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

Saturday, March 17, 2012

"Mad" Good Design

"My initial thoughts about what a title can do was to set mood and the prime underlying core of the film’s story, to express the story in some metaphorical way. I saw the title as a way of conditioning the audience, so that when the film actually began, viewers would already have an emotional resonance with it." - Saul Bass

I would argue that no one has been more influential to the art of film title design than the legendary Saul Bass. His work continues to inspire and its influence can be felt in the title sequence for AMC's hit television show, Mad Men. Designed by Mark Gardner and Steve Fuller, Mad Men's title sequence hits on each thought expressed by Bass in the above quote. It sets the mood, metaphorically expresses the show's story, and conditions the emotional response of the viewer.

The show takes place in the early 60's, when the ideals of the 50's "American Dream" began to crack. The favored colors, shapes, and lines of Mid-Century Modern design are mimicked in the sparse and simple silhouetted forms used throughout the animated title sequence. Abundant negative space is employed to direct your eye to the important elements within each shot. The most dominant of these is the black silhouette of the businessman who walks into an office, sets down his briefcase (causing the nearly transparent forms of the office's furnishings to deconstruct), and then free-falls from the high-rise office building. During his descent, he falls past huge advertisements from the era that are superimposed on the minimalist grids of the surrounding skyscrapers. His fall ends with him landing perfectly composed, seated with his back to the viewer and a lit cigarette in his hand.

Even without any knowledge of the series' narrative, the 36 second opening sequence gives you enough information to form a concept of its underlying core story -- a powerful, yet mysterious (coded in the faceless black figure), businessman will have the security of his life shaken (the crumbling office and ensuing fall), but (if you trust the final seated shot) will regain control of himself in the end. The advertisements that encircle his fall signify the false reality of his world, the so-called "American Dream." There are images of the perfect nuclear family, wedding rings on male and female hands, and slogans like "Enjoy the best America has to offer." But there are also images of alcohol and sexy women -- temptations that can ruin family and marriage. After watching the show and knowing more about Don Draper, the main character who is represented as the shadowed man in this title sequence, you understand the symbolism of these ads. Don has the perfect life -- married with two kids, but has trouble controlling his appetite for drink and women.
Each shot within the sequence features meticulous composition, while the use of color is subtle, primarily featuring the warm faded hues associated with the advertising of the era. However, bold red is used selectively (often in relation to women in the ads), and is linked to the show's credits that appear over the images. The first names of each credit are in bold red. The last names are in black. This design element is carried over to the text for the show title -- Mad is in red, Men is in black. Red, being a color that symbolizes passion, is used to denote the emotive qualities of Mad, while the solid and strong, yet mysterious black is used for Men. The font is an all caps sans serif typeface and works well with the rest of the visual elements. The credits consistently appear screen right or screen left, depending on the composition of action in each shot, and the job title and person are listed on two lines that flush left. The only centered credit is reserved for the show's executive producer.

The dreamlike quality of the slow motion sequence is enhanced by the accompaning musical track, "A Beautiful Mine" by RJD2. The music is mysterious, without being heavy-handed, and features a repetitive downward movement that compliments the narrative action.

The design of Mad Men's title sequence works. For me, it is a perfect example of good design. It communicates its message in an eye-catching and appealing manner and sets the appropriate mood for the show. Clues and symbols relating to character and narrative are present, as well as appropriate film grammar concerning framing and composition. It's one of the few opening sequences of a television show that I don't fast-forward through. If Saul Bass had lived to see it, I think he would have approved.

Click here for more info on Saul Bass.

Friday, March 2, 2012

New Eyes at Night, Inside & Out

Playing with the limitations of my phone's camera, I tried to not only explore the overlooked spaces that surround me daily, but to explore light and dark. So I am posting two photos, both taken in the dark of night. One focuses on interior light (and how it affects image exposure on my phone's camera) and one focuses on exterior dark (and how use of the flash on my phone's camera affects the nocturnal surroundings.

