Posted by: benshelor | December 15, 2008

Final Project: Production Journal

Pre-Production

Breast cancer has touched my family in almost every way imaginable. My mother was diagnosed with the disease a mere six months after her mother in the spring of 1997, followed by her sister the year after and my grandmother on the other side of the family in 2005. While my mother, grandmother, and aunt were able to fight off the disease, the cancer spread in my maternal grandmother to her brain, lungs, and bones, and she lost her fight to cancer late in 1998. Every day, hundreds of women in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer- many thousands will succumb to the disease. In 2007, the American Cancer Society estimates more than 178,000 new cases of the disease and more than 40,000 deaths.
Out of the pain of cancer though have come some positives for the family. The family is involved in community programs related to the disease, has taken part in several medical studies about the genetic component of breast cancer (which, it was discovered, is carried in the family and greatly increases the chance of younger family members to have cancer in their lifetime), and became involved in the event that they look forward to the most every year: the Susan G. Komen Foundation Race for the Cure.
It is my mother’s devotion to this event every fall that was the motivation to create a poster detailing our fight against breast cancer to encourage participation in the event. Every fall, thousands crowd the streets of Knoxville, my mother among them, in a show of force and support for those who have had or are fighting breast cancer and their families. It is an opportunity to bond and support one another along their difficult journeys.
The goals of the project were relatively simple. The aim was to create an aesthetically pleasing yet intriguing poster design that would encourage others (who perhaps were not familiar with the disease or would not otherwise participate) to take part in Race for the Cure. Using my family as an example, I set out to create a poster that showed the devastating impact of breast cancer, powerfully yet subtly. Inspired by past posters of the event and attempting to echo the graphic design of the current Race for the Cure logo, my goal was to use the color pink (the color of the breast cancer awareness ribbon and the recognized color of Race for the Cure) and pictures of my family to encourage participation and fund-raising. With input from the class and ideas added along the way, the basic form of the work formulated in my head prior to any attempt at production.

Production

While the goals seemed simple enough, the production of the poster (especially in such a large size, 11” x 17”) was arduous and difficult at times. A lack of clarity in just what was necessary to go into the poster made getting started among hardest tasks. Even with some idea of what needed to happen and the ideas that I had compiled before starting, staring into the blank page (or, in this case, screen) reinforced the difficulty of the task ahead and just how much I had to design and complete. With limitless options, making the first decision that will set the tone and practice for the rest of the work is difficult. The poster would eventually be started over several times before arriving at the final production.
After finally getting a satisfactory start, production lasted roughly eight to ten hours. Incorporating breaks for software, obligations, and sometimes reflection (mostly phone calls with my mother as she looked through albums and reflected on her own experience and that of her mother and sister), the process was a long one but one that resulted in a work that I feel properly conveys the impact of breast cancer on my family to the viewer and encourages one to join the fight against the disease with Race for the Cure.
Although production was easier once initial ideas had been visually established on the page, some technical and aesthetic considerations/problems slowed production. Problems began with only a few layers of work on the page (of eventually more than 40 layers):
Firstly, I had difficulty making the main pink ribbon stand out from the crowd behind. No matter how much time was devoted to trying to calm the colors and lines of the crowd shot, the warm color of the ribbon made it difficult to make it stand out without distorting the image greatly. Even manipulation of the contrast and brightness of both the ribbon and the crowd in an attempt to bleach out the background image and make the ribbon easier to see just complicated and distorted the images and was abandoned. Eventually, a combination of light levels (and the addition of other material around the ribbon that took added visual reference) that was satisfactory was found and production continued.
Even with relatively few layers on the page, keeping each one separate and making sure to be working on the appropriate layer is sometimes difficult to get used to. Especially later in production, scrolling through layer upon layer of material (even with coagulating some into different types of files and combining them into a single layer for reformatting and movement) spoke to the underlying complexity of graphic design projects and the difficulties of working with computers. Many times, a tool was chosen from the list and used, only to find out that that had been on the wrong layer of material, which then had to be replaced and the process repeated (this time more carefully).
After adding pictures of my family, looking back at the piece revealed that some pictures were much brighter and drew the eye more than others did. Manipulation of opacities made things complicated but blurring the contrast and brightness made the pictures seem blurred or difficult to see. Some images worked well with lowering the opacity (especially ones that incorporated the ribbon behind, denoting that that person had or could have breast cancer). Others though showed material behind (such as that of my aunt on my father’s side on the right side of the poster) when the opacity was lowered and it was necessary to manipulate the brightness and contrast to dull the image slightly and maintain the overall focus of the piece.
Another problem was the lack of symmetry. The piece should (to me at least) look centered and symmetrical, yet somehow, on some levels, it did not. The truth of who actually had the disease clashed with the artistic vision of the project and made the work look asymmetrical. Vertical symmetry as well became a problem because, aesthetically, darkening from the top down is the most appealing but symmetry is lost here too. Multiple versions including darker pinks, even simple shades of white, at the top of the poster were attempted before the final, very light, shade of pink was chosen. Colors in vast quantities (or in important places, such as the top and bottom of the page, the first and last places the eye looks when viewing a project) made the shades seem much darker than they seemed in small quantities on the page and proved difficult in production.
The size and shape of the work also became problematic. After initial creation of the family tree and designs around it, I attempted to reformat the work onto another document to add the text and relevant details of the event. However, because the work had been created on a document of a certain size, movement to another piece distorted the images and required some changes in the design to make the project aesthetically pleasing. Although the poster did finish the appropriate size that was initially targeted (11” x 17”), this reformatting and resizing became difficult.
Later in production, word choice became somewhat of a problem. Over-inflating the risks of breast cancer could be perceived as alarmist and provocative advertising that may turn as many people away from the event as for it. Choosing the proper wording was a key to the overall aim of the project. While the wording at the top may seem slightly overstated to some, it is designed to draw attention to the poster and to the plight of the family below. Likewise, fitting the appropriate language at in the correct areas of the page proved difficult. Changing type-faces to maintain functionality and symmetry to fit every necessary piece of information mean changing sizes and words often.
The final problem encountered was the large size of the poster and loading it onto the internet. 11” x 17” is a very large work (and thus a large file) and did not easily load onto the web. It was necessary to reformat the work into a smaller size in order to load onto the internet so that it was viewable by those interested in coming to the race.
Considering the problems faced (and conquered) during production, the work portrays the initial goals of the project fairly accurately. Even with resizing and reformatting and the snag of technical difficulties, the attempt to convey the impact of the disease on my family and the details of the event (presented clearly and logically) was successful.

