Making Abstract Concrete

Project 2, MDes CD Studio 1 @ School Of Design, Carnegie Mellon University

9.28.2017

Now that we learned how to decode and navigate through complex information, we are now tasked with making abstract or complex concept concrete in order to explain the concept in easy to understand, concise, digestible chunks in a video format.

The topic I will explore during this project is Flash Flood, a type of flood that is extremely dangerous due to its destructive power with incredible speed and unperdictability.

Notes on McCloud reading

McCloud reading get me started to think about effective storytelling strucutre for the concept I will be explaining through the video. In his book, he talks about closure: psychological principle that emphasizes how we mentally make connection between parts we see in order to perceive whole. He explains 6 ways of storytelling using closure:

  1. Moment to moment: blink of eye
  2. Action to action: swing of bat
  3. Subject to subject: pan between two people
  4. Scene to scene: house to school (jump)
  5. Aspect to aspect: view points and mood change
  6. Non-sequitur: no connection, not logical conclusion.

With this concept of closure, I began to think about:

  1. Things I need to show vs tell in my video
  2. Key moments I need to show in order to help audience make mental connection
  3. Consistency in visual actors is the key
  4. What I put in the frame is just as important as what I leave out

Sketching activity on visual actors

Followed by short discussion on the reading, we began to identify and sketch main actors we need to show in our video in order to explain the concept. We first sketched out on our own, and then asked 4 classmates to sketch out most difficult or abstract actors to visualize (eg. dryness). Then we compared the result to find key characteristics of the abstract actors and build visual consensus around them. This activity helped me identify distinct visual characteristic people associate with certain words or concept, as well as how movement or slight change in abstract shapes could better explain the concept without being too literal in visual execution.

10.03.2017: Refining visual actors and key steps

I started to think about the storyline I would like to portray through my video while refining key steps and visual actors. Drawing relationship between actors was really useful in defining important information to show and differentiating information that could be explained through motion verses static image. I realized it is vital to show speed and time to explain flash flood effectively, but it was difficult to describe speed and time in static drawing. So I began storyboarding my video.

10.3.2017: Storyboarding

While developing this timeline storyboard, I thought about what needs to be shown and heard, how long would each frame be, and how I can use motion and sound effect to effectively convey the information.

I want to explain the story of flash flood in 1st person point of view, in soil’s perspective. Dry and saturated soils will start the story by explaining where they live and how their skin’s low absorption ability cause the flash flood, while comparing themselves from their friend normal soil. The dry soil will continue the story by explaining suddenness of flash flood (speed and time) and how flash flood differs from regular flood using with motion and icons. Then, it will explain the importance of flashflood by showing how flash flood could be destructive and dangerous with data visualization of average death per year. Then apologize to audience again for causing flash flood and end with safety tips.

10.4.2017: Moodboard

Then I started to gather some visual examples that expresses mood and tone I want to portray with my video. Some of the themes I found that I gravitate to while exploring inspirations are:

  • Illustrative
  • Simple
  • Iconic
  • Bright colors
  • Light-hearted
  • 1st person PoV in narration (using “I”, talking to the audience)
  • Personification of objects (soil, water, etc)

10.5.2017: Illustration of visual actors

Now that I know vital actors, storyline, and visual tone I want to show and tell through my video, I started to illustrate the visual actors and key scenes in Adobe illustrator.

normal, dry, saturated soils
normal, dry, saturated soils
Few screens for video

And wrote first draft of script to figure out exact timeline of my video and to check whether I am covering enough or whether there is a gap in the storytelling.

Script (1st draft)

Hello, I am a soil. I feel very thirsty; I haven’t drink water for a while. My biggest concern these days is my dry skin. I have so many dead skin cells that clogged my pores. So even when it rains, my clogged pores can not take in water so well and I am always dehydrated.

This is my brother saturated soil. He likes drinking water to the point that he cannot drink anymore. He is always extra-full and occasionally throws up.

Oh, I wanna tell you my secret before I move on. I recently fell in love with my friend, normal soil. I like her because she is really pretty. Her healthy-looking skin is always glowing. Shhh, promise me you will keep the secret. She doesn’t know that I like her.

This is our house, where my brother and I live. We live in a geomorphic low-lying area near river or basin.

We are here to apologize to you. We feel very sorry because I heard from my mom that we caused tremendous damage to you. When too much water come to us like heavy rain associated with thunderstorms and hurricane, or break down of a dam, or melting of the glacier, we cannot usually absorb as much water as we want due to our dry and saturated skin problems.

