Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Communication Artifact and Collaborative Design

For our collaborative project, I put my efforts into creating a rebranded logo for Swig, the local soda bar of St. George. To start, our group took a look at the current Swig logo and mutually agreed that we should "mix it up" so to say.

Looking at this logo above, we decided that while looking colorful and playful, it didn't necessarily stand out. Aside from the color and the diagonal vector created by the slanted text, the logo doesn't really do much for representing Swig as a whole. Swig, being all about cool, flavorful drinks and tasty treats, is more than just gradient text with a suggestive I. Anybody who goes to Swig knows it's all about mixing up unique flavor combinations, so we felt the logo could reflect that in some way.

Initially, the themes of tropical and mixing were the main focus. The idea of palm trees used rhetorically to make the customer think of tropical islands and somewhere with water, a breeze and cool, refreshing drinks. Also, the near yin-yang swirl of the trees would have been reflective of "mixing it up". Considering the "I" from the last logo, I incorporated the outline of a styrofoam cup into the first brainstorming draft. The above logo is that draft. From that draft, I recognized the clunkiness of the tree trunks and the near awkwardness of the cup in lieu of the letter I, so onto the second draft.
By the time the above logo was drafted, our group was still considering a color palette to adhere to. In my head, I thought tropical, then Miami, then late 80's early 90's. I would say I got a bit carried away with those ideas, and on the other hand, I actually liked this logo quite a bit. In retrospect, I realize that there is a bit too much gradient going on, but the ideas and purposes for them were there.

Picture milk being poured into your freshly brewed black coffee. Now picture a cola getting shots of flavoring poured into it. I wanted to visually convey the idea of something fruity blending with something plain or without variety. The gradient was to represent that and whether it did so effectively is debatable. The ideas of the palm trees remain the same as the original draft, and the cup has been moved for no actual reason other than aesthetics and the fact that it's representative of soda.
Higher Saturation
After the second draft of the logo, our group had agreed on a style guide. This meant reworking the previous logo into something that conforms to our guidelines. With the tropical colors and brand wide text, I was able to create the above logo building off all previous iterations.

Following design principles, I adhered to a base form of a circle. With the palm branches as a topper, I incorporated both border and shadow to make the branches pop. Inside of the circle are lines which create a swirl, and the swirl to represent the motto of Swig, to "mix it up", and "it" being the drinks. Now, within the swirl, I used two colors that were of relatively similar value. The darker tones of the circle contrast the dominating branches above. This use of contrast creates a balance in the logo, where under the strong, powerful branches is a shade-like place to relax and refresh. 

Considering that colors like blue and purple are more relaxing, placing the name in the center was a no brainer. "Swig" is in the more welcoming, relaxing part of the logo, but that softer area couldn't stand on it's own.
Another benefit of tropical colors is that they can be used to instill an appetite in those who view it. Consider McDonald's and their use of red and yellow. The two colors are very well known to attract an appetite and the thought of food. Denny's and Burger King are no strangers to this principle. So when I placed the yellow as the dominant color of the branches, I definitely had this in mind. The border of the branches is green (coincidentally, another color used for appetite attraction), and the shadow being the pinkish-red. Similar to how other companies use these colors, but less aggressive and a little more juicy.

On texture, my idea was to keep the texture smooth as to represent the smoothness of a tasty soft drink sliding down your throat. Swig isn't supposed to be rough and tough, it's supposed to be smooth, so my design reflected that.

Not much I could consider with space, seeing as that is more closely tied with collateral and not much with the individual logo itself. I would say, however, that the use of shadow on both the branches and circle give the logo a tad bit more depth than if I were to leave it flat. It may not do much for space, but it at least makes it more visually interesting.

The Law of Similarity could be used to describe this logo. The branches and circle come together to make a new shape, one that has colors with similar values. While creating this, each element was once an independent object with no color to group or distinguish it. Now, each element has come together and made a unified new design. The objects being in the same proximity of each other are grouped together as such.
At a glance, one may not notice the difference between the circle and the branches; a phenomenon that can be explained by the Law of Pragnanz. The Swig logo is reduced to the simplest form possible and is not overburdened with noisy extras, or underwhelming with too simple of design.

Overall, the goal of the logo was to represent Swig and encapsulate what the company is about, as well as make something that is visually stimulating. According to the vocabulary of design, I would say this logo adheres to principles that are attractive and effective, maintaining purpose and intention with its design.

