Category Archives: storytelling

“A Boy’s Best Friend Is His Mother.”

Last night I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho for the very first time. I’m not sure why it took me so long, I certainly don’t have ignorance to pin on. The reasons might have been plain disinterest as well as a spoiled sort of prejudice against black and white films. I don’t regret it however because the person I am today is able to take a lot more from the experience of watching Psycho than the thrill of the suspense it provides. I found myself studying and dissecting each scene’s framing, lighting, character movement, music and storytelling choices. I understand better now and agree with the sentiment that Hitchcock is indeed the Master of Suspense.

I was not aware of the movie’s plot although thanks to pop culture I knew that there would be a scene in a bathroom where a woman is violently (obviously) stabbed to death in the shower. The Simpson’s, Pee Wee Herman, That 70’s Show, Police Academy, Looney Toons: Back In Action are just a few examples that I can name off the top of my head that have parodied or referenced Psycho. It’s theme music and that scene in which Marion Crane meets her unfortunate demise being the film’s most recognised and popular elements.


South Park Episode: City Sushi & Psycho Visual Comparison

In season 15 of the animated satire series South Park, a long established Asian character Tuong Lu Kim is discovered to be in fact a Caucasian man who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder. Dr Janus is a child psychiatrist who also has several alternate personas with the most dominant persona being Mr Kim, the apparent owner of the local Chinese restaurant. For years Janus has effectively convinced the people of South Park that he is indeed the Chinese “Tuong Lu Kim” by squinting his eyes and speaking in a stereotypical Chinese accent. The end of the episode visually and narratively echoes the same scene in Psycho almost entirely, even up to the point where the faces of Mr Kim and Norman Bates are overlaid with the ghostly images of Dr Janus and Mrs Bates. In both stories this is to signify to the viewer that the alternate personality has completely taken over and dominated the original persona.

Psycho (1960) Original Ending Scene

As mentioned earlier, this was my first viewing of Psycho and tried hard to keep an open mind about what will or might happen in the film. As most other human beings I often seek out to guess the plot of a mystery film before I have seen it thoroughly. But this time I followed Marion Crane’s journey all the way up to her shocking death in the first half hour of the film. Stephen King said, “People remember the first time they experienced Janet Leigh, and no remake or sequel can top that moment when the curtain is pulled back and the knife starts to do its work.” On that I agree with him wholeheartedly, Janet Leigh’s character death was as unexpected as it was abrupt. Even prior knowledge of what would happen didn’t prepare me for the experience of watching the film itself. All parts of me were imploring Marion to move and to just ‘not’ be dead even as I continued to watch Norman calmly and methodically dispose of her lifeless body. Now that the character that I’ve attached myself to as protagonist has become a victim I reverted back to my habit of over analysing and second guessing the rest of the film.

By the end of the film I was quite buzzed about all the different narrative and psychological tropes that I recognised like the abusive mother and child relationship which led to Norman developing a split personality disorder. His fear, love and hatred of his mother that led the memory of her to take up permanent residence in his psyche. I was never bought over as a child by Disney movies that seem to give the message to children that no matter how much abuse or trauma they may encounter as a child they must remain a happy and hopeful symbol in a film where only a villain is allowed to experienced an emotional hangup. People are terribly fragile, their minds even more so. And what happens to them while growing up will definitely have consequences in their future. Some will become adults who are driven to kill by some terrible urge within them and there are those who simply want to bring suffering to another. There is a theory written about the differences between a sociopath and a psychopath. The general consensus is that psychopaths are born and sociopaths are products of their environment. Parental absence or abuse being the main reason for sociopathic behaviour. When engaging in criminal activity psychopaths tend to be more calculated and careful not to implicate themselves, sociopaths on the other hand are impulsive. Their behaviour rising into an uncontrollable onset of rage with little regard for the risks or consequences of their actions.

In accordance with this theory, Norman Bates in Psycho could be assumed to be exhibiting more sociopathic behaviours rather than psychopathic but the lines between them are blurred. As an only child raised in a stifled environment by a controlling, cruel and overbearing mother his dependency and attachment to her grew to the point that when she finally decided to get married and get a life of her own he killed her and her husband in rage. Unable to deal with what he had done and her absence, he created a persona of his mother in his mind to the point that it become separate entity that could take him over for certain periods of time.

