So this is a little post that I wanted to put up to showcase a special form of image making: Video games and interactive digital media.
The reason why interactive digital media is special is because it offers a space to utilize both abstract and structural aesthetic. What exactly does that mean? I means, it can seamlessly move between a flat interaction,
…an illusionary 3D interaction,
Okay, so now that we’ve laid out what abstract image making is, let’s look at how it’s applied in contemporary American culture.
One really cool cultural read on abstraction is the perception of images that are usually made up of simple shapes. Depending on a few very subtle factors, a simple abstract image can give off two completely different vibes: Sleek/professional or child-like.
Can we appreciate that for a second? Based on a few little tweaks, an image can be read in completely OPPOSITE ways. You can see it clearly from Disney, who wants to be read as both professional and child-like, depending on the situation.
In my last blog post, I talked about how image making is just one big love letter to the human experience. Now I want to get into what language that letter might be written in. To do so, let’s start with abstraction.
So what exactly is abstract image making? For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to define it as the creation of images that are characterized by nondescript and often simplistic shapes. Because of these qualities, it has the capacity to be easily recognizable, relateable, and/or reproducible, all excellent traits for facilitating communication. This is especially evident in early languages where writing and drawing frequently meant the same thing.
Have you ever looked up at the night sky and been bamboozled by the size of the moon? Where it just looked so big it seemed like it was engulfing the earth, every etching and crater so crystal clear that it looked like it was carved by kids chucking rocks at it? Well, it’s happened to me. In fact, once I was so awed by how bright big ol’ Cheese Face was in the sky that I decided to document it by snapping a picture of it. When I excitedly looked at my camera to see how it captured the beauty before me, I was dismayed to see something like this:
Today I’ll be discussing two principles of visual design and how they are utilized to create effective characters. The two principles can be thought of as two ends sides of a spectrum: Abstract and Realistic.
Abstracted characters are often times considered very cartoon-y and simple. Because it is barely tethered by the rules of physicality, it allows for the most visual freedom. The basic building blocks of character creation for abstract characters start with shapes. To fully master abstract character design, it requires knowledge of iconography. Frequently, abstract designs have the most iconic silhouettes, however it can also carry a cultural burden of being “childish”.
Examples of mostly abstracted characters: Mickey Mouse, Pac-Man, chibi anime, etc.
Let’s start with intuition. What we usually refer to as intuition is our ability to understand something immediately without the need for conscious reasoning. We do this by taking all of our past knowledge on a subject, and then quickly coming up with a generalized idea. Humans tend to be really good at this and depending on the situation, it can be really good or really bad. Good because we can access information quickly; Bad because we overgeneralize.
What this means is that we make powerful associations with certain imagery almost instantaneously. And because these associations keep building on each other, what we end up with is a vast visual lexicon of symbols and shorthands that are utilized for communication every day. Long ago, stained glass illustrations decorated cathedrals to communicate to the illiterate masses. Though most people today in our society are literate, the same principles of communication are still being used today.
The next thing to note is that some symbols/imagery carry more historical weight than others. To illustrate, let’s look at a widely used icon that doesn’t carry much weight:
There’s a lot of gripe about being obsessed with physical beauty in this day and age, but if anything, we face exactly the opposite problem. Rather than physical beauty reining supreme, it is actually image that reins supreme. In photography, having nice physical features is a good start, but ultimately what’s more important is being photogenic, being able to retouch a photo (including Photoshop), setting up lighting, etc. So what is it exactly that we lose when we conflate “physical beauty” with “image”? Hint: It’s a key element in creating good character.
Shout out to Shanth Enjeti, a teacher I had at RISD who was the first to introduce me to storytelling in the context of myth. Thought it would be appropriate to mention considering the title of this blog.
Shanth’s Educational Blog