This is an extreme close up of a lamp that hangs in my kitchen. The tilted ECU perspective abstracts the shape and form of the lamp and reveals a disorienting space with beautiful curving lines and interesting contrasts between light and dark. The brightness of the bulb inside the lamp causes some overexposure that creates a point of disappearance. Looking at this photo, my eye travels around the curved shadowed spiraling "steps" and then gets sucked into the vortex of brightness.

This is a low angle close up of a tree on my street. It was very dark out, so no preview image registered on my phone's screen. Therefore, I wasn't sure what results I would get when using the flash and blindly aiming my phone up into the branches. The flash and the autofocus worked to create an interesting depth of field. The branch in the foreground is overexposed, the mid-range branches are crisp and in focus, and the background branches begin to blur. The buds on the branches reflect the most light from the flash and become overexposed. They almost look as though they are illuminated from within -- like Christmas lights.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Profile of an Editor

Here's a link to a story on about editor Kevin Tent, an Oscar nominee this year for his work on "The Descendants." The article features some insightful observations of the editing process, including this quote: "editing is the last rewriting process . . . you bring elements to [the film] and can manipulate it in ways that weren't thought of in the inception."

Friday, February 17, 2012

Caught in the Moment.

This is a still frame from the final moments of "The 400 Blows," a favorite film of mine by French New Wave director, Francois Truffaut. Even outside the context of the film, the image itself resonates with me due its content and composition -- the perceived movement of the boy and the waves, along with the perfect positioning of the boy, the sky, the ocean, and the land within the frame's rule of thirds. Within the context of the Truffaut's film, this still captures the character of Antoine as he suddenly looks directly into the camera. At the precise moment that his eyes meet the lens, the image freezes and Truffaut does an optical zoom into a close-up of Antoine's face. A few seconds later, "FIN" (The End) appears over his face. "The 400 Blows" has no denouement. The character has run away, momentarily escaped his troubles, and has satisfied his goal of seeing the ocean for the first time. However, his future is uncertain. He is free, but now what? The look Antoine gives the camera, along with the freeze and zoom, is unexpected and gives the viewer a sudden jolt. Stylistically, you might think it would call attention to the filmmaking and distance you from the emotion of the narrative. However, for me at least, it has the opposite effect. Antoine seems to have caught me watching. Truffaut freezes not only Antoine, but me -- the viewer -- and pulls us closer together with his zoom. This "confrontation" between character and audience in the final seconds of the film, leaves me considering not only everything I have just witnessed of this boy's story, but also makes me think about my role in it as an observer.

Monday, January 30, 2012

It's All in The Edit.

My love of movies began at a young age. My father managed several small-town Ohio movie theaters and I grew up watching (and re-watching) whatever was playing. Film was my babysitter. Dad was also a journalist. As his career in newspapers took-off, he left theater management behind and became a film critic. I often accompanied him to screenings and back to the paper's offices where we would discuss the film. I owe my critical eye to my father. Our debates over films challenged me to look at cinema in a new way. Initially, I chose acting as my creative outlet and performed in dozens of theater productions throughout central Ohio. However, I continued to spend all my free time at the movies.

In live theatre, the emotional impact of a play and the understanding of the characters’ relationships, motivations, and desires are conveyed primarily through the performances of the actors. In film, numerous other elements work simultaneously to convey this information and to invoke an emotional response from the audience. For me, film editing is the most fascinating and most important aspect of film production. The meaning and emotion of a film can often be found in the edit from one shot to the next. Individual shots convey their own specific information, but when placed together, new information develops. The edit has an enormous influence on the audience’s emotional response to the film.

Influenced by the work of Thelma Schoonmaker and Walter Murch, and informed by my experience as an actor, I seek to discover and create emotion through editing. I work to find the perfect balance, rhythm, and relationship of shots within individual moments and within the film as a whole – to make the audience feel; to create an experience that remains with them long after they have left the theater.