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.


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.

The New Theory of Constraints

What is common between Lego, NASCAR and Instagram?

Answer: A shared set of constraints (in functionality/features) and a shared set of capabilities that form the bedrock of the whole experience for any ‘participant’ in any part of the world. Well almost.

Let’s start with Lego – a brand with a phenomenal presence around the world that charmingly scales to ‘62 little color blocks for everyone on the planet’.

Throughout its roller coaster ride, over the last 60+ years, ‘despite’ new ideas and innovations that redefined dominant themes and possibilities that can be realized out of these toys, one thing remained the same throughout the times: the Lego brick.

(Dimensions of standard Lego bricks and plates. Source)

Lego bricks have constituted the fundamental building block of any Lego toy built through the ages. While they come in various sizes and shapes opening up newer possibilities, they are basically and functionally similar (if not same) to each other – in fact it is said that Lego bricks of 1950s can connect even with their 2009 counterparts as if they have been made for each other! So barring some theme specific add-ons that are sometimes bundled along with the building kits, all Lego toys come with the same/similar set of capabilities and constraints at a fundamental level. I feel it is this shared awareness of the multitude of possibilities that can be realized using the same set of blocks and the constituent constraints (or absence of them), that fires up peoples’ imagination and makes them co-creators of the brand’s physical and virtual footprints. And thereby makes this a real shared experience.

NASCAR is different from F1 in a number of ways.F1, besides from being a race among the drivers and their teams, is also a race among the ‘constructors of the car chassis’. So there are a number of factors at play in the run up to that coveted podium position in every Grand Prix– the engine, its aerodynamics, tyres, the technical support, the strategy, the drivers etc. But NASCAR on the contrary largely remains a race among drivers – with everything else (for most part) being equal. So what essentially matters is just the competency of the drivers and their strategy. In fact, this is what makes maintaining any given position consistently (1st or the 25th), while aiming to overtake the next man (or woman) in front of you  extremely challenging in a NASCAR rally. So in many ways, it is this ‘race among equals’ philosophy that makes NASCAR for as engaging a watch and fan following that it has as of today.

Over to photo sharing.  There are many social networks predicated on the concept of photo sharing and social networks. While they must be doing a great job in terms of providing a common platform for people to share their photos with friends and others, they lack what it takes to foster a real shared experience among the users. For eg, if I want to share my pictures that I have taken with my mobile phone and hence were to be on say flickr (I must admit I really like flickr for what it is, but that’s besides the point now), I might run into tons of stunning, visually breathtaking photos posted by a number of photographers around the world. So, while I might sometimes stop by and enjoy these pictures for what they are, I don’t and cannot relate to them. I might think that these have been shot with a Full Frame DSLR by a trained photographer and even post produced in some professional photo editing software. So this benefit of doubt that I give to these pictures in deference to those great cameras / photographers and software stand in my way of seeing this a real shared experience. Enter Instagram.

There is no doubt that factors like the quality of its filters, the reach (of iPhones), a well designed interface, the access to a visceral world that it fosters and the immediacy of outcomes that it presents the user have all made Instagram as popular as it is today. But, these factors alone never answered my question as to why Instagram has become ‘this’ popular. I set out to find out and I was so glad to have discovered this great insight. Nate Bolt’s article on TechChrunch nails it when he says…

“…There’s something enticing about knowing that most Instagram photos are created on the iPhone…… That makes it fun to see what other people can create with the same technical constraints you have. Photography has always been all about the equipment, and not at all about the equipment. Knowing millions of people are creating with roughly the same camera and app as you makes it exciting creatively. So constraints, combined with quality and an audience are what makes Instagram so addictive…..”

This also answers why Instagram hasn’t been in a rush to release an Android version of the App so far; for if it does so, there could be a sudden explosion of photos taken by thousands of different mobile phones / tablets with different specifications and capabilities. Hence suddenly the whole deal ceases becoming a real shared experience that it has always been till now.

So there you go – a common thread that connects and potentially explains the popularity and the impact that brands like Lego, NASCAR and Instagram enjoy. A celebration of the lowest common denominator in features/functions and constraints.

Can you think of any other brand/innovation/business model that thrives upon fostering a shared experience for the user/consumer based on a set of common constraints (and common capabilities)?