Post-Production

The majority of the problems encountered in production were overcome simply by manipulating the images and trying alternatives to the original idea placed on the page. Few of the images placed on the page worked immediately and most required some change in size, color, or placement to look appropriate with the rest of the project. Changing many aspects of the work required (and developed) familiarity with the program (in this case, Adobe Photoshop) and educated me as to the nature of more complicated and professional graphic design. Since humans seek order in everything they see and do, the asymmetrical nature of parts of the work bothered me (and still do now to some extent) and emphasized that just what we want to see in something sometimes is not accurate. Cancer is a disease that can strike randomly, and despite my best attempts at symmetry, this randomness is reflected somewhat in the design and accuracy of the family tree depicted on the poster.
The piece that resulted from hours of work was remarkably similar to the work that I had set out to create; perhaps too similar. Much of the creative process is incorporating the ideas or inspiration that comes while creating the project (or as a function of the partial designs that you have already created). I feel as though I was somewhat close-minded in my approach and did not feel free (not from the assignment, but because of my constrained, conservative personality) to deviate from the original plan in many ways. I had planned to use a family tree, and I did. I had planned to use pink, which I did. I had planned to use the logo of the Race for the Cure, which I did. What I did not do was the unexpected, and in some ways I feel that, despite it’s personal relevance and compelling use of a family torn apart by cancer, my poster really is not much more (if at all) impactful than any other anti-cancer campaign. Perhaps what would have been more compelling and attractive would have been something unexpected. A poster that does not look like the traditional poster for Race for the Cure could stir the emotions and passions of those looking to participate and donate. Given the opportunity to do the assignment again, I would think (or hope) that I would go about it with a more open mind to incorporate more of the ideas that came to me along the way in the creative process.
While I am proud of the technical production that I have made, perhaps the most significant victory of this project is my slight displeasure with the nature of the final project. The poster conveys the information necessary, completes its task, and carries out the objectives that I set for it, yet somehow does not grab the attention of the viewer in the way that I had hoped. I am inspired to try something new and different as a result. Race for the Cure is, and will always be, a cause very close to my heart and my family, but perhaps one that could benefit from an image change. Breast cancer effects men in just as many ways as it effects women (not through actual affliction with the disease, but indirectly) and perhaps a change in the image of the race could bring this fact to light: a fact I plan to work on publicizing in any future works for the promotion of Race for the Cure.

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