Friday, 2 December 2011

Life Drawing Week Eleven

The Uncanny Valley

The uncanny valley is a theory used in the field of robotics and 3D computer animation. The notion of the uncanny valley is that human replicas or humanoids that mimic humans almost but not perfectly cause revulsion among observers.

The Uncanny Valley graph

The Uncanny Valley was first proposed by Japanese Roboticist Mashiro Mori which he elaborated from Sigmund Freud's 1919 essay entitled 'The Uncanny'.  In his original hypothesis Mori stated that as the appearance of a robot is made more human, a human observer's emotional response to the robot will become increasingly positive until a point is reached where the robot is near perfect. When it reaches this stage the human response quickly becomes  that of a strong revulsion. However as it becomes less identifiable and bears less distinguishing features than that of a human, the emotional response becomes a positive one again. On the graph demonstrating Mori's notion (above) this creates a valley which is where the term comes from.

Two Japanese robots. As robot B is moe identifiable as a human the revulsion by the observer will be greater than that of A.

The uncanny valley has been adopted not just in robotics but in CG arts and film making also as the hypothesis is not just relevant in robotics but in any sub human or humanoid characters also  e.g. waxworks, zombies and dolls. Because of the human's response to that which mimics a human the uncanny valley has been adopted in horror films frequently. 

A. The evil ventriloquist doll from the horror film 'Magic'
 B. Infected zombie from British cult horror '28 Days Later'
C. Frightening waxwork from 'House of Wax'

The uncanny valley will be beneficial to this unit as it acknowledges human responses to things on a subconscious level.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Unit 3 Initial Thumbnails

These are my initial thumbnail ideas that i will expand on. Will add more shortly.

Unit 3 Artist Research: Edward Hopper

 'Nighthawks' (1942)

Edward Hopper was an American realist oil painter. His work is a reflection of how he viewed America at that time. The 'Tableau Vivant' style paintings are evocative in that although they can be perceived differently they are all expressing narrative and the layout of the surrounding he has painted along with the figures tell a story.

 Summer Interior (1909)

Statement (1953) by Edward Hopper : "The inner life of a human being is a vast and varied realm and does not concern itself alone with stimulating arrangements of color, form and design." Hopper here is arguing that in art there should be more than just shapes and colour which merely express the private imagination of the artist.

'Office at Night' (1940)

What is intriguing about Hopper as he is aware of the power of the subconscious mind and how subtle arrangements in his paintings can evoke emotional connections with the viewer “So much of every art is an expression of the subconscious that it seems to me most of all the important qualities are put there unconsciously, and little of importance by the conscious intellect.” (Hopper:1939)

Unit 3 Initial Influence Map

Unit 3 Environment

The Unit 3 Brief is an interesting one. We will be studying the 'Mise-en-scene' (placing on stage) in films. From the lighting to the decor to the placement of props, we will be looking at the reasoning behind subtle ambiguous imagery that the viewer can relate to. Often the most frightening scenes in horror films are not fast paced with the villainous character chasing the innocent victim but the eeriness of the surroundings and props.

A classic example of 'Mise-en-Scene' from the horror classic Nosferatu

I will also be researching lo 'Tableau Vivant' (living picture) in photography as well as striking visual imagery from renowned paintings which will give me inspiration for creating an evocative environment for my final piece.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Life Drawing Week Ten

@Phil Essay

The pictures are not up as it is copy and pasted from a word document but hopefully I could get some feedback so I can refine it :)


Children of Men directed by Alfonso Cuarón, is a science fiction film based upon the 1992 novel of the same name written by P.D. James. Set in war torn Britain in 2027 Children of Men tells the story of a world where humans are unable to reproduce, spiraling society into chaos. Theo Faron, a civil servant must aid pregnant refugee, Kee through a war zone to a safe boat.
      This essay will investigate the production design of the film and critically analyse the visual references used along with their significant to the plot and relevance to current society. Sources will be extracted from “Cinematical interview with Alfonso Cuarón”, “ Children of Men Review by Roger Ebert”, “Children of Men by Peter Bradshaw”, “An interview with Clive Owen by Rebecca Murray” and “Children of Men trivia extracted from IMDB”. Specifically this assignment will look at the choice of production design and its significance, the reasoning behind Cuarón’s first person method of shooting the film, references in the feature to Nazi concentration camps, The portrayal of the media through set design and its impact on the plot and the subtle symbolic images. The conclusion will summarise these key features of the film’s visual concepts and their relation to the film’s plot.

