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I thought that delivering my webstock talk, and finishing reading Welcome To Mars, Cold War Modern and The Bomb while on holiday would let me escape my obsession with the post-war and the high-modern. I had reckoned without James Coburn.

Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

Tom Armitage picked up on my love of the Derek Flint movies, and suggested that I had not really experienced Coburn at the height of his powers until I had experienced him in “The President’s Analyst“. The plot is a thing of gossamer, and the dialogue is probably best described as “very much of it’s time”, but the production designs and way that product and environment is photographed is wonderful.

I watched it on my flight to Etech, and went a little crazy taking screengrabs of every beautiful detail I saw…

Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst" - a set on Flickr

The complete set is here, but I want to just point out a couple of wonderful moments.

The Archigram-esque travelling gate-lounges of Dulles, shot to echo the infrastructure of Apollo, and foreshadowing somehow the decaying post-future of Lebbeus Woods. Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

The classic Cold-War combo of the long fluoro-lit corridor with tiny psuedo golf-cart.

Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

Amphibious vehicles and long-zooms…

Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

Headquarters of Corporate Evil, designed by Bruce Goff?

Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

With corporate communications by DePatie-Freleng. (What was the first in this line of ‘hi-modern corporate communications animation vernacular’ as parodied eventually in Jurrasic Park amongst others?) Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

My absolute favourite detail however, has to be – The Networked Shoe: Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

That controls the corporate automatons Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

Look at this… the way they are curled, and nested, and converging to a central control point… This might just be the ne-plus-ultra of command-and-control cybernetics of the cold war meets the high-modern consumer culture! Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

As Coburn himself might say “Beautiful… BEAUTIFUL!Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

Close Encounters of the Third Kind was being shown on TV this weekend. I happened across it accidently, and sat glued to it for a couple of hours, realising perhaps how burnt into my subconcious some of the images in it are for me.

I started watching it not for the story (of which there is not much, admittedly) but trying to watch the imagery, the iconography.

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

So many of my hot buttons pressed! One of the first issues of Starlog I ever bought, about 1978/79 / a classic 2000ad cover by Brian Bolland / The Goodies / Syd-Mead-esque prefabricated pods and silky tracksuits / 1975 NASA Ames /Stanford Torus research illustrations / the italian-supermodern furniture aesthetic of Space 1999 /

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

I’m currently reading Ken Holling’s excellent “Welcome To Mars”, in which the golden age of flying saucer culture is juxtaposed with the rise of suburbia and the military-industrial-entertainment complex.

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

One could conside Close Encounters as the end of that trajectory – and the end of other trajectories: the last freak-out LSD scifi, the last ‘serious’ 70’s scifi before/during the starwarsification of the scifi movie.

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

And the beginning of trajectories: the scifi conspiracy movie, the beginning of the industrial light-and-magic revolution, and an in-joke that would play out more than 25 years later in Alias.

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

Aside from being lost in the imagery, one piece of dialog I had never heard before floated through as soon as I’d switched on. It’s the sceneĀ  where a young boy, Barry is about to be abducted.

His mother tries to block all the doors, windows and ducts but cannot stop screws being unscrewed and their hiding place being unwrapped by light, noise and apparent unseen malevolence.

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

Barry stands smiling, points at the UFOs and cries with joy: “TOYS!!”

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Jessica Helfand of Design Observer on Iron Man’s user-interfaces as part of the dramatis personae:

“…in Iron Man, vision becomes reality through the subtlest of physical gestures: interfaces swirl and lights flash, keyboards are projected into the air, and two-dimensional ideas are instantaneously rendered as three and even four-dimensional realities. Such brilliant optical trickery is made all the more fantastic because it all moves so quickly and effortlessly across the screen. As robotic renderings gravitate from points of light in space into a tangible, physical presence, the overall effect merges screen-based, visual language with a deftly woven kind of theatrical illusion.”

Made me think back to a post I wrote here about three years ago, on “invisible computing” in Joss Wheedon’s “Firefly”.

Firefly touch table

“…one notices that the UI doesn’t get in the way of the action, the flow of the interactions between the bad guy and the captain. Also, there is a general improvement in the quality of the space it seems ? when there are no obtrusive vertical screens in line-of-sight to sap the attention of those within it.”

Firefly touch table

Instead of the Iron Man/Minority Report approach of making the gestural UI the star of the sequence, this is more interesting – a natural computing interface supports the storytelling – perhaps reminding the audience where the action is…

As Jessica points out in her post, it took us some years for email to move from 3D-rendered winged envelopes, to things that audiences had common experience and expectations of.

Three years on from Firefly, most of the audience watching scifi and action movies or tv will have seen or experienced a Nintendo Wii or an iPhone, and so some of the work of moving technology from star to set-dressing is done – no more outlandish or exotic as a setting for exposition than a whiteboard or map-table.

Having said that – we’re still in tangible UIs transition to the mainstream.

A fleeting shot from the new Bond trailer seems to indicate there’s still work for the conceptual UI artist, but surely this now is the sort of thing that really has a procurement number in the MI6 office supplies intranet…

Bond Touch table

And – it’s good to see Wheedon still pursuing tangible, gestural interfaces in his work…

As you might be aware – Flickr launched video, and amongst much praise for it’s simple, clear implementation there’s been quite a lot of hoo-ha from us wonderful, grateful users, some of whom are afraid the addition of video will lower the tone of the service to that of others, that allow you a tube, if you will.
Part of the differentiating design of Flickr video is that only clips of a maximum 90 seconds duration are possible. In fact, Flickr themselves refer to them as ‘long photos’.
Matt Webb has a wonderful set building at the moment of 11 second video clips. One of them is a mesmerising shot of waves breaking on a beach, that I’ve seen him use to hypnotise his audience as the opening slide of his talks.
So – this led me to wonder if another differentiating design constraint could be set: what if all videos looped automatically as default?
Wouldn’t they then really be long photos?
I’d love to be able to loop the clip posted above, so that you can just see the little door-closing system they’ve erected at Flat White over and over to your hearts content.
A loop would be a captured action or situation rather than a narrative, where the duration of the loop is set but the loop goes on forever so you can study the layers, the detail, the figure and the ground in the same way you can a photo.
A bottled system not a short story.
Think about all the tiny clips you’ve played again and again on the internet just to see one aspect, one moment, act out – a goal or a dramatic chipmunk.

Not stories, but toy moments.
Think about those moving photos imagined in cheesy science fiction films or Harry Potter movies.
Tiny loops of video perhaps are the real long photos…