Monday, 28 November 2011

Friday, 18 November 2011

Film Review: Metropolis

Fig 1

Fritz Lang's Metropolis the great grandfather of the science fiction genre, it's still shocking and amazing audiences over 80 years later with its detailed miniatures, huge sets and political`overtones. Based in a distant future, the son of the city's ruler and creator falls in love with a woman and gets caught up in a workers uprising. The story, in this review, is secondary to the visuals because without the appealing design there is very little else to draw a modern viewer to it except for the slightly racy beginning.

Fig 2

The audience is treated to a couple of long shots of the city of Babel, to the sight of elevated roads filled with moving cars and planes zipping across the cityscape all framed by perfectly futuristic buildings. The centre of the shot is dominated by New Babel, an absolute template for any and all sci-fi set designs. Nev Pierce comments on this "With its immense sets and stark lighting, the workers' city is a credible image of hell, while the overground landscapes were a seminal influence on all subsequent science fiction." (Pierce,2003) and it's a true description, the hellish underground world the workers inhabit if filled with steam, whirring machines and flashing lights all of which demand their human slaves keep feeding them.

Fig 3

The costume and character acting from the workers in the beginning of the film and then Brigitte Helm's role as the angelic Maria and the evil android Hel. The sight of seeing a large mass of burnt out workers marching as one out of and elevator to rest after a 10 hour shift (also noting that a day only lasts 20 hours in this new world) as another block of workers are marching the opposite way to start their shift; the acting and perfectly steady march of the workers against the backdrop of the elevator entrance really sells the hardship that these people undergo every day, more so than any other scene.

Fig 4

Brigette Helm's characters on the other hand show purity and understanding in the shape of Maria who is the workers spiritual leader and strives for a compassionate unity between the rulers and dreamers of the city with the hands that build it for them. Her role as the destructive android Hel is a blast and despite the somewhat quirky acting gives off a lot of creepy robotic-ness when dancing and luring the men of the city to the nightclubs. Film4 put out that " The logic and politics of Metropolis, however, have proved secondary in importance to the incredible visuals of the film... the robot (Brigitte Helm) who is transformed by technology - represented through looped arcs of electricity and neat special effects - into human form" (Film4) although the special effects are obviously outdated the special effects where Maria is cloned onto Hel are spectacular, even more so considering how long ago it was done.

Fig 5

Metropolis is very much seen by modern critics to be the foundation of the entire science fiction genre and that "The film's influence can be felt in practically every science fiction film made since -- if you have any doubts, check out the City of Zion in The Matrix Reloaded or the Los Angeles of Blade Runner. Metropolis has become part of the great mass film unconscious." (Brenner, 2008)


Brenner, Paul. review of Metropolis. Archived online at Published 18/06/08 (Accessed 23/11/11)

Film4, Film4 review of Metropolis. Archived online at
Published date unknown (Accessed 23/11/11)

Pierce, Nev. BBC Film Review of Metropolis. Archived online at Published 07/01/03 (Accessed 23/11/11)


Fig 1. Original poster for Metropolis Digital Image. (Accessed 23/11/11)

Fig 2. Shot of New Babel, Film still from Metropolis (1926). (accessed 23/11/11)

Fig 3. The M Machine, Film still from Metropolis (1926). (Accessed 23/11/11)

Fig 4. Workers changing shifts, Film Still from Metropolis (1926) (Accessed 23/11/11)

Fig 5. Brigitte Helm as Hel, Film still from Metropolis (1926) (accessed 23/11/11)

Unit 2: Museum Scene Influence map and sketches

For the museum scene I took much of my influence from the screenshot Steven linked me to from a Batman game as it carried quite a bit of atmosphere. I needed to populate the scene with machinery so I imagined that perhaps there would be a difference engine and some other large machines fitting of display in a museum.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Unit 2: Morlocks Cave Influence Map and Sketches

For the third scene, the Morlock's cave I looked at pictures of underground cities; I remember hearing of them in Russia and another in the middle of Europe somewhere (I forget the country).

Handily Google turned up lots on this, cave that struck me the most is Kaymakli underground system in the Central Anatolia region in Turkey. I really like the curvy, smooth carving in the cave and it helps me to grasp the space in my head :)

The text mentions there is strange machinery in the cave so I took reference from the 1960's film adaptation and decided it would be oil refining machines, possibly with small amounts of fire coming out of it, similar to the flame boom on an oil rig

Here are some sketches for this scene:

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Unit 2: Sphinx Scene- Influence maps and some sketches

The Sphinx scene is where the time traveller arrives in the future and is astounded by the sight of a giant sphinx and in the background are some marvellous futuristic buildings.

