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A Visual Explanation of the film by Christopher Nolan

Memento Process Book (or, The Development of a Mental Disorder)

Christiana Lackner | Grad Studio 1 | School of Design | Carnegie Mellon | Fall 2012


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Mental Status: Panicked Mental Status: Confused Mental Status: Overwhelmed Mental Status: Focused Mental Status: Dejected Mental Status: Determined Mental Status: Encouraged Mental Status: Confident Mental Status: Surprised Mental Status: Burned Out Mental Status: Relieved


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Mental Status: Panicked I was handed a DVD box that looks like a psychiatric report, and I was told to create a visual explanation of this artifact. The artifact was the film Memento, directed by Christopher Nolan, about a psychiatric patient named Leonard Shelby who has short-term memory loss. Panic! I’m not good at movies, I rarely watch them so I am not well-experienced with all the tricks that film makers employ to create effects. This will be interesting... In my first watch of the movie, I jotted down rough notes. Lots of rough notes. I recorded the black and white scenes versus the color scenes, as well as any notes, tattoos and Polaroids - all traces of Leonard’s memory. My resulting pages of notes eerily resembled the obsessive note-taking by Leonard in the film.

“Notes are really useful.” ~Leonard Shelby Leonard, you have no idea... Notes from my initial watching of the film.


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Mental Status: Confused I re-watched the movie, this time backwards, and wrote details about each scene in reverse order. I divided my notes into columns to sort out the color scenes from the black and white scenes and to call out clues to the sequence of the story: Polaroids, tattoos, notes. Only after methodically watching each scene again did I gather all of “The Facts.” More notes to myself, more underlines, stars, highlights, all in order to piece together the plot of the story. I seriously started to feel like Leonard, flipping through his police report, notes everywhere, trying to comprehend a coherent story.

“Memories can be distorted.... and they’re irrelevant if you have the facts.” In my second viewing of the film I attempted to really get the facts straight.


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Mental Status: Overwhelmed So many details, so much confusion. How do I relay the underlying order of the plot, while still maintaining the feeling of confusion you get when watching the film? I want to at the same time help the viewer understand the film’s structure and give Leonard’s experience of remembering life only through notes, polaroids, bits and pieces. I started to sketch ways to show the order/disorder of the plot, and I prioritized which elements to consider for visualizing information.

“Habit and routine make my life possible.” What about the film is important to emphasize? How can I balance showing sequence and at the same time confusion?


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Mental Status: Focused I plotted out each note, each Polaroid, each essential Fact, each tattoo, in order of appearance in the film. Just as Leonard creates a map for his Polaroids to get clarity, I figured my map of notes would reveal some important pattern in the plot. First I sketched out the “map” on paper as a guide for creating a large-scale version.

“I had to see through people’s bullshit. It was useful experience, ‘cause now it’s my life.” At this point I’d watched the movie a handful of times and was starting to cut through the confusion and get to the key pieces of evidence in the plot.


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Mental Status: Dejected I physically recreated each Polaroid and tattoo and written note and constructed a full-size map of the story line. I had high hopes that this would create some sense of order, and that laying out all the clues would be the key to unlocking the film. After stepping back to look at my map, I was disappointed. The result was a mess of notes and Polaroids, loosely tagged to the plot line. My quest for a balance between clarity and confusion failed. ...and I fell deeper into feeling like someone with short-term memory loss, mapping out everything, hoping to recall how it all fits together.

“Now... where was I? � I thought mapping out a timeline with each clue that Leonard creates would help clarify things. Fail. But perhaps a step closer?


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Mental Status: Determined I needed a basic structure to show sequence. With a good framework, I could help the viewer understand how the order of the movie scenes relates to the order of the actual story. Once I had that, I could figure out how to evoke a sense of confusion or broken memory within this framework. Creating a time line is normally fairly simple, but not in this case. I played with “blocks” of time that represented scenes in the movie. To avoid too regular of a pattern, I calculated the length of each scene and scaled my blocks accordingly.

“You need a system if you’re really going to make it work.” Wise words, Leonard. I relied on the most basic structure of the movie for my poster structure: scene lengths.


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Mental Status: Encouraged I attempted another full-sized layout using a block for each scene and filling the blocks with notes and tattoos as they appear in the film. Oops, I didn’t think it would turn out quite that long. While it was interesting not to be able to see the entire poster in one view – I had to literally walk the time line to see the whole thing – the extreme length didn’t really add to the explanation of the film. Is the point that it’s a really long film? Not exactly. I tried flipping the scene blocks vertically and that seemed to work! This also allowed the blocks to overlap slightly where they touched, indicating how they appear in sequence during the film, but emphasizing that they are two different parts of a longer sequence.

