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5 Ethnographic film


% Jay completed

password: artjelly

I think I had an idea of what I wanted to do with my video right from the start in terms of overlaying animation over video. I knew Jia was interested in animation and I had seen her illustrations and the creatures she drew and I felt like it would be a perfect tool to use to illustrate what she had to say.

Most of the shots I took were meant to be canvases for my animation. I chose her studio desk because it seemed to be a collection of so many things that represented Jia, and additionally could be treated as this world where all the animated creatures came to life. Many of these shots were just experiments with various angles and distances, and the range of shots I got through this experimentation helped prevent the video from getting boring even though it remained in one space.

The interviewing process was the hardest part for me. For the longest time I could not figure out what exactly it was that I wanted to ask Jia. I felt the pressure to plan my questions perfectly. In the end however, the interview process was more natural. I started off with basic questions about design and then let the conversation create new questions. This proved to be rather difficult to structure during the editing process, but I felt that it allowed for a more natural flow of ideas.

When I just had the video and audio, I felt as though they didn’t mesh too well together, but then when the animation came it everything seemed to work out. The animation was also what made the video feel like it truly was about Jia.


% Sae Ra completed

Through this video project, I got to learn a lot more about jay, which was exciting. I had known jay prior to doing this project, but we had never gotten to know eachother on a more personal level. Jay and I met a couple of times, and just spent a couple of hours together, casually gathering footage and audio. Through this project, I learned a lot about how Jay’s life and background has made her who she is, and how that affects her as an artist and designer.
Through this video, I wanted to portray how Jay’s background has shaped her as a whole, and how that would show through her artwork. Jay can be very reserved and quiet, but at the same time, she can speak her mind when she wants to.
From what ive observed, Jay loves to spend time reading, or watching documentaries that help her gather ideas and inspire her.
Jay has her own unique style, which definitely mirrors her personality. It was interesting to see how she comes about her ideas, and how those ideas translate onto a final product. I did notice that in some ways, Jay and I have opposite personalities, but we worked very well together and she helped me get a clear sense of what she wanted herself to be portrayed as. One thing I wish I had done was maybe capture more of the more outgoing side of jay.
Im glad I got paired with Jay because she wasn’t a total stranger to me, and even though our personalities can be very different, I could relate to her in so many ways. Having moved around a lot myself, It was easy for me to understand her and the way she views relationships and how that had shaped her as a person.


% Christina Rees completed

Erin and I started this assignment with a general discussion about our lives, mainly focusing on our paths to RISD and how we became interested in art. After that, I asked Erin what she was comfortable talking about and then wrote some specific questions about her work and childhood based on our initial conversation. When we met again I recorded our conversations and took some footage of her in her room. Erin was helpful and showed me pictures from an album of childhood pictures as well as images of her current and past work. After this meeting I made a first draft of my video, but I realized that a lot of the material was too general and I had a hard time organizing it all into a video with a specific focus. My first draft of the video covered many different topics including Erin’s childhood, living in Maryland, her high school and university in Korea, and some of her thoughts on design. In order to give the video a more focused direction, I took out most of the information about her background and took more videos about Erin’s thoughts on design. In order to think of questions for additional footage, I looked through Erin’s work and tried to find common themes. These included her use of bold shapes and her affinity towards packaging. Then in the video editing process I tried to visually connect elements of her work by placing them in certain sequences and juxtaposing different formal elements. For example, I found several of Erin’s pieces contained large circles, so I collected these and put them together in sequence, transitioning between them by shrinking and enlarging the common circular forms. I also included some of Erin’s earlier paintings and connected these to her current design pieces. When I was editing the video, I wanted it to have a bold style that was reminiscent of Erin’s work. This is why I made the title cards large, bold and capitalized. I also used split screens and layering effects that emphasized the graphic elements of the video.


% Jia completed

Password: jay

Before I began my interviews with Jay, I first considered my own role as an documentary filmmaker. As with all forms of film, so much of the filmmaker’s self becomes exposed through filming and editing. The questions we pose to our subject, our choice of perspectives, the quotes we keep and the ones we discard — All these decisions become markedly important in the creation of a documentary; especially because it is a form through which people expect some seed of truth.

Thus, I made the decision to keep a hands-off approach to my film of Jay, trusting that the interviews would allow me him to reveal what was important to his design perspective; in order for me to better craft a narrative about his story. This proved to be successful, as we ended up working closely together to understand this process — I looked outward for points of interest and relevance, and Jay looked inward through self-reflection — allowing us to meet in the middle.

