Monday, November 22, 2010


Gentlemen and Ladies, I bring to you from the strangest parts of the world... Steampunk!

Please, hop into my dirigible, mind the pipes and gears, and let us set out upon an adventure of literary proportions to attain a basic grasp on this genre.

What is Steampunk?
The best definition I can use is an amalgamation of my own thoughts mixed with the differing definitions on the web from several different authors (not to mention Wikipedia).
Steampunk as an art is the joining together of the Victorian historical period with alternate/sci-fi history, characterized by anachronistic items. Modern-day technologies, if imagined then, would be powered by steam, and heavily decorated with the elegant and graceful design motifs of the Victorian era. The use of brass fittings, copper pipes, cogs, wheels, gears, clockwork and metalwork filigree would be ubiquitous. I will speak primarily about the artful aspect of the genre, although I shall allude to the other facets as well, especially the literary aspects.
Steampunk, speaking historically and categorically, came into existence in the late 1980s and early 1990s, although it has roots that reach more than a century prior to that. Authors such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells have inspired the category heavily, as well as films like Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and The Time Machine (which happen to be based on the books by Verne and Wells).
Steampunk has become a sub-culture that thrives on the Internet through blogs and forums dedicated to making Steampunk a way of life. I consider this aspect of Steampunk to be rather superfluous and escapist; this is the arena where the “punk” in Steampunk comes out.

How is Steampunk used?
In most stories and art that I have viewed that use Steampunk heavily, I have noticed a common trend. One of them is the extensive use of the genre as a forum to present postmodernism and feminism in a positive light. Also, the genre's mood is very dark, usually depressing. Foggy skies and monochrome colors make us think that we just stepped into post-apocalyptic 2506 instead of the late Victorian or Edwardian era of Europe. There are usually anti-heroes, cynical protagonists that use whatever means necessary to makes things happen. Nihilism is presented as the only option left in a world powered by steam, monitored by robots and ruled by tyrannical dictators.

A few of my favorite examples of Steampunk within film production design are these:

Van Helsing

Okay, I understand: vampires and werewolves don't exist. But Steampunk does. Here is an excellent portrait of how extensive Steampunk should be emphasized... hardly at all, unless there's an express point. Helsing is only as awesome as his Steampunk-influenced gadgets, which he uses at every turn.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Aside from a stellar performance by Jim Carrey, the production design seems to mix sub genres, with Dieselpunk and Steampunk gladly embracing each other to formulate an attempt at timelessness, which I think the film accomplishes to an extent.

Sleepy Hollow

Several tools that quirky, introverted constable/physician/mortician/inventor Ichabod Crane have some semblances of Steampunk about them. Interesting that Rick Heinrichs was the production designer for both this and Unfortunate Events... Coincidence? I think not.

How should Steampunk be used?
I believe that Steampunk is merely the frame to place your picture in; a setting, which should never take the place of story; style, not substance. Steampunk as a lifestyle or philosophy is complete bogus. It should be nothing more than a genre of art, a sub genre of science fiction. Therefore, it should never take precedence within whatever capacity it is used merely by virtue of its presence; in other words, it should never take the limelight because it's cool. The levels of Steampunk usage should be relevant to the needs of the story. In fact, whatever you use, make sure it's up to standard with God's Word and the story's needs. During the design process on Heumoore's Ace Wonder, I utilized a few Steampunk motifs to signify and accentuate the quirkiness of the grandfather. Several times, I was struck with the thought that maybe it was out of place; perhaps I was merely catering to my own desires; to have one thing to which I could point and say, "That was my idea!" Many times the temptation was to over accentuate the presence of the Steampunk motifs, and I had to remind myself that the design was merely the servant of the story. Altruism... I gots it.

Concerning the time-pertinence of Steampunk, my personal preference is to have it within the time frame of an alternate 1820-1900, although I think that it would not be without it's historical or scientific bounds if it were used at any time within the last 1000 years, alternately speaking. I prefer the former era because I am very attached to the Victorian-era roots of the genre. I think it would be pretty spectacular to see Steampunk technology in use during the Middle Ages. King Arthur would have so totally pawned Mordred...

