Friday, 30 September 2011

Max, Moritz and cubes under the sun

Today, after yet more weeks without posting, I bring you a four-in-one post. Sixth Form started with a bang, and things have been manic recently but I wanted to slip this post in before September ends. Tomorrow I'm off to Swindon, and to the STEAM exhibition for the third year running, to show off some JOHN Collection catalogues (below) and have a good time. That is, if we exclude the two-hour train journey each way.

Below you can see the four pieces of print design in question:

And to shed a little light on what I've been up to recently (other than going to school, listening to too much Vampire Weekend and wishing I had more time to sleep), I'm going to show you round these four items of print design, if you care to join me.

The JOHN Collection 3 Everyone knows the JOHN Collection, right? And most of them know my third catalogue, released in June this year. The second catalogue and a preview of the third were well received at STEAM last year, so I thought to show off this completed one, I'd get them professionally printed from Though the interior pages are matte (which subtly annoys me), the rest of the printing is perfect and the cover is so shiny I almost don't want to leave it for all the little kids to finger. At least I'll please Pete Reid, who complained about my string binding last year. Here's a sample from the pages inside:

Yeah, awesome, right? Now they're arranged into page spreads you can appreciate the bars at the top and bottom that line up, and it looks much more professional. So, if you're heading to STEAM tomorrow, come check these out and introduce yourself.

Max und Moritz Book Cover This small orange book, also printed by Lulu but perfect-bound instead of stapled (and how lovely the spine looks, too), was a small piece of design I did for my ever-patient friend Peter. The book is a full translation of a lengthy German children's poem, accompanied by some German children's songs and enough prefaces (or Vorworts) to keep you entertained for hours. Wit aside, I was originally obsessed with this professionally printed realisation of my design - I just love having it there to hold in your hand - but the real genius of this book is its contents. The German Jamboree club at my school (coloquialised 'gerjam') has put an awful lot of work into this book and it's brilliant, I doubt any other school has produced something so concise and so ambitious. It's going on sale at the school's open day tomorrow and I hope it sells well; it's definitely worth it.

A snapshot of the inside of the book - I had originally wanted to do the inside page design too, but Peter has done it perfectly himself and I'm happy I ended up not doing it. The illustrations here are from the original poem, and I adapted one for the front cover design. The book is over 100 pages long.

Maths Extension Classes advertising This week I've been hard at work in the evenings. No, not doing homework - but I fitted that in, miraculously - but completing a whole set of posters for various school maths clubs and societies in preparation for Open Day tomorrow. My favourite of the designs is that for the Year 13 Mathematics Extension Classes. The name's a mouthful, and I can't say the classes sound like much fun, but I struck upon a cube idea for the poster:

And decided to apply the muted colours to a real-life cube (a little bit of 'Resort' slipping in there). The advertising cube, though totally useless, is very pretty and I made one to sit on my shelf. The colours are really faded in comparison to the poster above, so the grey is white and the red more like a baby pink, but it's understated and bold, and I like it. I used Futura bold on the poster and cube, and in a way I feel like I've betrayed the font's hipsterness by using it for a maths poster, but at least it will turn some heads.

'Resort' booklet Finally, I can show this to the world (or rather, the dozen people who read this blog). After a brief fuck-up from my developers Bonusprint, and several weeks elapsing, I got the second roll of 'Resort' photos back and put them all into a booklet that no one other than myself understands. I'm going to send it off to some blogs or galleries in hope that someone else will understand what I'm trying to say, but first the booklet needs to be reprinted; this one is a mess.

Check this post for all the info about 'Resort', but I'll quote the arty-farty summary that I put in the front of the booklet:
'Resort' is a 7-piece photographic project. It explores the point at which man and his environment meet, and where man's urges to repress and perfect abuses the very elements he creates with.
Or, in layman's terms, the photoset is about people stressing and forcing and breaking natural elements when they try to make stuff (eg. a holiday resort). The cubes and other shapes represent these 'perfect' forms that people force the natural elements into. The irony of this project being completed in a holiday resort - other than that people are striving for a perfect environment for relaxation while the elements are stressed - the natural elements are the focus of the place! The resort is about enjoying the geography and landscape of the area, yet restricts it by being built there! Oh the delicious irony!

There is a brief blurb about me in the back. Because I have to have some credit, guys!

Anyway, there's my two cents. Or rather, four. I hope this pleases you and keeps you happy until I next have a chance to blog. October is soon arriving, and looks set to be a busy month (if September was anything to go by) - including my birthday and a half term when I'm off to Denmark to sample universities. Hoorah.

Have a good October y'all,
~ John

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Starting a Culture War

To follow up on yesterday's post, which I'd had written for weeks but couldn't publish because the video was being a bitch, I wanted to show you some of the behind-the-scenes stuff about Culture War. I was originally going to take you through the shooting of the film, but aside from that being very boring I thought I would be ruining the final product by explaining how I had to cut corners here and what scenes I missed how there, so I'm going to stay away from the particulars.

