There’s something delightfully playful about plugging in old hard drives that haven’t been booted up in years and accidentally coming across old work that had been forgotten. You get to see something from a fresh perspective and see it for the first time as a viewer, rather than the creator.
The above is a piece that was something fun and quick, done in an afternoon, from nearly a decade ago. Heard of Minecraft? I, along with the rest of the world at the time, was very much into the new sensation. The lego-like creativity that spawned within and around the game felt truly unique and fresh. It was hard not to participate in that.
To my recollection, I had the idea that the game was so popular that we’d be seeing traces of it for decades to come, if not more. Comparing this fact to art that we currently see from antiquity; I thought about doing a mash-up between some popular Minecraft characters and some of the most famous art in the history of humanity.
Typically, unearthing past projects from years ago only highlights how far you’ve come since then, and all you can see in a piece is what you’d change or improve. However, this instance was a nice surprise to come across.
One of the greatest sources for horror can be our own imagination — things unseen, noises or flashes at the periphery of your vision, stress caused as we piece together worst-case-scenarios in our minds. Taking advantage of those moments fueled this project.
J Aldric Gaudet is a local writer, story editor, and director. He brought me on board to help execute a screenplay he’d had in the works for years. As many productions go, there were interested parties along the way, and many false starts, so he decided to do it small scale and in-house. With a small budget, small cast and crew, and us wearing many hats simultaneously, we’ve been able to bring his story based on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum to life in a new way.
My roles in the production so far: cinematographer, set design and construction, lighting and production design, storyboards, post-production soundtrack and design, visual effects, as well as graphic design for branding and web. Suffice it to say, this production has brought all of my skill sets into one singular package. It has been quite a journey, but a rewarding and intriguing one every step of the way.
Let’s start at the beginning.
PART ONE: pre-production, storyboards, set and prop design
The first third of the journey focused on dissecting his screenplay line by line, and converting that into shot focussed storyboards with direction and technical information for camera moves and lighting. This was particularly important due to the nature of how dark and light was being used on set. Since nearly the entirety of the film takes place in blackout, the lighting and framing must be careful to illuminate for the viewer a sense of plot and space. The actor at times wanders aimlessly through the darkness, but we don’t want to lose the viewer there as well.
The size of the budget and the way Joe and I have worked together in the past led naturally to us building and creating as much of all elements as possible ourselves. If a particular piece of film gear needed was going to be prohibitively expensive then we found ways to build it from scratch or bring it together piecemeal. One example was purchasing LED flood lights, used for exterior lighting or security purposes, and turning them into proper film set lighting with barn doors, diffusion, and mobile grid work.
PART TWO:set pieces
With the script and storyboards locked into place, crucial details for lightings and setups ironed out, talent and location scouted and confirmed, I could work on the final preparations for the physical set pieces. The goal for the project was to actually show as little as possible, so the set had to be dark and based on form and hints of details. I wanted the items to show only aspects of their shape and not actually reveal everything right away. Texture became my go-to for this stage of pre-production.
The platform that the prisoner wakes on, and later must free herself from, was created using 40 year old garden slabs of wood unearthed from the dirt. Previously used as edging between lawn and a garden for planting, the interior of the wood had a beautiful aging that would be hard to mimick. Eaten away by time and the elements, all we needed to do was chop, clean, make it safe for acting, and reveal the texture hidden underneath the surface. I wanted this piece to show and reflect the captor’s continual activities of imprisonment (during the Inquisition in Poe’s story); it wasn’t a clean and sterilized chamber, but one of age and decay from their continued vile activities.
The other main set piece was the pit itself. Again we wanted to be careful to only show what was crucially necessary, but we also had to keep in mind size and the ability to transport the physical beast. I built one half of the pit in section that could be disassembled and reassembled as needed. Additionally, the structure itself was made with bare minimum support and thickness so that it was light to carry, but imposing looking. With buckets of sand, dirt, paint, wax and caulking, the edge of the pit grew to life. Made for closeups and interaction very near the camera.
PART THREE: finding the look
We aimed to show without showing, to tell a story without giving away too many details. To see and to leave things unseen simultaneously was the unique angle. Lighting the project was a particularly interesting challenge. We needed it to feel dark, and show what we needed to show to carry the plot, but leave out all the aspects that we wanted the viewer to create in their minds. That active viewer participation was the priority.
During pre-production and shoot planning we researched precisely what pitch-black settings feel like inside. I quickly realized that in a near-zero light situation, the eyes lose a tremendous amount of perception for colour, above all else. What remained of perceivable surroundings were just hints at edges and shapes of objects. The brightness of a given scene isn’t simply turned down in these scenarios, the way your eyes and mind work together to figure out your surroundings changes to adapt.
We wanted to get as close to this idea visually as possible while still maintaining the understanding of the key points of the story. Past cinematic techniques for achieving visual darkness simply do not get close enough; frequently a scene is lit the same way as usual, but a few lights are turned off or moved. The characters in the scene act like it’s dark, and the audience follows along. We wanted to push this idea much further.
