Coming into this project, I knew I wanted to create something that blended what I had learned as a New Media student and my passion as an English major. Of course, the two already went very well together, as this class was an English elective that focused heavily on narrative and rhetoric as much as it did new media culture and history.
Before this class, I had previously read both Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and many of Homer’s epic poems. What I hadn’t yet experienced was Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, an immersive hypertext narrative experience which introduced me to an entirely new medium of literature.
After reading Patchwork Girl and rereading Frankenstein for this class, I knew I had a great opportunity to attempt my own interpretation of (both) Shelley’s work. For my fresh new lens, I decided to reconstruct the story of Frankenstein as an epic poem. I decided on this lens because while rereading Frankenstein, I was struck by how many overt references there were to Greek mythology. The “Modern Prometheus,” the concept of hubris and likening oneself to a god, the commentary on femininity and wifehood.
This quickly proved to be incredibly labor intensive to start. The main body of my work would of course be my lexia, in the same medium as Shelley Jackson’s but in the writing style of Homer with content from Mary Shelley. In order to fully connect many of the aforementioned themes between works of Homer’s and Frankenstein, I basically had to reread both The Odyssey (my choice of inspiration) and Frankenstein another time. However, I’m very glad that I did this, as I think it not only made my final hyperlink narrative fully connected and fluid, but it helped me realize a new interpretation and appreciation for both works. In the end, the main four themes I connected between the texts became the four source links on the main page of my final project: Modern Prometheus, which is about Shelley and womanhood; journey, which is about travel and isolation; hubris, which is the desire to become godlike; and alive or dead, which is about the nature of humanity and companionship.
To make my hypertext true to Shelley’s form, I had to create a website where I could begin creating and hyperlinking pages to one another. I chose WordPress, due to my existing familiarity with it thanks to this class! I struggled a lot initially with formatting the site so it felt similarly minimal and easy to navigate like Patchwork Girl. To achieve the minimalist and “stumbled upon” vibe, I had to leave all of my pages untitled, which made it very confusing when I had to construct my final map linking all the lexia to one another. There is probably a much easier way to do this somewhere out there, but it all worked eventually.
My favorite part in constructing my hypertext were the pages where multiple lexia were offered as an option. Here, my epic poem reconstruction became a sort of choose-your-own-adventure in the same way as Patchwork Girl, where there is not one linear way to read my text. An example of this is a page under “Modern Prometheus,” which gives you two choices: pity or admiration.
If you choose pity, you are taken to another page with three possible different lexia to click on, each offering their own story. If you choose admiration, you are taken to one lexia on a long path of many others, which has a different tone than the above stories.
In the end, this project taught me a lot about navigating WordPress and working through mazes of hypertext. It gave me new appreciation for Shelley Jackson, who wrote and linked hundreds of lexia to my fiftyish over two years. Even with my small number of poems, the maze I created was already quite complicated and hard to track. I can only imagine her storyboard looked like that of a deranged cop trying to solve a 40-year old serial killer cold case.
Going into the project, I was excited to make a board game because of the creative expression the medium allows. There has been an explosion of adult board games and card games in recent years, with games like Cards Against Humanity and Catan proving that there’s more to the genre than Monopoly. One of my favorite aspects of these new games in particular is their unique designs. Some games like Exploding Kittens feature whimsical artwork that contribute in a crucial way to the game’s overall atmosphere.
Beyond these games, my inspiration for the card designs came in large part from the advertisements I saw on the subway in New York City this past summer. The subway is supremely overwhelming: the heat, abject grossness, and frustration that I associated with these rides was often made slightly less bad by the surprisingly beautiful advertisements featured above the seats. The things I loved most about these advertisements were their bold, bright color schemes that made them pop. They were unique, handsome, and made me feel like the brand was professional. Knowing that I was after all an amateur gamemaker, I wanted the card design to mimic these advertisements to lend that air of legitimacy to the game.
I selected the font Baskerville for the text of the cards for several reasons. For one, its letters have serifs, which make it look professional. At the same time, I think the font is attractive enough that it doesn’t quite look like something you would write a research paper with. It makes sure the cards remain fun.
As for the images, I designed three versions of each body part to coincide with the three tiers of cards. For common cards, which are the worst ones to get, I drew the bones in Photoshop to look like a decomposed body part. I used average looking body parts as inspiration for the uncommon cards, and muscular parts for the legendary cards. I knew how to use Photoshop before the project due to my interest in graphic design, but I did pick up a few new skills.
