Interviews

Artist Andrew DeGraff on Cinemaps: An Atlas of 35 Great Movies

 

Artist Andrew DeGraff’s new book is Cinemaps: a collection of beautiful maps of many of your favorite films, including the routes taken by their characters.

 

Unbound Worlds: What are some of your earliest experiences with maps? Were there any that really caught your imagination? Also, did you make maps or have any hobbies that involved mapmaking as a child, like Dungeons & Dragons?

Andrew DeGraff: I only had the pleasure of D&D’ing a few times, I tended to die rather quickly. I did grow up with walls covered with maps, a bed spread covered with states and state capitals, and a deep affection for board games with landscape elements like Life and Hotels. Combined with a ton of Legos, Matchbox cars, scale models, and G.I. Joes, it all gels together. I think all these things were really just a love all things miniature.

UW: One of the things that I really enjoy about Cinemaps is that the maps depictions of physical spaces, but they’re also like flowcharts for the movie’s plots and characters. It also occurred to me that the physical locations – or sets – only exist to the degree needed to move the plot forward: For example, we don’t know the exact streets Shaun and his crew take to get to the Winchester in “Shaun of the Dead” because it’s not needed for the story. What was it like trying to juggle these elements?

AD: The funny thing is, most of the character lines/arrows are actually showing what’s happening off screen as characters move from scene to scene. But it is tricky – juggling is a good word for it. It’s really creating a stage for the characters to run around in. The nice thing is, you know how the scene will work out. The tough thing is building a stage for many folks to run around on. Especially if it’s a little building or room, and what happens when they leave and they all come back? That’s where the headaches come. In a lot of these I’ve been playing with different formats depending on the film. The sort of “island locations” like “North By Northwest” or “Shaun of the Dead”, or the more complete landscapes like “The Wizard of Oz”, “Lord of the Rings”, or “T2”. After my initial sketches, I have to make a decision as to approach – islands or integrated – and I make my best guess as to what will work knowing that there will be at least one trouble/headache spot to deal with.

UW: Your medium of choice is gouache. I don’t see that very often these days. What is gouache, and why did you choose it for this project?

AD: Gouache is actually the same basic paint as watercolor. The difference between gouache and watercolor is basically the grind of the pigment: watercolor is finer and seeps into the paper. Gouache is a coarser grind and sits on top which is why it’s often referred to as “opaque watercolor”. I like to paint whenever possible, and gouache does a lot of things well. Like watercolor, you can re-wet it and move, or remove it (to a degree) and you can use it very much like watercolor, or very much like an opaque heavier body paint like acrylic.  The reason I chose gouache for the maps is twofold. One: it makes great, opaque, colored line. Nothing beats it in that category. Acrylic is too chunky, and ink is too transparent. Two: it’s got a very matte finish. No shiny reflections, just velvety rich color. Works great even on thin papers, and scans great too.

UW: How long do these maps take to make? What kind of research do you do? I imagine that it’s important to get every little detail right or people will notice.

AD: They vary time-wise. “The Star Wars” maps were around 200 hours per, the “Lord of the Rings” map was easily 1000, and the “Wizard of Oz” was probably in the 600 range, but most of them are around 50-150 hours. That’s not really counting the research, which consists of watching the film two or three times, and a lot of hunting for reference: production design photos, photos from the set photographer if there was one, models, Lego recreations of sets.  I usually try to overlap film research as a painting break, working on the research for the next map while I’m painting one. A lot of those hours I call “mowing the lawn”. I find it really relaxing. I listen to lots of audiobooks, and the news and music – it’s great to have full day mowing the lawn and knock out 14 hours of painting.

I do try to get everything as right as I can – and people do notice. When people find “flaws”, I just about always have a reason for why it’s like it is. Generally, I was forced to make an imperfect decision somewhere, but I really try to make them as “relatively” correct as I possibly can. Also, with working traditionally, I can’t really erase any mistakes. I try to be a sure as possible when I put something down that it’s the right something.

UW: Were there any times that the information you had was ambiguous enough that you just had to make an educated guess while putting together a map?

