Narrative Violations and Narrative Primitives

Quick Read: Sometimes narratives could have ‘violations’. And sometimes, what might at first appear to be a ‘violation’ could prove to be intrinsic to its narrative. Knowing the former from the latter could help unlock great value – across verticals or contexts.

Making sense of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” is said to be difficult.

It is considered by many to be one of the most revered and feared compositions in Jazz history. In fact generations of Jazz musicians are known to approach ‘Giant Steps’ as the pinnacle in Jazz improvisation.

Why? This video could provide a delightful crash course of an answer.

Or take Afrobubblegum – the new film genre redefining on screen representation of Africa.

It refers to fun, fierce and frivolous African art that has joy and hope at the centre of it. The pioneer of this style, Wanuri Kahiu a TED fellow and a Kenyan filmmaker says “We’re so used to narratives out of Africa being about war, poverty and devastation. We believe that Africa is joyful and full of pride and respect and hope,” and continues to champion the need for such art that captures the full range of human experiences to tell vibrant stories of Africa.

And tell she did!

In 2018, Wanuri Kahiu’s story of young lesbian love, Rafiki, made international headlines for being the first Kenyan film programmed at the Cannes Film Festival in 71 years of French Riviera cinema history.

What is common between Wanuri Kahiu’s ‘Afrobubblegum’ and John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’?

The genre of Afrobubblegum or the Jazz track ‘Giant Steps’ standout because they ‘violate’ the popular narratives around their respective art forms or subjects. They are examples of what venture capitalists call Narrative Violations.

Narrative Violations

While the term could seem like a fancy jargon to reference the essential characteristic of what makes something a ‘contrarian bet’ to a VC, I should admit that it serves its semantic purpose of helping us put a label on something specific through descriptive and non ambiguous terminology.

Perhaps it is this pull that made Geoff Lewis and Eric Stromberg – the founders of Bedrock Capital – write a manifesto for their firm titled ‘In Search of Narrative Violations‘ stating the following..

Some recent ‘Narrative Violations’ listed on Bedrock Capital’s manifesto letter

The letter in its entirety is eloquent and makes for a great read and ends on an inspiring note saying..

“..As our keystrokes hunt for the next narrative high, thousands of possibilities that will never be remain trapped beneath our fingertips. When we allow popular narrative to dictate who, where, and what is worthy of our time or capital, breakthroughs that could transcend remain overlooked, underestimated, or simply fade away.

Against all odds, a few brave entrepreneurs violating the narrative today will come to define profound new truths tomorrow. We’re on a mission to find them

To be clear, the concept of ‘Narrative Violations’ has also had its fair share of critiques for being too reductive. It was even declared 2019’s ‘VC Bingo’ buzzword of the year.

Nonetheless, I find the concept to be a clarifying filter that helps me process or question most things with a healthy dose of scepticism and encourages me to seek out edge cases in popular rhetoric, including say even that around the concept of ‘Narrative Violation’ itself.

Why?

Consider this question.

What if, sometimes, narrative violations are part of the narrative?

i.e., what if a ‘violation’ is actually an inherent part of a larger pattern that constitutes the narrative itself? Like say, a recurring motif that becomes apparent if only one were to step back and consider the big picture. Being able to see if and when that is the case could help us identify emerging paradigms and recognise how such paradigms propagate.

For e.g., after the dotcom bubble burst in 2000, Carlota Perez published her seminal book Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital arguing that the ‘burst’ was completely normal and qualified it by drawing patterns from four similar epochal periods over the last two centuries: the industrial revolution, steel and railways, electricity and heavy engineering, the automobiles and mass production.

Across each of these periods, she pattern matched its associated moments of ‘crash’ (the equivalent of the dotcom bubble burst from 2000) and recognised such instances as inalienable parts of larger cycles that play out over several decades (as opposed to say some inexplicable violations to the popular narratives of their times).

