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tommy ortale

Final Project: Redwood

tommy o

For my final project I worked on extending the narrative of my Visual Narrative project. As the story developed in changed through additional focus on character as well as a change to the ending. I am pleased with the additional clarity.

I hope to garner some critical feedback to help guide me in directions I may not being seeing from the inside.

The story is about what can happen when, despite our surroundings, we become hyper-focused on something that may not be so important; lose something that is; and, come to a reckoning.


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WEEK 13: Final Project Summary

tommy o

For my Final Project I am going to further develop a Visual Narrative by focusing on additional character development through still images panels. The presentation is intended to be web-based and at this time I envision audience driven change from one panel to the next, but I have not solidified this presentation yet.

This work was inspired by the Visual Narrative modules, especially panel-to-panel relationships or “blood in the gutter,” and closure-what to leave out or “the gaps in storytelling.” Some works that intrigued me along the way are The Apple Seed, by Brianna Savage, Things Are Queer, by Duane Michals, and many comic books and silent films.

My goal is to create a work that has a clear and engaging story without the use of spoken or written words. It is an exciting challenge and I look forward to critical feedback. The core work will be my Visual Narrative that was presented for week 9.

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WEEK 12: Story & Games – BioShock

tommy o

Narrative games are my favorite so it was hard to pick. BioShock is among my top hits list, though. The world of BioShock is the crumbling undersea remains of the city of “Rapture” built by a rich elitist to escape the confines, and the rules, of the world above water. As a genre it’s been labeled an “Immersive Sim.” It could be confused for a shooter game but that is only a navigation mechanic.

The game itself is driven by the exploration of the underwater city that is collapsing under the weight of age and ruin after the fall of the society of social and scientific elites that founded it. And, through genetic experiments outlawed on the surface, its “evolved” citizens devolved into the remnant monsters left behind that are so hungry for the chemicals that course through their bodies that they cannibalize one another in order to get more to sustain their genetic enhancements. The story of Rapture, and its founder, is discovered by exploring the sunken tomb of the once magnificent city. Discovering what they learned through their experimentation, what they created in themselves, and the madness they found which splintered and destroyed their society.

Game play is tied to the story from the moment the main character crashes in the ocean and swims to a beacon in the middle of the sea, to his discovery of a way down to this first miraculous then eventually horrifying place. Yes, you have to shoot and puzzle your way through the sections of the city, but this is all driven by the unfolding of narrative which includes the discovery of two rival groups fighting over the control and fate of Rapture and illuminated by discoveries such as audio logs that reveal pieces of the puzzle of how Rapture came into being, who the two groups are, and how the city came to fall. All of this while the player negotiates the rotting and cracking structures as they fail to keep the seawater at bay and threaten to collapse entirely in the midst of fighting through the remnant population.

These are the elements that push and pull the player on through the story, the physical collapse of sections of the city, and the discovery of new information that slowly reveals the story of it all.


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WEEK 11: Symbol, Index & Icon – “from point to point”

tommy o

I chose “Book from the Ground: from point to point,” by Bing Xu because it uses only indices and icons, which was very off-putting at first. I kind of hated it. When I have such a strong reaction to something I tend to want to explore it more because it has communicated something and I want to understand my response to it. It took a little work to get into the story.

When I took the time to focus on the story it was very clear and needed no words (symbols) to interpret it, and no sound. I respect the work that it takes to make a clear narrative this way as I am already fascinated by visual stories using a series of still images juxtaposed with one another to tell a tale. How do the signs help the narration? In this case the signs are the narration. How do they help the presentation of the story? For me, it was intriguing, like breaking a secret code in order to understand what on the surface is first a bit annoying but then at the same time ordered and mysterious. The presentation of indices and icons sucked me into the idea of a secret. I enjoyed this work.

How might I use different types of signs in my own project? As I see it, my inclination toward the visual is directly related to signs especially in the use of icons in the form of realistic imagery. I’m already doing it and am enjoying continuing the work.


