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

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