One such skill was designing a custom pattern. I wanted polka dot backgrounds for the cards, because it was a lively pattern that still wouldn’t distract from the artwork. However, Photoshop doesn’t have a built in polka dot stamp. Using YouTube tutorials, I was able to create three versions of the polka dot pattern, one for each card class. I was inspired by the video game Fortnite in determining the colors for each tier of body part. In Fortnite, weapons come in five tiers, and are colored to correspond with their tier. Gray weapons are the worst, blue are very good, and gold are the best. As such, I used those colors in the three polka dot patterns for their corresponding three tiers of body parts.
For the back design of the cards, I wanted to continue with the polka dot motif while evoking Frankenstein, as the game was supposed to be about the story in some way. As such, I used the traditional Frankenstein color scheme of green on black. I found the font Runaway, which had a monstrous feathering on its edges that fit in perfectly with the game’s themes.
Lastly, I needed to make a logo. Since I loved the look of the legendary head card, which was a top-hat sporting gentleman, I re-used the head and added the game’s title in Runaway font.
Formulating rules – Kevis
Designing the game was a fun task, and I had three important factors that I wanted the game to follow. I wanted the game to be easy to understand and play, as the game would be presented to strangers who wouldn’t be willing to spend ten minutes on rules and mechanics. Second, I wanted the game to be complex enough to feel like there was real depth and strategy. Finally, I wanted the focus of the game to be progressive, with a discrete system of gains and progress.
One of the first themes I thought of when creating a board game was the deck-building card game, Dominion. It is a game that uses the building of a personal deck to win the game and I liked the aspect of collecting cards to progress. We used a similar theme for Frankenstein, as the monster was made up of cadavers of different people. As part of game development, we considered previous games that people have played before as a basis for the game. Primarily, using things such as dice can add randomness and forms of variance while being very easy to understand for most. By keeping core player actions tied to dice, it flattens the learning curve and makes it easy to play from the beginning.
Another game that I took inspiration from is Not Alone, by Ghislain Masson. The aspect of this game that I took was to have several different locations that players could visit in attempts to progress in the game. From this, we thought of the four zones, the university, the chapel, the black market, and the graveyard. These different locations add elements of strategy. Different locations should have accompanying advantages and disadvantages. Players should feel like they have personal efficacy in the outcome and progression of the game. This is an essential part of what makes a game enjoyable as a player. In our game, the choosing of locations serves as the primary form of independent selection within the game rules and structure.
The third consideration for the game was interaction between players and the interaction with the game. I thought that a turn-based game would be the best choice for our needs. A turn-based game requires less explanation and is conducive to a simpler setup. It also allows each player to see the actions of others for strategic planning. For our goals of an easy-to-play game with strategic elements, this option made sense. Finally, Joe had a great suggestion for a money system. After weighing some options, we decided it made sense to tie in money gain to turn progression. I also seriously considered creating another zone: one to earn money in. This way, players would have even more freedom in deciding to either spend more time to gain a consistent progression through money or using the graveyard zones. Ultimately, I decided that it would complicate the game and make it too complex for us, the game designers. Balancing the money path and the “digging” path would be too important for the game, and I did not want to bog planning down with something like that. Game balance image.
We divided up the tasks for actual game creation. I wanted to add checkpoints as a proof of progression and as another interactive factor, and I created events to fill this. Events are additional actions that occur that affect all players and are a definite sign of the game progressing. This way, turns were divided into groups of 3 cycles of all players, after which events would occur. In addition, this allowed for a defined time limit for players to complete the game. After the first player reached the end goal, other players would have the remainder of that turn group to also complete the game. It was a nice balance that allowed others to catch up instead of one instant winner while not forcing the first player to finish to wait too long for the completion of the game and rewarding that player for finishing first. I used a software called Nandeck for creating the event cards. Joe created the decks involving the body parts and the bones, which led to an interesting challenge of integrating my work with his, as I used this software and he used Photoshop. I spent quite some time considering how I wanted the events to affect players and balancing giving player interactivity and not affecting game state too much. I decided to err on the side of less impactful events; however, if this were to be a published game, I would likely make events a core aspect of the game’s progression. A few of the events allowed for the players to directly interact with each other. Given more time, I think I would add more aspects of this into the game, as the iteration we presented kept inter-player gameplay to a minimum.
Making it come to life – Leah
One of the coolest parts of my job was the game instructions. I emulated the format of the instructions sheet from some of my own favorite childhood games, such as Uno and Parcheesi. Additionally, I was able to create the logo for the game, which I made with the head and fonts Joe had made for the cards. I decided to use the head from the legendary skeleton because of the dapper top hat Joe had artfully included.
While the formatting was part of my assigned tasks, I really enjoyed the process of making the rules as it was the most collaborative part of the game making. We all took part in creating the rules; seeing which ideas worked, which didn’t, and which would be expanded upon to create a functional board game. The rules were changed and developed throughout nearly the entire process, evolving even through our first few game plays together as a group. As we made the final touches and tweaks to the rules in our playthroughs, it was truly exciting to see the game go from being a concept to being a reality. Granted, it was a lot of details, brainstorming and creativity from three different people, but it made for one cohesive, and pretty awesome, final product.