Below is our group style guide, as well as a link to the group promotional spot for Swig.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Mis-en-Scene - Now You See Me, Bank Robbery

Now You See Me is a fairly original film from the last decade, focusing on magic tricks and heists and how to the main characters use the two together for their personal gain. One of the film's main points as it progresses, is challenging the viewer to question the difference between magic and reality. Regardless of how the film was received, it definitely has a talented team in the art department that was able to create some very visually stimulating set pieces.

For this film, Thomas Valentine was the supervising art director, the man in charge of executing the production designer's desire for the film and giving it the unique visual style that it has. Valentine was involved with some acclaimed films such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier and for comparative purposes, Sam Raimi's Spider Man 2. 

Now, the films Spider Man 2 and Now You See Me are completely different in terms of style, but Valentine's work on Spider Man, which had a $200 million budget, could have given him the necessary experience to help his future projects be visually interesting. When working on Spider Man 2, there was also a bank scene and except in a mildly different context. Instead of robbing a bank as part of a magic trick, the bank was just being robbed by Doctor Octopus. Anyway, in both cases the banks have distinct looks. As a stereotype, banks have vaults and large vault doors. Now, walking into a Chase or Wells Fargo bank, you're not going to see a giant vault door just sitting in the back of the bank. Movies, of course, are different, and a vault is commonly associated with a bank; so when we see a vault in a movie, we know it's a bank. It's visual symbols like the vault that help us orientate ourselves inside the world of the movie we're watching. These symbols and cues help us watch a film without being explicitly said where and what is going on.

That being said, sometimes a film can get lost between cuts if the environments are too similar. In a film, there needs to be a visual way that the viewer can distinguish between cuts and scenes, as well as contrasting situations happening simultaneously. In Now You See Me, during this particular sequence, we have one character go from the stage to the bank vault. Now, as an art director, how can you distinguish the two locations so that the viewer can subconsciously keep up with the cuts? In the case of this sequence, it's almost night and day; the stage is dark, yet lit enough that we can see the protagonists, and the vault is bright and shiny. On a visceral level, we might associate shininess with wealth, an idea that is very superficial but one that can help your mind make that connection. Of course the bank is going to be shiny, and of course the stage is going to be black because stages are usually black. The art director isn't doing anything risky with these set pieces, but he doesn't have to. Because of this contrast, we don't have to think about where the film is going, we just know we're there. It's this basic principle that, if followed correctly, allows the film to succeed in other areas. If it's not followed correctly, the film is clunky and confusing to watch.

Referring to the vocabulary of design, it's hard to say whether or not Mr. Valentine really did anything special with this bank scene. The line design of the vault is what you'd expect- columns and rows of color of the interior, the small, intimate space and the sleek, smooth texture all around. Though nothing terribly innovative happened with this scene, nothing innovative really needed to. Considering the vault was only in the film for a fraction of its runtime, it didn't need to be anything too special. It was, however, pleasant to look at and met expectations.
In Gestalt Principles, we can apply the Law of Similarity to the copious amount of money before this character. As well as Pragnanz, we see the money as just "a lot of money" even though it could be in different quantities in both the blue and red stacks, as well as different dollar amounts. We know that all the magicians are on stage based on their proximity, and how the banker isn't there since he's not within their proximity.

From a design standpoint, it is very simplistic because that's what it needs to be. Thomas Valentine did a fine job overseeing the artistic direction with this film, specifically this scene. As I mentioned earlier, with the art design being executed effectively, that leaves the other departments able to do their job exceedingly well. If it wasn't for decent art design, the editors might have a difficult time cutting together the sequences to make sense. If the set pieces weren't decent looking, the director of photography might have a difficult time shooting a good looking film. Art Direction is such a key part of film making and makes a huge difference when done properly. Now You See Me isn't a film with stunning visuals necessarily, but it is a great example of how seamlessly sets and designs can blend into a film.

Now You See Me

Cinematography by Mitchell Amundsen and Larry Fong

Production Design by Peter Wenham

Art Direction by Thomas Valentine (supervising art director) and Scott Plauche

Monday, March 28, 2016

Mis-en-Scene - Ex Machina

One of the better films to have been released in 2015 had to be Ex Machina. Given its relatively small budget of $15 million and the very contained and isolated set pieces, it manages to be one of the most thought provoking and tense films I've seen in my lifetime. Aside from the writing and acting, the film is exceptional in its visuals and keeps the viewer immersed with realistic practical and digital effects that could easily fool the untrained eye. This is all thanks to a blend of good direction and a very talented visual effects team.