Source: Carlota Perez, Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital,2002

The master stroke of her framework is that it inherently provisions for moments of ‘big bangs’, ‘bubbles’, ‘crashes’ and then again necessary ‘recompositions’ as part of a single unified narrative that cohesively explains the interplay between financial capital and technological revolutions. And then continues to shine a spotlight on how this narrative seemed to have repeated itself across ages almost inviolably.

(Bonus reads: Two of my favourite thinkers, Alex Danco and Ben Thomspon have recently used Carlota Perez’s framework to write about Debt Financing and Paradigm Shifts in tech. Highly recommended reads indeed.)

To reiterate, a key takeaway for me here is the idea of the narrative as a paradigm that propagates.

Such a narrative construct that propagates needs to be essentially indivisible, should have a full self contained arc of a structure to serve as a standalone story if need be and be able to play out as a cohesive whole even with trivial variations in contexts or actors.

Matthew Ball has a term for this – The Narrative Primitive.

In one of the most intellectually stimulating podcasts I have listened to in the recent past, Matthew Ball joins Patrick O’Shaughnessy to discuss movies, the Metaverse and more and refers to the concept of ‘Narrative Primitive’ to explain why the worlds of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the Star Wars stand out as expansive and immersive. The following lines from the podcast’s transcript shine light further.

… “how would you have told the story 80 years ago if you had all the tools available? How are those stories going to change in the next 10 years?” And in some instances that is unlocking what you might call a narrative primitive, that’s perhaps some of the reasons why the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the tales of Star Wars are so expansive today, so immersive.

Now, when I consider these two concepts – Narrative Violation and Narrative Primitive – together, I am tempted to posit the following.

The essential insight that rock star traders, venture capitalists and story tellers possess is this – they know a good narrative when they see one. And more importantly they have an eye for a narrative violation. Because they think in narrative primitives.


Noteworthy ingredients – that may or may not have gone into the making of this blog post:

[Featured Image: Pendulums on freepik]

Pixels to Pronouncements

Quick Read: Pixels – the building blocks of our digital edifices – could be assuming an influence of mammoth proportions across verticals. For e.g., an interesting wave of ‘virtual dressers’ is catching the fashion world by storm.

30 Rock..

..or 30 Rockefeller Plaza is a skyscraper that forms the centrepiece of Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. When walking by its Sixth Avenue entrance one might find something curious. It has four sculptures – bas reliefs, carved in stone by Gaston Lachaise, an American sculptor  – placed all the way up on the third floor.

One might ask, “What are they doing all the way up there?”

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Sixth Avenue Entrance of 30 RCA Building. Source

The answer is that when Rockefeller Center was built, the elevated train still ran up Sixth Avenue. The Lachaise reliefs were placed so these ‘El riders’ passing through the station could see them.

This happens all around us. 

When real estate is at a premium – from facades of iconic buildings to the shelf space in our neighbourhood grocery stores – one can make an entire career out of optimising the design/layout of the underlying physical space for our attention, so it delivers on its intended ‘return on placement’.

These days it could almost be trite to state that it is actually the ‘digital real estate space’ that arguably commands a greater premium vs that of any physical space. And the job of the UX/UI designer thereby becomes one of the most influential (and in my opinion – one of most fulfilling) roles in Product Dev/ Management. In fact, the ‘pixels that they design’ essentially become the gateways to digital products/services shaping the user experience for millions of us around the world. No wonder great UX/UI designers are in great demand.

ux-design-book-combined

And never is the product designer’s* significance more evident than in the current Covid times when the design/layout of an app could be a true window into its product’s soul. (*’product designer’ as a catch all phrase for all design functions in the service of a product) 

For e.g,. given these unprecedented times, how does a product balance its rational (product/services) promise with that of its emotional (empathy/sensitivity) narrative? What are its core values and beliefs and how does the product reconcile it with its commercial underpinnings – its core reason for existence?

Check out a highly recommended read here on this very topic. Post reading it, one could even be tempted to take a walk down one’s playground of pixels (a.k.a one’s apps on their phone) to try and infer those subtle truths that govern their design.

These days, pixels don’t just make for subtle commentary, but also influential pronouncements impacting the zeitgeist of the times.

