Behind-the-scenes: Rocky Morphology

Happy New Year! One of my new year’s resolutions is to blog more — we’ll see how that goes.

2013 was pretty busy with the birth of my second daughter Flora and settling into a new home. Beyond my personal life, work at Fathom has been quite busy and rewarding. We continue to work on a lot of interesting data visualization projects, but unfortunately I can’t share most the of the work I’ve done at this time.

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Rocky Morphology screenshot

One personal project—released in early December—I’m happy to share is Rocky Morphology. You can check out the full project and description here (or tap on the screenshot above). Below is some of the process that went into the creation of Rocky Morphology.

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Rocky Morphology paper sketches

First, like many personal projects or sketches at Fathom, they start around the lunch table. I was sharing some of my childhood stories and the topic of Rocky movies came up. We were debating what the best Rocky movie was. In my mind Rocky I was always the best, but Rocky IV is the overall crowd pleaser. What’s more interesting was our discussion about the narrative arc and overall formula the movies all seem to hold. I started looking into examples of narrative arc to see how similar plot points within the Rocky movies overlap.

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I thought about some books I’ve read dealing with narrative structure and character development. In particular Morphology of the Folktale by Vladimir Propp and The Hero with a Thousand Faces by by Joseph Campbell. Both books break down stories into their most basic narrative and character components. I wanted to see how this could be applied to the Rocky movies.

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Rocky: 1 frame per second (detail)

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Rocky: one frame per second (detail)

We generated a quick processing sketch that ripped one frame per one second of film in each movie. This was a really nice way to have a visual overview of all the movies. I found it interesting to see all the movies recompiled in this way. Immediately I saw some clear overlap within some of the scenes. Looking at the frames both horizontally and vertically, it created a new narrative which I also thought was interesting, but it wasn’t enough. It was a bit confusing and I didn’t think people would understand what I was trying to get at.

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Rocky Morphology data collection

I finally realized what I needed to do, there was no getting around it. I sat down, opened a beer, and watched all six Rocky movies. With Adobe Premiere I started marking In and Out points for all the different scenes in each movie. I then distilled down all the different scenes into six categories (Dialogue, Training, Montage, Pre Fight, Fight and Credits). With a basic excel doc I was able to parse the data to create the bar charts and structure of Rocky Morphology.

I’m excited to find so many other people interested in this project. We got over one hundred thousand hits in the first couple days and the numbers keep climbing. Thanks for all the support and be on the look out for the next random idea that might come up at lunch.

Press:

Fast Company: The Plot Of Every Rocky Movie, Deconstructed

BuzzFeed: Extremely Detailed “Rocky” Breakdown Deserves A Nobel Prize In Movie Science

FlowingData: Rocky movie breakdown

Deadspin: Where Are The Sweet Montages? Breaking Down The Rocky Movies By Scene

boing boing: On the structure of Rocky movies

news by design: Rocky Morphology

Spring has sprung!

Spring has sprung a little early this year in the Grady household.

We are thrilled to announce the arrival of Flora Mae Grady. Flora arrived Friday March 1, 2013 at 2:29pm. She weighs 8 lbs 5 oz and is 19 ¾ in long. I can’t compliment my wife’s strength enough for delivering completely natural, again. I was fortunate enough to be by her side for every unforgettable moment. We also had the support of her sister which was amazing. Everyone is doing well. We are truly blessed with two beautiful girls.

Much love, James, Christina, Joy, and Flora

Roots of All in the Family Tree

It’s been over eight months since I started at Fathom full-time. I’ve been having a great time working on a lot of interesting client and personal projects—a few are still under wraps, but hopefully they will be released soon. One personal project that was particularly enjoyable was finished in late November. All in the Family Tree came from my obsession with TV reruns and TV show spin-offs from my childhood. I posted about my inspiration on the Fathom blog, but I thought it would be nice to show some of the process that led me to the final result.

Spin-Off Sketch DetailFirst, I found a few sources that outlined a majority of TV spin-off shows of all-time. Totally Useless TV Trivia, Wikipedia, and IMDB. I started plotting out shows by seasons (on-air) and Nielsen ratings.

