Week 5: Propaganda in Motion

In week 5 we continued to build on the work of the last few weeks. The context is still the ideation for an interactive museum piece for the upcoming guitar museum in Umeå. Again we were handed last weeks work of another student to further explore. We were tasked to design an A0 poster based on the song, interview text, adjectives and photos we received. We would then use that poster to turn it into a simple gif-like motion graphic. 

«Iron Firsts: Branding the 20th Century Totalitarian State» by Steven Heller

«Iron Firsts: Branding the 20th Century Totalitarian State» by Steven Heller

 Marjie de Haas kicked us off on Monday with a short lecture on graphic design and how it relates to Propaganda. This was going to be our main theme for the week: designing visuals in a theme that isn't necessarily your own. I got the Overture of the Operetta "Candide" to work with. I learned that the opera was based on a novella by Voltaire and read into the synopsis and interpretations.

I spent most of Monday researching the background of the operetta and listened to it a few times. Also I found this really nice book by Stephen Heller (Iron Fists: Branding the 20th-Century Totalitarian State) in the arts campus library. It's a beautiful book and makes the case that the Nazis, Facist Italy, USSR and Communist China were masters at branding their ideas. I also found a really interesting lecture on iTunes University that described how propaganda was used as a means of scaring the American public into justifying the War in Afghanistan and Iraq. What I got from that was that effective Propaganda plays on fears and ideally fears that everybody has. I quickly chose that as a starting point and decided to hone in the all to common fear of stage fright.

Propaganda posters in facist Italy in the 1930's.

Propaganda posters in facist Italy in the 1930's.

We had approximately two days to complete our posters and another two to come up with the animation. During the week we had private tutoring with Marije, who helped me find confidence in the direction I was going. In general I felt a little squeamish about this exercise as I knew that most other students had way more background in graphic design than me. Not that it really matters, but I still felt insecure if I could produce something meaningful by the end of the week.

In the second or third iteration of the poster. Changed the copywriting from "Minds Wide Shut" to "Love Your Fate" and finally to "Love Fate".

In the second or third iteration of the poster. Changed the copywriting from "Minds Wide Shut" to "Love Your Fate" and finally to "Love Fate".

 I decided to create my design in Adobe Illustrator as I wanted to archive a to-the-point and clear look without using any textures. After a few quick doodles I felt the strongest about using a concept based on a puppeteer. It would suit the role of "God" in Voltaire's book well. The characters are insanely naive throughout the epic and keep believing that their God has a plan for everything – no matter how bad it gets. I shot a few photos on my iPhone as inspiration and so that I could use them as a guidance for the Illustrator sketches. I actually ended up tracing my hands to get the right look.

Some of the detailing on the hands. I like the almost painfully thin strings that cut into the fingers. Also see the highlighting of the strings to make them visible on the dark background.

Some of the detailing on the hands. I like the almost painfully thin strings that cut into the fingers. Also see the highlighting of the strings to make them visible on the dark background.

I wanted to archive a really scary overbearing look that plays on the fear of being controlled, on the fear of being put in the spotlight and tie that back into the storyline of Voltaire's Candid'. I chose to display two characters in a rather happy pose to show their obliviousness to their situation. 

Some of the details on the characters and the shadows. 

Some of the details on the characters and the shadows. 

I'm pretty happy with how the poster and concept turned out in the end. Even more so when considering the tight timeframe for it. Having the hands poke out of the poster's frame also intensified the emotional impact for me. It almost seems as if they are out to come for you as well. The simple colour scheme of red, white and black also works really well. Or as Marije said, "You just can't go wrong with red, white and black in propaganda".

My poster was displayed near the UID entrance amongst other posters designed by my classmates.

My poster was displayed near the UID entrance amongst other posters designed by my classmates.

After our poster presentations it was time to focus on how we would turn our posters into a short animation. Now, this presented a problem for me. I hadn't really thought about the animation at all while coming up with the poster. First of all, the format was completely different. One challenge was to revamp the content and the message in a way that suited a landscape format. Secondly, I suddenly realised that animating those hands, characters and strings would be really, really difficult and time consuming.  I gave it a few shots, looking at creepy high definition wolf spider videos to get a sense of a twitchy and scary way for the hands to move. However, this is not something I'm going to reference here as I can't take the emotional trauma of looking at that video again. After what was most of a day I had to face the fact that I would need to go into a completely different direction to make this work.

I did the animation completely within Photoshop CS 6. It consisted of more than 40 layers and I would not recommend doing it ever again. I couldn't get rotation or scale transformations to work at all. As far as I could see these seem to be lacking from Photoshop's feature set.

I did the animation completely within Photoshop CS 6. It consisted of more than 40 layers and I would not recommend doing it ever again. I couldn't get rotation or scale transformations to work at all. As far as I could see these seem to be lacking from Photoshop's feature set.

So reconsidering the context of Volaire mocking overly naive people and my song being a part of a operetta I decided to come up with my own "mini mock-opera in 15 seconds". Obviously, that doesn't allow for much of a story. But I could still convey the feeling of a stage performance and how things could go from perfectly fine to progressively worse. There was something ridiculous behind this idea and in the end I just decided to run with that. I reused a lot of different elements from the original poster, but in different ways. I kept the slogan but changed the typeface to better match my message of the animation. And obviously the whole thing just had to loop. So without further ado, I sincerely hope you can enjoy my 15 seconds of utter ridicule with a smile. 

Final animation for the 'Animated Poster' exercise.

Happy to report that my video got a lot of laughs from my classmates during the final presentation. Really happy with what I archived in this week, even though I kind of missed out on the chance to try and use some storytelling in the animation. Overall, these exercises a really starting to build my creative confidence and I am starting to believe in some of my abilities more. To top it off I asked Marije for advice on strengthening my skills and got such an encouraging reply that I can't restrain myself posting it here.

«Practise makes perfect. Perhaps you can push yourself and work in styles that are not necessarily yours. [...] But like I said, your graphical skills, for as far as i have witnessed them, are brilliant. Perhaps see about different ways you can apply them; push yourself conceptually; look at the world critically and aim to use your skills for change.»