When pixels become fashion pronouncements

In what now feels like a different meta verse, human beings used to gawk at outfits on the streets or ogle at chic strangers’ coats to see what new brands/designs/designers people are into while designers used to organise their new expositions through coveted fashion shows and had hordes of fans waiting in lines for their exclusive pop up sales. Well now (or rather here in this current meta verse of social distancing) some designers have still been able to do this and more.

For e.g., on a recent weekend, the fashion designer Sandy Liang held an extremely exclusive pop-up sale. Only six people were allowed in at a time, with attendees (the list that swelled to almost 100 people at one point) waiting in line for over two hours.

Before you panic about the potential social distancing violations involved, know that this sale took place on a completely virtual plane: an island in the video game Animal Crossing.

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Enter a captionScene from Sandy Liang’s Animal Crossing pop-up. Source

For the uninitiated, a quick crash course on Animal Crossing below:

With the Nintendo game Animal Crossing: New Horizons, players can customize their looks to show off outfits that reflect their personal style, something that piqued the interests of fashion enthusiasts playing the game, who quickly began designing custom looks that riffed on the trendy designers of the moment. Coupled with social distancing and less opportunities to show off fits in-person, it’s created an unorthodox, but amazing opportunity for Animal Crossing users to show off their outfits — so much so that many real-life fashion designers are creating official clothing codes so users can cop designs from their latest collections.

–Time

Today there are entire Instagram communities centered around Animal Crossing fashion. Marc Jacobs even created his virtual fashion line available for gamers through codes.

And if I’ve run out of style codes or ideas, there are even virtual stores like nookazon (a fan built enterprise) where I can buy clothing for in-game characters. And we have not even scratched the surface of this trend of fashion-conscious people using the game as a platform for style expression by dressing their avatars in pixelated versions of clothes by Gucci, Celine, Supreme and more.

For many, it could even look like Animal Crossing is the only place where people seem to get dressed up for now. Clearly ‘pixels’ seem to have become our canvas for self expression like never before.

Could this change the way fashion works forever?

[Featured Image: Animal Crossing illustration on The Washington Post]

Of Similarities and Split Screen

Quick Read: There are ads that try and communicate a message of ‘contrast’ and there are those that communicate ‘similarity’. While the former type of ads ride on a diverse set of story telling devices, there seems to be an interesting trend in the story telling devices deployed by the latter set. It’s the ‘Split Screen’.

A lot of advertising is meant to tease out / explain / amplify an element of a brand that is supposedly in contrast w.r.t the competition. Think about it for a moment and think of the core narratives behind most of the ads that you see around.
A lot of advertising narratives tend to fall into this camp, where they try to land a message through a narrative that is designed to communicate a contrast – sometimes in a straightforward manner or sometimes in perhaps a tongue in cheek style.
A few share worthy ads of that kind below.
1. Jeep,  Anti Manifesto
(Agency: Arnold Worldwide. H/T: Bhatnaturally)
And oh, btw just for fun, see this one and it’s hard to not think that the Jeep’s creative team didn’t have this in mind while conceptualizing the above work.
2. Fevicol, Ezee Spray
(Agency: Ogilvy)
3. Eko Kom, Flight Attendants / Garbage Collectors
 
(Agency: Havas, Prague. H/T: Bhatnaturally)
As you can see, ads that have ‘contrast’ as the core message, ride on a diverse set of story telling devices.
Interestingly, this is in contrast with ads where ‘similarity’ is the core message.
When similarity is the core message..
.. there seems to be an interesting trend in the story telling devices that most of them seem to draw upon. Most of such narratives are rooted in a singular story telling device – the split screen.  
Sample the following examples.
1. The Day Before 
(Agency: Leo Burnett Chicago)
2. McDonald’s
(Agency: Agency: Leo Burnett Chicago)
3. John Lewis
(Agency: DDB Worldwide)
4. Coca Cola UK
(Agency: David The Agency, Buenos Aires)
For the record, the split screen as a story telling device has also been used in ads that seek to communicate a contrast.
Like this one from Apple.
In fact this entire campaign for iPhone (in May 2017) had creatives that all used the split screen.
What other story telling devices have caught your eye in the recent past?