As a result, water overflows us, and the water level quickly goes up. Even less than 6 hours, the water can reach up to 30 feet high or sometimes more! The water also moves really fast, usually at 9 feet per second. This is called flash flood.

It is really dangerous because of its sudden and unpredictable nature. It could also be very destructive because the fast moving water usually carries sharp and heavy debris including rocks, trees, and building. As little as two feet water can carry away SUVs as well.

Many of you tend to underestimate the danger of flash flood and drown, swept away, hurt and dead.

Each year, an average of 127 people died due to flash flood. This number is even higher than the death caused by lightening, tornadoes or hurricane. So, please be careful, friends!

Again, we apologize again for causing this tragic flash flood. We really wish our skin is as healthy and beautiful as my secret lover, normal soil so that we can absorb water better. But, we just can’t help at this moment. Sorry.

For your safety, we recommend you to prepare these items at home before the flash flood happens. At least 3-days supplies of water and food, first aid kits, cell phone with extra battery, flashlight, family and emergency contact information, and battery-powered radio for the emergency situation.

I hope you don’t get to meet flash floods in your life, but in case you meet them, be ready and be safe!

10.12.2017: More illustrations + script/storyboard revise

After talking to peers, I realized explaining environmental and economic impact of flash flood would be important to explain in addition to flood-related deaths. I also added narration for the comparison between normal soil and dry/saturated soil in flooding situation.

Revised storyboard:

Revised script and illustrations:

Hello, I am a soil. I feel very thirsty; I haven’t drink water for a while. My biggest concern these days is my dry skin. I have so many dead skin cells that clogged my pores.

So even when it rains, my clogged pores can not take in water so well and I am always dehydrated.

This is my brother saturated soil. He likes drinking water to the point that he cannot drink anymore. He is always extra-full and occasionally throws up.

Oh, I wanna tell you my secret before I move on. I recently fell in love with my friend, normal soil. I like her because her healthy-looking skin is always glowing and hydrated. Shhh, promise me you will keep the secret. She doesn’t know that I like her.

This is our house, where my brother and I live. We live in a geomorphic low-lying area near river or basin.

We are here to apologize to you. We feel very sorry because I heard from my mom that we are the cause of flash flood. When too much water come to us — like heavy rain associated with thunderstorms and hurricane, or broken dam, or melting of the glacier — we cannot usually absorb as much water as we want due to our dry and saturated skin problems.

As a result, water overflows us, and the water level quickly goes up. Even less than 6 hours, the water can reach up to 30 feet high, or sometimes more! The water also moves really fast, usually at 9 feet per second. This is called flash flood.

If our skin was healthy as my secret lover, normal soil, those water would be naturally absorbed.

Flash flood is really dangerous because of its sudden and unpredictable nature. It could also be very destructive because the fast moving water usually carries sharp and heavy debris including rocks, trees, and building. As little as two feet water can carry away SUVs as well.

Many of you tend to underestimate the danger of flash flood and drown, swept away, hurt and dead.

Each year, an average of 127 people died due to flash flood. This number is even higher than the death caused by lightening, tornadoes or hurricane. So, please be careful, friends!

Flash flood causes tremendous economic loss as well, such as damage to buildings, vehicles, livestocks, crops, and infrastructures. In State, average economic loss due to flash flood is around $8.41 billion per year.

Again, we apologize for causing this tragic flash flood. We really wish our skin is as healthy and beautiful as my secret lover, normal soil so that we can absorb water better. But, we just can’t help at this moment. Sorry.

For your safety, we recommend you to prepare these items at home before the flash flood happens. At least 3-days supplies of water and food, first aid kits, cell phone with extra battery, flashlight, family and emergency contact information, and battery-powered radio for the emergency situation.

I hope you don’t get to meet flash floods in your life, but in case you meet them, be ready and be safe!

10.18.2017: Script revise (to make it more descriptive and conversational)

I am a dry soil. I feel incredibly thirsty and I can’t remember the last time I had a drop of water. I am concerned about my cracking skin these day. I have so many dead skin cells that clog my pores.

So even when it does rain, my clogged pores cannot absorb enough water for me to stay hydrated.

I have a brother, the saturated soil. He drinks water obsessively — To the point that he is bloated and ultimately throws up.

We live in a low-lying geomorphic area near a river. Last year, noxious chemicals from a factory were spilled into the part of the river where we live, and killed my dear companions bacteria and fungi who are essential to keeping soils healthy. This tragedy caused us to become nutrient-deficient, dry and saturated soils. Many local plants and trees left us or died as a result.