In addition to formatting the instructions, I was also in charge of finding and editing the images we would use for the board itself. The images I chose for game board were inspired by many of the Frankenstein media forms we explored in class, including both the 1931 and 1994 films. In keeping with the theme, I continued to choose black and white images to create a game board that looked as though they belonged together. I just made sure to add three little circles, using Joe’s font, on one image that would keep track of each round played.
Although the digital work was manageable, I really thrived at the non-digital crafting of the game. Next to our group collaboration on the instructions, working hands on with tangible objects was my favorite part of the process. I spent a few solid, serene hours painting each individual wooden money token and a few game pieces. Each gold and silver wooden coin got three layers of paint while my fingers received a few hundred. In addition to purchasing the tokens, paint, brushes, board and game pieces, I was also in charge of the printing, laminating and cutting of the board images and each individual playing card. It was time consuming and a learning process, as I discovered three different lamination options and several more options for printing paper in regards to size, thickness, and quantity. However, with (four hours worth of ) patience, a tedious manual paper cutting machine, and a very helpful Office Depot employee, I succeeded in helping to create a final product I was proud to be a part of.
Picture this: you’re being chased down by a superhuman abomination who’s out for blood. It’s stalking you, tracking your movements, trying to find the right time to strike. You must either arm yourself and prepare to defeat it, or you will die. There is no permanent escape. It will keep chasing.
Sounds stressful and scary, right? It’s what’s going on in the novel Frankenstein, and it’s the emotion and state of being that we were trying to capture in the form of a game. Obviously, a slow, turn-based card game with no stakes is a tough sell to accomplish that goal. Why not a horror video game? Why not a movie, where there’s more immersion? Because we like card games. It is a challenging medium, but an accessible, portable, shareable medium, and with enough creativity and work, a card game can become just as engaging as any of the more traditional forms of media.
So we had our idea. An asymmetric card game. One person would play as the monster, and everyone else would play as the villagers.
The main source of inspiration for the design of the gameplay came from Stronghold Games’ Not Alone, a tabletop game released in 2016. The game has a premise comparable to what we were aiming for in our Frankenstein game: there are survivors stranded on a hostile planet being hunted by an aggressive alien, and their goal is to elude the alien until help arrives. The game wonderfully captures the feeling of being pitted against the opponents at the table. It is stressful. It is nerve-wracking. It is not a good game for people dealing with anxiety. And that was what we wanted.
Of course, just copying another game and slapping new words and labels on everything was not our goal nor our aim. While we wanted to maintain that same stressful, tense feeling that Not Alone captures excellently, we also needed a game that felt more Frankenstein-y and tied in better with the original plot of the novel. So we kept a few things – the asymmetric structure, and a few types of cards from Not Alone which were given different names in our rendition: location cards (Place cards in NA), monster cards (Hunt cards), and villager cards (Survival cards). Everything else, including the names and even technical function of those cards, was changed. They only existed in the same capacity.
The first major decision we made was to divide the game up into two phases instead of just one. The first phase – meant to be a buildup to the action, an opportunity for new players to learn how the game worked with lower stakes, and a means of selecting who would be playing the monster – was to feature Dr. Frankenstein creating the monster. It was designed to be quick and straightforward, with the villagers trying and rarely succeeding in stopping the doctor from creating that which could not be controlled. Even the “simple” phase had its fair share of issues. Quick, easy, and lopsided were the goals, but it was very easy for those to blend into a pointless, time-wasting formality. We iterated on both the cards and the win conditions in the first phase more than any other portion of the game, but eventually arrived at a place where it felt fun. The interactive selection of who will perform the role of the monster is an enjoyable feature of the game, and though the doctor accomplishes their goal fourteen times out of fifteen, that fifteenth time is hilarious.
With the first phase out of the way, the bulk of the game came in the second phase. Meant to really be the meat of the game and the moment in which the suspense and anxiety is captured, the monster chases the villagers, who have a limited number of places to run. Getting caught by the monster once or twice can lead to a snowball effect where a villager runs out of options, and thus the monster can continue to predict their next few movements. When it happens, it really captures the futility of being up against a superhuman creation acting as a force of evil. There’s nothing you can do but sit there and feel bad for letting the rest of the village down. But the village can also get out to an early lead, gain access to new locations, and run the monster in circles. The monster can feel the chances of victory slipping away, but the game is never over until it is over – comeback mechanics (monster cards) and the streakiness of the gameplay can lead to some unpredictable results when it seems as if nothing can lead to a victory.