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WEEK 10: Audio Visual Narrative

tommy o

Here is my Audio Visual Narrative:

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WEEK 10: Hypertext & Hypermedia – Are They Stories?

tommy o

A simple answer is that these three works are stories. The most coherent world might be shown in “How to Rob a Bank,” which tells a story from multiple points of view that can be engaged with in any order. The two tracks I spent the most time with were the journal of Elizabeth and the Huffington Post submissions of Nancy. They were both subjective but were unified by the overarching idea of a couple robbing banks and its perceived impact. This fits easily into the idea of a linear narrative because the story does not change it just has various perspectives. I was not engaged by “My Boyfriend Came Back from the War.” Though it develops a sense of characters its navigation, which approaches randomness, is disjointed, and for me off-putting. So, I can say that work did not draw me in at all. Regardless, the fractured nature of the presentation does lead to a sense of brokenness which is perhaps the important current that flows through and unifies the work. “With Those We Love Alive” was trickier for me because I was engaged and explored more. The tricky part was I was hooked by the question/answer portion and, when the switch was made to a story, I was invested in exploring the world that was presented. The world building aspect of the work established simple and clear elements like the workshop and the temple. I explored some of these options until they were exhausted.

One important aspect of these works is that they are, for me, related to a chose-your-own-adventure book. I have seen other hypertext works that are exactly that. Those stories are interactive and rely on audience choice to complete the story beyond just a turn of the page. There is also a reliance on associative thinking in some of the early pre-web hypertext/hypermedia works that breaks away from what would be typical in most books that tell stories, as opposed to encyclopedias and dictionaries which are indexed. Although, in my experience of these later books I tend to go down the rabbit-hole of associative linking. Wikipedia is a good example of hypertext with associative linking in digital form.

Is linear sequencing important? I say yes. Whether it is clear or vague if there is no story, or perhaps even a simple theme, I doubt the work can be engaging. Even if the work is purely sound-based or purely visual there has to be a cause and effect that I can grasp or the work will be beyond me. Surprise as an effect is the same in that the surprise needs to be understandable or somehow able to be contextualized by the audience. In the end, if it’s a story it must communicate something. I think the three works did that.

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A Note On AI Tools

tommy o

A very simple idea occurred to me after using AI to generate ideas for and parts of work. Tools leave marks.

We all understand this, it’s in our language when we say something like, “that looks handmade.” We appreciate the skillful use of thread and needle, the pushing of paint over canvas, and the capturing of light with a camera’s click. And, we accept there is process behind it all.

We recognize there are tools involved and then we forget about them. What we see then is the result that we engage with, the art. And, we strive to understand its purpose, its communication.

In time we will recognize AI tools exist and we will forget about them too when we engage with the stories that are told with them, the communication of the artist. This always happens. It is a piece of the power of storytelling in our nature. There will be new tools that we will marvel at, at first, and then forget them as wonders. Perhaps this is because we come to understand the mastery of tools, either our own or another’s.

Mastery is simply diligence: time and effort. AI tools are the same. Hundreds or thousands of prompts, variations, refinements, manipulations, and always the driving force of one’s desire to create, to assemble and communicate a thought, to tell someone something. I have spent hours and dollars exploring AI. I believe I will spend many more to understand the tools’ means of expression.

.We see the marks. The marks are not the work.

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WEEK 9: Audio Stories – “Window” Homage

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Here is my 30 second Audio Story inspired by “Window.”
I left the room tone in on purpose because the traffic added a layer I like.

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5 Short-Story Summaries

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  1. Classical

Over – The story begins at the end of a long term relationship with the recognition by the protagonist that the legal ending has come long after the relationship was beyond repair. But when did it really end? Was there a moment? In order to answer these questions the protagonist seeks out old friends and family that had become distant during the long term relationship. What is found is a kind of frankness in conversation that comes when an intimacy with one person pushes other people from your daily life. The protagonist finds conflict between internal memories and perceptions, and those memories and observations of those once close friends and family. Reflecting heavily on personal recollection in context with the observations of these friends and family the protagonist is forced to face the inconsistencies in the internal story of experience versus the weight of the unified collective truth of the opinions he sought out in search of answers. The protagonist comes to accept and take ownership of faulty perception and poor decisions. This allows the protagonist to re-contextualize memories with the help of others’ input and come to the understanding that recognizing key moments can not be done casually in context, and possibly, can only be done through reflection. The story ends with the protagonists ability to release external blame for the failed relationship and to accept that too-high expectations for a person in an intimate relationship does not afford the same depth of understanding and leniency inherent in friendships and family dynamics where you tend to judge the other less harshly. With this change in thought, the protagonist can move forward with a more insight and the wisdom of experience in the wake of loss. 