Anyhow, to sum up my post: pay attention to what your story calls for. Don't use anything just 'cause it's neat or hip or cool. Think through everything thoroughly, as best as you can; research, compare, seek counsel. Remember that any piece of art you create has the potential to influence millions. Don't take that lightly.

Also, you'll have to forgive me if I gear all of my points toward filmmaking. You have to understand, however, that that's what I'm called to, and I can't help but write about how to utilize it for the glory of God.

I enjoy the art and style of this genre very much. It piques my imagination like none other. It's such a fantastical joining of history, science and fiction.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief journey through the epic landscape of Steampunk. I hope it was coherent enough to understand, and hopefully you can apply one or two things that I spluttered forth onto this humble blog.

I will remain,

Your Faithful Rambler,

John Scott Reighard

P.S. Steampunk was used 25 times in this post. Epic.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Production Design

I have been absent awhile, due to the fact that I've not done any art worthy enough to appear on this blog. However, within the past few months, I'm pleased to say that several pieces have been drawn that are of the quality to be displayed here in this web forum. But that's for later. Today, I have only text; enjoyable text, I believe...

I've been spending several months (actually over a year) working with John Moore in developing HeuMoore's most recent project, Ace Wonder. The website is here at

The film is a remake of our 2007 short film, Heartstrings. However, don't be disheartened; we're going to make it better, I promise. The basic premise is the same, changed only slightly: the Moore family, whilst on vacation, breaks down in the small, rustic town of Willowwood. Gator Moore, an aspiring detective novelist, meets Derek Morton, a confused young man obsessed with a set of clues his recently deceased grandfather left behind. Gator, smelling a story, is immediately endeared to Derek. What follows are laughs, thrills, intrigue, mystery, enigma, puzzles, riddles, more plot development and stuff like that. How's my logline so far? Please, bear with me; I've yet to read any of Robert Mckee.

My role in this project is that of production designer. Basically, this position supervises the entire visual design of the film, ranging from costume design to set design to prop design to character design to... well, you get the picture. Basically, the timeline for my work on the film goes thus:
Pre-production: September 2009-April 2010; drawing.
Production: April 2010-June 2010; running.
Post-production: June 2010-TBD; drawing.

Yes, lots of drawing.

This was the first time we sat down and thought through the costumes, sets, props and color schemes. John had a very specific vision in mind, which comes through in the finished project.

Within film production hierarchy, there is a trinity; not holy, but pretty awesome: director, cinematographer and production designer. The director presents his vision to the two department heads. The production designer supervises what is to be photographed, while the cinematographer deals with how to photograph it. Although creativity must be allowed, it must be based on the director's vision; that's especially important when the director is also the writer, as in my case. I defer to him for the most part, because I respect his authority in this area. However, if I believe I have a better visual idea, I allow my thoughts to come to his attention through the opening of my mouth.

I don't know if my feeble efforts to explain production design will impart the import of this area of filmmaking. It is indispensable, and if one does not take proper care and time to run through the visual design of his film, no matter how great the script, or dynamic the score, or fantastic the actors, his film will fall flat. It will not be real. Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, which is more of a fairy tale/ horror story, with magical occurences that could not possibly happen, has a setting that is so tangible it feels like you're in 1799 New England.

My favorite example of production design is the monumental film trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Recall the Viking/Saxon motifs running throughout the culture of the Rohans? Or the very apparent influence of Greco-Roman and Byzantine architecture within Minas Tirith? The design team made an excellent decision in taking something that's familiar to us and putting a slight fantastical twist on it.This ability to completely engross an audience within an artificial atmosphere was the appeal of the recent blockbuster, Avatar. Cliché plot points and flat characters do not matter when you're distracted by the reality of Pandora, especially compounded with the great 3D effect.

Even within documentary filmmaking, it is important to think through the visual themes that can be utilized to make the film more powerful. One of the best examples I've seen is the chilling, alarming Demographic Winter. This symbolism is apprehensively pertinent, especially in light of the approaching threat of a disastrous social and economic winter.

For more info regarding production design, I highly recommend The Filmmaker's Guide to Production Design by Vince Lobrutto. Although not explicitly detailed, it covers the basics of visual design quite sufficiently for the beginning designer.

Thanks for reading; I hope it was informational and enjoyable.

God Bless,