Then we had to test. The first edition of the game featured scraps of paper, a standard deck of playing cards, and a lot of trying to remember what cards had what effects. To our surprise, it was fun. It was supposed to be fun, but it was genuinely encouraging to have the initial draft of our card game be so enjoyable that our playtesters (roommates and hallmates) wanted to keep playing, even in its original, very rough, an-ace-means-you-pick-up-two-cards-and-a-four-means-you-pick-up-all-of-them form. One of the biggest strengths of the game, even in its original form, was that it was very easy to learn as the game went along. Those who knew how to play could teach those who didn’t in a simple, straightforward manner. The rules were detailed, but the details could just be brought up as they became relevant. It’s probably why the game worked.
But there were tweaks to be made. The monster wasn’t getting enough monster cards. Then the monster was getting too many monster cards. It was too hard for the monster to win.
A: “This is too hard!”
B: “No, you’re just bad at being the monster!”
A: “Ok, you play!”
B: “Ok, this is too hard.”
A: “I told you so!”
Then it was too easy for the monster to win. It was hard to make an asymmetric game feel fair, even if the end result was nearly 50/50. Some monster and villager cards felt worthless. Others felt way too powerful.
Game balance is hard. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Even when you agree on the problem (which isn’t a given), there may not be an obvious solution. But we worked until we had a product that felt fun and fair to play. Point totals were changed, card effects were changed, locations were re-done, and it reached a point where nothing felt egregious, too strong, or too weak.
One trip to FedEx later, we had a game. A fun game. A game one of our roommates took home over Thanksgiving Break to play with family because it was just that good. Long after the project was finished, we were still tweaking and updating the game because we actually just kept playing it.
While the rules and cards are not the most exciting in digital form, you can find them here:
Coming into this project, our group felt similar to that of an oil prospector, searching a goldmine under the ground that would take time and labor to extract. While this metaphor undoubtedly seems far-fetched, what it symbolized was the feeling within our group that we had by far the most interesting and coolest project as well as one of the most difficult projects to bring to life. Despite all of our background knowledge in computer science and coding, Virtual Reality (VR) was a whole new creature for all of us, as it is for most of the world, giving us all a new interesting challenge.
At first, the project seemed near impossible. After our initial meeting with one of the Wondry’s VR specialists, Vivian Li, it became clear to us that the initial parameters of what we wanted to accomplish were appeared far out of reach. Creating a single object alone seemed intense, let alone an entire environment where everything worked together. Had the project been a VR environment for let’s say a futuristic environment, it may have been easier since modern aesthetics point to more simplistic, sleek designs. Since, however, all the objects are from Frankenstein, all the objects required great attention to detail in regards to both age and Victorian aesthetic. Luckily, with much support from Vivian Li, the project became much more palatable. Not only was she gracious enough to offer creating the VR environment for us, she also helped us transfer the blender files to actual Unity VR files, which ultimately left each of us with one duty: pick an appropriate object from Frankenstein and create it in Blender.
Choosing the Objects
With thousands of words and objects contained in the Frankenstein story, it was pertinent for the group to select the most signifying and important symbols of the book and Mary Shelley’s life without making the monster itself. Each of us decided on a different object, which, due to the abundance of symbols throughout all of the versions of Frankenstein, made it easy as all of us were not fighting over the locket or the jar or what have you. At the end of the day, we all realized that each object was probably going to be equally difficult to create. Also, while all the objects did not have a direct relation to the book itself, they still had enough Halloween aesthetic and importance to Shelley to be relevant. For example, even though gravestones are in no way a big part of the book, it is said that Mary Shelley had an almost unnatural obsession with the grave of her mother.
Not only is it claimed she would spend inordinate amounts of time at her mother’s gravestone, but it is also rumored that she lost her virginity on top of said gravestone. While this clearly has no relation to the novel, it does very much explain the Gothic nature of Shelley’s writing, which we felt made the gravestone important enough to add.
The abnormal brain is a symbol from the 1931 film Frankenstein the Man Who Made a Monster. The brain stolen by Fritz (Frankenstein’s assistant in this movie) is portrayed to the audience as the reason why the monster acts different than Frankenstein expects (due to its abnormalities). Obviously, the movie takes some liberties from the novel, but these liberties display the different paths that Frankenstein could go down, and the multitude of ideas that have been inspired since its creation. Every movie based off the novel is going to be slightly different than its source material, so to see a physical explanation behind the creature’s behaviors goes a great way to further humanize it.
The fire, to us, felt obvious to include as an object. After all, the entire work is the modern Prometheus story, just as its original title signifies (Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus). In the Prometheus story, he brings down fire from heaven to earth, which then allows the people of Earth to progress to new levels of society. Today, scholars and historians can surmise that the world began to change once fire was discovered. However, Shelley’s relation of fire to the creature was a wonderful metaphor for how all of us learn to grow and adapt, something too important to leave out of our project.