Main Essay

The production design for Children of Men is evocative and the unique. Production Designer Jim Clay set the film apart from other science fiction films based in the future. Perhaps one of the most discerning qualities about Children of Men is that although it was set in the year 2027 the film did not rely on futuristic looking scenery and hi tech gadgets that would usually wet the lips of other production designers. There were only several references that were made to technological advancements of the future such as the hand gadget used by the wealthy government minister’s son.  Arguably using little futuristic elements in the film is to suggest that since society is on the brink of collapse and the world is one complete warzone that technological advancements and human progression have stopped. In an interview with Cinematical, Children of Men director Alfonso Cuarón was asked about his decision to fight against the film looking futuristic. Cuarón responded saying
  “Its not about imagining and being creative, it is about referencing reality.” (2006)

The setting of the film could also have avoided this look so the audience is able to relate to this world that Theo Faron is confined to. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Times states  Watching "Children of Men," which creates a London in ruins, I realized after a point that the sets and art design were so well done that I took it as a real place.” (Ebert:2007) The message the film is trying to convey is relevant to current issues, questioning human value on life and giving insight into what may happen to society if the human race are not careful as to their actions i.e. war, immigration, racial tolerance.  Arguably the way to express the films moral message is through set design. Virtually every element of the film is something that is current and identifiable from the public transport to the architecture, they are all contemporary.

Alfonso Cuarón chose to shoot the film entirely in first person giving the impression that the viewer is almost in among all the pandemonium occurring in the nail biting scenes. Cuarón stated “I am not trying to use editing or a montage, trying to seek for an effect. I’m trying to create a moment of truthfulness.” This is apparent with bombs and car explosions throughout the film that are never dramatized or made the focus of a shot. Instead they always remain secondary to the actors, occurring partially off screen or in the background. This unpredictability makes Children of Men all the more exhilarating. “Cuarón's gun battle between the terrorists and the army is a bravura piece of work, deploying a very scary sort of first-person shooter graphics.” (Bradshaw:2006)

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Fig.1 Theo taking cover

Not only are the shots in first person but also they rarely cut to a separate scene and instead rely on one continuous shot. Consider the scene in which Theo has to run through a war torn City Street to rescue pregnant refugee Kee from the clutches of ‘Fishes[1]’ guerilla Luke. The entire scene was one continuous shot and arguably one of the defining moments of the film as the pain staking process in filming it is apparent. In an interview with Hollywood Movie Guide’s Rebecca Murray, Clive Owen articulates on the long shots of the film “You’ve got to feel like you’re in the thick of it and it’s all about pacing. If you hold a beat a bit too long, it will suddenly feel a bit manipulative.” (DNP)

Malcolm X once referred to the media as being “The most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”  This notion is apparent in The Children of Men. The first scene we see is a crowd gathering around a television to watch a live broadcast. Theo’s work colleagues remain glued to their computer screens; the only colour in the city of London is that of billboards. Even the public transport is mounted with television screens piping in Britain’s current agenda to the masses that live in a perpetual world of grey.
The main headline seen is “Britain Soldiers On” relating to their almost being a hierarchy between the natives and the refugees. The manner in which the natives treat the refugees is like that of a prison officer treating prisoners. Essentially making the innocent guilty. Perhaps the best example of the media being the true power and figurehead in this film is the scene in which immigrant rights group ‘The Fishes’ kidnap Theo and take him to a small holding. The walls are covered in newspaper clippings completely surrounding them in a claustrophobic environment. This is arguably symbolic of there being no escape from the media.

