The Overview Effect

Quick read: Overview Effect – a phenomenon from space travel can have some great creative parallels in the arts. 

There’s a strange phenomenon that happens to astronauts when they see Earth from space. Most astronauts describe this as a cognitive shift in awareness, a state of mental clarity or a sense of deep connection.

This state called the “overview effect,” occurs when you are flung so far away from Earth that you become totally overwhelmed and awed by the fragility and unity of life on our planet. It’s the uncanny sense of understanding the ‘big picture’ and a humbling appreciation of our infinitesimalness in comparison – all at the same time.

Recently, two creative technologists have created an oddly mesmerizing website that provides something approximating the ‘Overview Effect’ for the rest of us.

Check it out at astronaut.io

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astronaut.io

Andrew Wong and James Thompson created an algorithm that picks YouTube videos fitting specific criteria: uploaded within the past week, with generic file names (IMG, MOV WMV) as titles, and zero views. And juxtaposed this seemingly endless stream of random videos against a view of our planet from low Earth orbit. (source)

The result is a fascinating glimpse at the mundane, perplexing, and oftentimes sweet events of everyday life juxtaposed against the monumental, mystical and often times sublime views of the planet earth.

The insight here could be about the possibilities that can be achieved w.r.t driving a shift in the viewers’ perspective when an object is made to interact with a meta object. E.g., what if a character in a story interacts with someone that typically exists in a dimension higher to that of the character, like the author? 

Let’s take two examples.

The Gunfighter

Think of an actor in a film as an object.

Now think of the narrator of this film. A narrator is conceptually meant to be at a degree higher in dimension or abstraction vs an actor in that film, in order for him to be able to narrate the story to us. Right?

But what if the actor in the film is made to interact with its narrator?

The result? See it for yourself here. The Gunfighter

Directed by Eric Kissack, The Gunfighter has won several awards across categories like best narrative, best short film, best comedy etc and was the official selection for various film festivals.

Old Mout Cider even commissioned him to shoot a film with the same narrative device for their ad. (see here)

The Museum’s Ghosts

This eponymous photography project by Andrés Wertheim is an experiment on similar lines.

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Photograph from The Museum’s Ghosts – Andrés Wertheim

The premise as stated by Andrés Wertheim is simple.

It is assumed that when people go to a museum, they carefully observe the paintings and sculptures and thoroughly read the explanatory panels.

But what if the characters portrayed in nearby paintings looked upon visitors while they aren’t paying attention, what unusual scenes would we find ?

Through double exposures made in camera, Andrés Wertheim merged in a single photoframe, both planes of the visible reality – the audience in a museum’s room and the portrayed characters on the same room’s walls – trying to create a dialogue between them.

The Museum’s Ghosts as a photography project, has also been featured in National Geographic for its creation of such surreal scenes that place art and its observers together in a new imagined dimension.

The bottomline

Whether it’s art walking off the walls to interact with the visitors of a museum, or the characters in a film being able to interact with its’ narrator, or a micro level human narrative getting juxtaposed against the macro level perspective of the planet earth, they all have one thing in common.

They are all examples of objects interacting with meta objects, compelling us to re-evaluate and reconsider our perspectives of the world within and around us – perhaps just like in the ‘Overview Effect’ as experienced by a space walker when looking back at our planet earth.

(Featured Image: Photos being shot from International Space station. Source)

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.