Thursday, May 17, 2012

Final Thoughts

Looking back over everything we have covered in this course, I realize that the two projects I initially dreaded at the start of the semester are the two that I found the most enjoyable. I remember seeing the photoshop and html assignments listed on the syllabus and  thinking to my self, "Oh boy. Those are gonna be difficult." And while they were challenging, they were also very rewarding and required both technical and artistic skill -- a combination that I enjoy. Those two projects are the ones that I am most proud of and that leave me with the greatest sense of accomplishment. While I was disappointed that we didn't cover editing in the course, I found both the photoshop and web design assignments to share many of the same principles of editing -- again, a combination of both technical and artistic skill. I also enjoyed the various blog assignments that required me to exercise my analytic skills. And I have this course to thank for getting me to finally visit the Museum of the Moving Image, something I have been meaning to do for years. So it's so long, Film/Media 150. Thanks for all the challenges. It's been rewarding.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


Last Friday, MoMA opened a new film series that celebrates the 10th anniversary of Focus Features. The series features ten films produced and/or distributed by the New York based film company. I've seen all ten at least once. A few I've seen multiple times. However, I chose to take another look at Beginners, the 2011 film written and directed by Mike Mills and starring Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer, who won his first Oscar for his performance. An offbeat and bittersweet romantic comedy, Beginners manages to be both complex and yet simple at the same time, and withstands additional viewings.

The film centers on Oliver (McGregor), a thirty-something man whose father has recently passed away. Through the use of narration, Oliver reflects on his and his father's past. Often, moments in the present will spark memories in Oliver and result in narrative flashbacks. The film gently floats back and forth in time. In the present we witness a new romance for Oliver, while in the past we are shown Oliver's dad coming out of the closet after the death of his wife -- a few short years before his own death from cancer. We are also taken even further back to Oliver's childhood where we meet his mother and discover aspects of his family life that have led Oliver to avoid commitments in his own relationships and remain single. Will things work out differently with his new girl?

The film is beautifully structured. The complex weaving of of space and time is effortless, never forced or jarring, and realistically captures the reflective state of Oliver's mind as he grieves the passing of his father. While at times episodic and seemingly unrelated, the scenes of past and present build and become linked together by the viewer. The cinematography by Kasper Tuxen features a soft, diffused look and frequently employs shallow depth of field to isolate Oliver and blur the background, giving the film the look of fuzzy memories and emphasizing Oliver's lost and lonely nature.

In addition to the masterfully nuanced performances of Plummer and McGregor, and Mills' expertly crafted screenplay, I also admire the pace of the film's complex editing. Editor Olivier Bugge Coutté deftly weaves scenes of past and present together while never disturbing the film's smooth and gentle, reflective tempo. Beginners tells a simple story in a complex manner. And yet, it never feels overly constructed or complex. The narrative, the characters, and the emotion shine through, engage you and remain with you. Isn't that what cinema is all about?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cool Website Design

While surfing the web, trying to find a super-cool website to write about, I stumbled upon A yearly event held for designers and developers, you would imagine Beer Camp's website to be highly creative. It is. Designed to look like a pop-up book, the website's designers used CSS 3D to create a floating book that not only allows you to click and drag the pages open, but also allows for some shifting of the book -- enabling partial side views of the pop-up cut-outs and adding to the 3D effect. I absolutely loved pop-up books as a kid and doubt that I am alone. The choice of a pop-up design was a smart choice, not only to show off the CSS 3D, but to appeal to the kid in all of us.

Beyond the 3D pop-up aspect of the site, the illustrations are also brilliantly designed. Each of the three pop-up pages features a silly-looking monster, cool font that also pops-up, and a rectangle of text that zooms towards you when you click on it. The text, which invites the reader to attend Beer Camp, is written like a Dr. Seuss storybook with off-beat rhymes that are as kooky as the illustrations. Each page features wonderful use of bold colors that suit the pop-up storybook design.

The only criticism I have of the site is that there isn't any feature that tells you more about the event. I would have liked to seen a clickable "about" button on the back of the book that would link you to more information about the Beer Camp event, its history and its purpose. However, the event's site was probably designed for a limited audience -- a group that was most likely already familiar with the event.

Here's a link to a site that features an in-depth look at's design:

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Trip to the Museum

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Museum of the Moving Image, spending most of my time exploring the displays in the Behind the Screen exhibition. I loved cranking the levers and making the pages flip on the Mutoscopes to watch the old Charlie Chaplin shorts. And while I was surprised to find modern commissioned artworks displayed within the exhibition, they definitely related to the principles of filmmaking. Feral Fount, the rotating sculpture construction by Gregory Barsamian, was exhilarating. [See video clip below.] I had just been spinning the old-fashioned Zoetrope when I walked in the adjacent room and discovered Mr. Barsamian's modern stroboscopic zoetrope. Both items employ the same principle of "persistence of vision" (the brain holding an image for a fraction of a second longer than the eye records it) to create the illusion of seamless movement -- something that remains essential to film projection.

Further on in the gallery, I was lucky enough to catch a live demonstration of film editing. Using a scene from the television show White Collar, the educator showed clips of the various set-ups used to film the scene and then showed how they were cut together. She discussed the importance of certain shots in the final edit -- like how a wider shot was needed to capture the action of one character handing a paper to another character, and she showed two different edits of the same scene -- demonstrating how editing can affect the rhythm and pacing of a scene. The version with the slower pace provided tension and drama that was lost in the quick cut version.

However, my favorite part of the Behind the Screen exhibit, or where I had the most fun at least, was the station of computers that allowed you to create your own stop motion animated film. I've included my finished animated short below. (Please forgive my misspelling of renaissance in the film's credits. It wouldn't let me fix my typo.)

My stop motion short:

A video of Gregory Barsamian's Feral Fount:

feral fount by gregory barsamian from amanda kirkpatrick on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012