Jordan McBarnett, a 2023 Graduate of Ringling College of Art and Design, breaks down his thesis called MERCURIAL. In this article he shares the details of his artistic exploration but also sheds light on the art of crafting visually impactful scenes in the circle of art and design.
I was clueless about what my thesis would be for quite some time. Have you ever experienced that overwhelming stress of trying to solve a problem, only to realise that fixating on it doesn't lead to any solutions and just prolongs your anxiety?
Yeah, that's what I'm talking about—good ol' procrastination, which haunted me at the beginning of the project. To overcome the dreaded creative block, I discovered that sometimes you just have to trust your instincts. Surprisingly, the best ideas tend to pop up when you least expect them, whether it's in the shower, while munching on a bland school dinner, or even while late to class.
I've found that I often sabotage my ideas by overthinking them into oblivion, so it's crucial to avoid that pitfall.
Delving into the Idea
The idea I wanted to explore was all about visually capturing emotions.
To develop this concept further, I started by creating a Notion page where I jotted down every thought that crossed my mind. I focused on defining the core concept of the piece and what I wanted the audience to take away from it.
Next, I ventured into the realm of visual inspiration and put together a mood board that showcased the emotions I aimed to represent. Initially, my plan was to depict the five prominent emotions of "Joy," "Sadness," "Despair," "Fear," and "Anger." However, due to time constraints and the overall concept, I decided to focus on the emotions I personally experienced throughout the majority of my college journey.
Crafting the Story
After assembling the mood board, I dived into meticulously writing the story on Notion, paying attention to even the tiniest visual details. I also incorporated the musical composition and sound effects into each shot.
It was crucial to determine the number of shots required for the project. Rather than simply collecting references and creating a rough animatic, I opted to craft a narrative that effectively conveyed the emotions and visuals I had envisioned.
To achieve this, I centered the concept around three fundamental psychological emotions: Despair, and Rage, Peace. These emotions serve as the pillars upon which our reality is constructed, manifesting in distinct ways both within and outside the human body.
Visualising the Concept
Imagine a space where a solitary humanoid robot resides. Inside the robot's head, a pulsing sphere of different colours represents various emotions.
I assigned blue to symbolise despair, red to signify rage, and purple to represent peace. This visual element adds depth to the storytelling, enhancing the overall emotional impact and aiding in the conveyance of these profound human experiences.
Storyboarding and Blocking
To bring my animation to life, I started by sketching out some basic storyboards. These helped me visualise the sequence of shots and the overall flow of the film.
Once the storyboards were complete, I proceeded to create a rough animatic to establish a sense of pacing for the film. In this process, I got certain elements to indicate camera movements and the actions taking place in each shot.
However, I intentionally didn't set everything in stone during the blocking and storyboarding phase. Why? Because I truly enjoy the creative exploration that comes with allowing myself the freedom to add, delete, and refine elements that perfectly align with the final piece.
Thesis Development and Workflow
One of the most exciting aspects of my thesis was its development. To ensure a smooth production process, I began by meticulously planning out the required shots and their respective deadlines using a Google spreadsheet. I wanted to maintain a structured approach to stay on track.
During the creation process, I found myself frequently jumping back and forth between scenes to grasp the overall feel of each shot and how it would seamlessly transition into the next. This iterative approach allowed me to carefully consider the impact of each shot on the narrative flow.
Additionally, I dedicated a significant amount of time to research and development (R&D) for each scene, as it is a phase I thoroughly enjoy. Exploring new techniques and experimenting with various tools was an integral part of bringing my vision to life.
If you're interested in delving deeper into my workflow, the tools I utilised, and the intricacies of the Houdini simulations, I encourage you to visit my website. You'll find a comprehensive breakdown of my process there or on my Rookies entry.
Rendering Challenges and Post-Production
Rendering was a time-consuming process, and I had to strategise and find suitable times to access different computers and render specific components of scenes to meet the project's deadline.
Among all the scenes, the one that required the longest rendering time was the latest scene. This was primarily due to the animated volumetric data sets (vdbs) that I created in Houdini and imported into Redshift and Cinema 4D.
Once the rendering was complete and I had all the sequences saved as PNG files, ready to start the post-production stage.
Utilising After Effects and the Magic Bullet effects, I embarked on color grading, editing, and incorporating various visual enhancements. I particularly enjoyed adding lens effects, glows, film grain, and heat waves to infuse an extra touch of excitement into the piece. These post-production elements truly brought out the desired aesthetic and added that special "spice" to the final product.
My thesis project became an embodiment of my emotions, serving as a profound reflection of my inner self.
Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we have a clear picture of it. - Benedict Spinoza
As someone who engages in daily meditation and self-reflection, exploring the opportunity to visually express my feelings to the world felt both exhilarating and vulnerable.
As designers and artists, we often find ourselves holding back, reluctant to reveal our true selves to the world. However, I always remember the wise words of Rick Ruban, who encouraged me to embrace authenticity, honesty, and personal growth throughout my creative journey. It is essential to be unapologetically yourself and to share the process and development openly with others. As a spiritual being, I have come to realize that being true to myself is more than enough.
There is a remarkable quote from Rick Ruban that resonates deeply with me:
Being a great artist means practicing being in touch with the information already inside of you.
Every artist should cherish this notion, as it reminds us to tap into the wellspring of wisdom within us and unleash our artistic potential. If you reach the end of this article, I thank you for spending your time on it, it truly means a lot.
Jordan is a recent graduate from Ringling College of Art and Design, majoring in Motion Design. Check out his website and reach out via LinkedIn.