The locket serves as a forward force in the plot since it informs the creature that William Frankenstein is a part of the Frankenstein family, leading to not only William’s death, but the first of multiple murders in the novel. Without this locket, there would be little connection to how the creature is able to initially reconnect and find Frankenstein’s loved ones.
The journal is a symbol of learning not only for Victor, by being a log for all of his studies, but also as a tool for the creature, who studies this journal in order to become as much of a functioning human as possible. The creature learns the English language through Victor’s journal and is eventually able to find and communicate with Victor. Without this journal, the creature would have never been able to destroy Victor through the deaths of those close to him either.
In the 1931 film, one of the more memorable scenes is how the creature’s body, initially constrained to the table, is brought to life through a lightning storm. This table is where the story takes motion, as the life of the creature will bring the horror that lasts throughout the rest of the film.
Each of these objects, even though each seem meaningless on their own, have a special meaning and presence in the novel and films of Frankenstein.
The Process of Creating the Objects
At first, rendering software such as Blender often seemed near impossible to work with. With the ability to set frame rates, resolutions, vector sizes, origins, rendering, etc. it initially appeared that every object was going to take hours upon hours for the group to complete. For us however, we began to realize that only a small number of these tools were necessary in order to achieve our goals. In the world of Blender, if the entire program was a graduate degree, all we needed was a GED to know enough for what we needed to do. Using basic shapes and transformation manipulators (Vectors used to change the x, y, or z length of the object), it seemed that all of us were going to be able to achieve our desired object. For example, while our gravestone seems to be made of intricate and chiseled shapes, all it took was the resizing of 3 cubes and adjustments to the smooth texture.
With that being said though, it did still take much research from the internet as well as help from Vivian Li in order for our projects to be done to the best of our ability.
The tombstone, for example, had multiple nuances, such as creating a stone-like texture. Upon opening Blender, we were all faced with the default cube. Despite it appearing to be easy enough to resize or move something as simple as the default cube, it actually took a significant amount of time just getting use to the system of Blender itself and pick up these simple tasks. While these tasks were eventually solvable with simple solutions through the help of an experienced 3-D artist (whether from YouTube or Vivian herself), the amount of roadblocks that each of us ran into proved how daunting a task like this could really be. By doing something as easy as switching to transformation mode, it became easy to do something like resizing the cube into a tombstone head, first reducing size in the x to create a thin rectangle, and then expanding the z in the positive direction to give the tombstone some length. Simple tasks like this were what led to all of our projects looking the shape they currently are.
Once the general shape of each object was created, the next thing to do was to add textures to our objects. To do this, the first step was to change from object mode (the mode used to shape the object) to texture modifying methods such as edit or sculpt mode.
In modes such as the ones mentioned above, there are a myriad of options to change the texture of the object. For example, blob mode (found in the sculpt mode) creates bubbles at the top of the surface that almost resemble the bubbling of CO2 in soda. Within sculpt mode, we could adjust the size of the cursor (the amount of area affected at once), whether the sculpting changes were mirrored on both sides of the tombstones and various other settings. Perhaps the most crucial setting to determine when sculpting objects was relative detail or constant detail. Constant detail, the most simplistic mode, simply creates the same details no matter where you are, so if you run the cursor over an area that has already been sculpted, nothing will occur. Relative detail however does exactly what it sounds like, it creates even further texture on an object relative to the current texture of an object. So, if an already sculpted area is affected, it will become ever more rugged, sculpted and textured. For the gravestone, relative detail was used as every bit of rock will have slightly different edges and cracks as opposed to an almost uniform and unrealistic rugged look. All of these modes were utilized in different ways by members of the group in order to give the objects more of an authentic look.
Once each of us figured out these as well as other techniques, with additional help from Vivian and online resources, the challenge became less figuring out the program and more trial and error to create the perfect look for the project. For example, every time one tries to sculpt an object, the nuances of the surface will be different every time. Whether it be because of cursor size, constant v., relative detail or even the method used to create the texture (blob v. pinch v. draw etc.), it took each of us hours manipulating our objects to create the perfect look. This part of the project was probably the most important learning moment for all of us. Because at its core, VR and video game design is quite easy, but creating the perfect object becomes less about the technicality of it and more about the own artist’s inspirations and time spent on the object. So, while the base objects of every video game may have been easy to construct for the video game designers, what separates any game is the level of love and commitment given to the project. It would have been easy for any of us to shape rings, spheres and cubes to create a basic object, but for each of us to pour our heart into our objects took a lot more commitment. For example, again using the tombstone, while the actual outline of the tombstone was created in 10 minutes, hours of time was dedicated just to make sure that tombstone looks realistic. This gives an incredible further appreciation of the time and detail that all video game designers put into their work, probably working for weeks on a single project.