In many ways, the ethnographic video was discovered rather than created. As interviewer and interviewee, we celebrated brief moments of synchronity. An interesting interview, when watched in full, can be very boring due to its predictability and lack of rhythm. However, any interview, when interspersed carefully with sensible links and transitions – much like telling a story – can be interesting and feel well-paced. Allowing the audio and visual to take turns, much like in a dance, can also allow different elements of the film to lead into each other, creating a much smoother expeirence.

I’m very happy to have had the opportunity to film Jay. To share in the personal space of another person; to see the environment in which they live, relax, and work, can be an intrusive experience, and I’m glad that Jay was very open and willing to let me into his life. It was altogether a very enjoyable film to make.


% Emily Law completed

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% Won completed

When I first start this project, I was afraid if I misinterpret his identity as a designer and visual artist, which made me procrastinate to decide how to ‘frame’ him within 6 minute. It was the first time to present someone’s point of view about the graphic design, other than mine. Every projects that I’ve done during the sophomore and junior year were to present my thought about assigned objects.

At first, I just wanted to show his daily life as a design student. My thought was though people have 24 hours a day, everyone use them in a different way, which makes individuals’ identity different. When someone use their majority of day focusing on designing website, he or she can be seen as a web-designer although one doesn’t intent to be shown in the way. So I felt that how he use his time of the day will naturally lead my video to properly present him, rather than framing him as someone with some particular identity. My first approach might be successful if I have a plenty amount of time. However, because this project should be done within 3 weeks, there is no way to make connection between him with one theme.

Second direction that I choose was his interests in posters hung on the wall of RISD campus. It was interesting to me that the poster that used to hang on the public place is collected in his personal space, presenting an event and time that the student spend and also curious why he collect the posters made to show some information for public. Before listening the Phil’s thought, many posters in RISD were made just for some days’ instant events and lose its utility and meaning after the events are done, and I didn’t prefer to stand in front of the myriads of posters attached on the wall. As a viewer of all the posters, it was visual noise to me. Although individual posters might be made with the designer’s intention and visual strategy, when all the posters are gathered at wall in 15west or Design center, it was a cacophony, degrading each poster’s quality rather than harmonize. But after I listened to his thought, it changed my view about this particular medium of design, help me to rethink about the meaning of the ephemeral posters in daily lives and give contrast to the fine art pieces. It also helped me to understand him more. The theme, ‘poster’ presents his overall aspect of characteristic such as his interest of interaction with audience, his wittiness and desire to make narrative through posters. However, I might be look passive when I record his action of ‘stealing’ poster. However, as it is for showing a person oneself, rather than making fiction based on one’s identity, what I think I can do for my best was to make him behave naturally. I think the project gives me a freedom to present my interpretation about the project itself other than my point of view about a person.


% Hannah Chung completed

For the ethnography project, I began by asking Karsten some general questions about his life– family, hobbies, and interests– pretty basic questions about himself on the surface. As we got into talking about art and design, it quickly became apparent that he had less of an interest in talking about his work than about metaphysics. Every question directed at his inspirations and purpose as a designer became a long and convoluted tangent about the questions of the universe and human perception of time and sound. Karsten was no longer interested in the physical world and what it’s visual realm had to offer, and I didn’t want to force him to talk about it for a school assignment that was meant to be about him. I caught him as he was packing for a night off campus with his family and asked him to just talk about anything he wanted. I asked about his empty room, a few pieces on the walls, and various philosophy books that were stacked on the drawer as conversation starters, knowing that it would lead inevitably to his own philosophy on art and life. I got about six minutes of footage before he took a call and I stood awkwardly in the room listening to a very revealing and emotional conversation between him and his grandfather before I decided to leave.

From the limited footage that I gathered, I wanted to show bits and pieces of ideas that Karsten seemed to be obsessed with– math, science, language– and how they are linked, without going too in-depth because they led to questionable topics that might make some viewers uncomfortable. Much of the footage couldn’t be used because I felt it was too personal or meant to be kept as a conversation between the two of us, off the record. Karsten is a genius in his own way, and I wanted to show that he wasn’t as crazy as he might sound. I asked him to send me some of his work and he gave me his laptop (which I still have). I found some of his work that showed the influence of some of these ideas that he couldn’t get out of his head and pieced the images and ideas together.