Throughout the whole film, Ava, who is an artificial intelligence (AI) in a robotic body, interacts with the two other characters (Caleb, shown above) as well as the environment around her. In any other film, this isn't too much of an accomplishment, but for Ava, it was an extraordinary feat in visual effects to be able to seamlessly blend her character into the world around her. By blend, I mean consistently and continuously use digital effects to make her robotic character seem realistic and believable. In the scene above, this is demonstrated by both the character herself and her reflection. What makes this scene work, and by work I mean what grounds the scene in reality, is the fact that there is nothing about Ava that looks unrealistic or unbelievable. From the lighting on and from her, to the texture of both her skin and metallic limbs, she looks really real. This is thanks to the visual effects team at Double Negative with the special effects team lead by Richard Conway. 

The Special Effects (SFX) Supervisor is the person in charge of making sure the atmosphere is set and the right things blow up, as well as any other means of demolishing a prop. Now, Ex Machina isn't exactly a Michael Bay film in terms of destruction, however, there are scenes, and without spoiling anything, with props that get destroyed in this film. This scene is not one of those, but one of the props might be in this shot. (oops!) While the SFX Supervisor played a very important role in this film, there is a little (a lot) more to say about the Visual Effects (VFX) team.

Visual Effects are more what made Ava come to life, which this movie, and specifically this scene, would be nothing without. The VFX team was able to create balance when they were able to reflect Ava on the pane of glass right next to her. That is really what makes this scene believable. If it looked wrong, you would notice and point out how wrong it looked. If it looks natural and real, you don't say a word, because what's to praise about a reflection? Nothing, unless it's the reflection of a mostly computer generated character. There is a great deal of negative space in this film to contrast the living creatures against sterilized, futuristic backgrounds. Ava stands out in the scene due to her human appearance, and her robotic features against the stone canvas behind her.

In this scene, you can equate the blank walls to the blank slate of Ava's mind. A mind that has just recently been created and is ready to be filled with all kinds of information and human interaction. This is in contrast to the antagonist of the film, Nathan, whose living areas are noisy and are decorated with abstract art and decorations. The room in the above picture is Ava's living quarters, where you can clearly see there is close to nothing in terms of decoration.

These VFX artists are essential to conveying anything in this scene. A robot communicating with a man, and then the frame communicating with the audience, telling us that this is all real, which is really the point of the film. To tell the audience that AI is real and is happening.

Pragnanz comes to mind, reducing reality to its simplest form. In our minds, as we see a robot on screen, we know it's fake. The beauty of film isn't to just to trick the viewers, but to allow them to escape. To recognize that what we're seeing isn't going to be reality, and to suspend our disbelief to escape into a world where artificial intelligence merges with an autonomous robotic body. Sure it's all make-believe, but the VFX of Ex Machina make sure you forget that for two hours. 

This scene is one of many just like it throughout the film, with Ava and other characters in dialogue. With the writing to augment the visuals and vice versa, we see a contrast of human and AI and the blurred lines between the two. In this scene, the only thing that separates Ava from Caleb is her robotic appearance, and visually, we are being told much more about our robot friend Ava than we might originally have thought.

Production Credits:

Sara Desmond
Unit Production Manager 
Clare St. John
Post-Production Supervisor 
Tor Arne Øvrebø
Production Manager
Art Direction by Katrina Mackay

Principle Photography by Rob Hardy

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Axioms of Web Design: YouTube

I frequently browse YouTube and I am a dedicated subscriber to many channels. I use YouTube daily, so much, in fact, that I actually pop the 10 bucks a month for YouTube Red. Offline videos with no ads, as well as Google Play Music is absolutely worth it, to me at least. But I'm not here to sell anyone on paid YouTube, no, instead I'm here to put their homepage to the test against the following 8 axioms of web design, so let's begin.

Conveying their Business Objective

Does YouTube, a digital video hosting website, convey their objective of hosting videos on their homepage? Considering the name "YouTube" is nearly synonymous "internet videos", I'd say they do a fine job at conveying their objective. In the above image, it very clear that videos are the main objective of this page.

Strong Grid
YouTube is almost entirely laid out in a grid shape. Considering the goal of this site is to consume content, the whole page is arranged with video thumbnails, after thumbnails, after thumbnails. Since all the thumbnails are rectangular boxes, it would only make sense to lay them out in a grid shape. Even the comment section, with its reverse chronological order, is laid out in a grid.

