Thursday, August 14, 2008

Lord of the Image: Building Magic Into Your Graphic

It's January in Edmonton. Freezing. Sheree and I are just recovering from the Christmas season, but we are getting onto a plane and going to New Zealand. We expect one of the highlights to be a tour we've booked that goes to some of the Lord of the Rings film sites.

But as the day grows closer, we start getting more and more unhappy with the prospect because each day off the ship (it was a 12 day trip into NZ and Australia) is precious and you hate to waste even a single moment on land.

So it was with considerably lower expectations that we got onto a bus in the early morning hour and headed off with other LOTR fans to see where Peter Jackson actually made his film magic.

Let me tell you just a little bit before we get to the meat of this blog. Tolkein opened my eyes to a whole new world. I first read The Hobbit in my teens and have been fascinated with things fantastical since then. Sheree and I have matching white gold wedding bands inscribed with elven script.

It's not a geek-like obsession. It's more in agreement with the beautiful notion that we are both on the same journey.We expect to go "there and back again" and it doesn't matter to us even a little bit that we are a Fellowship of Two.

But we didn't fancy being trapped in a bus all day. The tour guide, a fellow who had been an extra during the filming, warned us that we were going to be seeing where the film was shot, but that all the props were long gone.

Sheree and I traded looks and sighed.

I've never been so happy to be wrong.

It was one of the GTDOAT ("Great Travel Days of All Time") as we bounced around the NZ countryside and saw site after site, listening to stories of how the filming actually happened. It was a step beyond geek heaven.

The guide was passionate about his subject matter. He loved talking about the film and he loved Tolkein and on that bus it was perfectly alright to wonder aloud what the elven bread would have tasted like and for me to defend my stand that Samwise Gamgee is, in fact, one of fiction's great supporting characters of all time. We were among our kind of people. You get the picture, right?

There were moments when I really felt like magic was stirring and I could see the Galadriel giving Frodo a gentle kiss on the forehead as he set his jaw and marched off to Mount Doom. I could hear the rustle of elven garb as a silent procession moved through the woods to self-imposed exile from Middle Earth. I'm pretty sure I saw Sam peeking out at me just around the corner of my imagination as he set about preparing an evening meal. I felt again the breathless excitement of watching the Fellowship of the Ring set out on a quest of such grand scale that the fate of the world hung on its outcome...

Yup. I love that book. The subject matter makes my blood race. How do I convey that feeling to you -- who may or may not care about Middle Earth?

Let's start with an actual setting. The bridge in the picture at the top is one that LOTR movie fans probably won't recognize. It's on private land -- but when the filming was being done it was a vision of light and soft curves. But some very important scenes were filmed here.

I wanted to bring some sense of the magic to this photo -- which was after all -- your basic white bridge. I used a picture of Galadriel from a calendar I owned, scanned it, and built it into the graphic. (No. I didn't take the picture of Cate Blanchette...sigh) I kept the opacity very low so she just comes in on the border of the picture.

At one point the guide was reading a scene from the book where Legolas is interacting with Frodo. I happened to see my wife's face and really wanted to capture that expression. It's the look every book lover knows because it is imprinted on their soul the very instant they read something that delights their spirit.

Legolas (Orlando wasn't available for a sitting, either) is just barely on the fringe of the photo. I used an Overlay Blend so he becomes part of the background . (You'll find Blending Options at the top of the Layers Pallet. Overlay is one of many potentially wonderful effects.)

The site, and the graphic need to be visual depictions of what it felt like to be standing there, listening and being happily enveloped again in Tolkein's sweet spell.

It is, ultimately, a blending of ideas and images. It is a mix of both to create something new, as I try to convey to you what it feels like to read a book or touch magic...or have magic touch you.

So how can you share a few well-chosen steps of your journey with the world? What elements would figure in the graphic you would create? What colors would you use? What backgrounds? What would be the atmosphere of the image you build?

Think about Tolkein when you start the project. He had the same pen and paper that every other writer has had since cavemen were scraping rocks on walls. But he had a vision and it was his vision that far transcended the elements of pen and paper and became something utterly unique. Pen and paper were just the medium through which he fashioned his creation. Let me say it again: He transcended his chosen medium.

You can too.

You have a camera, an imagination and Photoshop.

Where do you want to take your viewer today?

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