Our next assignment is called Lonely Landscapes and started with the most unusual exercise I have ever done. We were given a paper cut out of a character and asked to provide a background story telling who our character was, where they lived etc. The list of detail we had to create for the cut out was very comprehensive. We were formed into groups to complete the task. Having completed the task we then had to invent a landscape in which our fictitious cut out person lived. The main task over the next few weeks was to make a scale model of this scene, light it creatively, photograph it and produce an A1 poster of the scene.
Our character looked somewhere between a snowman and a rag doll. Myself, Jen and Jay decided to plum for the rag doll interpretation and thus constructed a sad story involving an abandoned toy. The obvious influences here were that it fitted the brief, was something that all could relate to and made more than a passing similarity to the Pixar film Toy Story something that most people had seen.
A further influence was also my recent submission for the montage project which involved constructed landscapes showing derelict buildings and rooms. Following this theme we all agreed to place our abandoned toy in the loft of a crumbling house.
Pitching the idea to the tutors and the other groups we developed this thread further. We named our rag doll ‘Raggy’ and decided the loft was used as a play room by ‘Raggy’s’ owner a long time ago. As such our model would contain a second mini landscape that of the play area for the child. We loved the idea that the dolls house area was almost a time capsule, frozen to the last moment the child played there.
This play area would contain a large cardboard box painted to appear as the front of a dolls house, and a doll house size table and chair in front of it. As the house is crumbling having been abandoned a long time ago holes in the roof would provide a means for the scene to be illuminated.
A hole in the end wall (or window) would give the illusion of a scene just before sunrise, offering hope to our abandoned toy. The suggestion was also made of making small footprints in the dust suggesting the doll was trying to leave. The reason for this desire to escape perhaps being an advancing army, the house now on the edge of a battlefield, and its destruction looming ever closer.
A rough montage of our scene is below
Our references were several films, Toy Story as mentioned as it involves toys coming alive as well as reflecting the escape from danger element, but also Castaway starring Tom Hanks giving the sense of isolation and abandonment. Additionally an old 1960’s pulp science fiction movie ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ also led my thoughts. This story involves a man accidentally miniaturised to the size of a small doll who then falls into a cellar. The film follows his attempts to survive in this giant world and escape its confines. This works well for our scenario as the scale of our rag doll in its environment and the size of the shrunken man would approximately be the same.
The final influence for how our loft would look comes from a film club movie “Grey Gardens”. This film tells the story of a mother and daughter who fall on hard times and continue to live in a house that slowly falls apart. One particular memorable scene involves little Edie (the daughter) feeding wild animals in her derelict loft.
With our basic scenario now created the task of building the abandoned loft model began.
The issue of scale was the main problem as the loft and the play area had to be of the right proportions or the scene would be hidden by the dolls house, or if the scale was too small the detail in the dolls house would be lost in its surroundings.
To aid the viewer we decided to paint the dolls house / cardboard box white, add painted windows and a door and make the curtains in the windows red. Red always draws the eye, a survival trigger as red is the colour of blood. Used in this way the viewer would be forced to look carefully at the dolls house scene thus collecting more information about the background story then would ordinarily be taken in.
We started by making rough first drafts of our dolls house scene which then made it easier to scale up the rest of the model offering us an estimate of the full dimensions for our piece. As our piece would be triangular in shape when viewed from the front, the edges of the roof of our model would creep into view.
We shrank the dimensions of the dolls house three times before settling on a scale that appeared to work, balancing both a level that provided the viewer with a believable scene and the practicalities of making a manageable model.
Lighting was also discussed and various techniques for photographing the final piece to give the effect of a real derelict loft at sunrise were suggested.
Textures and rough surfaces were also experimented with and the suggestion of making the roof beams from balsa wood which we could splinter and break to add more of a derelict feel.
Other objects in the room were also discussed as the loft would not be devoid of artefacts offering clues to the identity of Raggy’s owner but no decisions were made at this time.
The construction of our derelict loft model started with the assembling of the base which we made from squares of corregated cardboard. The resulting mat created a naturally uneven surface on which we wanted to assemble our floorboard planks. We made the planks from brown foam board cut into strips and then glued down in a staggered pattern, i.e. the alternate ends of each plank lined up. Adding a ‘broken’ section in the floor indicating a hole to a lower floor would add to the derelict feel.
The dolls table and chair we decided to create in the 3D printer. This involved downloading a 3D template and rescaling it to match our model. To assist in the scale we decided to add a ‘Barbie’ doll dress into our loft, hanging from a roof beam giving the idea of a dress put into the loft for storage. Using this as a human scale everything else in the loft could be sized to match. We hit problems when we made the dolls furniture in that as we removed the models from the surrounding powder in the 3D printer all the legs came off.
After another failed attempt on the 3D printer we decided that the legs of furniture were really too fragile. We then redesigned the furniture with a more stable structure and this one was successful.
The frame work for our loft we decided to make using balsa wood, and using a photo taken in my own loft as a guide this task fell to me. Using UHU glue the beams were slowly assembled. As the balsa planks were thin I stuck two pieces together to add strength and to try and match the proportions of the beams in the loft photo. I was surprised at how strong the structure became once all the woodwork was done.
Jen then took the task of painting the frame to try and give it an aged look. Jay and Jen also painted the underside of the roof to give the appearance of a decaying roof felt.
The rear wall was made from several sheets of printed brick pattern, again scaled to match the dimensions. These sheets were then stuck onto card and a section removed to allow the light from our ‘sunrise’ to enter the room, giving the appearance of a collapsed section.
Cob webs were also added by trailing the UHU glue from one side to another and crumbled chalk sprinkled on our loft floor adding to the decay look. Adding a few twigs and a plant cutting with tiny leaves added to the overgrown look.
The tiny dolls house was created from two small matchboxes and painted to give the impression that a child had created it. Other ‘furniture’ included several miniature cardboard boxes a miniature chest of drawers and a miniature dresser all either made or found in charity shops.
To photograph the room we used a Nikon D800 DSLR with a 24 – 120mm zoom lens at 100 ISO.
Aperture was set to f13 and the shutter speed was adjusted to cover 1 – 20 seconds. Lighting was provided by a desk lamp and a several LED torches.
The final result was very close to what we had imagined, however if I was doing this model again I would make a few changes. Firstly the design is triangular when viewed from the chosen angle and therefore the depth of the model we found too shallow to allow us much variety in the position of the camera, and also dictated that the lens had to be fairly wide angle. This had the effect of distorting the objects close to the lens and took away some of the feeling of space.
We also found that our sunrise didn’t look believable so I have considered re photographing it at a real sun set although issues with light bleeding into the rest of the model from directions where no light should come from would necessitate positioning a number of light baffles to prevent this.
Problems with the 3D printer and our fragile table and chair left me wondering whether this was the right medium to use for the dolls furniture especially as the time it took to create a usable version stole time from other aspects of the build.
Using torches and desk lamps instead of studio guns was perhaps a good move as our initial shoot didn’t look right, mainly as the intensity of the studio mono blocs even on low power tended to ‘wash’ out the model. We concluded it was a case of model sized lighting for our model sized loft.
The final result though I believe very closely resembles our original montage sketch so in this respect we feel we achieved our goal.