Image/Text Relationship
According to Rutledge's axioms, "the lower right is the most effective position for a large image on a text-filled page." Considering that YouTube doesn't necessarily have a text filled page, this axiom is not exactly applicable. However, since there are a literal ton(s) of videos on the site, all of which have images and text, I think it would only be fair to analyze those. I'll be the first to admit that the image/text relationship of YouTube is a bit underwhelming and, in a way, lackluster. There is already so much information to take in while browsing the site, yet, it makes it more difficult when there is tiny blue text that looks nearly indistinguishable from the last video. Honestly, though, it would be difficult to imagine it any other way, so I suppose it passes.

Directing through Angles
Well, I suppose YouTube isn't necessarily great at this either. Unless we're talking about right angles, YouTube doesn't exactly have a dynamic layout. I will say I find that appropriate considering you're not exactly there to learn about a new product or service. I mean, YouTube isn't trying to sell you on anything other than watching videos, and the videos are where all the creativity lies. The site isn't exactly visually stimulating either, but it does what it needs to.

User Friendliness
Here is something YouTube does great. YouTube is to trivial videos as Google is to trivial information. Considering Google owns YouTube, that only makes sense. When anybody (and I realize that's a generalization, but really, ANYBODY) wants to find a video, they go through YouTube (or Google to YouTube) and search whatever it is they're looking for. As the above image shows, the very top of the page is a search bar awaiting input. Literally, as soon as the page loads the bar is primed for search, which is appropriate considering it's the second largest, and technically most popular, search engine in the world. Anyone and their grandma could figure out YouTube in a matter of seconds.

Points of Interest at Points of Contrast
YouTube does this easily since their whole site is plain white, with some red sprinkled about. Any thumbnail that isn't the same value of white is going to stand out. That's where the importance of thumbnails comes into play, but that's left up to the creator to figure out. YouTube attracts viewers to videos by the simple fact that the videos are the only thing on their blank white canvas.

Easy on the Eyes = Ease of Use
Humans like patterns and symmetry, and at any given point, somewhere on YouTube has at least on of those. Thumbnails are often laid out in a grid-like pattern, organized by categories that remain in familiar places. The site may not be gorgeous, but it definitely isn't ugly. It doesn't have the most vibrant colors or most beautiful artwork, but it does keep it simple. Its simplicity definitely aids the site in its ease of use.

Mobile Friendly
Finally, does YouTube hold up on a smartphone? Going back to 2007 with the launch of the first iPhone, YouTube had a dedicated app built into the phone. Since then, they've had nearly a decade to perfect mobile viewing, and have come a long way with intuitive design and utilizing gestures to perfect the ease of use on smartphones. I've used the app on both Android and iOS operating systems for many months and I can say with utmost certainty that YouTube knows how to make a clean looking and easy to use app. The site is definitely mobile friendly and does a fine job with the mobile market.

All in all, YouTube certainly does what it needs to. It may not be award winning or an experience like no other, however, it definitely gets the job done effectively with simplicity and intuitive design.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Design Presentation

This is the cover for the 1987 game Mega Man. It is a series revered for its exciting gameplay and level design, and one of the most successful games to find its beginnings on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Though it and its sequels received much critical acclaim, why is its box art so bad? Honestly, it is just plain hard to look at, and especially hard to imagine something good coming from that cover.

Simply Bad Design

To begin, let's examine the perspective and why it simply feels off. We notice the titular character is framed against what appears to be a city, which also appears to be very small. Now, on a two-dimensional plane, of course something in the distance is going to be small. However, the placement of those golden objects and line design off to the side imply that Mega Man is a only a few feet away from the city. This creates dissonance since humans aren't typically bigger than buildings. The addition of palm trees alone create even more confusion as to where in the world this is all going on.

Considering Mega Man alone, we see a strange man, who appears to be fearful or cowering. Starting from the top of his asymmetrical, off-centered helmet, down to his bow-legged, awkward and unnaturally posed legs, we get an overwhelming sense of disproportion. This character doesn't feel like a hero we would want to play as; even his shrugging, oversized shoulders are characteristic of cowardice, not heroism.

And what are those golden objects? They feel noisy and distracting. It is difficult for us to assume what anything is, and the objects in contrast to each other don't feel grounded in reality. There is no frame of reference and nothing to create balance against one object or another.

Personally, I feel this frame is too loud and too complicated, and is extremely incoherent as to what is going on.
And for those curious, this is what Mega Man ACTUALLY looks like:
Ah, much better!

Simpe, Good Design

Conversely, we have the cover art for Castlevania, a game that was also extremely well received and respected. Here, instead of getting a jumbled mess of figures and objects, we get a very simple and effective design of a simple and good game.

