Discovery Channel

Shadow and Light

THE BRIEF

Task assigned: Writing the script for a 60-second TV promo.

Discovery Channel is a popular American television channel famous for educational and historical programming. For its 10th anniversary in Poland the channel’s creative team decided to commission an online promotional video. They specifically wanted to feature one particular storytelling idea – 3D printed objects.

Where there is light, there must be shadow;

where there is shadow there must be light.

Haruki Murakami

THE CONCEPT

First, I remembered a beautiful quote by a great Japanese writer Haruki Murakami: “Where there is light, there must be shadow; where there is shadow there must be light”. It is a fact of nature: to see, one has to have light.

It felt similar to the role of an objective history channel – it too should give voice to historical events in their full dimension.

Along with a small team of freelance creative producers from Warsaw, I thought of utilising the 3D printed objects as both the general landscape and the main characters of the story. It offered a chance to come back to the emotional side of visual arts and the physicality of sculpture art.

It was also a great tribute to modern craftsmanship – a combination of human input and machine-driven excellence. Juxtaposing the analogue feel of 3D printed objects with the dynamic form of projection mapping and animation made the fact-heavy storytelling narrative less static and flowing more seductively.

Human history is ‘cyclical and always returns to the point of beginning’, to quote an American writer Edward Ballamy. It is also subject to some eternal laws, waltzing between birth and death, light and darkness, progress and decay. These elements have only one thing in common – a permanent change. Any linear way of telling the story of humankind has to be met with difficulties. Historical events tend to complement each other and overlap over the course of centuries. Thus, human view of the world will always be biased by the stretch of a mind’s cognition.

Time is elastic. What we call the ‘flowing’ of time has to be understood by studying the structure of our brain rather than by studying physics.

Carlo Rovelli, The Order of Time

A MAN’S JOURNEY THROUGH LIGHT AND SHADOW

He is man of many faces…

A Discoverer – a brave man venturing out of a cave into a world full of possibilities. He has to discover the light, learn the cycles of Nature and understand his own limitations.

Then – blinded by his power of conquer – the man becomes a Destroyer, fighting for new territories and the Earth’s resources, enslaving the weaker and sucking life out of the planet.

Yet, we can also see in him a Master of Creation. He strives for the betterment of the humankind, building cities, civilisations, creating technological advancement, making art and culture. This is the man who – upon entering the majestic cathedral that he designed – suddenly feels so insignificant in the face of history, god, and cosmos. He is – as Goethe’s Faustus – ‘part of this force that wanting the bad only creates the good’.

Finally, we meet Homo Technicus, a new breed of man, an ambivalent soul lost in the technological progress and caught in a trap of social media’s simulacra. He searches for his life’s meaning scrolling up and down the screen of his smartphone.

THE NARRATIVE

I. Intro

Voice Over: Do you ever think of how it all started: your life on this planet, the history of humankind? Everything has its preface. Close your eyes. Imagine a pulsating point ready to pop. Can you feel the universe expanding? Blink again. This is the beginning. It was all in the blink of an eye, wasn’t it? And then we could see.

Visual: The camera is fixated on the 3D print of a round object – it is an expanding cosmic dot, from which the Big Bang eruption starts. The universe comes to life. The shining point becomes the Sun, the source of light and life. This in turn changes into a blinking human eye – the camera focuses on the iris. The man is blinking – he has started to see, that’s how his curiosity and will to discover are born.

II. Curiosity

Voice Over: How well do we know our heroes? Was Christopher Columbus a gifted navigator or a reckless adventurer? Did Nicolaus Copernicus really turn the world on its head? And could a man have gone even further? Oh yes. His ego and his intellectual appetite were insatiable. All he ever wanted was to reach for the skies, after all. And so he did, on July 20, 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin from Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. There, with a cheerful dose of an American prose ‘The Eagle has landed and the man moved one big leap forward’.

Visual: The story centres around a 3D print of a human figure. The props change, showing us who it the main character of the story. First we see Copernicus with his astrolabe (3D print out with projection mapping). On a closer inspection, it turns out to be the Sun’s wax print out melting (animation), which then changes into the globe of Earth.

The camera zooms in and we end up on the rough sea, where a ship battles rain and wind. We meet a shaky figure of Columbus looking out into the sky, as he tries to find his way around the globe. The sky brightens with stars (animation) and we zoom in again to find ourselves on the Moon. The 3D figure of Neil Armstrong in his big astronaut costume is shown on the projection map of other great human discoveries: the Edison’s bulb, the Gutenberg’s press, Marie Sklodowska-Curie in her lab, DNA sequencing, Dolly: the first cloned sheep, finally to see the bionic/robotic hand clenching into a fist and out.

III. Power & Destruction

Voice Over: We are all two sides of the same coin, thinking evil, but really wanting to be good. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin birthed the concept of ‘totalitarian’, carving the world into bloody pieces until there was nothing left. They also forced us to rethink what it truly means to be human. And we are all the better for it, aren’t we?

Visual: Bang! A hand lands on the world map (3D print out) and madly marks out the route through Europe. The demarcation line is running with blood (animation/mapping). We can see Stalin and Hitler carving out bits of the world like the birthday cake (3D print out). The cake erupts into an atomic mushroom cloud.

The debris turns out to be the shattered glass from WTC. We can see a nameless fireman (3D print out). He looks up to the sky to see the building on fire, falling down. The 3D print out of World Trade Centre is melting down in front of our eyes (wax-like animation). Its walls drip with the pictures of the terrors of XX/XXI century (projection mapping). We can see industrial factories pollution, famine in Africa, environmental catastrophes: large floods, earthquakes, tsunami and the mass crisis of the global human displacement (3D refugee).

The camera takes us back to the bloody face of the fireman. We stop at his eyes – he is crying his wax-like tears of sadness and compassion.

IV. Outro

Voice Over: We came to life thanks to the explosion, moving fast forward, unstoppable photons of progress. And now we have slowly started turning inwards, closing the borders, our eyes and our minds. The future of modern human is yet unknown, yet one thing is sure – it has already begun. What will become of us? What has become of us? Will we ever know?

Visual: At the end of the story we can see the man hunched over his smartphone (3D print out). It is just your typical tourist-type – an ambivalent soul lost in the technological progress and caught in a trap of social media simulacra. He finally raises his head up to view the stunning feature of the cathedral’s dome – the oculus. When the Pantheon was built it was the only source of light, that’s why it was referred to as ‘The Eye of the Pantheon’.

The camera closes in on the bright ‘eye’ of the dome, which then changes (animation) into a human eye. The eye blinks and its iris transforms into a computer’s content loading icon. That’s the end: a single man, not sure what will become of him, yet still in awe of the history that he has co-created.

Endframe: Discovery History: Through light and shadow