Tuurngait: An award winning short film

An Inuit child wanders away from his village, fascinated by a wild bird. His father follow his trail, dertermined to find him before he gets lost on the ice floe.

Here is the link on Vimeo. (6 minutes)

The title of the short film makes us of unusual font. This is reminiscent of the Inuikitut syllabary.

QUESTIONS FOR YOUNG VIEWERS

  1. Where is this short film set? How can you tell?
  2. Describe how the boy’s (Nanuk’s) clothing differs from the clothing of his father. What does this contrast represent?
  3. There is no dialogue throughout this story, yet the viewer understands something of Nanuk’s character through his body language and facial expressions. What sort of character is Nanuk?
  4. Describe how the father’s body language and facial expressions contrast with those of his son.
  5. The lighting outside is blue and bright. Describe the lighting and atmosphere inside the hut.
  6. The Tuurngait is a creature in Inuit mythology, but the Wikipedia entry points out that this form of ‘mythology’ is slightly different from other definitions. Explain in your own words.
  7. Why does Nanuk follow the bird?
  8. In fantasy fiction there is often a ‘portal’, in which the main character enters a magical realm. In this case the portal is hidden under the ice floe, accessed via a break in the ice. Think of other fantasy stories you have read. What else is used as a ‘portal’?
  9. As Nanuk enters the reflective icy cave, the viewer sees a kaleidoscopic effect, with multiple birds and multiple Nanuks. What is the significance of this?
  10. Inside the cave, what kind of sound effects are used to portray an eerie environment?
  11. The cave becomes scarier and scarier. How has the color scheme changed?
  12. In the spooky under-ice-floe world, animals are gigantic. In fantasy, size is often exaggerated as a technique. What is the effect of this technique? And can you think of any other stories in which large animals featured?
  13. At the end, the huge bear morphs into an image of the father. Why?

 

Picturebook Study: Colour Analysis

THE IDEATIONAL ROLE OF COLOUR

In its most basic role, colour is used to represent the hue of things as they appear in the real world.

  • Grass is green
  • Sky is blue (or not)
  • Cows on small farms are black and white
  • Brick houses are red
  • American barns are red
  • Suns are yellow or white in the West, red in Japan
  • and so on

 

THE TEXTUAL ROLE OF COLOUR

  • The same colour might be used over and over to mean something symbolic, like the colour red in the film Sixth Sense (a color motif)
  • Colour may be used contrastively to highlight or foreground some element within a composition to make it especially salient to the viewer.

 

THE INTERPERSONAL ROLE OF COLOUR

This is about the emotional effect colour has on the viewer. This refers to the visceral response we have, independent of the actual story being told. Other useful words are: ambience, mood, atmosphere.

  • A picture book filled with bright, light colours might feel childlike and joyous
  • A picture book done in monochrome might make us feel melancholy or reflective or sombre.
  • Sepia tones put us in mind of an historicised story.
  • Colour and texture can be either infused or defused (I’ve also heard the term ‘diffused’ or we might say ‘drained’.)
  • Lighting effects can make a picture seem either dramatized (e.g. arte noir) or flat
  • We can speak in terms of vibrancy, which is another term for saturation (lots of colour, or tending more towards monochrome). Vibrancy creates excitement whereas muted choices create gentle, restrained feelings, or perhaps flat feelings. Note that ‘muted’ can refer to either light or dark images. Rosie’s Walk is muted but light, whereas Wolves In The Walls is muted but dark.
  • Vibrancy/saturation is tied directly to the variable of ‘value’ — the lights and darks — imagine the illustration blocked out in grey scale. That’s its value. (Illustrators often do a values picture first, and digital illustrators often work by doing the values and only adding colour on separate layers after all the value details have been finalised. This allows hue and vibrancy to be changed easily at any stage of the publishing process.)
  • We can speak in terms of warmth, according to how yellow/blue a picture is.
  • Warm colours and cool colours can signal the temperature of the environment but also the emotion of the characters, or both.
  • And something not seen in digital art software: we can also speak in terms of ‘familiarity’. Familiar illustrations will have more colour differentiation whereas ‘removed’ illustrations will have less.
  • A ‘familiar’ ambience is made up of lots of ‘colour differentiation’. (Lots of different colours.) The reason it’s called ‘familiar’ is because the real world is also made up of lots of different colours, and we are familiar with the real world.
  • When illustrators make use of a reduced palette they are making the conscious decision to move readers away from the familiar and into the strange. There will be a reason for wanting to move us away from reality and it’s just a matter of working out what that reason is when analysing an illustration.
  • This removal from reality needn’t be in the literal sense — it might be
  • Vibrancy, warmth and familiarity are all active simultaneously — they don’t cancel each other out.
  • An opposite of the ‘familiar’ colour scheme might be described as ‘saudade’, from Portuguese.