Luckily for us, the category of Frankenstein/Halloween became one of the most crucial part of the project. Had we taken a random category, the group would have required lots of planning and meeting to decide exactly what aesthetic we wanted to use, how the objects should be tied together etc. However, since all of us ultimately knew the novel we would be referencing in the project, it was much easier to consult the actual book rather than waiting on a group member to answer in Slack regarding direction. It gave us the perfect blend of both independence and dependence from one another. We could bounce ideas off one another, but at the end of the day it was our choice on what we felt was the best way to approach each object. And once all our objects were complete, the rest of the project essentially finished itself. For example, making our poster at the beginning of the assignment would have been near impossible since we had our idea, but had no screenshots, stories to tell etc. However, just like a real video game, once you have created the visuals the story can almost tell itself. Even now with this blog, the struggles we faced were so plentiful that there are even ones forgotten to be mentioned here. Even the most minute little nuanced difficulties on Blender became 45-minute learning experiences trying to figure how to effectively accomplish the small thing you wanted to do. Difficulties that may seem small on paper but were almost the make or break between an effective project.
Overall, for all of us, this project was an exceptional exercise in taking what is visualized in one’s mind and making that a concrete reality. When any person reads Frankenstein, they are going to have a slightly different picture in their minds eye. Some may see the monster as the prototypical green, blocky monster depicted in the movies, while others may simply see an ugly man, stitched together from the parts of other humans. And just like Mary Shelley had to start her masterpiece with just one sentence, we all had to begin our projects with a simple block on blender. From there, it was up to us to create an entire Gothic world using an advanced computer program from 200 years in the future from when Frankenstein was placed. As corny as it sounds, this project almost felt as a modern Prometheus story just as Frankenstein itself. We small-minded students were shown the power of Blender and Unity, the fire behind many video games, and from that we were able to create our own thriving world of VR objects.
For our collaborative New Media project, we created an abstract film, completed with original music composed by Ben Kessler, that represents our take on the story of the monster in Frankenstein. We believe the monster’s journey, from coming into this Earth to his tragic end, is largely misunderstood. Rather than fear or despise the monster, he deserves the audience’s sympathy. In order to capture this, we looked at ways we could draw an audience into the journey to viscerally feel what the monster must have. Heavy visuals, emotionally evocative music, and the critical matching of the two creates this ideal captivation. In this way, the viewer can feel organic empathy for the monster as they go through the creature’s splendid birth, become victimized by confusion and prejudice, and ultimately reach an untimely end as life is extinguished.
The start of our film revolves around the concept of new life and birth. Scenes of youth and purity such as a sunrise and plants growing show the innocence that the Monster had when he came into the world. The aggressive monster that everybody thinks of when they hear “Frankenstein” was a product of his environment. He came into the world like every other human (except different means) with the expectation of being treated like a human. The soft, lighthearted beginning of the movie emphasizes that we do not believe that the monster is inherently evil. He was just looking to be accepted and loved by the world he came into. Our recurring image of a rose appears first here. New life beings as the rose blooms.
In order to draw the audience into the confusing mid-life section of the monster’s journey, it was important to create the essence of pain and prejudice. An important picture needed to be painted in order to have the sympathetic outcome so viewers feel for the monster. The composition of the music to match this picture happened at the same time that we were selecting our imagery. Through discussions with our group, we realized that as the music began to transition, from the hopeful light-hearted birth section to this painful confusion, we needed to have a similar transition of visuals. We set the scene with a series of music-timed lightning strikes that led into the synthesized bass underlay. This underlay was intended to match the tempo of a beating heart and we then included that visual to allot the grotesque and gritty nature of the rest of our film. An important inclusion also was the bouquet of roses. We wanted to keep the red flower, the essential icon of beauty and life, as a constant symbol throughout the film. In this phase, the flower is darker, dying, and lying on the floor instead of blooming. The importance of the storm matches the theme of brewing confusion and pain. Coming up with this idea as a group was very important for our project. We believed that storms would provide most clear thematic alignment with what we were trying to illustrate regarding the difficulties of the monster’s life. All of the visuals with the tesla coils, electricity, storms brewing, and the car crash test dummies all make the viewer feel like there is a build-up for a climax. This build-up, combined crucially with the music that will be discussed later, leads perfectly into the disastrous tragedy at the end of the monster’s life and our film.
