Week 2, Day 8
This day was much more successful. In only 3 hours, we covered lots of content. We started with progress reports again. I do not actually remember details of daily progress reports, but I do know that this practice was really important, at least during this week 2 section. It kept the full group feeling cohesive even as the 3 groups were spending less and less time together. Often when one group was reporting, most of the other groups were not listening. I had to always remind them that this was important content for everyone, and that we also learn from others experience, if we are paying attention.
I also talked about “world-building,” and this idea that the world that your story takes place in can be specifically detailed or it can be assumed, this is why it is important to understand myths, and to understand who your audience is (do they live in the same world as you? are you sure?)
I used this image to clarify my points about myths and world-building, which I think had been a little mystifying to some of the students up to this point. This was something I made for Toronto hip-hop duo Test Their Logik, an album cover, it folds in the middle so the right side is the front cover, left side is back cover. I gave the students the actual CD jacket to pass around.
I explained that there are a number of common myths/archetypes seen here: the evil city / evil machines, faceless multitudes, a little guy standing up to a big monster, weeds coming up through the cracks, sun rising to clear away the darkness, life v. death, black & red, etc. Most of these are old cliches, but become more interesting when assembled together. I also explained that the musicians want their music to be attractive to a specific sub-culture, so they must include this sub-culture’s myths, and there is no need to justify/explain them because it is ok if others are alienated (though that may not be appropriate for the students’ projects!). I pointed out that there are obviously two sides present here, though the “protagonist” is only the people by default, there is not much character there (but that makes it easier to see yourself in the scene!), and even though they are disconnected, the size of the dandelion and bees make them seem powerful, so the viewer readily assumes they must be coming to the rescue, and they take on heroic proportions (there’s those myths again). Lastly, I showed how even though the action is proceeding from right to left (as is the first viewing of the closed CD jacket), because we tend to read from left to right, there is an easy to follow plot progression here: evil machines marching out of the evil city, they are stopped by people/protest, so that flowers can grow through the pavement = setup-change-resolution. All in all, this was a great way to sum up many critical lessons in one fell swoop, showing how elaborate stories can be communicated in even very small images. Next time I will probably start by showing this or something like it.
We also did a framing activity, which started with looking at some photos from the media and talking about how stories are also defined by what is not included.
We followed this with a fun activity framing different scenes in The True Cost of Coal. I asked different students to pick out different elements, using a series of smaller and smaller frames. I insisted that there be at least some overlap from the previous frame, but they could also reach out to frame new things too.
For each one, we interpreted the image inside the frame, disregarding anything outside it, and analyzed how the feel of the image changed when a character was added or subtracted. Students really enjoyed this activity – it is a good chance to move around, and also it can have some surprising insights. I have found this to be a really great activity for young students too.
Then we talked about world-building some more – I showed them a series of pictures from some artists who I think are exceptional at creating an entire world around their characters, masterfully implied with only small details. “Melancholia” by Albrecht Durer is a piece that has been studied in this way for generations, and then I also included some pieces by Norman Rockwell and Winslow Homer.
What can you tell about the world these characters live in? How is it different from the world of the last scene? Look closely, it is not just about where and when these people exist, but also how and why.
This activity went marvelously, students really enjoyed it I think.
Lastly, we did a quick overview of comics, the art of combining pictures, words, and sequence. First, I gave this example – starting with 4 squares, I noted “Here we have frames, but it is totally static.” Next I added these two characters, but it was still very boring, no movement or story. Then I added those two letters, “hi” and suddenly the whole thing transformed. It became a story, with sequence and relationship (a very boring story, and an awkward relationship, obviously, but still). This was a very clear way of showing the power of comics in story-telling, and we had a brief discussion about this.
I also showed some good examples, including Will Eisner and R Crumb, two of my favorite comic story-tellers (and very different too!). Here are a few. I also wanted to emphasize that putting square frames around things helps make the sequence proceed smoothly, but we do not need to get trapped in it.
The groups had some more work time before the lunch break, and then in the afternoon they all went out to do their research.