PART FOUR: Editing, sound, and next steps
We are nearing the final third of this journey and my main role will be shifting from visuals to sound effects and soundscapes. That will be a whole new joy to work on and share in detail as it happens. More to come and lots work to be done.
Personal VS Professional Work pt. 2 Art & Thoughts Feb-Mar 2019
“The medium is the message” Marshall McLuhan
Thoughts as of lately. I’ll agree, but I’ll also add that now we are all the medium, and the message is ever evolving — in this digital age, the different mediums and means of expression continue to blend further and further. This not only blends the boundaries but creates new categories between.
I began this life-long journey with visual art through the pencil and paper. I applaud my parents at my young age for instantly recognizing that there was something worth exploring. And so began art classes and projects in all mediums from pencil to watercolour, charcoals, and oils for years to come.
Fast forward 30 years, and what I didn’t realize until very recently is that I had lost some of that connectedness through the mediums that I currently work in. Photography and videography filtered through digital software can convey the possibilities of all mediums, acting like viewfinders for anything that is creatively possible and recorded in any shape and form. But I lost some vague sense of play without that physical stick of charcoal in my hand. I’ve been exploring and playing in the digital realm, but without a real tactile sense of the mediums I was mimicking.
How this can be solved with a piece of glass, some metal, and a little Bluetooth thrown in for good measure has been quite a surprise.
A few weeks ago an iPad pro and apple pencil joined the family. I’ve been exploring new ways to integrate it into my projects, but it’s also created a new twist in the journey since they’ve rekindled that sense of physical interaction. It’s still software, and it’s still only mimicking physical medium, but merely gripping the tool in hand and seeing the flow of paint from the stroke bridges major gaps between those worlds.
For the first time in a long time I’m sketching, painting, and tapping into parts of my brain that went unused for years. But it took this new medium to even realize they had gone quiet.
Some explorations and tests with new digital mediums. Fragmented self portraiture teasing like a puzzle in progress.
I’ve been lucky to participate in the evolution of this fantastic musical duo, and it was a thrilling experience to help bring to life their newest album in 2017, as well as their coming live release.
Benjamin & Mia worked meticulously during the writing and recording process for Gypsy’s Moonlight Motel. We shared ideas and brainstormed during multiple listening sessions while the album was coming together. As the designer for the album art, but also for the live show visuals and packaging, having a seat at the table from such early stages in the recording process was a treat.
One major factor was that we were able to do the photoshoot for the album before the name was decided. The art and the album were able to feed into each other and grow together; rather than one side dictating the needs of the other.
Here are some of the images from our shoot. The album art concept was still vague at this stage, but the ideas of “journey” and “travel” were key themes Benjamin and Mia wanted to incorporate.
With the above images in hand, the album could take its final shape with name and art together. We printed the chosen shots at good sizes, hung them on the walls, and let them rest and enrich the studio during the final weeks of the recording and mastering process.
Here are some videos we put together near the end of recording as the final songs were locked into place.
Being this involved in the early creative process on my end allowed for flexibility and the room to explore many mediums; not only with the photoshoot and album art, but subsequent live recording stage setup and videos.
The Live Show:
Early work for the live show coincided with the album’s production wrap. While they finished mastering, I was already rolling on the planning and production of the stage. They wanted something that felt personal, and familiar, but also something new that they hadn’t tried before. Our budget was also minimal, which factored into the materials and resource choices.
Using a variety of materials, making the setup feel hand-crafted with heavy textures and lots of scrap wood for a DIY aesthetic, but also being limited by the size of the space, meant that the execution would need some creative problem solving. What resulted was a magical night for all involved after weeks of work on the setup, and months of work before that on the last leg of the album production.
The Live Album:
IndieGoGo backers and guests had a great evening experiencing songs from the new album and some unreleased tracks. The event went off without a hitch. A particularly special event, occasion, and a turning point for Benjamin and Mia. Here is the album art for the live record.
The album is scheduled for release in the first half of 2019 alongside live videos that we have put together from the evening. More to come.
Check Azalea’s site for more updates and plenty more music: azaleamusic.net
This topic came up in recent conversation, and it made me think about the ratios and relationships between personal and professional projects in my own life. It is a topic worth further exploration and deeper thought. (hat tip to Deep Work by Cal Newport)
Are these two black and white categories? Are they in contrast between something we choose to do or create on our own, vs. something we are contracted to create for someone else?
I don’t believe so anymore.
The two categories not only overlap, but are intertwined deeply. We learn something about ourselves and our process through any project, regardless what side of that divide it might fall on. I felt that way about different courses at university, but I didn’t realize at the time that the same rules of inspiration and creative resources overlap into the rest of life easily.
For example: What we experience through an evening of theatre can translate directly to how we structure the flow and convey emotions in an unrelated business logo. If we take these ideas further and start to blend the dividing lines, then ideas we have on our own time can germinate into ideas that can be executed in professional projects.
Here are a few frames from what I would consider one of my last personal projects. These are from 2016:
We were looking for some art on our walls at home, but not just something random or abstract that suited the colours of the room. The mind went wandering, and days later I had come up with 64 different frames that represented iconic video games from our youth and the then-present. Once the concept was solidified and the first frame created, it was a joy to bring to life the full series, characters, and environments.
