Monday, July 9, 2007

Clean, Shaven

I should preface this one with a spoiler warning: I'll try to be somewhat oblique about it, but if you want to experience Clean, Shaven properly the first time you really ought not to know some of what's below. So, be warned. Still here? Okay.

This project had an unprecedented (for me) level of involvement from the director, Lodge Kerrigan. He invited associate producer Heather Shaw and me to his apartment at the start of the project to look through imagery and discuss design concepts, and by the end of the design process he was sometimes calling me multiple times a day to discuss new ideas and directions. But since he was also open to new ideas on my end, it was a very satisfying collaboration, and I was very glad at the end of it to be confident that we had come up with something that the director felt well represented his vision.

My first instinct was this direction, which quickly became known as the "serial killer" comps:

Lodge and producer Kim Hendrickson were very much against this direction from the beginning, and probably rightly so—it's how the movie had been sold in the past and it's lead to a lot of misinterpretations. Plus, admittedly the ripped picture thing is a little cliché, but I thought maybe I could get away with it since it's inspired by the ripped photo of the baby girl in the film (see the third comp above). In my defense, I think the film does lead the viewer to the more sinister conclusion suggested by these comps, and that the experience of the ending is enhanced when the viewer feels the same culpability as the detective for assuming the worst. (Vague enough?) So my thinking with these covers was to play the same fake-out that the movie itself plays, to maintain the impact of the reversal at the end. But ultimately, everyone felt it would be better to represent what the film actually is about, rather than what you might initially assume the film is about, so these were nixed.

So these next comps were my attempt to represent my experience of the film. The long shots of landscape out the window of Peter's moving car and the innovative sound design were what resonated most with me, so I wanted to try to find a way to suggest the artful style of the film without referencing plot or character. (In trying to find a visual way to represent the unique audio style of the film, I took some inspiration from Dave McKean's work on his and Neil Gaiman's great radio play/graphic novel Signal to Noise—particularly the chapter divisions in the printed version.)

Those went over better than I expected, particularly second one above, which was well-liked enough to live on (in slightly modified form) as the cover to the insert booklet. But no one was quite ready to leave Peter behind so completely, especially since his character is so much the focus of the film. So I tried to bring him back in small ways, without upsetting the compositions too much:

...but I needed to do more to integrate the two concepts if that was going to work. We'll come back to that later.

The other way the film has been presented in the past is as kind of an art house gore film—there's a famous story about some audience members fainting during a film festival showing of one particularly gruesome scene—but that's not a particularly fair representation of the film as a whole. Still, those scenes are there for a reason and they are important to the film, and are probably the most recognizable images, so I threw together a few comps. First a pretty straight-ahead take:

Which didn't work for all the reasons listed above. Next, a few where I tried to mitigate the "gross-out" element to make clear that wasn't all there was to the film. I mixed and matched those images with other visuals that were drawn from my "signal to noise" comps and other striking but somewhat abstract visuals from the film. Here's two of the more successful takes:

(These also fall into the category of what seems to be a nervous design tick for me, the split 'em down the middle comps.)

As I recall, Lodge particularly liked the image of Peter staring intently at his fingernails—if you've seen the film, you know what he's doing there, but the image leaves the "gore" off-camera, and puts the focus on his eyes where it belongs. It never quite worked here, but it comes back in a few comps later on.

I also threw together this very literal take on the title, mostly just to amuse myself:

Then I got back into some comps that focused on Peter and his psychology, which is after all the heart of the film. First there was this unimaginative use of some photoshop "noise" to represent the "noise" in Peter's head:

This next one was maybe a little too minimal, but I very much liked the subtle thing going on with the lines theoretically intended to divide up the space, but the image not quite adhering to those boundaries:

I explored that idea a little more with these next few, eventually bringing back some of the landscape I had liked before:

And, viola! Final cover:


josh said...

Oh man. Of the last four before the final version, the bottom left is my favorite. Bigger type (I think the title is a little overwhelmed in the final), great focus in his eyes in the shot, and good contrast between the two halves (the final feels a little too washed out, resulting in less dramatic effect).

Great process, I love seeing some of the different comps.

josh said...

...and take it easy with the clarendon/rosewood.


MacGuffin said...

I like all of these (well except for the facetious one, though I kinda like it for the seventies(?) vibe) but I think the end result is the best of the bunch. It's funny, I never ever would've connected Signal To Noise to those images but after you mentioned it, it was readily (I won't say obviously) apparent.