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                     Fig.2 References to the media being a powerful entity

The manner in which the refugees are caged is at times unsettling as it is reminiscent of concentration camps during the Second World War. The cages are horrific in appearance, filthy and compacted. Worst still they’re in among the hustle and bustle of London City. The scene in which Miriam is forcibly taken from the bus to the refugee camp, the song "Arbeit macht frei," by The Libertines can be heard. “Arbeit macht frei (Work shall set you free) was written above the entrance of the biggest concentration camp of the Second World War, Auschwitz. As the bus pulls away there is a line of people bound and on their knees along with several dead bodies.

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Fig.3 Inhumane cages that hold Refugees

What is visually striking about Children of Men is also subtlety. Cuarón has not relied solely on glamorizing gun battles or trying to make the world larger than life. It is a common pattern in films than in order for something to have visual impact it must be glorified and highlighted to the audience. Cuarón dismisses this notion and often the aspects of the set which are most potent to the plot are so subtle they almost register at a subliminal level. Consider the scene where Theo enters the Battersea Power Station to visit his wealthy cousin Nigel. A stenciled image of two policemen kissing created by real life guerilla artist Banksy can be seen on a background wall. As the police in this film are seen as the enforcers this image arguably represents powerful figures to not be god like but still human beings no different to the refugees they cage. The elusive artist Banksy himself represents anarchy as his graffiti creates an atmosphere of neglect and social decay which relates to Theo Faron eluding the police governing the city of London.

Subtle symbolic images are rife throughout the film; the best example of this is the abandoned, dilapidated school in which the group uses as a meeting point. This scene may be unsettling to some viewers as a school is usually a place associated with innocence and life which has now been replaced with crumbling walls and a de saturated and hauntingly calm atmosphere illustrating that children are now a distant memory. The calmness is broken by a noise, which Theo finds to be a young fawn running through the halls. Although this scene is short it is resonant as the fawn is symbolic of innocence, young life and above all hope even among a crumbling society.

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Fig.4 The dilapidated School

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Fig.5 The hope for the Human Race


The film the Children of Men is unique in the manner in which it was filmed. The simplicity of the production design did not deter from the plot line and instead relied on subtle references, which present day viewers can relate to. The first person method of filming is completely unique for feature films of this genre and it draws the audience into this claustrophobic world of blood stained debris and de saturated colours. Alfonso Cuarón took a risk in his style of filming but the end result is something that should be admired.

List of Illustrations

Fig.1 Theo taking cover
Fig.2 References to the Media
Fig.3 The Refugee Cages
Fig.4 The dilapidated School
Fig.5 Hope

(Images extracted from)


Cinematical interview with Alfonso Cuarón (Dec 25th 2006) (Extracted on Nov 21st 2011)

(Extracted Nov 21st 2011)

Bradshaw. P of the Guardian (Published Sept 22nd 2006)
(Extracted Nov 21st 2011)

Rebecca Murray interview with Clive Owen (date not published)

Children of Men Trivia  (Extracted Nov 21st 2011)

[1] The Fishes are an Immigrant rights group, some of whom rely on guerilla warfare to help their cause.

Legend (1985) Review

Legend poster art

Legend directed by Ridley Scott is a high fantasy film starring Tom Cruise as Jack, a young recluse living among a forest filled with fairies, unicorns, goblins and demons. Jack being one of a very few whom can locate the mythical unicorns takes young love Princess Lily (Mia Sara) to view the creatures unaware that he is being followed by goblin Blix and her minions. As the unicorns approach Lily attempts to touch one against the expressed orders of Jack. The goblins fire a poison arrow at the unicorn hitting the beast. The unicorns run leaving Lily shaken and Jack scolding the Princess for ignoring his warnings.

Upon finding the unicorn dead from the venom, Blix cuts off its horn which descends the forest into a dark snowstorm untouchable by light. Lily is eventually captured by the goblins and along with the surviving unicorn are taken to the Lord of Darkness. Jack, with the help of Honeythorn Gump (an elf), Oona (a fairy) and Screwball and Brown Tom (dwarves) attempts to rescue Lily from the clutches of evil and undo all wrongs.