I’m really glad that I got paired with Karsten, because we have very similar views on art and RISD. I totally understand why he left RISD and his laptop behind. I doubt that the video will give the viewer a better understanding of Karsten, but I hope that it will at least provide an interesting and insightful perspective.


% JayJay completed

pw: sarahlee

I didn’t know which direction to take this project in the very beginning when we were assigned to our partners and that confusion went for quite a while until I just decided to roll with it and see where it took me. (deadlines play a big role) So the project began with a casual sit-down chat with Sarah. I asked a series of general questions that gave me a background to how she came to arrive as a person she is today. From that, I learned some basic facts about her life, like different countries she’s lived in, her cultural background, and where she defines herself in all the different cultures she’s been exposed to. Also, not only was I able to learn some facts but I was also able to get a sense of her personality through the way she talked and the way she presented herself in a casual environment.

My observations from this conversation led me to a somewhat clear direction as to where to take the next interview step. For the ‘official’ recorded interview, I asked specific questions that could narrow down my focus on a specific aspect of her interests. Since I knew that we all had a common interest in graphic design, I decided to focus on her personal connections to it and what she is most interested in the field. By doing so, I decided to focus on her main interest identity design to begin and to weave in the narrative. As to the process of gathering footage, I really wanted to focus on having the visuals enhance the story she tells through her voice. The focus was to capture her in the most natural setting that is in a typical day of her usual life.

Some of the challenges I faced during the process was the fact that I had to balance my curation and artistic direction with the most true and raw portrayal of my partner. I constantly had to check myself to not distort the subject I am portraying in making editing decisions yet not lose my perspective as the director. But all in all, I think it was a really beneficial experience to work with elements that I cannot have total control of. The challenge provided me with an opportunity to think in both perspectives and consider elements that I usually never think about during my design process.



% Erin completed

final from Erin Cho on Vimeo.

password: erincho

For me, getting to know about Christina and her background was most important and prior to anything else to start this project. I went over to Christina’s room and simply began talking with her about random stuff, which was actually very helpful. Just by seeing her displays of little toys and patterns on the wall, I was able to catch a general idea of what my video will look like, and from our random conversation, I learned a lot about her background, family, and her story of coming to RISD. She told me a lot about her illustration works from high school, which helped me to understand her approaches to the projects that she had done so far. So then I went on to ask about her interest as a designer and more about her works. I kept the voice recording on during the talk so that I wouldn’t miss anything important said in her natural tone. As Christina went on talking, I was able to understand her state as a student in the process of learning and absorbing new things. Then I decided to focus more on introducing Christina purely as she is by showing what she chose to show me to introduce herself to me. From then, with several recordings of her talking about general thoughts about design, I asked her to explain more in depth about some of the things, such as her book projects and her interest in patterns. When I began editing and putting videos and audios together, I had things all over the place without any specific order. It became harder the more I worked on it because I couldn’t look at my work with third person point of view. After the first crit, I had to go back and rearrange the order of some parts, which made whole lot more sense in the overall flow. When I was done editing the things that I had, I noticed that the video was missing something that links every other parts together as a whole, so I did one last interview with Christina with a white background. This interview was very useful and probably it was the most important part of the whole video where she gave her concluding statement. Also I could effectively use the video shots from this interview, in which she was looking and talking right at the camera, since the video and audio were separate from each other in all the other parts of the film.

When I first was assigned this project, I felt uneasy with this kind of collaboration project which requires a high interaction with one person. However I was very lucky to have been paired with Christina who was really understanding and thanks to her, I could feel comfortable talking about myself in front of the camera and the audio recording. Through several interviews, it was a great chance for me to go over what I have done so far and take time to think about what I am aiming for in the future as a graphic designer. Especially looking at how Christina combined and showed my works, I could see that I also had my own stylistic approach to art and design, which I wasn’t very aware of before. The project, overall, was not a very easy one, having to work with equipment and programs that I’m not very used to. However it was a great opportunity to get to know about my classmate, at least try out the new technical materials, and especially to experience what it is like to be a subject of one whole video.


% Claire Niederberger completed

I began the ethnography project by spending time with Emily and getting to know her better outside of a formal interview. In radio, we were taught that you should always ask a person what they had for breakfast before starting the interview. The question invariably elicits a response; even people who do not eat breakfast have something to say. It serves the purpose of making people more comfortable. My unrecorded conversations with Emily were analogous to this breakfast question; getting to know Emily outside the space of the assignment allowed me to portray her more accurately.