 

Convergent Evolution

Quick Read: ‘Convergent Evolution’ while being a concept from the life sciences could actually be seen playing out with a greater degree of recurrence in creativity and arts.

What you see here on the left is the picture of a butterfly. But what what you see on the right, is not.

Convergent Evolution

(Pic source: The Economist)

In fact it is that of a fossil of a lacewing (an insect) called Oregramma illecebrosa. Supposedly it flew in the forests of the Jurassic period between 165m and 125m years ago, dying out 69m years before the first-known butterfly fossil. (source)

These are examples of Convergent Evolution: the emergence of similar bodies in unrelated groups of species, to permit the pursuit of similar ways of life.

Another example of Convergent Evolution is the Jurassic Ichthyosaurs and the modern Dolphin.

CONVERGENT EVOLUTION (1)

(Pic Source: The Dinosaur Store)

But that’s not the interesting part.

Convergent Evolution while being a concept from the life sciences could actually be seen playing out with a greater degree of recurrence in creativity and arts; where it can loosely be defined as follows:

Convergent Evolution in the arts is the emergence of similar kinds of ideas and creative executions from unrelated sources or disciplines, to permit the pursuit of similar expressions.  

Let us take two projects Futuristic Archaeology and Inherit the Dust and a set of OOH executions by Amnesty International as examples.

Futuristic Arhaeology 

Mongolia has long been home to one of the world’s largest nomadic populations, with more than a third of its population pursuing their livelihood on the vast Mongolian-Manchurian steppe. But in recent years, the grassland has been drying up.

Korean photographer Daesung Lee’s series Futuristic Archaeology explores what the desertification of their home means for Mongolian nomads through a series of fantastically staged images.

They feature landscapes-within-landscapes — barren, desert environments inlaid with decidedly greener ones.

futuristic-archaeology-1-1024x682

futuristic-archaeology-10-1024x683

(Images from Futuristic Archaeology. Full collection here)

These incredible scenes aren’t digitally orchestrated: Lee actually printed out billboard-sized photographs and strung them up on site, using former nomads as models. Inside the smaller images, people ride horses, herd goats, and go about their lives fenced in by red rope barriers. (source)

Inherit the Dust

Nick Brandt is as much an activist as he is a photographer. After spending 15 years working in Africa he was depressed by the changes he saw sweeping across the African landscape, like illegal logging predicted to eliminate some 30 million acres by 2030.

Thus was born his latest project Inherit the Dust a collection of  moody portraits of elephants, giraffes, and lions to call attention to Africa’s vanishing megafauna. Each picture in this project has been meticulously staged and exquisitely shot in black and white to bring to life these beautiful creatures wandering the landscapes they’ve long since been driven out of.

Brandt_04-1024x474Brandt_05-1024x474Brandt_008-1024x489

(Images from Inherit The Dust, Nick Brandt. Source)

While with Inherit The Dust, the quiet dignity of the animals that Nick Brandt photographs is shockingly juxtaposed against the indignity and disarray of our own…

…. Amnesty International flips this concept a bit

…by juxtaposing the shocking indignity of human rights violations against the backdrop of a quite dignified civic life that most of us easily take for granted.

Amnesty International_1

Amnesty International_2

(Advertising Agency: Walker, Zürich, Switzerland. More executions here, here and here)

As one reviewer of Nick Brandt’s Inherit the Dust puts it..

“These haunting photographs force us to think about what we are doing, and who is at stake.”

Now even at a nuanced level, if you come to think about it, isn’t this statement equally applicable for all the other projects featured here?

Perhaps that’s what makes them apt examples of convergent evolution.

(Featured Image: Wasteland with Elephant, by Nick Brandt from Inherit the Dust)

The Allure Of Being Limited: Part 2/2

Quick Read: Value as a concept to a consumer has 2 key dimensions: perceived benefit and perceived cost of a product. But the moment a third dimension called ‘availability’ is introduced, the equation becomes intriguing and interesting, especially when the former is limited – in reach or time.