“I’ve got a more graceful solution to the memory problem.” Playing with blocks to represent each scene led me to a good solution for a basic visualization framework.


... just an int

“...notes are really usef Conditioning di Sammy, but it w

I am disciplined and organized.

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...notes are really useful. 44 42 1 42

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I finally found him.

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Memory is unreliable. I finally found Memories can him be distorted

Memory is unreliable.

They’re just an interpretation, not a re-

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Mental Status: Confident Finally, I felt confident that I had figured out the confusing sequence of the film and a way to show it. I translated my idea to a digital format and tried out filling the scene blocks with images from the film. This showed the difference between the color and black/white scenes; it also gave snippets of the clues that push the movie plot forward. It became clear that numbering the blocks was necessary to help the viewer understand how the director played with sequence in order to simulate the experience of memory loss. Working digitally, I could quickly test different ways of emphasizing the numbered blocks. My goal was to guide the viewer without distracting too much from the overall look of the poster.

“There are things you know for sure.� Once I decided to use blocks to represent each scene, I focused on how to arrange blocks and numbers.


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Mental Status: Surprised Since I was creating a large-scale poster, I needed to see my digital sketches at full-scale to get a sense if it was “working” or not. I printed out tiles of my poster on 11x17in paper and taped it together. I was fairly happy with how it looked, but there were some details to work out. What was the meaning of black versus white background? Did the blocks stand out enough against the black background? How are the quotes being understood by the viewer? Critiques from my classmates were helpful in answering these questions. Some found that the regularity of the block widths belied the confusing nature of the movie. Others questioned whether the numbers were tied clearly enough to the scenes and to each other.

“You can just feel the details. The bits and pieces you never bothered to put into words.” Seeing the poster full-size for the first time revealed lots of details that were hidden when working on the computer. The contrast between black and white was too stark, and the quotes felt unanchored.


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Mental Status: Burned Out I tried out several more versions with different grays in the background, and different approaches for the band of numbers in between the scene blocks. I also realized I needed to credit the film director and story writer to help the viewer understand what the visualization is about. Though I wanted the visualization to speak for itself, the most important goal was clarity, and clarity required certain things to be explicit. With the help of the keen eyes of my professor and classmates, I obsessed over the placement of each quote, the size and color of the text, and the alignment of the quotations marks. Like Leonard Shelby, I gathered “clues” from the people around me, but I ultimately trusted my own reflection process to make final decisions.

“I can’t remember to forget you.” Small scale color prints allowed me to test shades of grey for the background and text. I tried to put the poster out of my mind for a moment’s relief, but the details nagged, especially the band of numbers.


Memento

... just an interpretation.

a film directed by Christopher Nolan based on the short story Memento Mori by Jonathan Nolan

“What if I’ve done something like Sammy?”

scene

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“Conditioning didn’t work for Sammy, but it works for me”

“I am disciplined and organized”

“...notes are really useful”

“In my condition it’s really tough” “Have I done something wrong?”

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“I remember my wife, dying” “I finally found him”

“I can’t remember to forget you”

“Memory is unreliable.

Memories can be distorted”

“unfinished business”

“Can I just let myself forget what you made me do?”

“They’re just an interpretation, not a record” Christiana Lackner | Grad Studio 1 | School of Design | Carnegie Mellon | Fall 2012


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Mental Status: Relieved After several cycles of tweaking and then stepping away from the poster, I was still stuck on how much to emphasize the disordered number sequence. Feedback from others was mixed. That didn’t help. Ultimately, in a moment of confidence, I made a conscious decision to give the viewer a gentle nudge towards seeing the number pattern. The poster went to print with the numbers alternating in white and a subtle gray. Throughout the course of creating this poster, I went from being overwhelmed by the task of visualizing a confusing film, to kind of enjoying the process of becoming Leonard Shelby, even hough it made me feel a little crazy. Scrawling pages of notes and testing out full scale paper versions of a poster with scraps of re-created notes were part of the process of digesting the sequence and essence of the film. Each small decision seemed trivial, but just like in the film, a few seemingly trivial adjustments changed the entire course. The final form of the poster is an accumulation of these small decisions.

“I want my life back!” The “final” version.

Memento - A Visual Explanation - Process Book  

process book for my visual explanation poster of the movie Memento

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