saudade

  • Saudade Pinterest Boards
  • A mixture of familiar and saudade colour palettes in the same book can show the difference between, say, characters who are enjoying life and a part of their environment and those who are removed. (As an example see Anthony Browne’s Piggyback – the father is depicted in vibrant colours while the mother is removed. Another is Cooke and Oxenbury’s So Much.)
  • In picturebooks you often see a page sans setting — a part of the scene has been pulled out and placed on a white background. This is done to draw the reader’s attention to the emotion in the picture rather than to encourage a focus on the ambience.
  • Splashes of colour within generally dark pictures usually mean something in the story, too. For example, a bright splash of colour that runs through a book might foreshadow a happy ending.
  • Another kind of colour contrast used in picturebooks: A coloured frame or margin that carries the ambience. Try dividing the picture into parts according to light and dark, in shadow or in light, warm or cool, and see how the composition looks now.
  • White margins don’t mean much in picture books because they’re neutral but black margins do have an effect. We’re less inclined to react emotionally to a picture when framed in black. (Art students are told to avoid black straight out of the tube altogether, presumably for this reason.)
  • When a children’s picture book is entirely black and white the decision has been made to forego the opportunity for ambience, or at least downplay it. Even in black and white pictures you still get the full continuum between simple black and white line drawings with no ambience to drawings that include shading and hatching and dotting to create texture and then there are those that emphasise lighting effects to create a greater sense of atmosphere. (These last kind have infused ambience rather than ‘defused’. Another word for ‘defused’ is ‘flat’.)
  • Black and white is not the typical choice for picturebooks but you’ll find it anyway. (Why the black and white?)

Notes from Reading Visual Narratives (2013) by Painter, Martin and Unsworth

FURTHER READING

Here’s a very nice resource for anyone who would like to know about the History and Science of Colour Temperature, at a website called Filmmaker IQ.

Film School Rejects shared a program which averages the colour of films and comes out with a single hue. It would be interesting to apply this to picturebooks. Meantime, there are plans to use it on Disney films.

Reading Pictures Is A Skill In Its Own Right

Any sort of close reading of a picture book turns the reader into a semiotician, points out Perry Nodelman in his essay Decoding The Images: How Picturebooks Work.

I have been literate in the former sense since I was 6. As for the latter, I still struggle. Hit me with subtitles, for example, and I read the movie instead of watching it. Likewise when faced with a graphic novel, I read the dialog, wonder why I don’t understand what’s going on, then remember — oh, yeah! — to go back and look at the pictures.

From reading online reviews, I know there are still parents who disparage picturebooks that have few words, or who assume those books are only for the youngest children. Extrapolating, I suspect these same adults believe graphic novels are mere comic books, a lower art form than stories told exclusively in words.

I offer my own failings in visual literacy as evidence to the contrary.

A graphic novel is experienced, not just read, and the full experience requires developing important powers of observation, concentration and aesthetic appreciation. Like reading, these skills have the capacity to enrich one’s life immeasurably.

– from Graphic Novels Aren’t Just Picturebooks Anymore at Centredaily, in which the headline manages to condescend to the medium of picturebooks while its contents, in contrast, elevate pictures to heroic status in one of the most mismatched headlines I’ve seen yet.

I believe we are still some way off understanding many of the picturebook’s most significant features. Even though we are experienced readers of verbal text we are still learning how to read the picturebook, both in the sense of reading individual books, and in the sense of understanding how they work. … We now take sophisticated combinations of word and image in books, magazines and advertising for granted but it is only relatively recently that printing technology has permitted this creative freedom.

– Reading Contemporary Picturebooks by David Lewis

Young people need to understand that not all images are out there to be consumed like, you know, fast food and then forgotten. We need to educate them to understand the difference between moving images that engage their humanity and their intelligence, and moving images that are just selling them something.

Martin Scorsese, film director

See also:

The Importance Of Using Images In The Classroom from Edudemic

Top Ten Wordless Picturebooks from The Nerdy Book Club

Visual Literacy: Investigate and play with images from The Book Chook

Picture books DO boost literacy: It doesn’t matter what you read to your children as long they are interested in the story from The Daily Mail

Tips For Reading Wordless Picturebooks from What Do We Do All Day?

Wordless Books