From the beginning, we knew that we needed to match the intensity of the rising action with a cathartic, abrupt end. We decided to input the key elements of the creature’s tragedy: the self-actualizing moment where he confronted his own monstrosity and his unintentional murder of the farmer’s young daughter. His psychotic confusion and remorse was intercut with the scene of the daughter offering him a flower, representing the only time someone treated him with genuine kindness. This not only provided emotional depth to the monster, but also juxtaposed his violent brutality with his inherent innocence. We returned to the motif of the beautiful red rose, but now engulfed in flames. This symbol of beauty and life now became consumed by the flame of society’s bigotry towards the monster’s repulsive appearance. What was something so harmless and pure was unceremoniously incinerated and poisoned by prejudice. The extinguishing flame from the candle interlaced with the wind chimes symbolized the monster’s tragic, yet futile demise. Even though the monster’s story had marred the existence of those around him, it will all prove to be futile. Soon, no one will remember what drove him to become this monstrosity, and for this reason none will learn from his tragedy. They will continue to carry the same prejudice and bigotry against wicked creatures as they had done before. The monster’s tragedy is just another candle in the wind.
We composed the music to match the emotion of the visuals. The track begins with a number of voices from various old films. As the track develops, these voices become increasingly critical. The laughter is drowned out in reverb and delay effects to accompany this increase in intensity. These critical voices are intended to imitate those that haunt Frankenstein, for they are ultimately what compel Frankenstein to act in the way that he does. Including these voices at the outset of the video orients viewers; they are compelled to assume Frankenstein’s perspective. This suggests a sort of empathy between the viewer and Frankenstein which persists throughout the whole video. The next section contrasts sharply with the chilling introduction. The acoustic guitar in combination with the light synthesizer produces a joyful, innocent quality. This is intended to capture the simplicity of the beautiful emotions associated with birth. The subsequent section begins with a mysterious voice presumed to be in Frankenstein’s own head: “there has to be an answer.” This line encapsulates the intense frustration and desperation that Frankenstein experiences. The visual of the beating heart is matched with a deep beating drum. This entire section is a single crescendo–a single, continuous increase in intensity. Each time the chords repeat themselves, there is an additional instrument to make the sound bigger. This is the climax of the soundtrack and the film. The space between the final hits features a number of the same voices that haunted Frankenstein at the beginning of his life. As such, this suggests his fate was determined at his birth. This evokes a strong feeling of pity for Frankenstein. The song’s slow fade out mimics this emotion.
Initially, I thought, “piece of cake,” because of that project before where we had to make a YouTube video from start to finish and deal with copyright claims if they should arise. And then it’s Patchwork Girl. It’s a relatively obscure piece of literature over twenty years old with no linear story, so no beginning, no end… (Plot? We don’t know her.) … and every time you go through the story it’s different.
I thought I had it all figured out… 45 seconds to a minute worth of content set to “Death on Two Legs” by Queen, whatever, boom, boom, boom…a pretty decent trailer. It started off with something insufferable, that Clip from the 1931 Frankenstein “It’s Alive™️” and that floating head from the intro of the Patchwork Girl of Oz movie (truly terrifying). It was set to the crescendo build from an instrumental version of “Death on Two Legs” then moves to the cinematic elements: “Eastgate Presents…” yada-yada. I had timed the title page to appear right at the downbeat of the piano (very sexy) and the rest of it was just a video clip of someone showing the mechanics of how the software worked to navigate the story. I thought I was Spielberg. I was very proud of myself.
Anyway, I was wrong.
I showed to my mom, who in so many words, told me she hated it. But really it was that she couldn’t get a good grasp as to what the story was about. And taking a step back…she was right.
So now I’m revamping the whole thing. Like, I’m trimming clips, finding new music, making hyper-specific Google searches and turning up empty-handed, using obscure media, scouring the depths of YouTube for symbolism, and then I’ve finally got it: the original Frankenstein clip, the floating head, a clip from the 2004 movie adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Phantom of the Opera, a picture of Mary Shelley, a video of Shelley Jackson, and a montage of clips I spliced and edited together from a two minute trailer of the Mary Shelley movie that came out last year.
The editing process was grueling: the clips I used were, at normal speed, between four and twenty seconds, so I’m having to speed up and slow down certain clips, while avoiding it being too fast or too slow. Then there’s the issue with the text: I had already found pivotal quotes, general enough to make a linear story out of a non-linear one, geez, but the text. I never could really time it right so that the text appeared at a normal speed; I had looked at it enough that I could read a line in less than a second (one of my shortest clips was around 0.7 seconds) but that was one sacrifice I made for the sake of the aesthetic®️.
Then there was the question of the music.
“Death on Two Legs” was clearly not the right choice for the video, and I’m frantic. I’m on Spotify trying to figure out what music would fit the gravity of the trailer. It’s kind of serious now, and although “Death on Two Legs” is operatic masterpiece, it was just too jarring and didn’t match cinematically with the new clips I’d picked out. My first direction was moving to video game soundtracks, because the intent is to make you focus on the gameplay, and my main choice was Mass Effect 3: I loved the game, loved the soundtrack, what could go wrong? And I was listening and it didn’t fit–I’m at my wit’s end. What music am I going to use for this trailer?