  1. Kishōtenketsu

Fisher – The story is a day in the life of a Fisher in a coastal village and the fish that make for daily meals. The fisher walks out onto a dock where a barrel serves as a fish well (now empty), a box holds tackle and does double duty as a convenient seat, with a fishing pole leaning up against the barrel ready for daily use. The first part of the story is establishes this scene, while the second part of the story moves on to show the Fisher seated, pole in hand, patiently waiting for a curious fish to try the bait. Excitement builds when a fish is hooked and the play between the Fisher, working to keep the even line tension that will tire a fish on a hook, and the fish struggling to jump the hook leads to part 3. The Fisher has hooked a tire. Nonplussed, the Fisher places the tire on the dock and continues to fish patiently, line in water. In part 4 the Fisher’s fish well is no longer without fish.


  1. Episodic

Monster on a Hill – A town in a small quiet valley has growing concerns for a disturbing presence somewhere on a nearby hill (over arching story – find the monster and get rid of it). The townspeople do not directly engage in exploring and resolving this concern initially. Instead, as irritation becomes annoyance they start to in-fight about weather there is a problem, who should be responsible, etc. This has a polarizing effect on the town where folks begin to form cliques that become more combative (story 2, act like monsters). As the townsfolk become more insular in their groups there is an increase in “us versus them” mentality which focuses negativity on those who are seen as outside ones group or, in one case, outside of every group. The one case is a young orphaned child, living with an older sibling, who seems to live a largely dream-like existence, exploring the woods around town, making astute observations about the nature that make people uncomfortable when those observations are directed at their natures. The child discovers the monster’s home and, having felt the pang of being ostracized, decides that instead of delivering the news it would be best to observe, as is the natural way of the child. The child discovers a kindred spirit in the monster’s actions, which seem to be driven by curiosity, not ire or malevolence. The relationship becomes much like a friendship (story 3, explore and observe the true nature of things). When the townspeople discover the monster is real they turn the animosity from the child to the monster. The stories tie to together by illustrating the actions of the townsfolk are monstrous toward any others while the monster actions and the boys actions are driven by curiosity. The townsfolk find and destroy the monster, but remain themselves unchanged. The child, witness to the nature of the townsfolk grieves the loss and the knowledge that true monsters can look just like everyone else, it’s their motivations that matter.


  1. Surrealist/Fantasy

Bubbles – Living in a transparent spherical shelter in order to be as close to nature as possible, the protagonist spends time writing observations about the immediate area. The time is in a future where humans have become so sensitive to the allergens of nature that they can no longer be outside. Indoor plants are in sealed terrarium spheres or “bubbles” that are self sustaining, but deadly if opened. Food is made from proteins and flavors that are combined on 3D printers, along with anything that might be needed. Everything is recycled back into printing materials. There are multiple bubbles for the protagonist to observe different landscapes nearby. Travel between them is by a sealed conveyance that runs on tracks between the bubbles. The conveyance goes through a decontamination process at every entry/drop-off point before a sanitary bubble seal is made. Several bubbles are shown with the protagonist in them making environmental observations. they range form normal landscapes to underwater to one where a flatland desert has been laid out with metal poles every few meters in an effort to attract lightning for power generation, like being in the middle of a lightning storm. The conveyance gets stuck in transit between to bubbles. The protagonist wonders if it is really dangerous for humans to go outside. It is. The protagonist dies of anaphylactic shock.


  1. Anecdotal

Camera – Grandfather was an accomplished hobbyist photographer. He spent a lifetime documenting trips to places far and near. He had a Nikon. I’m not sure which one, only that it was manual only and top of the line when he bought it, a real professional’s camera. When he got a new lens or flash he would give a show and tell about it before his next trip. Then, when he returned, he would give slide shows that showcased what the new piece was for and why it was the best tool for what was needed. He was very excited about a new camera body that was coming out soon, set aside money for the upgrade. We went to a lake to go swimming that summer. I was about six. He took pictures of me jumping off a dock into the water. I swam all day, loving the water. About an hour before dinner he called me in from the water. I was having trouble getting back onto the dock so he bent over to help pull me out. I didn’t notice he had set the his camera down on the dock. I knocked it in the water. A teenager fished it out for him. I was very upset, and knew my parents would be too. Grandfather told me not to worry, the camera was fine. For the next five years that held true. I didn’t question why he stopped talking about the new camera model. Until, I took my first photography class in middle school and he gave me the functional, but damaged camera from the lake to use as a beginner model. Instead of buying the new model he had purchased the same old model camera body so neither I nor my parents would be upset. He traded the “new” old model in for a better model after he revealed what had happened. We all had a laugh.

