thoughts on art, interactivity, technology, design, culture & life

Tonight I gave a presentation on Humanizing Technology at Miami Ad School. I hope the presentation was really inspiring despite the fact that it had very little to do with advertising. The students had seriously awesome questions and it was a pleasure to have time to talk to them afterward. Thanks to Mehera and students for having me. As promised I'm sharing my slides from this evening. Enjoy!


This past week I started a new project: Lost Backwards. The project is an attempt to explore story consumption in a new way. Basically what's going to happen is I will watch Lost from the last episode to the first in reverse order and blog about it as I go. Learn more and follow the project at


Growing up as a Yankee the south was a far away place where the pace of life was slower, the weather was hotter, the guns -- more liberal than people and a place where everyone praised Jesus (hallelujia). Quite frankly if it weren't for my grandfather (a card carrying member of the NRA), moderately conservative father and the non-judgmental values I was raised with I might have grown up to either dislike or be completely indifferent to the idea of the south. Instead for me...the south...the DEEP south has always had a certain mythology wrapped up in it's existence. I'm not sure why this is. It could have been reading books like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, watching Gone with the Wind, the French classes where we learned about New Orleans, A Streetcar Named Desire, or any number of occasions I (with my limited geographical experience in America) was exposed to the plethora of stories about the American South.

As of today I still have not traveled farther south than Washington D.C. (a city I would not consider southern) in this country, and like all things which are unknown the south remains a mysterious place for me. I, of course, sometimes choose to feed my curiosity with television. I started watching True Blood when the pilot first aired, knowing it took place in Louisiana and when the pilot for FX's series Justified (a show about a US Marshall in Kentucky) aired I watched that too.

The first thing anyone sees when they watch a TV show is the opening title sequence, these sequences set the tone for the show -- it's an opportunity to set expectations in the minds of the audience. Having now watched opening sequences for both Justified and True Blood...I am lead to believe that the south either has a certain aesthetic. An aesthetic which storytellers and designers are possibly intent to maintain.

True Blood


The Similarities

The similarities between these two titles are both obvious and extreme...both are beautiful pieces employing rustic type, high contrast, colorful, mildly polaroid-esque photograpy coupled with some jerky cuts.

Justified stills on left, True Blood stills on the right:

Why True Blood Does it Better...

As far as aesthetic quality goes, for me both title sequences are beautiful. The typography is thoughtful, the imagery is well executed, and the editing/pacing of these pieces seems to work nicely with well chosen music. While I have a preference for the visuals used in the True Blood sequence as I think the attention to detail in that sequence is better -- from a purely technical standpoint for me they stand on fairly equal ground.

Where the True Blood sequence really leaps in front of the Justified sequence is on a thematic and story-telling level. While the Justified sequence alludes to the idea that the show will be about a cowboy in a small town who works to fight crime the story told and mood created does not even come close to approaching the depth of the True Blood sequence.

The True Blood sequence can essentially serve as an establishing shot for each episode. It establishes not only the setting of the show (a fictional town in Louisiana called Bon Temps1 ) but also the themes and moods worked into each episode. Digital Kitchen did this by drawing on the issues and dichotomies upon which the show is built. Pulling from these dichotomies allows the sequence thematic contrast and tension (ex: life/death, carnality/piety, light/dark, day/night, intimate/public) which, served up with some gorgeous visuals, smart motion and well chosen music creates one seriously kick ass title sequence.

The Origin?

The True Blood sequence was created a full 2 years before the Justified sequence. This simple fact leads me to believe that Elastic was likely inspired by Digital Kitchen's work on True Blood. I'm not sure I would call the sequence a rip off as some have suggested. Good work always inspires derivatives, this is a simple fact of life in the advertising and design community. We can't all be original all the time and at the end of the day...original ideas and executions are rare. There's always some sort of origin or source of inspiration even if it's subliminal.2

Of course Digital Kitchen had to gain their inspiration from somewhere right? They did. In fact the first nine seconds of the sequence are seemingly based directly on a movie called Searching for a Wrong-Eyed Jesus. Digital Kitchen talks in their case study for the sequence about the effect the film had on their creative process.

