I've talked before about how much I love the amazing visuals of BioShock and the successive games in the franchise. One of the most important aspects, both visually and narratively, were the advertisements seen around the city. The talented artists who worked on the game conducted so much research in order to recreate the aesthetics of the mid-20th century. While their original work is superb, one can't overlook the interesting matter of the "recycled" images.
It's been uncovered that many of the advertisement images were repurposed pictures, mostly from intricate fruit crate labels, made in the 1900s. We've all done our part to track down the original images to show how they were modified to create something new and useful to the BioShock series while still maintaining the quality and detail that went into so much of the 20th century's art.
I applaud this work, and in the same mindset have made the following images myself. This is all purely speculative fanart. I welcome comments and criticism, but also hope others will share links to similar fruit crate labels that look cool or interesting and might make great advertisements or promotional images.
Of course I so enjoyed the use of licensed songs echoing throughout the corridors of Rapture, but in retrospect it is a little strange that we only heard music from "surface" musicians. Ok, maybe it's not too surprising. With time and resource restraints, it's much easier to license a song that it is to compose and record a new one that might easily go unnoticed. Additionally, we still rock out to decades old 80s songs today.
Still, what impresses me most about Rapture the idea, is that it was a city in the 1950s where your background or country of origin didn't matter. All that was important was your talent. With this image, an album cover for a record that might be sold in Rapture Records, I crafted the persona of a singer of Hungarian extraction. For most immigrants coming to America in the 20th century, unless you were of Anglo-Saxon origin, you were seen as an undesirable. Performers would often adopt a stage name or recraft their image entirely to seem more appealing to a larger audience. In Rapture this was not the case. This chanteuse not only owns her sexuality but also her identity.
While ethnic Whites might have had a difficult time, nothing compared to the historic struggle of African Americans. Now obviously there were a huge number of successful Black singers during this time especially in the genres of Jazz and Big Band music. However, in the early days of Rock & Roll, some producers would pay for the music and songs of African American singers and pass them on to White bands who had a more "appealing" image they could sell to middle America.
I wanted to show a successful Black Rapturian singer in the genre of Rockabilly/Rock & Roll music that would've been reaching the city just before the Rapture Civil War ruined everything. The surprising challenge was finding a source image that didn't cater to the stereotypes and prejudicial perceptions of the period. This one required some major photoshopping, but I'm mostly happy with the final result.
One of the few original pieces of music we did hear in BioShock was Cohen's Scherzo from Why Even Ask?. But why settle for Rapture's most paranoid composer when we could hear the debut album of his most ardent rival? I had hoped to create a poster for Anna Culpepper, and when I found the right source image, I knew I had it.
It's one thing to call someone out for their music, but if your not in the industry or don't have a song of your own out, then what good are your gripes? We had seen the poster for her most scathing album Ryan's Songbird, but now we can see how Culpepper first became the successful singer with an apartment in Mercury Suites.
Sometimes the most important consideration for this project was how easily an image could be repurposed for my needs. The very basic, minimalist nature of this particular fruit crate label along with the blocky lettering made for a quick and easy album cover. The simple design also resembles some of the albums seen in Rapture Records.
Additionally, something I noticed when making my Character Tracker is high number of characters with "S," "W," or "R" names. I intentionally came up with characters with different, less common letters. Thus the "V," "N," "L," and "P" names present here on this blog.
Another consideration I had when thinking about this project is where would these artists perform?
The Footlight Theater strikes me as an interesting venue. We never did see behind that curtain on the stage, so we can't say just how much room there was to put on a performance. What we did see is that long, narrow floor space jutting out from the main stage. What sort of entertainment might use a stage like that. Clearly some of Sander Cohen's shows played at the Footlight (as evidenced by the posters), though I have to think they were rather minimalist considering the size of the playhouse, but what else? Maybe a fashion show, probably a lounge singer, or better yet, a comedian.
This poster allowed me to explain the performer's job while also highlighting his specific type of comedy. I'll bet he could do a ripping-good impression of Andrew Ryan.
Admittedly, there's nothing more iconic than the Masquerade Ball 1959 poster, but when I found the components for this image, I decided to make my own advertisement for the Kashmir Restaurant's New Years Eve party. The hardest part was rotating the letters around the circle. With some very minor alterations I could see this as a poster for a local school or university dance as well.