I took my inspiration from the Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt. When ever ancient Egypt comes to mind I always think of papyrus reeds, which quickly led me to the leaves on willow trees (as the story is based in England and the weeping willow was brought across and have taken off). The buildings are described as having 'delicate parapets' but I believe parapets to be far too gothic for the scenery, especially when broaching on quasi-Egyptian aesthetics. I was drawn to a level from Unreal Tournament (a video game from the late 90's) called Facing Worlds, a personal favourite of mine due in part to the view of earth but also because of the strange ancient design of the bases which I believe fits in a little better although I have crossed it with the base design from Facing Worlds 2). As for the little picture of the mountains, it kind of wandered in after the sketch at the bottom of this post; I had mentioned to Carpathians to Steven and have been looking at some screenshots of Skyrim ( I dare not play it as the series has a habit of eating time, month by month)  and it must have creeped into my subconscious but I like the idea and it's a kind of homage to the 2002 remake of The Time Machine where the Eloi live in wooden 'cocoons' on a cliff face.

I just started randomly sketching how the building might look, possibly integrating the sphinx with them

A drawing of the Great Sphinx

This looks better in my sketchbook...  but essentially I feel this capture what I want in the piece  although I will tweak a few bits

Image sources for Influence Map:

Friday, 4 November 2011

Unit 2- Museum Scene, rough photoshop blockout

Here's some work from Photoshop class today, I'm trying to find a good composition still. As Phil Hosking said "I don't want any boring images".

This is the first take on the image, Not so dynamic?

Changed the viewing angle on the room, more dynamic?
I haven't redrawn the dark chasm where the Morlocks live

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Unit 2: Film Review- The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) Dir. Robert Wiene

Fig 1

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a 1920's silent German expressionist film directed by Robert Wiene. It is most noted. by modern viewers, for it's strong visual style which is totally unseen today  as Julia Merriam writes in her review for "While the plot may be a bit dry, the set is unlike anything seen by many modern viewers" (Merriam, 2008)

The story is pretty basic, although in its historical context the idea would have been pretty novel; it starts off in a courtyard where a young man tells a stranger a story and from here the film appears like a flashback. This beginning scene throws the viewer from a clear shot of a real stone courtyard in the abyss of thick black lines, forced perspective, impossible buildings and strong painted shadows that make up the remainder of the feature.

The use of forced perspective makes the buildings of the town lean over into the street giving everything a horribly claustrophobic feel which lends itself nicely to the dreamy horror in the beginning parts of the story in which Dr. Caligari, a sideshow owner at a travelling fair, displays his somnambulist named Cesare (a sleep walker, more akin to a zombie only still alive) who predicts the death of the main protagonist's friend. It's under these same buildings and through the off kilter streets that Cesare is chased by a mob carrying Jane, the protagonist's fiancĂ©e; the start contrasts of black and white as well as the unbalancing nature of the unnatural perspective add a real sense of chaos to the scene. "The chase carries them through streets of stark lights and shadows and up a zigzagging mountain trail" (Ebert, 2009) and it is from here that the story takes another mad twist and reverts back to shocking reality, replacing the expressionist with plain old normality; for here the craziness is in the fabric of the story itself.

Fig 2

Caligari's impressive sets serve to amplify the acting which is also grand and gestural whilst being at odds with the flat backdrops. Roger Ebert in his review finds the effect of the actors against the 2D backdrops to be symbolic, in that "The stylized sets, obviously two-dimensional, must have been a lot less expensive than realistic sets and locations, but I doubt that's why the director, Robert Wiene, wanted them. He is making a film of delusions and deceptive appearances, about madmen and murder, and his characters exist at right angles to reality. None of them can quite be believed, nor can they believe one another." (Ebert, 2009). The cost involved in producing realistic sets probably were more than a small post-war German production could have met but it is probably more to do with, as Ebert points out, the effect it has on the characters and also the emphasis it puts on the themes the characters portray. Julia Merriam goes further by positing "The image of three-dimensional people walking through this starkly two-dimensional world is disorienting, making the universe within Caligari seem slightly off-kilter." (Merriam, 2008) This is often the case, especially when Cesare is being chased and is seen standing on the roof of a house, the sigh of him and Jane in their realistic appearance against the pointed surreal environment that they inhabit it powerfully disorientating in its strangeness.

Fig 3

The make-up applied to Conrad Veidt who plays Cesare is brilliant, along with his costume it really sells the character and adds to his strangeness and the horror he evokes. Being the only character that is  truly out of the expressionist backgrounds "Veidt manages some genuinely creepy moments as Cesare in Caligari, staggering across the painted, stylized landscapes, his mascara-highlighted eyes bulging with menace" (Kinnard, 1995) and his most memorable shot is the close-up where he gives his ominous prediction where his face reflects the entirety of the set he stands on just through his make-up and wide eyed acting.

Fig 4


Fig 1. Film still from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). (Accessed 01/11/11)

Fig 2. Film still from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). (Accessed 01/11/11)

Fig 3. Film still from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).  (Accessed 01/11/11)

Fig 4. Film still from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). (Accessed 01/11/11)


Ebert. Robert. 3rd June 2009. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) Movies (Accessed 01/11/11)

Kinnard, Roy. 1999. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari: A History of Horror (Accessed 01/11/11)

Merriam, Julia. 13th October 2008. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)| (Accessed 01/11/11)

Rot, Professor Corpse, 12th January 2011. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari at (Accessed 01/11/11)