Sunday, August 28, 2011

Beginning of the Batman Obsession

I guess most of those around me know how much I love Batman. I mean, I'm the guy, who, in June 2011, went searching toy-stores for Batman's 1992 line of toys. I have downloaded all - and I mean all - animated and real-action episodes/movies ever made, ever since 1939 to now - this includes graphic novels scans, episodes, interviews, commentaries and featurettes. I had a Batman towel as a child. Last week, I got a bright blue belt with a shiny Batman logo buckle, which was hardly worth the price.

So, more than a few people keep asking me, 'Viraj, why Batman? Why do you like him so much?' What I answer most of the times is - 'I don't know.', but the fact is, I can't really articulate all that in words when someone just randomly throws the question at me. Now, let me try putting it all in words.

As a child, before 3rd standard (Before I was about 8), all of us knew Batman and Superman as superheroes, without any media going on about them, apart from movies. I remember, when I was in 3rd std., Cartoon Network brought in Batman: The Animated Series, which aired in America in 1992, and in India in around 2000-2001.

This series was the primary medium that introduced the people of my age back then to Batman. I was immediately attracted to it. I can't say whether many people around me were. But unconsciously I knew, that this was not like the other cartoons. This was much more dark, serious, and most of all, believable. We always had a discussion as peers in the recess of our school about Batman. Though Batman was a dark, shady figure in the show, we believed that he did good. I'm not sure whether I wholly understood why most people in his city feared him, but I believed in him. And then I saw good people like Commissioner Gordon, or maybe, a mother who's child is kidnapped (Episode: See No Evil) believe in him, and him doing the right thing, no matter how hard the circumstances were. Slowly I came to know, good guys don't fear Batman. But then again, that's the case with every superhero. Why only Batman?

What made Batman more believable, was of course the fact that he is just a human being and has no super powers, but also, the quality of animation they had in the 1992 series. Nothing was drastically superhuman, well of course, there is exaggeration, since it's a superhero fiction show - but it was all believable. Everything was at a human level.

Also, I saw in the series, good people like Harvey Dent, or Matt Hagen turn into villains because of incidents that happened to them. Of course, they were not responsible for what happened to them, but I think the series taught me, not to waver from whatever you stand for, because you are good, and if you deviate towards the bad, you have a new identity - the good in you is lost.

And Batman always stood upto what was good. No matter how hard it was. I guess that was the prime influence that help build my personality. Of course, there are millions of situations and people in the real world, and it is too much to believe that a TV show influenced a person so much, but I was in my budding age. The age when I learnt good and bad. When I learnt that not all people are good, and that good people can turn bad, and the age when children get to know the harsher facts of life like disease, suffering and death.

There have been people in my life as well whom I believed in, and whom I believed to be good. They didn't turn out to be that way. And no matter how much they mattered to me, I just cannot turn into something else. I guess all this was simplified in Batman: The Animated Series and shown, making it more easy to relate to.

Of course, graphic novels and movies followed suite. But, nothing gives me the nostalgia and the sense of belonging as Batman: The Animated Series does. Of course, the graphic novels stood true to what image of Batman I had through the animated series, and I really have a soft corner when it comes to the Batman toys.

And then, there was the Gray Ghost episode. They've shown Bruce Wayne as an 8 year old watching his favorite superhero show 'The Gray Ghost' on TV with an action figure of the Gray Ghost. I did the same with my Batman toy. So there was this relation.

Also, the kind of huge house Bruce had, and the kind of a man he was when he wasn't Batman - an industrialist (Of course, his playboy image was incomprehensible to me as a child) was something I wanted to become, and the show suggested in some uncanny way that if I follow what I like, if I am true and just, I will be that someday, because that's what happened to Bruce.

I think it's just an important part of my growing up. And it was forgotten for a few years as Pokémon and other indulgences came in, but when I rediscovered Batman: The Animated Series in 2008, the memories came to me like summer tempest.

Putting it all together, this rational, idealist figure of justice was what made the lessons given by the people around and experiences seem more simple, and right.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

On Form in Design

The manufacturing of products is done by machines, since the Renaissance. Thus, the methods and processes were made easier, and machine-oriented. Thus, mass production was made easier and many goods were mass produced. But in the late 19th century, the people realized that the resources used for production are all limited, and overuse can result in the exhaustion of the resources.

As a result, in 1908, the architect Louis Sullivan, in his essay, 'The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered', coined the phrase 'Form Follows Function'. Thus the form should be only as much as a product requires, and unnecessary ornamentation and decoration of any product is uncalled for. This only puts strain on the resources.

It is also said, that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. This applies even to industrial design. The simplest of designs are the ones which last for a long time, and have the most impact on the populous, as compared to the forms which are complicated and intricate. Example - A safety pin, a spoon.

We do study and analyse form in many ways. We see it's aesthetic value, whether it is tight or flowy, whether it is visually unstable or stable, whether it is balanced, symmetrical or in harmony. Designers pay a lot of attention to make their product form-rich in order to increase it's aesthetic appeal. But, the most appealing forms are generally the simple ones. For example, consider the appeal of platonic solids, or simpler yet - A ball. Even an iPhone has an appeal to a wide range of people, all around the globe.

Also, we have to consider the contemporary trends. The Trends keep on changing with respect to time, and a designer's form should be simple, yet it should look contemporary for mass appeal.

So, that is just a little something of what one should consider while working on the form. Summarizing the essay:

The things that are necessary for a good form of a product are:

1. Acknowledgement to the function, as much as possible.

2. Simplicity. No unnecessary ornamentation or decoration.

3. Contemporary trends.

I feel, that only when there is a balance between all these three elements, the form will be a good form, which will be aesthetic, and will have a mass appeal.