Conceiving of Kubrick, Quantifying Color

Because it was often not practical to collect data about the whole population, the idea of sampling was the foundation of 20th century applications of statistics.

In some application [sic] of media visualization, we face the same limitations. For instance, in our visualizations of Kingdom Hearts we sampled the complete videos of game play using a systematic sampling method. Ideally, if imageJ software was capable of creating a montage using all of video frames, we would not have to do this.

In preparation for this post, I attempted to use the imageJ software to create a montage using all of a video’s frames—specifically, those of the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. I used a program called Avidemux to extract each frame of the film and save it as a jpg, resulting in a total of 209,457 files (10.5 GB). Unfortunately, imageJ kept running out of memory before completing the montage creation process (what else would you expect from a program written in Java?). I’ve tweaked the settings a bit so that the montage only contains 1 out of every 100 frames at a fraction of their original size.  You can view the resulting image below:


I chose 2001 for several reasons. Manovich’s work seems to focus almost exclusively on Vertoz’s films, especially on the length of their shots. Vertoz is of course well known for his rapid-fire juxtaposition of short shots, a trait shared with several other early Soviet directors. I was curious to see how Manovich’s visualization methods would look when applied to a film generally known for its longer shots. I also wanted to see a montage of a color film, especially one such as 2001 which uses color in such interesting ways.

Several patterns emerge, but I’m not sure how interesting they are. The film begins and ends (“The Dawn of Man” and “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite”) with a pure black screen accompanied by György Ligeti’s soundtrack (there is also an intermission which follows this same formate. Colorful scenes similarly bookend the film, with drab blues and grays characterizing the two middle acts (“TMA-1” and “Jupiter Mission”).  Individual scenes seem to be relatively monochromatic—orange for primordial earth, white on the space station, red in HAL’s processor core, and blue in the mysterious apartment.

Undoubtedly, I’d have to spend a lot more time tweaking the visualizations in order to really stumble upon anything interesting, but the possibilities intrigue me. Joe’s post argues that the most compelling element of Manovich’s project is the visualizations of entire shots “averaged” into a single image. This allows us to analyze the degree of camera movement within individual shots, along with the movement vectors of objects being filmed. I feel like analysis of color could be another incredibly productive use of Manovich’s techniques. In part 7 of his “Visualizing Vertov” project, Manovich graphs Man with a Movie Camera‘s shots according to their grey scale x number of shapes. What if we graphed all the shots in 2001 according to their averaged hue x saturation? Over the course of random Googling in preparation for this source, I came across this site which features a “Movie Palette” of the film’s most commonly used colors. Although I’m not sure how the author arrived at this data, it seems like something which could be relevant to a Manovichian project.

To summarize in a single sentence (and provide another possible subtitle for our class): this stuff seems incredibly useful, but I have no idea how to use it. I’m still suspicious of quantitative analysis of words because their meaning is so thoroughly subjective, but things like color, camera movement, length of shots, and shapes feel a lot more like objective quantifiable data. I think further inquiry into this sub-field of DH has the potential to yield some really interesting and meaningful results.


One thought on “Conceiving of Kubrick, Quantifying Color

  1. Pingback: “Words, words, words”: But what else are you reading? | "Digital Humanities": Emerging Tools and Debates in Literary Study

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