I though that this talk by Mike Hill has important teachings on how we should approach designing environments (and characters too) for 13 Songs. It may seem obvious that we should design with purpose but sometimes it’s easy to fall into the routine of designing just to fill a page of variations.
Mike talks about taking design/entertainment beyond simple gratification. He draws comparison to the experiment involving a rat which can press a button to stimulate its own nucleus accumbens (pleasure centre) and the media experience today e.g. mindlessly scrolling through a facebook feed for gratification. Go beyond this.
“it can produce insight in the audience through story empathy and drama.”
e.g. Compare the experience of the Transformers films to that of Blade Runner.
“We must encode our designs with information that enhances the narrative.”
Principle: You don’t put a hard corner in somewhere that will hold a lot of weight. Lesson: nature is the ultimate engineer.
Study the principles behind what happens e.g. Hill learned from Discovery Channel – not necessarily from engineer books. Emulate the work flow that you’re trying to create e.g. of engineers.
In Silence of the Lambs, the chair that Clarice sits on to interview Hannibal is designed to fit her state of mind. It is collapsible and similar to a school chair: it supports the scene’s dynamic where Hannibal is placed in a position of power above her. Lesson: think of how the prop design supports the emotional language of the scene.
In Contact (1997), in the scene where Jodie Foster’s character is approaching the (space?) ship/vessel and safety chair, the design language of the scene; from the tunnel she walks through to the chair, supports the unconscious thought that she is walking to her death. Sub-conscious associations can also be made between her armour design and a saint’s/martyr’s e.g. Joan of Arc. The scene could be viewed as her walking the plank above a writhing tentacled kraken. The chair she sits on is designed for every need of the shot e.g. function, subconscious associations of death and taking away power, being able to see a first person POV shot looking below etc. When it releases her it looks like an angry jaw letting go.
Design towards symbology and metaphorical references. Make it work but also lace it with meaning. The shape language is meant to represent something: an emotional journey.
First you make a good story AND THEN you make concept art to support it.
What we think is cool as concept designers can actually undermine the story and actors of the scene. Hill looks at Event Horizon as an example where this happens.
We are not designing for ourselves. We are designing to contribute to an emotional symphony. Tuning the instrument is the ‘making sense’ part and playing our piece is the ‘designing for emotion and story’ part.