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WEEK 8: Video Stories – 30 Second Day

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Who Killed Kira?

A short loop by Kira, Cynthia, and Tommy:

This is a re-edit:

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WEEK 6: Visual Narative II – 5 Photos

tommy o

Short Journey

I wanted a lot more panels, but then I didn’t want to need more panels to tell the story. The story is a very simple journey from one place to another. I kept the idea as spare as possible in order to tell it as clearly as I was able to. The shots are sequenced close-wide-close-wide-close. I also included a hand in each of the close shots in the hope of bringing the viewer into the story with a first person perspective. The wide shots are from a standing perspective for that same reason. Developing this short sequence pattern was done to allow the viewer to create a link of moving through a routine which might make the narrative readable as intended. The concept of a 5 shot story is abstract to me by its nature. So, I used the idea of motion that we carry through our daily lives to suggest both physical and temporal progression: moving through a door, crossing a street, starting a car, walking between visually receding buildings, traversing web space.

Did you make the leaps?

What could I have done differently?

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WEEK 7: Cinema Language – An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge

tommy o

Often I am surprised by what elements remain in a film adapted from prose. With Bierce’s “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge,” I found that the central point of the story persisted without discernible dialog, and without exposition of the main character’s motivation for any crime because the deeper motivation was more important to the tale. I enjoyed this illustration in film because it speaks to what can be left out of a story with visual components. For instance, a viewer from the United States knows at least a little about the American Civil War so showing soldiers in Union Uniforms and the main character at a plantation gives that viewer what they need in order to imagine the setting as placed in that time.

As for pacing, the longer opening shots of the film with wide views along with the almost procedural introduction of a rope for hanging was used to slowly build tension toward an expected execution. When the rope breaks the film relies on disorienting angled shots and the pace of shots increases to support the feelings of panic. In the short story this part of the work where Peyton Farquhar falls from the bridge uses a lot of action language to build that panic. It begins with an almost deceptive slowness but with a staccato-like punctuation, “From this state he was awakened–ages later, it seemed to him–by the pain of sharp pressure upon his throat,”  and transitions to action language, “…Keen, poignant agonies… shoot through his neck… streams of pulsating fire…” Both of these approaches, in film and writing, yield the same basic story for the viewer/reader.

As the story moves on with Peyton’s journey home what remains left in the film at the end is intriguing. Peyton rushes toward his welcoming wife only to be pulled back to the moment of his death. This is important to me because the essential elements of the story in a basic form are: the main character faces death; he escapes death through a trick of fate; he runs toward the only thing of importance in his mind, those he loves; only to find that he has inescapably lost it all in one final moment. Though the film leaves out Peyton’s folly the point of loss strongly remains. Visually, Payton’s pulling back choking and the cuts to an ordered and almost serene view of him hanging as the soldiers disperse reinforces the feeling of suddenness of violence that the text gives, as well as the quiet finality as it was originally written, “He springs forward with extended arms. As he is about to clasp her he feels a stunning blow upon the back of the neck; a blinding white light blazes all about him with a sound like a shock of a cannon–then all is darkness and silence!
Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of Owl Creek Bridge.” This inclusion seems at least as important as what was left out of the film. It’s the crux of the story. I’m interested to read what you all find most important.

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Week 3: Narrative Traditions II – Other Structures

tommy o.

Hello DTC 354.

I chose “Meshes of the Afternoon” because it was very difficult for me to understand, and I’m not sure that I do understand it. I am interested to hear more about this film in class discussion.

There is no dialogue so the viewer is left with musical scoring and visual information to interpret the film. The general flow is a loop in time where the central character changes perspective each time. Each perspective changes reveals an aspect that may not have been seen or understood before, which heightens the tension between understanding and curiosity. It’s like a spiraling journey of recognition.

The music was moody and at times discordant, which fostered unease. The initial shots were mostly of high contrast shadow which added a disconnected feeling and an urge to understand what was beyond the metaphorical shadow.

Very early on I thought the main character was, or would be dead. Unfortunately, I have yet to connect why I guessed that so early in the film. With each progressive loop the story moved more strongly in that direction eventually being represented visually by the knife being the key to understanding the story and unlocking the memory or reality of the end.

I found the visuals disorienting through the use of camera movement, camera angle, and harsh lighting. Both running and use of slow motion also built a sense of urgency toward grasping the final understanding that the main character is dead, leaving behind things unfinished like a drink on the table, a disconnected phone, and turntable with a played out record.