Then I’m thinking, “Okay! Why not use the soundtrack from the Mary Shelley movie?” I’m a genius. So I listen to every one, and every song sounded like some spectral Celtic woman with red hair sighing woefully in a mist-filled forest (perfect) and they all fit. So I just had to pick one. I believe the song was called “Mary’s Decision” so I put it in iMovie, trimmed the song and added a fade. It’s gorgeous. I’ve done it. Queue video.
After the whole fiasco with the first YouTube video I made receiving a worldwide copyright claim from Viacom within seconds of it being uploaded, I was still worried about copyright claims when I uploaded this one to YouTube (thankfully, I never got a strike/claim, although I think I used copyrighted material)
Then I made the poster. Pretty easy, I had a solid image in my head of what I wanted it to be: a woman with a skull over her face. Color scheme: black, white, and red.
I made some edits in PowerPoint of all places, downloaded some new fonts (for the poster and the video), and I’m satisfied with it. It’s minimalistic but I think pulls the point across nicely.
And I guess as a nice bonus, the people who watched it at the event asked if I considered a career in film editing so…
I’ve been a huge fan of anime and animation in general for my whole life so I thought I’d use this space to share a few of my thoughts about a medium that I love. (By the way, all the clips I added here are pretty short.)
At this point, becoming enchanted by Disney’s animated films as a young child is practically a universal experience and an integral part of growing up. However, Disney style animation that caters towards kids is not the only kind of animation out there. Over the last two decades Japanese animation, or anime, has seen a steady rise in popularity here in the west. And in particular, its popularity has exploded over the course of the last six years. Back in 2012, the anime streaming service Crunchyroll had a mere 100,000 paying subscribers, making it a niche streaming service that catered to a relatively small community of fans. However, last month the service announced that it had reached the 2 million subscriber threshold, a massive 20-fold increase in 6 years. The service now boasts over 45 million registered users and is one of the 10 largest online video streaming services out there (though it obviously lags behind leaders like Netflix).
Animation as a medium excels at telling stories that are fantastical in nature. What really makes it shine is that it immediately creates a level of separation between the fiction on the screen and reality. The fact that the show is either hand drawn or rendered immediately sets up an expectation that the world inside the story is different from reality, which makes it easier for the audience to suspend their disbelief. To add to this, the nature of the medium also allows for the seamless integration of magical effects into the fabric of the show. When a live action show wants to add effects, the effect must usually be computer generated and then added in after filming. But, the juxtaposition between a computer rendered effect and a live actors and settings can often feel jarring and take away from the immersion. And, an effect created at the time of filming using real-world techniques lacks the mysticism and feeling of wonder that is so important in fantasy and fairy tales for the simple reason that it can be explained with real world physics. It is far easier make an effect feel like it belongs to the world of the story in animated shows as the artist simply has to draw them both in the same art style. Also, if we take a look back to old classics like Cinderella, many of the effects in these films probably would have been impossible to do in live action with the technology of the time. For example, I can’t imagine the fallowing scene where Cinderella’s dress transforms would have been feasible in live action with the technology available in the 1950’s.
Another benefit of the medium is that it allows for the creators to have a great deal more artistic freedom. Creators can get away with more exaggerated expressions and actions in animation than they can in live action, again because of the separation from reality. We expect real people to act in a certain way, but the same expectations are far weaker for those that are animated. What can reasonably feel like a hyped up battle scene in Dragonball Z would probably end up as just a bunch of dudes screaming way too loudly at each other in live action.
This is a clip from an anime called Nichijou that uses extreme and absurd reactions to great comedic effect. Such a reaction could never even be considered in live action. It’s just not feasible and would make no sense if the show wasn’t animated.
Finally, animation in the west has this stigma as being a children’s medium. And to be honest, with how successful Disney has become, it makes sense. But animation isn’t a medium that’s made just for kids. Over the years it has also been used to depict topics far beyond what would be appropriate for children. I think the best example of this would be the 1988 film Grave of the Fireflies created by Studio Ghibli and director Isao Takahata. Yes, this is the same studio that brought us wholesome classics such as Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service. But whereas those two are great children’s movies, Grave of the Fireflies is a devastating and heart wrenching drama about the true costs of war. In this movie, animation transcends the medium and strikes at the heart of what it means to survive as a human.
Grave of the Fireflies is a fantastic film. I definitely recommend watching it, but be warned, it will make you Sad.
Edit: I noticed that in a place or two I accidentally forgot a