As we began to speak food became an immediately apparent theme in Emily’s life. Everyone eats, yes, but Emily has a special understanding of food and cooking. She can put together things that are healthy and tasty, and she enjoys doing so. Emily’s love of working with her hands in addition to her penchant for structure and organization carry over in her cooking, and so framing the video around that seemed like a natural decision early on. What appealed to me about this angle was that there was a step removed between what Emily was talking about and what I showed her doing.

At first, I struggled with length and editing the film down to a size that would hold the viewer’s attention. My original draft was meandering, and I was still trying to tie some of the imagery directly and literally to what she was talking about. Emily is vibrant and friendly as well as serious, and while a meandering movie captured her seriousness, it did not capture that vibrance. In addition, for a long time I could not quite figure out what note to end on. While I liked the cooking concept, it seemed as though there was no immediate narrative that jumped out at me– it would be easy to discuss why design is like cooking forever. Up until this last draft, I also assumed that everyone would assume that the cooking theme applied from the start. It was highly useful to hear in critique that this was not the case. It allowed me to create a better outline for the content: Why cooking is like design, followed by Emily’s methodologies, followed by a reiteration of how those two carry over as Emily reiterates why graphic design fits her.

If I were to do this over, there are certain things I would change, and certain formal and process elements I would keep. I believe that the cooking concept was successful, and that certain shots (such as the aerial of her adjusting the stovetop) worked. However, better film quality would have allowed those more successful elements to come through stronger. I used my iPod as a camera because that is what I had easily at my disposal, and a technology that I was familiar with. Early on I made the decision to spend my time collecting interviews and structuring a narrative, as opposed to learning a new technology. The same applies for the program I chose to edit in, iMovie. Unfortunately, that decision meant that the shakiness, grain, and lack of color balance are constant presences throughout. Like I mentioned in class, I do not want to blame my tools for poor quality. However, I also believe that I did not use my tools with enough an intentionality that would allow me to justify the result.

I am really glad that this project allowed me the opportunity to get to know Emily better. In addition to learning more about one of my peer’s processes up close (it’s easy to think that your process is the only one when you hole up in a corner with your earphones in to do work), I also feel really lucky to have been paired with such a wonderfully committed, interesting teammate.


% Phil completed

Max Fridberg from Phil Cao on Vimeo.

When I first interviewed Max, I tried to begin with a general, open-ended questions about his life and his interests. Some of the questions that were most fruitful to me were the ones that asked about his interests and obsessions in design and culture. Not only did they allow me to understand some of the things he was passionate about, but it also helped to reveal his thought process in a less explicit and contrived way than asking him directly. For example, one of the things I found that Max was really interested in was the development of augmented reality. I was intrigued by this, and we ended up discussing for a while the implications of the technology and its presence in every day life – how it could possibly deteriorate social interaction, how it could possibly be used as an alternative vehicle for public art, etc. This led on to us discussing his hobby of VJ’ing, in which he gathers clips and combines them with effects generators to create visual accompaniments to music. I realized later that this performative aspect of VJ’ing seemed to play a clear role in his thinking as a designer; that is, approaching problems with a playful attitude that is open to surprise and innovation through errors. I was interested to see if there was any kind of development to these interests, or if they came out of the blue, so I asked him about his interests earlier in life. Max told me that he had been really interested in video games and making things with Legos. I think this made a lot of sense and I could see how that connected to his current work now – I could see that he has an interest in creating things in virtual spaces and building new, unexpected things out of old systems. Later on in our recorded interview I tried to get him to clarify some of my earlier questions as well as ask more specific questions that I felt would give a strong narrative to the documentary.

From my research and time spent with Max I came to realize that he had approached these digital realms the same way he does design, with an eagerness to play but with an intelligent thought process that focuses on human and technology interacting. I decided to record some interactions between the two of us using Second Life, which is an open world online game that essentially acts as a cheap 3D modeling program. The appeal of Second Life was that it addressed not only Max’s passion for virtual spaces but also his playful aesthetic and demeanor. The visual appearance of Second Life can only be described as ‘crappy’, and the weird idiosyncracies that came about from the two of us maneuvering our way awkwardly through the world reflected Max’s interest in digital systems as a place for exploration and play. I also tried to maintain most shots as framing Max and his computer screen in order to emphasize this further. I originally included a sequence explaining his upbringing and his parents’ influence on his becoming a designer, but I later scrapped it as it seemed extraneous to the focus of Max’s digital presence.