Silhouettes of iconic game characters, in environment and colour scheme that gave the rest of the clues for who that character was. Some silhouettes would be too simple alone, so the other elements complete the picture with context. Additional design rules: keep the subject and action grounded to the base or top of the frame, and as few separated elements as possible so that all pieces flow into each other. These rules allowed for strong consistency, bold colours, and interesting relationships between the positive and negative.
How would this translate to professional projects?
Bold Colours & Layouts: I tend to work in more limited colour palates with client work. Projects regularly call for visuals that are more subtle, and this was a chance to do the exact opposite.
Subject Matter: I rarely have work that relates to, or exists within this medium. One of my hopes for the span of my professional life would be doing the branding packaging for a full video game.
That covers my most recent, and possibly last, personal project. I think this is a topic worth further thought and exploration, and I aim to continue with future posts on the evolving perspective. My work today emotionally feels like the divide no longer exists, but I lack the immediate words on how to define it. More to come.
OBJECTIVES: Create a stage design flexible enough to adjust to different sized theatres, productions, budgets, and communities.
The production “Lug’s Christmas Carole” created by J. Aldric Gaudet gets closer to reality with each season. It was a joy to bring it to life visually with the stage design, having worked closely with Joe previously on it’s branding and visual foundation. Building on our previous work, we spent a couple weeks going back and forth planning the layout and how best to communicate the details to potential community theatres that would be interested in participating.
OBJECTIVES: Having been involved with music and sound since my youth, I’ve always wanted to build sound proofing acoustic panels. I’ve had rough ideas and designs in my head for years but never a specific project to execute them on. Along came Amber, the start of her voice acting career in 2017, and we hit the ground running.
The main goals were sound quality above all else, and budget and flexibility next. Tossing ideas back and forth, we established that we would rearrange the room based on sound and use her existing desk as a foundation for the upgrades rather than starting from scratch.
Check out the images and descriptions below for a full understanding of the project start to finish.
THE BUILD – GALLERY
Every step of the way we could hear the sound quality improving; especially the earliest stages. Comparing her voice work from the beginning of the year, the difference could not be more noticeable. Fellow voice actors Amber is involved with give regular compliments to her voice acting and the quality of the audio now.
Future iterations and additions will see new smaller panels built, and going up around the desk in a floating manner. These will be mounted at angles to help further reflect room sound away from the mic and absorb it at the source.
To hear her voice work in action, or to contact Amber please visit the following:
CONCEPT: A set-build tying together many elements of J. Aldric Gaudet’s writings for use in book trailers, and future video series.
“The Shakespeare Light series are prose editions of his plays updated and edited from original sources and adjusted for 400 years of language development.”
We chose the world famous Globe Theatre as our foundation for the visual components of story-telling future uses. Below is a gallery of the build for the prototype with brief descriptions of each phase.
BASE & STRUCTURE GALLERY 1
With the base and structure of the build complete, more detailed work on the face of the theatre’s back wall began. The main medium for the build will be on video. Therefore, the shadows that would be cast and the interplay of light on the different planes of the detail work were the main priority. Keeping true and perfect to scale was less a factor than how the ratios of all elements would appear to the moving camera.
WALL DETAIL & GRID GALLERY 2
RESULTS: the prototype build was a total joy and a total success. We have already shot multiple small clips using the prototype mini Globe Theatre. Further in-depth looks will appear here as videos are released. Here’s a sneak peak of the stage when lit for camera, and viewed from the rafters.
CONCEPT: I’ve been an avid fan of games of all mediums and formats my entire life; fortunately that joy has translated well to family life here in Canada. During a recent project build for J. Aldric Gaudet, the spark of an idea came for a custom board game where half of the fun for the players is creating the board and ground rules for each round. The board and the game evolve with the players as they see fit.
With summer break on the horizon for my daughter, it was the perfect time to start thinking about, discussing, and play-testing the idea. While working on other projects and before the school year wrapped up, I gave her the idea and some of the objectives and said “go for it!” She helped pin down the underlying rules and concepts to get the build started.
BUILD: A couple months later, weeks of hand-painting squares are complete, and we’ve got the first working version of the game. We plan on expanding it further with another round of 100 customizable squares, chance cards, character stats, themed areas, and maybe even enemies.
BUILDING & CONSTRUCTING – GALLERY
PLAY-TESTING & MAPS – GALLERY
RESULTS: The game ended up being a quasi-combination of Monopoly, Parcheesi, Dungeons&Dragons, and Sorry! – but even in this early and unfinished state it’s already a ton of fun and that’s a great sign. Additionally, play-through’s can be customized with different rules and characters depending on what the players want.
With life full of so many exciting and surprising twists and turns, I am starting a new flip side to my portfolio site. This page will contain in-depth looks at large scale projects where single images do no justice to the breadth and scope of what I’m accomplishing with clients and collaborators.
I set out on this journey of art and design more then a decade ago, and it never ceases to amaze me the amount of learning and growth that can happen every day.
Check back here regularly as I populate these in-depth looks at past large scale projects, and others currently in progress.