It’s a sonic signifier, it’s a theme. We know the shark is there when we hear that sound, so we are set on edge, waiting to see what will happen.
  • Tell Lies
    This is your job, as a storyteller. Tell lies. Make stuff up. If you can also string the audience along a bit, they’re in your world. They respond how you want them to.
  • Character Identification
    Amnesia is a common trope in many stories, because it puts the audience in the same boat as the main character. If we identify, we explore as they so. It makes us empathise with the character more.
  • Counterpoint
    Make things resonate, make them harmonise, make things counterpoint for other things. Get metaphorical, draw comparisons, give things a contrast. By juxtaposing things, you highlight more things about them. Make contrasts.

I have already hit on most of these in my scripts, but I can work them in better. I need to go back and rewrite them with these in mind.
I also need to read more Graham Greene.

The Next Fortnight

I have my stories written, I have started to plan what I need to do next in terms of planning out maps and thinking about my website, but there are others things at play here rather than just layout design.

  • How is it delivered?
    How am I going to package the podcasts themselves? The navigation page for the podcasts will be an important thing to consider in terms of how people interact with it? What order do they go in? How do they know what order to go in? How does this change the way they understand the stories?
  • How does it look?
    What does the website look like? What do the postcards look like? What does the navigation page look like?
  • How does it sound?
    Are there comparisons you can draw with other podcasts, pieces of sound design? Is there music? What does that sound like? What does the narration sound like? How is it delivered?
  • How does the audience interact with it?
    How do they find the website? How does it work when they get there? What process do they go to to get to the stories?
  • Think less about the story and consider the physical thing. The stories are written, they need rewriting, but this is a multi-media piece, consider the other media.

Once you have worked out all of the above, I need to create:

  • Briefing documents.
    All of the above, constructed in such a way as other people could create what I want them to create. How do they know what I want them to do? What should they be looking at or listening to? What sort of research should they be doing? What is the tone of the piece? How can they help me to create this world?
    I need to describe to them what I want, and what I want from them, and then give them ways to help them understand. I will need these in order to progress.

This is not to say that there won’t be a two way interaction. I will need them to come back to me with stuff, ‘I was thinking it could sound like this’, and then it becomes collaborative and we work together on it, but to get everyone to work towards a common goal, I must first define that common goal.

With this in mind, I can start making my stories multidimensional, and we can start working towards building a world.

Personal Map Design

I’m not entirely sure how helpful this will be, but it might come in handy. It’s a customisable map editor. Unfortunately, it only allows me to customise maps of real places, but it looks like it might come in handy. Here’s one I made earlier.

Here's one I made earlier

What to include on a Brochure

Things to Include in a Travel Brochure (from here)

 

• Brief summary of the setting, with highlights of important places

• Location, including a map

• Geography

• Major cities, Well-known places

• Historic Sites and Landmarks

• Recreation and Outdoor Activities—parks, sports, water

• Entertainment

• Climate and overall weather conditions

• Transportation

• Arts and Culture, including museums, theaters, places to visit

• Languages and Local Dialect

• Food that the area is known for

• Pictures/Graphics

• Additional Information

Interesting Maps

I’ve been looking at how to design maps, and how their design changes depending on their purpose. Here’s a few I thought were interesting.

It’s functional, there’s no denying that.

This map of Africa serves its purpose. I think that’s all that can really be said of it. It’s clean, it gets its points across, it doesn’t mess about. We know exactly what it is, how it works and it gives us the information ina  straightforward way… It relays information, and that’s it. It’s a relatively interesting infographic, but there’s not much design to it, nothing that makes it special.

Crude as they come.

Once again, this image serves its purpose. It makes you think, but the only information here is what is provided. “There are more people here than anywhere else in the world, combined.” Yes. But it doesn’t give us anything else, like comparable statistics. There are no other circles, no other pieces of information given, not even the area of the circle. It’s functionality at its most base.

Home of Television!

This one is a bit more fun. There’s some design elements to it, it’s got some information on it, but it’s also more considered. Even the basic colour palette is more appealing than the others. We’re starting to get somewhere. I enjoyed looking at this and seeing where TV shows are in relation to others. The serif font in the title compared to the sans serif in the information bars, the swatch, even the location icons are more interesting than the previous maps. I think this is a nice piece of design, if not complicated. But arguably, maps shouldn’t be complicated, they should serve a purpose. I am of the mind that, like this one, maps can be functional and still look attractive. Like any good piece of design.

http://www.slate.com/articles/sports/slate_labs/2013/10/united_sports_of_america_map_if_each_state_could_have_only_one_sport_what.html

This map is interactive, and so needs to be viewed on the site. This is employing a little more creative input; not only interpreting American states are Sports, and thus conveying information as a unique understand of that information, but it is also clickable, leading to links about each state. There are nice illustrations, it is a lot more fun to interact with. It is also, however, more confusing, potentially. It is a lot busier than the TV map, and could be seen as a bit daunting. Then again, it does impart  a lot more region specific information without getting too text heavy on the initial map, like the TV map risks doing.

And finally: http://maphugger.com/

Oh, maphugger. I think I love this website. I have started following them on tumblr based solely on this exercise. It shows a range of maps with a range of graphic styles, different types of information conveyed and how they are displayed in each one. I think I will be creating a static map, that is to say, not interactive, however I don’t want it to come across as too frightening. How can I do this? What graphics styles can I employ? I have something in mind, but it never hurts to do a little more research.

For now, it is good to have this knowledge and these reference points.