Some images have such a narrative of their own that there's little inventing that you need to do on your part. Everything about this image just screamed Film Noir and I knew I had to use it. My source image for this picture is (believe it or not) a Taxi Service advertisement, but I'm almost certain that it originates from a pulp fiction novel cover. So, after retouching a few parts on the source image to remove the original information, all that was left was to create title and figure out who our star was. That lead to Ava Tate.
Much had been debated about BioShock 2's Ava. She's the only character to be both a Mentioned Character and a Removed Character. Her original identity as a Québécois expatriate, propaganda mill for Andrew Ryan, and owner of Dionysus Park was ultimately cut. What remains is her name atop posters for the two movies The Black Dream and Health Hazards of the Sun.
If we ever get another Bioshock game, I'd love to see Ava in it (fans know about her and want to see more about her). My own head canon is extensive about her (it's fun to imagine), but on a basic level, I'd like to see her as a minor actress who came to Rapture, gained fame in several acclaimed films, and then rose to the roll of a producer. There were few women directors during this time in Hollywood, but in Rapture anyone could rise to the top. To complete the poster, I added two Rapture leading men, came up with Muse Studios (the place where all these movies are made), and fleshed out that Mr. Kowalski guy that Baby Jane is always talking about.
Something I've realized while making these posters is that the original game designers not only had to gather period images to repurpose for the game, they also had to study how period images were designed and their layout was composed. Similarly, this required me to study movie posters, ads, and other announcements from the mid Twentieth Century; it was a very interesting and fun exploration.
So of course tastes and art movements change. You probably wouldn't see a movie poster like this anymore, but it wasn't uncommon to see this mix of a drawing and a glamour shot of the lead start. Similarly, taste in movie genres has changed over time. When I found the source elements for this piece, I decided I wanted to make a movie poster for a "Woman's Film." A Woman's film is a defunct genre of female-centered movies from the Silent Era through the 1950s. Nowadays we'd call this genre a Chick Flick, a Rom-com, or just a Drama. Examples of the genre include Stella Dallas (1937), Now, Voyager (1942), Mildred Pierce (1945), or Imitation of Life (1959).
With the images selected, I decided to choose another faceless Mentioned Character of Rapture and invent a backstory for them. I decided upon Marianne Dellahunt, the unknown yet affluent resident of Mercury Suites. All we have on her is a single Loading Screen Quote worthy of Lady Smith and that's it. So why not make her star and throw in another couple of names as well this time in the form of a hit Rapture author and an acclaimed director?
As I mentioned above, because the powers that be strictly controlled the entertainment industry, it was very difficult for African Americans to gain entry, much less critical acclaim. In Hollywood especially, the few roles afforded to men and women of color were limited to stereotypical performances that the mainstream majority were comfortable seeing them in: servants, buffoons, or anything "non-threatening." That's not to say there were no films starring minority actors. Race films had existed since the dawn of Hollywood and Stormy Weather (1943) was and still is a landmark hit of the Classical Era. But the former were exclusively marketed to minority audiences and are mostly forgotten while the latter was an exception as it remained rare for a film with a Black cast to gain financial and critical acclaim.
The Black is Beautiful cultural movement wouldn't gain steam in America until the 1960s. I'd like to believe it would've happened a little sooner in Rapture. And with that, I created a poster for a movie serving as a vehicle for an acclaimed Black Rapturian actress. Though I'm extremely happy with how the image turned out and believe that it's graphically period appropriate, I was dismayed that the only image suitable (one that doesn't depict the Black figure using racist caricatures) depicts the subject as a singer. I don't want to disparage the profession, it's just that singing and dancing roles were another of the few roles in which people of color had any presence, and I was hoping to create something unexpected, unheard of. Part of this creative process are the limitations, both my technical ones and the limitations of the source images.
Additionally, this poster afforded me the chance to highlight another BioShock character. It's everyone's favorite drunkard, the best marathon runner of Poseidon Plaza: Hector Rodriguez. In the game, he's an art critic with a lowercase "c," but I can see him working as a respected professional Critic working for a major newspaper, perhaps the Rapture Standard.