Imagine someone unboxing a case of 20 blind boxes – each box contains a sealed wrapper that holds a mystery toy within.

For each foil he unwraps and realises the actual toy within – a miniature character –  he lets out an exclamatory ‘aah’. The look and feel of this miniature character makes him marvel at the detail and the exquisite craftsmanship that must have gone into its make, while he also makes a mental note to himself regarding its probable name and where it fits in the larger family of its ‘toy clan’.

And this goes on for each of the 20 blind boxes containing a mystery miniature character within.

Box after box.

And did I tell you that he is an adult in his 30s?

Difficult to imagine, right?

No worries.  For there are thousands of videos here showing this very story unfold. Box after box.

This video here is a good representative version. (strongly recommended dose of some infotainment before you read further)

What did we just see?

Adults –  acting like kids on a christmas morning, unable to contain their excitement as they hold their breath while they unwrap a foil to discover a pretty little toy character within.

Welcome to the world of Urban Vinyl and Designer Toys – a world where toys become prized possessions and collectibles because of two reasons: 

  1. They are works of art designed by prominent international pop culture and graffiti artists.
  2. They are produced in limited quantities  – some as few as 10 to a maximum of 2000 – thereby becoming some of the rarest toys of that kind to be ever made.

Qee series produced in Hong Kong by Toy2R,  Be@rbrick from Japan and the Dunny series produced by Kidrobot are some of the most prominent examples of Designer Toys and Urban Vinyl.

Let’s take Kidrobot – known to be the Mecca of Designer Toys enthusiasts – founded in the US in 2002 by Paul Budnitz. It calls its limited edition Designer Toys as an innovative cross between sculpture and conceptual art, offering not only a powerful medium for today’s international fashion designers, illustrators and graffiti artists, but also the creative canvas for emerging street trends and pop art.

And due to these toys being ‘limited edition’ in design and make they retail anywhere from $5 to $25,000, and many appreciate in value over time. (source)

Kidrobot Dunny(At the intersection of Art and Cult –  The Kidrobot Dunny, Source)

A few more fascinating details regarding Kidrobot and its Dunny Series Designer Toys:

  • Packaging: Each Dunny Designer Toy comes in a foil wrapped inside a blind box. These blind boxes are identical in every way to any other box in a given set so nobody knows which toy is inside. A foil is used to wrap the toy so nobody can open the box and peek inside. (also shown in the unboxing video above)
  • Product Assortment: While the outer case would have some indication of what characters to expect inside, not all of them can be expected to be contained within. Each toy character would have an odds ratio indicating its probability of occurrence within a set. Interestingly there are some characters called ‘chases’ with unknown odds called out as ‘?/??’, while a few are shown mysteriously only in silhouettes. Occasionally, they also include ‘super mystery figures’ that aren’t even indicated on the box, which tend to be some of the rarest ever made of the kind!

Kidrobot Official Dunny Series 2012 Checklist & Ratios(The odds ratios as printed on the cases of Dunny Series 2012, Source) 

  • Kidrobot’s approach to marketing is anything but ordinary: Read here a short interview with Paul Budnitz where he reveals how he has taken a marketing approach opposite to that of most companies.
  • How Kidrobot manages its creative capital: Kidrobot’s approach to distribution of decision making power within the company, its open source design strategy, and how it regularly commissions rock star designers rather than in house artists in order to let a sort of ‘fluidity’ permeate the entire company makes for a fascinating read.
  • Tie ups and Partnerships: Given the cult level popularity and the artistic appeal of Kidrobot’s limited edition toys, it naturally makes for a very coveted partner. For e.g., in Jan 2014 CES, Samsung Galaxy partnered with Kidrobot to land the message about the brand being a new touch point in artistic expression.

samsung_kidrobot_0235wtmk-1280x878(Samsung partners with Kidrobot in CES 2014, Pic source: Slash Gear)

And so it goes on – a fascinating story of how a bunch of unassuming tiny vinyl toys have grown to become icons of pop culture that regularly pull in rabid fans and ardent collectors, who neither mind queuing up for hours outside its stores nor forking out hundreds or even thousands of dollars to buy these designer toys while making its company a multi million dollar brand that it is today.

