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Very impressive article Jake! You are very talented.
nice article! i love seeing the breakdowns.
If we had to choose one reason to learn the English language, it would be the ability to listen the lectures of Mike Hill. Mike is a legend of production design. He’s the production designer, who worked with movies and video games. He did technical designs for Killzone Shadow Fall, Fractured Space and a whole bunch of other projects. His lectures however, do not revolve about 3d art and production of concept art. They touch on deeper topics, which can help you to make better design decisions and build something that will hold for a longer period of time.
In his most recent lecture called “Spielberg’s Subtext” he dissects the famous Jurassic Park blockbuster, showing some of the things that drive it’s story. Like in most of his talks, he shows how modern cinema (and video game) production puts emphasis on completely wrong things.
Steven Spielberg is obviously a master storyteller, but not a lot of moviegoers really take it into account the subtext of his films. In Jurassic Park the subtext is great. It’s so great in fact, that every scene, every prop, every dinosaur in this movie serves as a tool that supports that subtext and story.
As Mike explains it, Jurassic Park is built around a high concept, which is made secondary to a human story. Dinosaurs are the high concept here, but they serve as a tool to show the story. Dinosaurs are symbolic tools and they serve a certain narrative function. They work as an allegory. The whole idea for Jurassic Park is an allegory for becoming parents (not about cloning dinosaurs for God’s sake).
The movie poses a question: what kind of responsibilities lie in creating that life? The same question is asked in the movie over and over. It helps to create subtext. To present ideas in the movie archetypes are used. There are two most basic archetypes here: chaos and control, devil (Goldblum) and god (Attenborough). The whole chaos theory from Jurassic Park is there to show how the character feel when they prepare to having kids.
The dramatic structure of the film is actually working to open some of the main ideas of the project: symbolic pregnancy, parental responsibility, unified family. It manifests itself through small details, props, design decisions. Like the ultrasound monitor that is used to show the velociraptor. Normal people would use it to look at their child! There’s even a fertility plant, where they experience the simulation of childbirth. These are simple human issues which are being dressed up as very exotic ideas, as Mike puts it.
Triceratops (the sick dinosaur we all remember) is there to confirm that Ellie is ready to have kids! She’s saying “Hey, baby girl” when she first sees the dinosaur, she eagles puts her hands in a pile of poo.
The whole Dr Grant’s story is a trial, that must prove that he’s ready to become a parent. Each prop here (mostly the car) serves a specific function and helps to show the allegory: egg, treehouse, fire. Car is an egg, which gives birth to children, when Grant saves them. It’s another metaphor for life, which always finds it’s way.
Different scenes in the film, show the way the main characters move from the loners to people having a real family! Grant went from a predator to a protector. We learn all this from the props and design decisions, which were put all over the film. Basically the end of the movie shows the rebirth of the characters and their final decision to become parents. There are even birds, which act as a symbol for the evolution of characters.
Jurrasic Park holds so well, because it stands on great foundations: allegory, archetypes, metaphor, subtext, motifs and symbolism. Not dinosaurs. This is essential to understand to any designer, even game designer. Great games and movies are not based on simple topics. They are not about dinosaurs, zombies, cars or gunfire. They are always about stories.
GTA V is about family and middle-life crisis, about a bad person in paradise, Gears of War is about parental issues, Shadow of Colossus is about love and compassion. It’s debatable of course, but it’s incredibly important to understand this subtext, when you’re working on environment design and games in general. At the heart of any experience one should find a simple and clear human subtext. This is when you’ll achieve success.
Peace out. Watch Mike Hill’s talk on Spielberg. It’s totally worth it!