Slavoj Zizek On Norman Bate’s House

Slavoj Zizek gave a brief but interesting analysis of Psycho, he focused on how the visual representation of Norman’s subjective mind the film is presented through the three levels of his mother’s house. The ground floor being his ego; the normal, rational and earnest Norman Bates who runs the motel. Up the stairs to the first floor where his mother’s bedroom is the super ego; the judgemental and overbearing part of his mind that projects itself as the image and voice of his mother. And down into the cellar in which he carries her body from the first floor represents the id. The id is the source of our bodily needs, wants, desires, and impulses, particularly our sexual and aggressive drives. His act of keeping Mother in the cellar can be seen as a metaphor for his attempt to hide super ego into his id; attempting to use the representation of the over controlling and judgemental part of himself to control his wild, violent and impulsive nature. From what I understand from Zizek’s statement he states that the super ego and the id are tied close together and that when the super ego feels threatened (when ‘Mother’ see’s Normal becoming attracted to another woman) the id will consume and take control over Norman. He is driven to kill the threat to his super ego.

Wow, ok this is becoming a very long entry. I feel that I should point out that I’m merely summarising and reflecting about these theories and I do not know enough of criminal psychology to express myself accurately and succinctly. I have a bit of an interest in researching crime murder, criminal psychology and forensic science. I would not call it a passion as I think my interest stems from a need to understand and accept the fact that people with violent mental disturbances and homicidal tendencies exist which is what this reflection is based around.


Character Design: Primordial (Storyboard & Animatic)

I took a few hours away from Z-Brush today to complete my storyboard and animatic. I first wanted to pitch a scene when Primordial rises out of a mountain and tears of the rock after a millennia upon millennia of hibernation. However, being immersed in the world of Vikings tv series the past month has inspired me and I decided to incorporate that universe into my storyboard. It begins with a father and son hammering nail into wood as they build a fence at a farmstead. The son startles and misses the next nail because he notices something horrible behind his father, they both turn to flee and the scene cuts to the monster character terrorising a fleet of Viking longboats attempting to attack the goliath with teeny tiny arrows and axes. Unsurprisingly it destroys most of the boats without any effort and saunters away from the fjord.


Primordial Storyboard Panels

Primordial Animatic

The music used as background samples from Wardruna’s NaudiR which I thought was absolutely perfect and did not require any additional background tracks or effects.

Wadruna – NaudiR

Research Poster: Exploring Colour & Lighting As Effective Tools For Visual Storytelling

This is the completed poster for my research topic; Exploring Colour & Lighting As Effective Tools For Visual Storytelling. It took awhile to arrange all the information I’ve gathered into cohesive and understandable sentences. I think at this point of the research process my understanding of what I want to research is clear and I’m confident that when asked, I can explain and summarise the context of the research.



This research intends to understand and analyse how colour and lighting are used in films as tools to support and communicate a story. While there will be a primary focus on animated films, investigation into live action features will be referenced as well. Comparisons between various films including Tonko House’s The Dam Keeper (2014), Pixar’s Wall·E (2008) and Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak (2015) will discuss these concepts in relation to the creation of a compelling story. This research will also explore the methods that filmmakers – both student and working professional – can employ to safeguard the core theme of their narrative so that it does not become lost during the lengthy process of production.


From a research perspective, the cognitive examination of animated films represent challenges and explorative queries unique to its medium. Unlike live action films, the animator is not confined to logic or to the physical laws of the real world as they no longer exist, the filmmaker in this instance is confronted with creating the entire narrative space from scratch (Buchan, 2006; Buchan, 2011). The creation of the life and core structure of that visual world is only limited to their choices and imagination. Although the visual space and characters should have some roots in realism, for the most part animators have the freedom to defy laws of physics and bring life to characters and objects that are impossible to create within the confines of a live action film (Brunnick & Cutting, 2014). Every aspect of the project from the concept art, character design, environment design, modelling, layout, animation, special effects, colour, lighting, sound, music, rendering and editing must be considered and then developed by the filmmakers. This process of bringing the extremities of the believable and the fantastical together is immense, complex and intricate.


‘Visual storytelling is a vast topic that reaches far beyond the realm of lighting’ (Calahan, 1996). Colour and lighting in a film are meant to affect the viewer subliminally without being noticeable on a conscious level. The purpose of these principles is to add depth to the film’s story and to the viewer’s overall visual experience.