Spin-Off Sketch DetailNext, I looked at where the spin-off show began and mapped it’s Nielsen ratings on the Y axis. Although this was an interesting exploration I didn’t feel like it did the best job illustrating my idea.

Spin-Off Sketch DetailI realized it was more important to focus on the cast members, and see what characters broke out of the original show to create the spin-off.

Spin-Off Sketch DetailThe TV show All in the Family was particularly interesting because it spun off so may shows, and successful ones at that. Most spin-offs usually tank.

All In The Family logoI started to look at the All in the Family logotype and see if I could imbue some of the character of the nostalgic letterforms into the visualization. I started to create a dot matrix pattern from the logo. I thought I would make each dot one of the characters from the show and then connect it to their spin-off.

Then it hit me. It was right in from of my face. All in the Family, Family Tree? That’s it! All in the Family Tree. Inspired by this new name and the autumn leaves, I started sketching.

All In THe Family Tree finalEach leaf represents one character from the show. Each color group represents the cast within the show. Hovering over the leaves reveals the name of the actor, their title, and if they have a connection to a spin-off show. Some gems like Sally Struthers appear in more than one show. See if you can find the others here fathom.info/allinthefamilytree. Enjoy!

Questions about RISD

Happy New Year Everyone. I’ve been on a hiatus from writing since graduation in June. I clearly needed a break. But, it’s 2013 and one of my resolutions is to get back on the blog wagon. I’ve had a few potential RISD GD MFA candidates contact me with some really good questions about the program. I thought I’d share them in case any other candidates have similar questions about the program. Hope it’s helpful. Good luck.

What is your BFA background and why did you choose RISD over any other program?
I went to UMASS Dartmouth and studied Digital Media/Photography with a concentration in Graphic Design. I was very happy with that experience and it prepared me to get a really good job at kor group in Boston which I worked at for over 10 years.

But, I was looking to push myself theoretically and conceptually. I was looking at some other programs like Yale and Cranbrook, but I felt RISD was best for me because it offered the theory and had not forgotten about the form as I feel Yale and Cranbrook have.

How would you describe your overall experience at RISD?
Tough but rewarding.

Are there any particular classes and/or teachers that stuck out to you?
My 1st Grad studio with Nancy Skolos and Bethany Johns made a huge impact on me. I found those first projects really helped me shape my thesis. I also loved my 1st grad elective “the urgent vignette” with visiting professor Cavan Huang, but I’m not sure if he will be teaching again? Finally, I highly recommend taking classes outside the department. I took 3 photography classes, including Issues and Images with Lisa Young which was extremely impactful.

What are the different areas of focus within the program and which did you choose?
The focus is really open and up to you. I really wanted to work on more screen based and time/motion based projects. So I did incorporate that into my work.

How hard would you say it is to get into the program?
I know they get hundreds of applications and only accept between 6-8 students per track. So I’d say it’s pretty hard to get into.

Is there anything you would do differently in the program now?
I would have trusted my intuition from the beginning, but I don’t think I would have found my final outcome without my struggles.

What are you doing now?
Working at Fathom Information Design in Boston on web based projects and data visualization.

Do you attribute any of your success as a designer to RISD?
Certainly, I wanted to go to RISD ever since I was a little kid. I looked to RISD as the pinnacle of creative thinking and making. So RISD helped me succeed even before I started the program, and having gone through the program and now on the other side it continues to help drive my success.

Did RISD help you find employment after graduating?
Not directly, but a classmate a year ahead of me was interning at Fathom and an alum of the program was working at Fathom, so it gave me a foot in the door.

Any tips you can give me regarding the statement of purpose and portfolio?
Be honest. It sounds cliché but describe yourself as you are now and why going to RISD is something you must do. Be creative. As I mentioned, there are hundreds of applicants so try to write something that makes you stand out. This holds true with the portfolio as well. Don’t show work you are not totally proud of. If you’ve done client work that’s weak don’t include it just because it’s out in the “real world” or something like that. Show process and thinking not just the final outcome.

MFA Thesis book: Shift

Shift: Intuition. Transformation. Feedback. is available through my blurb bookstore.

Enjoy, James

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