Instead of seeing a disproportionate character framed against a seemingly tiny city, we get a fully proportionate hero facing an eerie precipice with an ominous castle sitting on top, juxtaposed with a sinister vampire (Dracula) staring through the frame. This works so much more than Mega Man's artwork since we can actually make out familiar objects and have a decent frame of reference.

Following the directional cues of the art, we are led through the eye-line of our whip-wielding hero towards the dangerous castle. This is a subtle, yet effective way to create a flow through the image. The contrast of our hero looking upward towards his impeding journey creates a narrative and a sense of adventure and discovery. We also get a sense of dimension and breaking of the fourth wall with the whip cracking beyond the limits of the frame. The item is used to show the courage and might of our hero, unlike Mega Man and his wimpy posture.

Likewise, here is what Simon Belmont (the character depicted) looks like:
Not too bad for an 8-bit rendition, huh?

To Wrap Up

Sometimes, less is more and too many cooks can spoil the broth. Essentially, don't let a design become excessively loud and even underwhelming in its simplicity. With Mega Man, things were too confusing and distracting, and overall was just a misrepresentation of the actual product. With Castlevania, we a design that is short, sweet and to the point.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Contrast, Balance and Harmony

Photo by Dave Amodt
This is a photo taken by a friend of mine, which is a killer shot of a very ominous and peaceful setting, punctuated by the bolts of lightning. I was very impressed with this photo when I first saw it, thinking about how precise the timing had to be to capture such a shot.

In regards to contrast, I notice how this potentially dangerous and deadly thing is coming from the passive and harmless clouds. The photo really reinforces this idea when you can clearly see the soft and fluffy edges of the clouds compared to the jagged and protruding lightning forcing its way through.

Though lightning doesn't necessarily scare us when it strikes. We generally have this sense of awe and wonder, or even just "whoa cool!" when we see it. We don't perceive it as a threat (though it could be), we just appreciate the balance of nature when it does what nature does. Nature is calm but brutal at times, and I feel this photo really captures this. The way it works harmoniously with itself; nothing is ever too abrupt in nature, it's a gradual and foreseeable process.

Along with contrast, I really love how the setting sun is reflected in the windows. It gives off the illusion that the abandoned house is inhabited, though we know better. The red, glowing windows are very unique in this photo, as it's the only source of any color besides something bluish or grey. However, the bluish and grey objects definitely make their mark here. Noticing the clouds, you get this snapshot of an early evening stormy sunset with such dynamic light throughout each and every cloud. In the clouds you get the brightest blues, then flowing downward to the darkest blues to the blackest black, all linked together with a stark, whitest of whites lightning bolt down the middle.

All in all, this photo is awesome. There is so much potential narrative to be had by each person who looks at it and really takes it in. I think it's a great example of contrast, balance and harmony and how all these principles can simply be observed in our everyday surroundings.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Visceral Response

Photo by Angileza Amodt

Here we have a photo of the Columbia river that separates the dense, lively vegetation in both
Washington (left) and Oregon (right). I was born in Vancouver, Washington, but moved to St. George, Utah at the age of 8. Much of my memory of growing up in Washington was our frequent trips across the border to Portland, and the towering evergreen trees that surrounded my hometown.

My Response
Since I moved away from Washington so young, the evergreen tree has become somewhat of an icon for innocence and childhood ideals. Living in southern Utah you don't see many trees like the evergreen, let alone huge patches of them spanning for miles and miles. When I see nature in this form, alive and prospering, I am rendered speechless for a moment and I am filled with great feelings of beauty and nostalgia. There is an innumerable amount of detail in each and everyone of those trees and plants, and to see it from the macro level is incredible to me.

What impresses me the most is the sheer scale of this photo. You can see the tiny, man-made minuscule highway being dominated by naturally occurring everything else. Whereas everything natural in this photo just flows, the road stands out in its linear form.

I see the colors in this photo being naturally represented, as in, no colors are over or under saturated. As if you're seeing what you would see in person.
The green definitely stands out and says to me "I'm alive!". What you're seeing in this photo is living and breathing; it feels very lively and calming.

Though it is an extreme long shot, some light gives enough detail to distinguish and interpret certain textures in this photo. The calmness of the water appears smooth when placed next to the jagged trees. The clouds definitely capture the whitest whites of this photo and have a somewhat gradient aspect in grayer areas.

I really appreciate this photo. I feel like it could make a decent wallpaper.