DIGITAL NARRATIVE > Media Art Lesson
Folk and fairy tales provide a rich starting point for a digital media project. Passed down from oral storytellers through literary traditions to new media, they are always altered by retelling to reflect the needs of the storyteller and the aesthetics of the time. Because the story is so well known, it can be altered significantly and still remain resonant and recognizable to the contemporary audience.
Step 1 > CHOOSE A TALE
Select a well-know folk tale or myth to retell using contemporary media. When choosing a story to translate into time and motion media, look for clear characters, action and settings. A story that involves transformation or metamorphosis can work well for animation. Dramatic characters and conflicts make for fun play-acting in video projects.
Step 2 > SEQUENCING
Break the story down into scenes that include specific characters engaged in key actions and settings. Identify all the characters, settings, props and dramatic moments in the storyline. Notice the arc of the story and the emotional mood of each scene. If you plan to create a very short work, simplify the narrative into as few words possible.
Step 3 > DEFINE UNITY
Define the ways that you will create visual unity throughout this media artwork. Choose a limited color palette for use on your project. Using line, texture, shape and color in a consistant style thoughout the piece will help create unity, even when a team of artists contributes to the whole. Identifying these stylistic elements is important in both individual and group projects. Visual qualities of characters and places need to be rendered in a consistant style for continuity.
Step 4 > CREATE SURPRISE
Explore the ways that you will create surprise within your unified project by storyboarding the scenes. Scale shifts, unusual shot angles, and dynamic motion can make your work come alive. Sketch out the key moments in the story, blocking in areas of dark and light, positive and negative space. When storyboarding a scene, consider a variety of compositional strategies. Avoid plunking the character in the middle of the frame. Experiement with asymmetrical composition, dramatic angles, perspective, close ups, mid-range, and overview shots in different scenes.
Step 5 > DIVIDING TASKS
Break down tasks for a team project, either one person per scene or one person per creative job. Assign a team leader, and/or designate portions of work to specific artists who have skills in those areas. Some love creating background art, others may enjoy character design, while another may excel with music and sound effects. Video projects may require a cast of actors and a director, camera crew, lighting, costume and prop makers. Animation is enhanced with narration and other voice work and sound effects. Make sure everyone knows their job and has time to prepare for it.
Step 6 > PRODUCTION
By doing the planning above, production should follow along more smoothly. Media projects can be notoriously time consuming. Keeping the story length very short from the start will help keep this in check. The team leader needs to keep track of progress on various scenes, checking that the elements that create unity and surprise are working across the board. Saving digital work frequently, naming and backing up files in a systematic way, will prevent the nightmare of lost hours of work!
Step 7 > EDITING
Editing down the video and sound can be the most labor intensive of all. Editing is also a very creative task, requiring a grasp of how all the pieces can come together as a whole. Editors make tough choices, cutting out pieces that run too long or too slow. The editor can use a fast rhythm to create emotional tension or slow-motion timing to give a scene a dreamlike quality. Guide your students to be selective when applying special effects and transitions to a project. These effects should fit with the stylistic unity of the work, when overused they can make the work very amaturish.
A simple plot we will be using as the starting point for our Digital Narrative Project:
Plot Summary: Jack and the Beanstalk
Jack was a very poor boy whose lack of common sense often drove his widowed mother to despair. One day she sent him to the market to sell their last and only possession, a cow.
But along the way, Jack met a stranger who offered to trade it for five "magic beans." Thrilled at the prospect of owning magic beans, Jack made the deal without hesitation.
Alas, his mother turned out to be less than thrilled when he arrived back home. She threw the beans straight out of the window and sent Jack to bed without dinner.
Overnight however, the seeds grew into a gigantic beanstalk. It reached so far into the heavens, the top went completely out of sight.
Eager as the young boy was, Jack immediately decided to climb the plant and arrived in a land high up in the clouds, the home of the giant.
When he broke into the giant's castle, the giant quickly sensed a human was near:
Fee! Fie! Foe! Fum!
I smell the blood of an Englishmun.
Be he 'live, or be he dead,
I'll grind his bones to make my bread.
However, Jack was saved by the giant's wife and as he escaped from the palace, he took some gold coins with him. Back home, the boy and his mother celebrated their newfound fortune.
But their luck did not last, and Jack climbed the beanstalk once more. This time he stole a hen which laid golden eggs. Again he was saved by the giant's wife.
He went down the ladder and showed the hen to his mother, and the two lived happily on the proceedings from the hen's eggs.
Eventually, Jack grew bored and resolved to climb the beanstalk a third time. This time, he stole a magical harp that played by itself. The instrument did not appreciate being stolen and called out to the giant for help.
The giant chased Jack down the beanstalk, but luckily the boy got to the ground before the giant did. Jack immediately chopped it down with an axe. The giant fell to earth, hitting the ground so hard that it split, pulling the beanstalk down with him.