A change in lighting can alter the meaning of the story effectively. The Dam Keeper (2014) is an example of a film that sought to animate light itself. The light in each scene is designed as a separate cinematic component that resulted in a unique visual style of ever shifting images that resembled a children’s illustrated storybook come to life (Kondo & Tsutsumi, 2014). The filmmakers placed emphasis on colour and lighting to not only create mood and atmosphere but to also guide and connect the audience to that scene.

Since Isaac Newton’s discovery of the visible spectrum of light and the invention of the modern colour wheel, scientific discoveries regarding the perception of colour and its relationship to human emotions has influenced its use in art, design, animation and film. Guillermo del Toro’s live action period horror film Crimson Peak (2015) relied heavily on colour and lighting as narrative devices. With custom built sets that gave him complete control of lighting del Toro also made liberal use of strongly saturated contrasting colours as narrative cues. When a scene changed from bright and diffused to saturated and contrasting it was a visual signal to the audience of something supernatural and horrific about to occur on screen.

‘No amount of the best animation in the world will ever save a bad story, or a bad story reel’ (Lasseter, 2007)

Because filmmakers in animation have a more liberal amount freedom of creation, there is a risk for the story development of the film to become neglected as a result of them becoming lost in the technical and aesthetic aspects of production. When examining the film making concepts of several successful contemporary animation filmmakers there is often an emphasis placed on cinematic storytelling. They would utilise tools such as colour, lighting and composition in the form of extensive storyboarding and colour scripting before creating animatic story reels that become the ‘living blueprint of the finished film’ (Stanton, 2008). Wall·E (2008) is one successful example of an extensive storyboarding process. Over 80,000 storyboards were completed as the story arc evolved and reshaped over the years of production (Reardon, 2008). The filmmakers understood that the story reel should entertain and evoke wonder into the audience just as the final film would. If the story reel is unable to communicate the narrative to the viewer succinctly then there is little chance that a fully animated film would.


The objective of the research is to show the crucial role that colour and lighting play in the production of an animated feature. By focusing on the aforementioned examples the research will also reveal effective storytelling methods and concepts that animators can adhere to so that their work engages and resonates emotionally with their audiences.

METHODOLOGY Several methods will be implemented during the research process in order to investigate and understand these topics as thoroughly as possible within the given time frame. Practical applications and experimentation of colour and lighting theory will also be used to further support the research.

  • OBSERVATION Research, identify, observe and analyse films that empathise or rely on the use of colour and lighting as mechanisms of effective visual storytelling.
  • CRITICAL ANALYSIS Examining research to gauge an understanding of the different practices employed by filmmakers in their usage of colour and lighting during the production of their work.  Critical evaluation of these processes is intended to nurture deeper comprehension and implementation of such storytelling concepts during practice.
  • VISUAL DESIGN World building. Designing character and film concepts, storyboard scenes with focus on communicating narrative before transitioning to colour scripting to establish mood and the characters’ changing emotional states.
  • PEER REVIEWS Peer (both student and professional) interviews, questionnaires and feedback to examine and discuss their opinions and understanding regarding the importance of colour and light in animation.


  • December Research. Moodboard. Draft Script. Concept Art (Character & Environment). Story Development.
  • January Research. Script. Concept Art (Model Sheet). Storyboard.
  • February Animatic. Rough Character Animation Test. Rough Paint Render Test. Peer Discussion. Music Research.
  • March Story Adjustments. 3D Modelling. Character Animation. Digital Rendering. Backgrounds.
  • April 3D Printing. Animation. Digital Rendering. Screen Test With Audience.
  • May  Animation. Digital Rendering.
  • June Final Animation. Digital Rendering. Clean-Up.
  • July Editing. Credit Graphics. Rendering. Making Of Artbook.
  • August Touch-Ups & Editing. Printing of Artbook. Final Submission.



  • Brunick, K. and Cutting, J. (2014). Cognitive Media Theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, pp.124 – 138.
  • Buchan, S. (Ed.). (2006). Animated Worlds. Eastleigh, UK: John Libbey.
  • Buchan, S. (2011). Ghosts in the machine: Experiencing animation. In G. Hilty (Ed.), Watch Me Move: TheAnimation Show. London: Merrell.
  • Calahan, S. (1996). Storytelling Through Lighting: A Computer Graphics Perspective. SIGGRAPH Course Notes. [online] Available at: siggraph_courses/s96_course30.pdf [Accessed 20 Nov. 2015].
  • Stanton, A. (2008). The art of WALL-E. San Francisco: Chrotnicle Books. Reardon, J. (2008). The art of WALL-E. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.


