Thursday, March 29, 2007

Yi Yi

Edward Yang’s Yi Yi is one of the Criterion projects I’m most proud of. In our initial discussions about the film, producer Curtis Tsui and I both immediately recognized Yang Yang’s penchant for photographing the backs of people’s heads as one of the most potent visual metaphors in the film. (Yang Yang says it’s because he wonders if we only can only see half of the truth, since we can only see in front of ourselves and not behind; he takes photos of the backs of heads to show the other characters the sides of themselves they can't see.) Unfortunately, we didn’t have any high-resolution art from the film that represented that idea. So we decided to try to reproduce it.

We knew we wanted the shot to take place during the wedding scene at the beginning of the film, mostly because that traditional celebratory red in the curtains was such a recognizable and meaningful color. Here’s a low-quality image from the part of the film we were trying to reproduce (the colors are all wrong, but this is the best I could find on the internets while writing this blog):

The actor who played Yang Yang was obviously no longer available, so we had find a back-of-head double. We found a photographer (the talented Andre Constantini), who led us to a young model named Brian, the back of whose head was a fine match for Yang Yang. Brian didn’t own a suit jacket, so we planned to meet at Macy’s, where we’d buy him his “wardrobe.”

I spent the morning browsing fabric stores looking to match the bright red curtains of the wedding scene, and around noon, I made my way over to Macy’s. (Lest anyone is concerned, it was spring break at Brian’s school; we didn’t pull him out of class for this or anything.) Of course, I hadn’t yet met Brian or his mom in person, and only knew Brian from his picture. Let me tell you, I have seldom felt more uncomfortable than that afternoon, standing alone in the Macy’s boys department, scanning the faces of every Asian boy that walked by, enduring the dirty looks from countless mothers—I don’t like to imagine what they might have thought of me. Once Brian and his mom showed up, we quickly bought the jacket and hopped a cab over to Andre’s studio, where Curtis was already waiting.

That was the first photo shoot I’d been involved with, and once we got there, it couldn’t have gone more smoothly. Brian and his mom were friendly and outgoing, and Andre was a real pro. It required a bit of creativity to get the effect we were looking for with only one small bagful of pink balloons—just out of frame on the cover shot, Curtis and I are holding either end of a ribbon with about 8 balloons taped to it. We also tried a series of shots with the balloons floating in mid air, which lead to an extended game of don’t-let-the-balloon-touch-the-ground (Curtis was a champion).

Once we had the photos, all that was left was to play with the typography. I came up with a couple more funky versions, but ultimately the most straightforward composition, (which was somewhat inspired by some Taiwanese wedding invitations that Curtis showed me), felt most like Yi Yi, so that was where we wound up.

The next challenge was to take these newly created designs and make them integrate seamlessly with the rest of the packaging, which was going to be built from film stills.

The main menu animation concept came to me almost the minute we came up with the cover concept: I took frame grabs from the film and isolated out the photographs Yang Yang took/ Which took some doing, actually, since the film never displays the photos quite the straight-ahead way I wanted to display them—some photoshop skewing was necessary to get them straightened out. Then we set them up as, basically, a slide show, like so. (The following is just a low-res animated gif approximation; the actual menu on the DVD was animated more smoothly by Criterion videographics guy Ian Whelan.)

The Polaroid aesthetic is a little different than the rest of the design, but Edward Yang seemed to think the two aesthetics could work together in his film and I think they work in the design, too.

As I got into the rest of them menus, I finally established the look for the rest of the set. Very simple and straightforward, using the typography from the cover and taking advantage of Edward Yang’s beautiful wide-shot cinematography where possible.

I always like to come up with some visual organization within the menus, mostly just to keep in interesting for myself. In this case, the chapter menus represented characters, the commentary menus represented locations, and the other menus were characters in locations, if that makes sense. Here's a sampling:

(That commentary intro page in particular is one of my favorite menus ever; I just love that red.)

That aesthetic got translated into the physical packaging, with a little creative use of those stripes of black and white “though” the pictures, to hide the fact that those images weren’t particularly high resolution and couldn’t actually be blown up as big as I wanted them. Here's a few sample pages:

And that was that! I think the whole thing came together really well, and like I say, I’m still particularly proud of the results, so be gentle in the comments. (But do please do say hi!)


India said...

I think these look really cool. Bravo!

(So, did Brian get to keep the jacket?)

Eric Skillman said...

No, I actually returned the coat to Macy's that afternoon and got my money back.

Now, I've told that to other people and they look at me like I was being cheap, but it's not like we didn't pay him for his time, and the money for the coat came out of my pocket. I did let him keep the yellow T-shirt he wore in some other shots we took (and didn't wind up using).