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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

"The Art of Death": Designing an Evil Art Museum

If you're a reader of mine, you know I love to map things.  Not only does it help me plot out the action for a given story, it also helps provide some visual punch to what would otherwise be a boring wall of text.

Since ninety-five-plus percent of the story for The Art of Death takes place in a museum, I had to design it.  I just plain had to.

I'll go into the designs and the basic story behind them after the JUMP.





I based it off Richmond, Virginia's own VMFA.  It's a great museum with world-class exhibits and acclaim.  Thanks to their recent revitalization, I've been able to see huge exhibits focused on Picasso, Monet, Manet, Rodin, Faberge, Chihuly, and many more.

If I have a criticism of the museum, it's that the "flow" of it isn't as fluid as I'd like.  Meaning, if I want to transition from one time period to the next, the next one isn't necessarily right ahead.  Things are rather scattered about.  Largely, this is because the VMFA building has been renovated many times with additions upon additions.  Making it all flow would be very difficult.  With my museum, I wanted to make it work as a cohesive whole and let the history of art unfold as linearly as possible.

But my museum has to be more than just a good art museum.  It has to be evil.  To do this, I'd have to design it from the ground up, which means a departure from the reality of museum life in Richmond.

The first thing I did was come up with the basic shape of it:

It's a large circle with two arcs taken out of either side and with a circle in the middle.  This middle circle is a dome in the museum's huge atrium, and the focal point of a great deal of action.

To make it look evil, I wanted to give it "claws," sorta.  By fleshing it out in another dimension, I was able to do that:
Seeing it from the side helps a bit, but you can't really grasp it's shape.  (Which is why I went the 3D route, but I'll get into that later.)

Dipping back toward the VMFA for a moment, I was greatly inspired by their pamphlet, which provides a great deal of information about the museum and their permanent exhibits:


That's just a sample.

So, when I decided to make my maps, I decided to go ahead and make my own museum pamphlet for the readers' consumption, too.  (These are large pics, so click to embiggen.)

The cover.  No real surprises there.  You do get a hint that the book is set in January 2019, though.


The lower level where the "traveling exhibitions" appear.  Hmmmm.  One of those may be directly involved with the plot of the book.  (And has had me second guessing the title I've chosen for a while now.)


The ground floor.  We see how huge the atrium is, the large ballroom, etc.  We also see a lot of corporate sponsorships.  There's a reason for that, story-wise.


Second floor.  The ancient world sections of the VMFA are among my favorite, so I expanded them here in my RMFA.


Third floor.


Fourth floor.  Not much here, except the fancy restaurant and the main offices of the RMFA.  Also, note the dome and the solar energy project.  Both come into play in the story.

An information page.  The stuff in the green box is just basic museum info, but everything down below ... that stuff about Dr. Mason Karlow?  That's important.


Another information page.  Lending some verisimilitude to the whole thing.


Now, I finished all of that a few weeks ago and I was pleased with it.  But ... something was missing.  I couldn't quite see the museum on screen the same way it was in my head.  That's when I found the free 3D design program SketchUp.


That's what was in my head.  A huge, polished limestone structure with glass facing the river where the Marble Ballroom and the fancy restaurant sit, and then the large atrium ... nothing but glass with a huge dome on top of it all.  And it sits in the bottom of a large bowl with rounded claws slicing toward the heavens.

Oh, hey.  I even made a video so you can see the RMFA from multiple angles:


It's not nearly as detailed as I could make it, but it has the basics.  Certainly enough for people to have an image in their heads and marry it with the maps I've already provided.

(If I kept pushing and pushing this model ahead to make it as detailed as possible, I don't know if I'd ever get around to actually writing the book.  I can be rather single minded at times.)

And that's how you build a (fake) museum.


So, why that basic shape?  That's the shape of the ancient Babylonian artifact that the lead character found:




Read the book for more!

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