AD: So many times. “Wizard of Oz” was a great example of a million educated guesses. Most of the area in the map is based off of background paintings, and special effects shots that are barely consistent with others. But some movies are better than others. “The Indiana Jones” movies are great at walking you from scene to scene and location to location. Others, not so much. But even then, I sometimes have to create exteriors that are never shown. When that happens, I try to either portray the actual building where the film was shot, or try to find the best analog I can – an educated guess. What’s funny is that often people don’t notice. A building that they’ve never seen seems to fit in, and they assume it was in the movie and it never actually was.

UW: How did you go about selecting the films for inclusion? Were these just the ones that tickled your fancy? Arranged chronologically, the last map in the book is “Mad Max: Fury Road”. With 2017 drawing to a close, are there any new movies that you’d like to map out?

AD: Picking the films was a very fun process. I’ve had my growing list of films for years, but Jason Rekulak and A. D. Jameson had some great suggestions. I had already done a lot 70s and 80s movies so it was really about rounding out the book and filling holes. We wanted a sort of taster menu spanning pop culture which is harder than you think. “Clueless” or “Friday”? “Rushmore” or “The Royal Tenenbaums”? And what directors are underrepresented? They were some very fun conversations, and there’s still a lot of great movies out there.

As per what’s next, I’ve got a “The Force Awakens” map on the operating table, “Rogue One” is on the menu, and there’s a lot of options. I think it would be fun to tackle “Thor: Ragnarok”, but there’s still a lot of older movies I’m looking to do. “Die Hard”, “Dark Crystal”, “Point Break”, “Vertigo”, the rest of the “Cornetto Trilogy”, “Tron”, “The Conversation”, “2001”, “Inception” . . .

UW: How did A. D. Jameson become involved with this project?

AD: Actually, the first writer — the great Martin Seay (read The Mirror Thief!) had to drop out and he was gracious enough to offer up some folks he liked and respected. One of them was A. D. Jameson, and he’s fantastic, and we are so lucky that he could be a part of it. I remember reading some his stuff and just thinking: we hit the jackpot. Again. How often does that happen?

UW: I really enjoyed reading Jameson’s essays, as they were impressionistic and focused on the kinds of observations we all might make while taking in a film at home. Was there a conversation about establishing the right tone for the text? What seemed most important at the time?

AD: Yeah – it’s a tricky thing. They’re also some of the most dissected films in history.  And that’s what made A. D. such a great fit: he not only knows the pop-culture world as a fan, he knows the film world as a scholar. I mean, I thought I knew these films really well. Adam not only knew them far better, he knew very nuts and bolts connections and coincidence that tied together this tapestry that we had cobbled together of often disparate films. The words I always used were “accessible scholarship”, and I think he really nailed it. They’re informative for the superfan, and accessible for the casual movie watcher. There wasn’t really much discussion as to tone? I think in many ways Adam set it, and Jason and I said “That’s great. We love it.” and off we went.

UW: Did you have any unexpected or new observations revisiting these movies while creating the book? I certainly experienced a few of my own while reading Cinemaps.

AD: My biggest realization was the complexity of comedy. The number of scenes, all the little vignettes to get piece of dialogue in, the more impressionistic use of time and space – boy. It’s tricky. Adventure movies are comparatively simple. “Rushmore” has so many little scenes, and character meet ups; I was blown away by how busy that one was going to be when I sketched it out. The same for “Clueless” and “Fargo”. I think my other realization was that the center of the world in the late 80’s/early90’s was LA. “T2”, “Pulp Fiction”, “Clueless” — there were just so many LA based movies. And so many more we were thinking about were also LA flicks: “Big Lebowski”, “Friday”, “Heat”, “Die Hard”, “Swingers”, “Barton Fink” … I know it’s home to Hollywood, and there’s always a lot shot there but there was a real significant moment of movies ABOUT LA. I love that we got “Clueless” and “Pulp Fiction” back to back to show the two sides of the coin.

UW: What’s next? Got any new projects on the horizon?

AD: I’ve actually enjoyed my little break from mapping. I’m back doing editorial illustration, some personal work just for fun, and I’m currently teaching at the Maine College of Art. I love making the movie maps, but the process is pretty taxing and I always need a little downtime after a big project. That being said, there’s likely another one on the way in a few years. There’s just too many good movies worth doing. I also might create another book of literary maps . . . Ah, so much to do. It’s all fun – it’s finding the hours to make it happen!