  • The Dam Keeper. (2014). [film] Robert Kondo And Daisuke Tsutsumi.Tonko house
  • WALL·E. (2008). [film] Andrew Staton Disney, Pixar Animation Studios.
  • Crimson Peak, 2015. [Film] Guillermo del Toro, United States: Legendary Pictures.
  • Skwigly Online Animation Magazine. (2015). Lightbox – ‘The Dam Keeper’ directors Robert Kondo & Dice Tsutsumi (Pixar/Tonko . [Online Video]. Jan 13, 2015. Available from: [Accessed: 20 November 2015].
  • The Film Theorists. (2015). Crimson Peak and The Color of FEAR – Frame By Frame. [Online Video]. Nov 5, 2015. Available from: [Accessed: 16 November 2015].
  • Schoolism. (2014). Painting with Light and Color with Dice Tsutsumi and Robert Kondo. [Online Video]. 02 December 2014. Available from: [Accessed: 03 November 2015].

First Digital Character Painting in Five Years


Mihara Saitou (First Portrait) 2014



For the theme of ‘Eden’ I explored the concept of personifying the realm of Eden as a character instead of a physical space. Similar to the garden paradise in the bible, the Eden character was once ‘perfect’ but eventually became corrupted and tainted by ‘sin’. Eden is portrayed as a flower and a predator at once in order to parallel human evolution and simultaneous deterioration from ‘purity’ throughout the ages.

(Online)EdenFinal Illustration (Digital, 30cm X 30cm)

(Online)(Sketch)Eden01Developmental Drawings

woland scanFinal drawing used for the final illustration.

(Process) Eden (GIF)Digital Painting Process

Ishtar : An Immortal (Narrative Book Project)


 Ishtar An Immortal Book Jacket (210mm X 145mm)

For the Narrative book project I designed a short illustrated book entitled Ishtar. It is written as a poem in the first person narrative of Ishtar, Goddess of war and love. Each illustration is originally drawn in pencil, scanned and then taken into photoshop to be make into a digital collage. The book is sixteen pages long bound into a hardback book with a cover jacket. Eight pages are laid out to fit onto a single sheet of  A3 or A2 sized paper and later folded and cut to size.

(Mock Up) Ishtar Celestial Maiden (Mock-Up)-Ishtar-Celestial-Maiden-BackDigital Mock Ups.

Video of the completed book.

photo 1 photo 2

I also designed a symbol/sigil motif unique to the character of Ishtar. It is employed  in the creation of a pattern of two different colours in different variations for the book wrap covering and inner binding of the book. These can be seen in the inside cover.



The motif is also used in the different illustrations  inside the book.

(Online)IshtarAnImmortalPages01-08 Pages One to Eight.

(Online)IshtarAnImmortalPages09-15Pages Nine to Fifteen


(Online)(Sketch)IshtarAnImmortal02 (Online)(Sketch)IshtarAnImmortal03Developmental Drawings

After settling on which of the original drawings to use I edited the colour, composition and texture of each illustration in Photoshop. Below is an animated Gif of page 10 and 11 showing the process I used to create the illustrations.


(Process) Ishtar An Immortal

Ishtar: An Immortal (Poem)

The Poem for Ishtar
I am Ishtar,
and I am who I am
I am the First and I am the Last
When all other Gods are dead,
I will sing their final Requiem
Even in the brightest light of the Sun,
I am the Morning Star
And in the darkest night with no Moon
I am the Evening Star
The Shining Celestial Star of Venus
I am not just beautiful.
I am dark and powerful
I am unforgiving
I am your breath
I am your tears
I can hear you calling before you even speak it
I am love
And I am rage
My father gave me the heavens 
Kingship over the sky and sea he gave me,
Hurricanes and lightning I made
Queenship he gave me,
The Lion he gave me,
Waging of battle he gave me, 
the Attack he gave me
Woe betide he who would dishonour my name  
I will bring up the dead to eat the living
And I will lay your soul to waste
I will let the fire and smoke consume all of earth
And when everything burns to ashes,
I will be reborn.