Building stories without words is fascinating to me. Using visuals that have a dream-like or not quite real quality to them intrigues me. I’d like to know how each of you would tell a story without dialog.

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Week 2: Narrative Traditions – Fargo & Poetics

tommy o.

But is it a tragedy?

If so, who is the hero? There may be two, but I’m going to argue against that. I will start by saying Marge is not a protagonist. Maybe I’m wrong. Let’s start with the character Mike.

Mike seems to be a reversal of fortune for Marge and I believe tied to Geaer as well, at least as a push toward realization for her.. When it’s revealed that Mike’s story is entirely untrue Marge can not understand why he does it. In the same way when she is scolding Gaear in the police car about violence for the sake of money she can’t conceive of a reason why he did it. Both of these moments push Marge’s  realization that she just doesn’t understand the motivation to do wrong, and she says so directly when she says, “I just don’t understand.” What interests me about this is her acceptance. Despite her inability to comprehend these motivations in others she easily accepts evil’s existence in the almost idyllic world around her. It appears to me that outside of that moment of recognition Marge will remain effectively unchanged. So, is Marge ever reversed or, perhaps, is she an unchanging balancing element within the plot that drives the actual protagonist? In this context Marge may not even qualify as a protagonist because she doesn’t seem to be permanently reversed or changed in character.

Jerry appears to be a protagonist in that the audience sees he is pitiable, he is flawed, and his downfall is feared, or at least concerning, and the audience wants to avoid his fate in their own lives. Jerry seems to realize the catastrophe he has caused and in the end laments the misfortune of his own weakness and pride, weakness in that he makes self-serving choices and pride because he believes he is entitled to be more than he is in the world. Yes, his motivations appear base as Aristotle attributes to characters in comedy, but Jerry’s motivation is arguably to become a greater person then he is.

Overall, it could be a tragic-comedy because of the base motivations of Jerry if he is the protagonist. However, I think Fargo is more closely tied to straight tragedy regardless of Jerry’s selected means to change his fortune, which was immediately reversed from the very beginning of the film.  If Marge is seen as an unchanging balancing element instead of a protagonist, then Marge is inevitable as that force and Jerry was doomed by this force from the moment he confirmed the deal with Gaear and Carl, if not from the moment he committed fraud prior to the story. It’s arguable that this is not a tragedy, at least not to Aristotle, if we note that for Jerry there was never a moment of prosperity; his tragic flaw (hamartia) was always active, his reversal of fortune (peripeteia) was at the beginning if not before, so the structure of the story doesn’t follow the Aristotelian beginning, middle, and end for a tragedy. There is catastrophe and Jerry suffers consequences, and a catharsis is fostered in the audience, but modes of narrative have changed over the last 2000 years so maybe it’s okay to mix the parts up and still call it a tragedy.

What do you think?

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Week 1 Blog Post: Self-Introduction

tommy o.

Hello Storytellers!

I’m Tommy, a transfer student returning to school after a 30 year diversion; well, it was almost 30 years ago that I left the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. This is my second term since coming back to school. I chose WSU-V specifically for the DTC program and its roots in both the arts and technology, two things that are dear to me. My main career was in global information security; Once a geek, always a geek. I am passionate about games of all kinds, video, board, role-playing, etc., and have a special place in my heart for collective storytelling. My goal in this class is to grow my skills as a storyteller.

Storytelling Genres: I favor sci-fi, fantasy, and psychological thrillers/horrors on screen. For books and comics I lean heavily toward horror and sci-fi. Sometimes I read fantasy, though not so much recently. For video games I prefer sci-fi, horror, and an occasional western theme. I tend toward single player mode and like to explore open-world environments. Although, all of my favorite games have very strong plot lines.

Story Media: I’m fascinated by short films. When time is tightly restricted it’s amazing to me how critical every aspect of sound and vision becomes to a well told story. Watching short films helps me better appreciate and digest longer format cinema. I read comics. I suppose it’s a similar attraction to short films, everything matters. Though video games have been important to me, I used to collect retro systems and games, I am not as interested in them currently. Or rather, my interests are focused elsewhere for now. I would not be interested in making video games, but the topic is a great discussion.

I am especially interested in seeing your various approaches to storytelling and creation in this class. I find other peoples’ perspectives an exciting prospect, and am curious to know more about your styles and processes.

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