A lot of time and attention to detail has clearly been invested in the films production design and visual concepts. Light and colour value are a key theme in Legend, perhaps to depict the struggle between light and darkness as well as to express colour association. Consider the moment where the unicorn approaches Lily, there is an almost luminescent white glow shining onto the creature almost suggesting an aura of purity. Although the set of Legend is inspiring the plot and story progression somewhat lets the film down "All the special effects in the world, and all the great makeup, and all the muppet creatures can't save a movie that has no clear idea of its own mission". (Ebert:1986) This is also the case with the special effects which seem to be so over the top they take away from the magical setting. "The movie is enchanting and has moments of magic, but it's an utter train wreck, overwhelmed by cheesy special effects, dialogue writ insanely large, and a kind of goofy plot." (Null: 2002).

Perhaps it was intentional on the part of Ridley Scott having such one dimensional characters and the acting being over dramatised.This arguably was his interpretation of how characters in a mythical, high fantasy world would look/behave. However it almost feels like a waste of an inspiring production design when the poor acting has completely over shadowed everything that was impressive in the film. "With LEGEND, he offered up a piece of evidence that seemed to support his critic’s contention: the film is a visually beautiful evocation of a fantasy world (with amazing costumes, sets, and creature makeup), but it is dramatically lifeless." (Biodrowski:2009)

List of Illustrations

Fig.1 Lily and the Unicorn
Fig.2 Jack with Gump
Fig.3 Lily dressed by the Darkness


Ebert.R of The Chicago Times (Published Apr 18th 1986) (Accessed Nov 23rd 2011)

Null.C of Filmcritic (Published Jan 29th 2002) (Accessed Nov 23rd 2011)

Biodrowski. S of Cinefantastique (Published May 20th 2009) (Accessed Nov 23rd 2011)

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Photoshop Progression 2

Although I still have not completed my first final image I wanted to make a start on the second. After studying sunsets I wanted one with warm and cold colour values.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Avatar (2009) Review

James Cameron's Avatar is a science fiction film of epic proportion. The truly awe-inspiring production design and setting of the film more than compensates for shaky plot and almost 'knew that was going to happen' scenes. In fact the 3D and digital world that was created for Avatar was so spectacular even the worst plot and dialogue would still become secondary to those who can appreciate the work and dedication that went into making Avatar something visually astounding.

One could base the premise on this film that it is almost Anti American and relates to the Afghanistan War. "To this fusion of science fiction and environmental parable Cameron adds a contemporary spin by lacing his script with War On Terror allusions." (Sandhu:2009) People have speculated that the Afghanistan War did not occur merely as the means to remove the Taliban regime but to financially benefit the Americans by obtaining minerals from crude oil rich Afghanistan. Whether this notion has any backbone is arguable but the way in which the marines are perceived in Avatar demonstrates America as an all powerful country whom take resources from other lands with a disregard for the natives.

The essentially dull plot of marine Jake Sulley (Sam Worthington) falling in love with the native Avatar, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) is merely a modern day Pocahontas. It appears in the movie world, originality can often be lacking. Consider Jake Sulley's journey of self discovery, whereby the soldier finds himself falling in love with the civilisation he should be fighting against leading him to switch sides. This plot is awfully resonant of 'The Last Samurai' which itself unoriginally followed the same plot as 'Dances with Wolves'. Avatar sets itself apart from these however by the sheer scale of the film and groundbreaking CGI "Its both wildly original and hauntingly familiar."(Pond:2010) Although the sentiment is there, the morality of the film is almost shoved down the audience's throat and at times the predictability of Avatar mars the moral message it is trying to convey.

Aside from the plot, visually the film is flawless. The imagination that went into this film is truly inspiring and the scenery is breathtaking throughout the entire 162 minutes. From Pandora's jungle to the floating  Hallelujah Mountains, everything is larger than life. The exaggerated colours of the plants, glowing in pinks and greens almost make the film appealing in the same manner as a fireworks display. The stunning scenes draw the viewer into this world that seems so real. So real in fact there is almost a sense of disappointment when following the film, with the realisation that people are not blue and 12ft tall. "The digitally created world meshes pretty much seamlessly with ordinary reality in an undoubtedly impressive way." (Bradshaw:2009)

List of Illustrations

Fig 1. Jake Sulley's Avatar
Fig 2. Neytiri
Fig 3. Sulley and Neytiri in the Pandora Jungle


Sandhu. S of The Daily Telegraph (published 17 December 2009) (accessed on 16 November 2011)