Heart Of Darkness (Book Cover & Internal Illustrations)

(Online)HeartOfDarkness(Cover)Heart Of Darkness Cover Binding (Front, Back & Spine)


Mock up of the final book jacket design.


The cover design went through a few variations before I settled on image tracing the original image into vector art in Adobe Illustrator and finalising the colour of the final image there.


The first illustration entry from Part I of the novella in London and the unnamed first narrator is describing Charles Marlow’s physical appearance.

“Marlow sat cross-legged right aft, leaning against the mizzen-mast. He had sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion, a straight back, an ascetic aspect, and, with his arms dropped, the palms of hands outwards, resembled an idol. “


The second illustration entry is also from Part I of the novella, when Marlow arrives in the Central Station and is told that the steamer under his charge had been sunk two days before his arrival.

“The steamer was sunk. They had started two days before in a sudden hurry up the river with the manager on board, in charge of some volunteer skipper, and before they had been out three hours they tore the bottom out of her on stones, and she sank near the south bank.”


Third illustration entry from Part III of the novella, when Marlow arrives at the Inner Station and realises that the posts of the fence are topped with decapitated and grotesque heads.

“They would have been even more impressive, those heads on the stakes, if their faces had not been turned to the house. Only one, the first I had made out, was facing my way. “

(Online)(Sketch)HeartofDarkness01 (Online)(Sketch)HeartofDarkness02 (Online)(Sketch)HeartofDarkness03

Various sketches exploring different scenes from the novella. I had tried to illustrate the scene where Marlow encounters the chain of prisoners carrying baskets of dirt on their heads, the attack of the steamboat by the native tribe as well the first appearance of Kutz African mistress; “the wild and gorgeous apparition of a woman.

(Process)HeartOfDarkness(Illustrations)After settling on which sketches to use I edited the colour and composition of it in Photoshop first before importing it into Illustrator where I image traced the image into vector art. I deliberately kept the illustrations unrefined as I wanted to maintain the watercolor appearance of the original sketch.

Narrative of (500) Days Of Summer

Image Source and Copyright: Churchx

Focusing on the narration of the movie (500) Days of Summer from 2009 which is told in a non-linear narrative in other words the film events are portrayed out of chronological order.

People are drawn to a good story, and I am no different. Whether fictional or biographical, stories have and always will be a part of what has shaped my life. I think that half of what makes a story engaging is how it is told and it is my belief that what the audience perceives about a story or narrative is directly influenced by what the artist, writer or director comprehends and how they choose to present that understanding.

(500) Days of Summer is as the poster states; a story about love and not a love story. It’s the story of Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon Levitt) who believes in true love and when Tom meets Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) he thinks he has found his soulmate. But while Summer likes him perfectly sincerely, she does not share the same views on love and is not looking for commitment. Ultimately, she breaks his heart and he is left baffled.

Image Copyright: Imaginaryforces

Image Source: drunkonfame

When the numbers of the days in the relationship are shown, the coloring and “mood” of the background art change to reflect the status of the relationship. Good days are brighter and bad days are darker.

The movie narrates of the chapter of time in which Summer is in Tom’s life and is told from his perspective. Their romance and subsequent breakup is revealed through a non-linear narrative segmented time fragments, jumping from different days in the past or present as we follow Tom’s memories during the high and lows of his relationship with Summer.

The non-linear narrative dismisses the atypical Freytag 5 part (dramatic arc, exposition, rising action climax and dénouement) structure of storytelling a drama and utilizes its kaleidoscopic time structure as an appropriate tool to tell Tom’s story. As human memories are seldom recalled in chronological order, especially when it concerns a failed romance and the person in question is going back over the course of the relationship and looking for those first signs of the end that they’d missed when it was happening. They start near the end, and then hop around between the times that were good and the times that left pain.

Image Source:

Another use of camerawork I was really impressed with was when Tom meets up with Summer again a few months after their breakup. A split screen is used in this sequence to show his Expectations and the Reality of what actually happened. The viewer is shown first hand the variants between reality versus Tom’s expectations as well the disappointment he is ultimately subjected to at the end of the scene. There is no dialog during the entire sequence and the subtlety was sublime and very effective in portraying how how often a person’s reality doesn’t line up with how they play things out in their mind.

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