And when one reads this, sometimes all one can manage to say could be …

…while perhaps even wondering on a wishful note to oneself  damn! where can I get one myself!!”

(Featured Image: Set of Huck Gee’s Night & Day Raku 8” Dunny released in 2011.These were a limited edition of just 500 sets.source)

The Wabi Sabi Edge

The Ise Grand Shrine – a Shinto Shrine – in Ise, Mie prefecture in Japan has been preserved exactly like it was around 2,000 years ago. Despite such a rich legacy, the UNESCO has refused to list the shrine in its list of historic places.

Why?

Shinto Shrine

(Shinto priests walking beside the Ise Grand Shrine, Japan. Source)

This is because the shrine is not built of a ‘permanent structure’. The ISe Grand Shrine is built of wood and hence it  gradually loses its structural integrity over years. So the Shinto priests have a solution;  every 20 years they tear down the structure and rebuild another – in an adjacent plot –  in exactly the same specifications as the original using the wood from the same forest that the original structure was built from. Result: the shrine  is  forever new,  ancient and original! The present structure, dating from 1993, is the 61st iteration to date and is scheduled for rebuilding in 2013!

A centuries old Shinto belief of death and renewal of nature and the transience  of all things called Wabi- Sabi underscores the philosophical and artistic significance of this shrine. To quote the wiki  page ….

Wabi Sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.

Burning Man

Further to the west, in northern Nevada US is the Black Rock Desert –  an open swathe of desert land where a week long annual cultural festival called Burning Man is held every August/September. This iconic event is described as an annual experiment in community, art, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance – a week long celebration of extreme creativity, art, spirituality and innovation. Often compared to TED for its potential to provoke, inspire, connect, indulge or just ‘let be’, Burning Man regularly attracts stalwarts like the Google founders, Eric Schmidt, Chip Conley among many many others. But what makes Burning Man stand out as an exceptional event is the fact that it is transient by nature. The whole venue, the structures and the shelters for the event are practically built from scratch and again torn to dust without leaving a trace at the end of the week!

See below the time lapse video of 2011 Burning Man to appreciate the ‘dust to dust’ cycle typical of the Burning Man.

As Business Strategy

Transience as a method, an approach or a strategy is not just  an expressionist arts style or some exotic charm of a shrine.  It also has far reaching implications on contemporary business strategy. The June 2013 edition of Harvard Business Review features an interesting article by Rita Gunther McGrath on what she calls as Transient Advantage. She argues that  in a world where competitive advantage often evaporates in less than a year, companies can’t afford to spend months at a time crafting a single long-term strategy. She introduces what she calls as The Wave of Transient Advantage and explains its ‘curve’ (below). Companies possessing this edge constantly start new strategic initiatives, build, exploit, re configure and if need be even actively disengage from an initiative as a means to reprioritise, reinvent and renew their approach to growth.

Transient Advantage

(Wave of Transient Advantage, Source)

She posits that the thinking in this field “has reached an inflection point” leading to an acknowledgment from a multitude of strategy practitioners that “Sustainable competitive advantage is now the exception, not the rule. Transient advantage is the new normal.”

The latest post in the Gaping Void newsletter by Hugh Mac­Leod pays an artistic tribute to this concept through this delightful piece of ‘office art’.

permanent_state

(You must subscribe to his newsletter, sure to make your day!)

Essentially from which ever perspective you look at it – artistic, personal, emotional, professional or even strategic, the ability to accept transience as the new normal, the ability to let go of the status quo to rethink, re-invent and renew our  approach forms the bedrock of the new competitive edge – The Wabi Sabi Edge.

Gyotaku And The Trailer

What is common between Gyotaku and Movie Trailers?