Firstly, I'd like to draw your attention to the titles:

I've talked about the titles before, but I thought I should include another mention of them here because - after I had the inspiration from the song - they were the first thing I made for this film. Sitting around waiting for people to reply to my pleas for their help to act in the film, I was so hyped about the project that I made hand-drawn titles, based off the typography of the album's cover art. They were drawn on the thickest card I could find (to prevent it bleeding through) with a Letraset Promarker - an unusually undigital approach for me. I quite enjoyed hand-drawing them, though, and I think they look right. Here's one of the many sheets I scanned in for the titles:

As you can see, the composition of the titles themselves was handled in Photoshop; I simply drew the words and characters on the paper then manipulated them digitally. When the hand-drawn titles weren't going my way (that goddamn S was a nightmare), I also experimented with different digital typefaces (below). The only one that I would have possibly used is the first, Akzidenz Grotesk condensed. The hand-drawn characters were partially based off that, too.

I got maybe a little to excited about this project, and could barely sleep one night, I was so inspired. It was just one of those ideas that I wanted to get done as soon as possible - and had the means to do so. Like Suspension. But Suspension took a week, and due to logistical problems, the need for ten actors and reshoots, Culture War took two weeks. Still a very short timespan. It makes me wonder what I could make with longer holidays - one thing's for sure, I'd be able to go back for more reshoots. There are some parts of Culture War that annoy me a little because I see where I directed wrong. But hey, I said I wouldn't talk about that, so let's move on. Here's a ticklist I made while still incensed with the idea in the first few days:

That was back when I was using my friend Ant as the main character - in fact, I shot the bit at the start on the bus with him first, then he got a haircut and went on holiday right when I needed to shoot the rest of the film, so I reshot the start with Matt, and he was just as good - probably better - in the part. Note also that I originally wanted 20 actors, and got 10. In a way I think fewer is better (or easier to direct), but I'll never know for sure.

Above are some of the pages of planning I did for the film. The first page was my first start at storyboarding - still with Ant as the main character, you can see - but after a while I gave up on storyboarding and instead planned out what would happen in each of the mini scenes (second page). The red stuff is my reminder of what to film in the reshoot - bits to film again, bits to add in, bits to do because the battery of my camera died before we could complete the fight scene on the first night. I stuck quite close to that list, helpfully.

And there you have it; a look at what I did for this film. I hope you all enjoyed it - here's the link again - and have a nice September, I'll try to blog when I can but school starts tomorrow, so, bleugh.


Saturday, 3 September 2011

'Culture War'

School starts soon, so what better way to end the summer than with a film I made weeks ago, Culture War. You have no idea how hyped I've been about it, ever since I had the idea, and it's brilliant to finally get it online after so many failed attempts, and being as pleased with it as I am at the moment. Sure, it's not perfect - there were other bits I'd have liked to film, and some which I couldn't include - but the final outcome is best it could be with the amount of shooting I did. It's crazy to think the entire project - from conception to final edit - took me two weeks (it was the exporting and uploading that delayed its public release). This was one of those inspirations that I had to act on, and fast. Like Suspension.

So here's the video:

I understand the video doesn't explain some things, and that was half the point. I wasn't aiming to create something simple and boring like a commercial music video, rather something that explained less and left open the possibility for more.

It's set to the Arcade Fire song 'Culture War' from 'The Suburbs (Deluxe Version)', and I really wanted to use themes and concepts from both the song and its enclosing album, but the main problem with Culture War is that its name and many of its lyrics are centered on American culture and politics - 'culture war' is a term used to refer to the political friction between the north and south of America, the liberal and traditional values, or so Wikipedia tells me. The song also mentions 'the southern strategy', yet another lyric I can't include due to my location in England.

So I was forced to ignore some of the more political of the song's themes and concentrate on others, specifically the repeated 'We'll be soldiers for you, mommy and dad / in your culture war' lyrics. I focused on this theme of the sad corruption of kids, made to fight maybe not directly for their parents, but for the values and beliefs that their parents had forced upon them. It's a sense of world-weariness ('now the future's looking at me / like a vision from the past') and propaganda that would be better placed in 'Neon Bible' than 'The Suburbs' if it were not for that sound so distinctive of the latter album.

I feel I must say something here regarding the fight at the end of the video, the climax. It may seem unimaginative and immature to interpret 'Culture War' as being a physical, literal fight - obviously Arcade Fire intended for the 'war' to be metaphorical. However, considering that the song - like all the others on the album - is told from the perspective of an adult, and I only have teens to work with, I wanted to focus on the youths in question. And the best way, I thought, to show the corruption of these modern kids was to show them physically fighting each other. The film is intended to be enjoyable to watch, but I still wanted the fight to make for uneasy viewing. The discord between the violent, immediate imagery and the more wistful and saddened sound of the song were intentional.

Don't think I like making violent films - I don't. I'm no Tarantino, nor am I one of those teen filmmakers bent on making homages to Shaun of the Dead. I really didn't like the idea of such violence in my film, but I think - looking at the film as a whole - it is both justified and necessary. Having taken the lyrics literally, I now see why Spike Jonze made the 'Suburban War' mentioned in the album a literal war for his film Scenes from the Suburbs. Sometimes the most obvious imagery is the most effective.

'The Suburbs' has been a constant source of creative inspiration for me ever since its release, and I feel I owe it a lot - not only for being a work of art in itself, but for also opening my eyes to music as I'd never understood before. I've always wanted to make something Suburbs-related, and I think that with Culture War I've made my peace with the album. I've finally given something back.