Pond. N of American Profile (published January 19 2010) (accessed on 16 November 2011)

Bradshaw. P of The Guardian (published 17 December 2009) (accessed on 16 November 2011)

Edward Scissorhands (1990) Film Review

Edward Scissorhands poster art

Edward Scissorhands is perhaps the film that has defined the career of director Tim Burton as well as acting as the catalyst that shot Johnny Depp into the stratosphere as a mainstream actor and household name. With the rise of films rife with violence, sex and one dimensional action heroes that plagued cinemas in the early 90's Edward Scissorhands was a breath of fresh air for movie goers. Although the movie essentially follows the classic Belle et la Béte fairy tale plot in which an outsider falls in love with the stereotypical beautiful female lead, the production and character design make Edward Scissorhands completely unique and an absolute joy to watch.

Edward played by rising star Johnny Depp is a synthetic human, created by an old and eccentric inventor (Vincent Price). Dwelling in the mysterious but strangely beautiful European gothic castle, the old inventor creates a man to alleviate his loneliness, Edward whom remains incomplete at the time of the inventors death leaving him a prisoner in his own body as well as a prisoner in the dilapidated castle. The hands are the tools used to feel, to express, to hold a loved one. Without this dexterity the world can be a lonely place which is made apparent by Edward's predicament, having large intimidating blades for hands. He is discovered some years later by Peg Boggs (Diane Wiest) an avon caller whom takes pity on the man with scissors for hands, taking him to live in the quaint suburban town she calls home. With no previous interaction with human beings Edward has a child like innocence which contrasts with his rough exterior."Edward stands apart from Tim Burtons other films because Edward is the sweetest, most innocent soul." (Biodrowski:2000). In a town where appearance is everything and beauty really is skin deep the town soon turn against the artificial Edward, assembling a Frankenstein style lynch mob forcing him back into the haunt from which he came. "It ends up being a melancholy tale that critiques human nature and conformity." (Schwartz: 2008) 

The German Expressionistic element of this film is apparent in the use of colour. The blackness of the castle    along with its inhabitant Edward is taken from the 1920's classic 'The Cabinet of Dr Caligari'. Another comparison that could be made between these two films is the emphasis on everything being slanted and unsymmetrical in the castle from the arched windows to the crumbling attic. This arguably expresses peculiarity and disarray as the supposed perfect suburban town below is all completely symmetrical, block buildings that mirror each other. Depp also used an overly expressive style of acting to play the role of Edward similar to that of a silent film where there was no dialogue as a means to express the character. "He gives a silent-movie performance, relying on his movements to communicate everything that is needed." (Larsen:2008). This is perhaps due to Edward only uttering a few words throughout the film and his apparent awkward interaction with other people..

The use of pastel colours in the town could possibly represent consumer marketing in America whereby all the interior flaws are masked by exterior beauty. There are many skeletons in many closets among the locals which are all masked by bright colours and civilised gatherings. From the adulterous vixen neighbour to the abusive boyfriend of Kim (Wynona Ryder) the audience find that the synthetic Edward is infact more human than the town's folk and clearly made a spectacle as a means of cheap entertainment and to benefit the town's own existence. During the final climactic scene, Kim chases after Edward into the castle wearing a white dress similar to that of a bride at a wedding. They both embrace, standing close to each other in the attic of the gothic castle at the top of the hill which over looks all, the summit of this fairytale world. This could arguably represent a bride and groom atop a wedding cake.

Although some would argue that the novelty has worn off with the recurring gothic fairy tale theme of Tim Burton's work, Edward Scissorhands is arguably one of the most imaginative, unique and thought provoking films of the 90's and will still be enjoyed by children and adults alike for many years to come. 


Biodrowski. S  of Cinefantastique (Published October 24 2000) (Accessed 16,11,11)

Schwartz. D of Ozuz World Movie Reviews (Published 3 July 2008) (Accessed 16,11,11)

Larsen. J of Larsen on Film (July 25 2008) (Accessed on 16,11,11)

List of Illustrations

Fig 1. The Gothic castle

Fig 2. Edward the spectacle

Fig 3. The final goodbye