We also give big thanks to the wonderful film Searching for a Wrong-Eyed Jesus. It gave us the courage to dig deeper into the swamps and back alleys where the real color can be found.3

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Searching for a Wrong-Eyed Jesus stills on left, True Blood stills on the right:

Moral of the Story?

Great works inspire good work. The question you want to be good (inspired by the derivative) or great (inspired by the origin)?

  1. Wikipedia Article: True Blood
  2. For more information on how we can be 'subliminally inspired' check out this Subliminal Advertising experiment from Mind Control with Derren Brown
  3. Digital Kitchen: True Blood Case Study

I recently went YouTube Preview Image with a couple of friends to the Skin Fruit exhibition at the New Museum. I walked in with no expectations, just excited to see something new. The exhibit, which was a selection of art from Dakis Joanno's collection curated by Jeff Koons, reminded me why seeing is not enough, sometimes we all need to look closer. For me the act of viewing this exhibit was a practice in re-evaluation.

For some reason while viewing this exhibit the experience of looking seemed much more intense. Not all of the art was beautiful, some of it was outright grotesque. It all had a certain undeniably human, mortal, fleeting quality to it. The sort of quality that gets under your skin...and perhaps that is the point.

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The exhibit title "Skin Fruit" is interesting. On the outside there is the skin, possibly tough, possibly rough protecting the sweet fruit inside. And with the pieces in the exhibit, you are skinning the fruit with your eyes. Each additional second spent looking reveals more† to you, until you finally reach something sweeter...a conclusion, realization or fresh perspective you didn't have before.

My favorite piece in the exhibit was All by Maurizio Cattelan. The work was sectioned off in it's own room; the room itself and the room before it had the lights lowered slightly -- compared to the stark white and bright rooms of the rest of the museum this really shifted the atmosphere. From a distance you see nine body bags lying in a row in the next room. At first you're apprehensive: death, decay, the reminder of your own mortality float to the top of your mind. At this point my friends were ready to turn around having seen enough to be satisfied. If it weren't for my natural inclination to question EVERYTHING I likely would have too, instead I moved closer.

Maurizio Cattelan, All, 2007. White Carrara marble, 9 parts each: 11 7/8 x 39 3/8 x 78 3/4 in. Overall: 11 7/8 x 78 3/4 x 339 1/2 in.

I see some very slight gray markings on the bags, at first I think it's dust -- these are white body bags on a floor after all. I bend closer: it's marble. All at once I get it. This is not just about death, it's about what death brings or more importantly what you do in life. The form:body bags a reminder of our body's mortality. The material: marble a reminder of our life's actions and the potential immortality of our legacy. More importantly it seems to make one question what a country's actions will allow the legacy of those who die for it to be. In that moment, a work which was possibly grotesque, definitely morbid becomes something so beautiful to me. Not only because the craftsmanship is absolutely stunning but because of the gorgeous layered idea behind it. For me the work went from banal to profound in less than a second.

Our lives are so hurried. It's so easy to be content with assumptions and first impressions. I feel like it's easy for us to let ourselves off the hook for not understanding or knowing something when all we really need to do is embrace our inner curiosity. We don't give ourselves enough time to allow ourselves the luxury of being surprised. This exhibit reminded me of that. Despite the extremely adult nature of the show, I felt like a child wandering through the unexplored -- constantly curious, constantly questioning. At the end I walked away feeling refreshed and totally inspired. The simple act of looking closer allowed me the privilege of knowing more. It was wonderful and I loved it.

I should also say that I really loved the curation of the exhibit, Jeff Koons really did a great job. If you haven't seen the Skin Fruit exhibit it will be up until June 6, 2010 - take the time to go check it out.

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