We are here to apologize to you because we heard from our mom that we are the cause of flash floods. After many heavy-drinker plants left us, we cannot absorb as much water as we used to when too much water arrives all at once. It could be a heavy rain, a broken dam, or melting glaciers.

As a result, water rises and flows over us — the water level goes up at a terrifying speed. In less than six hours, the water can become 30 feet deep and sometimes even more. The water turns into turbulent rapids — traveling around 9 feet per second. This is the making of a flash flood.

Flash floods can be highly destructive because the fast moving water usually carries sharp and heavy debris such as rocks and trees. As little as two feet of water can carry away SUVs as well.

Many of you tend to underestimate the danger of flash flooding which can hurt you, sweep you away, and possibly cause you to drown.

Each year, an average of 127 people die in flash floods. This number is even higher than the deaths caused by lightnings, tornadoes or hurricanes.

Flash flooding causes tremendous economic loss as well. This includes damages to buildings, vehicles, livestock, crops and infrastructures affected by fast-moving water. In the United States, the average financial cost caused by flash flooding is around $8.41 billion per year.

Again, we apologize for causing the flash floods. We wish our skin was as healthy as normal soil because then we could absorb water better and prevent flash flooding.

For your safety, we recommend that you prepare these items at home before a flash flood happens. Keep at least 3-days supplies of water and food, first aid kits, cell phone with extra battery, flashlight, and battery-powered radio for the emergency situation on hand.

I hope you don’t experience flash floods in your life, but in case you do, be ready and be safe!

10.19.2017–10.24.2017: Video Sketches

Moving from illustrations to video sketches, I faced some transitional problems related to making logical transformation from zoomed-in version rectangular soil shape that fills entire screen — to zoomed-out version square soil body to show its context. So I decided to re-think the shape of soil characters and video sequence.

previous soil body
previous soils in context
revised rectangular soil body to address video format proportions

10.26.2017: Sharing 1st draft of video sketch and receiving feedback

I made possible revision plans to my 1st draft based on the feedback I recieved from peers and professor.

Must change

  1. Make dry soil introduction part little shorter by cutting “I feel very thirsty. I cannot remember the last time I had a drop of water.”
  2. Show raining scenario during intro to explain why state of their soil qualities are causing the water overflow.
  3. Continue raining scenario for geographic context (low-lying area near river) scene to better to explain why they get even more water and the problem get worse.
  4. Show broken dam, melting glaciers, heavy rain scenarios in action.
  5. Show 127 died people in one scene (maybe zoom out or in context) -qualitative rather than quantitative.

Nice to change

  1. Showing burp motion or vomit sound when introducing saturated soil in raining context.
  2. Try bloated looking saturated soil version.
  3. Integrate soil brothers into the ground, instead of making them stand on it.
  4. Define dead-skin cell in soil term.
  5. Be more clear on nutrient inefficiency visually when chemical spill happens. (maybe making transformation from normal soil?)
  6. Show soil brothers are struggling and sweeping away when water is overflowing them.
  7. Highlight passage of time better in “process” part (e.g. flashing red when 1hr, 2hrs, 3hrs, reaches..?)
  8. Sound effects (vomit, drowning, hurting, etc)

Revised context

While working on the revision, I also realized it would be better to put all stories in context (rather than jumping between ‘in-context’ scenes to ‘icons’ scenes) for smoother transitions and to help audience’s understanding of the story.

11.7.2017: Final video

Reflection:

While working on this project, Making Abstract Concrete, I learned how different channels (audio, visual, temporal) could complement each other to make a story more concrete and easy to understand. This project reminds me of the importance of storytelling technique as well. At the beginning of the project, I was debating whether I should frame my story in ‘scientific and quantitative’ style or ‘humanistic and fairy-tale’ style. I decided to go with the latter approach because, based on my past experiences, I found it easier to understand more complex or abstract concept when someone explains it to me using basic vocabularies as like I am an 8th-grade child. With this goal in mind, I tried to make my video read more like children’s book.

One of the challenges I faced during this project is to know ‘what is enough.’ While revising my script multiple times, I realized I tried to put too many details in the story. At those time, I stepped back and reminded myself of the theme ‘children’s book’ and tried to be critical in deciding the necessity of additional information.

With this project, I tried more advanced motions in Aftereffect that I never tried before. ‘Learn as doing’ process was helpful for me to gain technical skill as well as more conceptual communication skills.