Gyotaku Trailer

1. Both are traditionally forms of ‘advertisements’ of another art form

2. And both have evolved into specialized art forms unto themselves

Let’s start with Gyotaku

Gyotaku is the traditional Japanese art of fish printing dating back to the mid 1800s. Before you read any further, you might want to begin with this fabulous TEDEd video to get a quick introduction on this fascinating art form.

As you can see, the purpose of the early Gyotaku print was to serve as an advertisement and proof of the fisherman’s skills as reflected by the quality of his catch.  The emphasis was thereby to capture just the basic proof of the size and species of the fisherman’s “trophy fish” and to record this permanently.

Now Gyotaku has become so popular around the world that it has dedicated competitions, hobby clubs, instruction classes, museums, books, textile prints etc;  and has currently evolved to the point where the actual activity of fishing is almost besides the point.  The craft has now become a unique representational art of Japanese Culture that honors realism and story telling.

The insight for me here is that,

A good piece of Gyotaku art captures a moment in the ocean and not just a piece of dead fish.

Gyotaku2

In other words each piece of Gyotaku tells a story where:

1. The narrative often comes from what you don’t see – the negative space: A good Gyotaku composition is known to make use of the negative space within the frame and brings to life the concepts like idea, flow and freedom of movement that come with the ocean.

2. Our minds are lead into the frame and then set free : A good Gyotaku ‘hand holds’ our mind by gently leading us into the exquisite form and finish of the fish. But a great Gyotaku takes it a step further by then carefully setting our imagination ‘free’ as it allows ample space for the mind to take the fish on its journey.

Moving on to Movie Trailers

Just like Gyotaku, the movie trailer has come a long way from being a plain advertisement (of a full length movie) to becoming a genre unto itself. Today it is a thriving industry that is almost as popular as that of the movies they’re teasing, with legions of fans following, dissecting, analyzing, reviewing and rating them on a regular basis even as they are feted out at forums like The Key Art Awards and The Golden Trailer Awards (the Oscars of movie trailers).

From being just a linear montage of title cards, voice-over, a few key scenes followed by a cast run-through, movie trailers today are part art, part marketing wizardry and part awesome creativity. Result: They can tease, titillate, shock, seduce, awe, thrill or even hypnotise us via subliminal messages, imagery, and music and lull us into the cinema for the actual full length fare.

The latest edition of the WIRED magazine has an insightful feature on the Art Of The Movie Trailer. Two insights that emerge from the construct of great trailers:

1.The narrative of the trailers doesn’t necessarily come from what you see, it comes from what you hear (the negative space of trailers = music): Trailers are all about rhythm, pacing, and feeling. That’s why music plays a vital role as a key narrative device and can more often than not make or break a trailer. Mark Woollen, the man behind the trailer for The Social Network shares a secret of how he came up with its music for an evocative narrative ..

I’d had “Creep” on my iTunes for five or six years kind of kicking around before the Social Network trailer…And then when this project came along, I started to consider that song. There are a couple of qualities to it that I thought could do a lot for the trailer. It was a fantastic piece of music—the build, the message, the flavor.

And the rest as they say is history – with the trailer going on to win both The Key Art Awards and The Golden Trailer Awards for 2011 for its outstanding achievement in advertising movies. See this trailer here:

2. Our minds are lead into the plot and then condemned to a free fall: A good trailer gently leads our minds and imaginations into the centre of the plot or the tension that is eventually created in the act 2 and then sets it on a free fall. E.g., Alfred Hitchcock’s trailer for Psycho (though being a tad bit long at ~ 6 mins) very gently teases us bit by bit till almost the end before throwing us off the cliff! See the iconic trailer here: (don’t miss the last 2.5 mins at least)

The trailer for Alien is another master piece that stands out for a similar reason.

So there you have it – Gyotaku and Movie Trailers:  two art forms that have begun to become bigger than the art forms that these are based upon, two powerful examples where creativity thrives despite the underlying constraints ; or probably examples where creativity thrives due to its underlying constraints.