Project 2 — Making the Abstract Concrete

Lulin Shan
9 min readOct 15, 2020


CMU Communication Design Studio Documentation

Week 1– Session 1


The 2nd project in our Communication Design Studio is called Making the Abstract Concrete, which is an individual project. Everyone most likely has encountered information that was difficult to grasp, including things that quite large or small, things that quite fast or slow, things are invisible or difficult to see, or things involve many steps. The goal of this project is to aid understanding of objects that may be difficult to grasp through bringing forms(visual, sound, motion) to communicate the content. Each student in class was assigned a pre-defined topic randomly. The topic I was assigned to is hydroplaning.

(Image source:

After initial dive into my topic, I identified some important pieces of information as following:

  1. How to help audience connect with the information/make it resonate
  • You most likely experienced hydroplaning even if you didn’t lose complete control.
  • Most people will tend to panic when they feel their vehicle spinning.
  • The most dangerous time to drive is during the first 10 mins of a light rain.

2. What hydroplaning means and when it occurs

  • Hydroplaning refers to the skidding or sliding of a car’s tires across a wet surface.
  • It occurs when a tires encounters more water than the grooves can disperse.
  • When driving at high speeds over wet pavement, the water begins to push the front tires off the ground slightly, creating a thin film between the tire and the road.
(Image source:

3. Dangers caused by hydroplaning

  • Separation of the road and tire
  • Driver to lose control of the car and possibly end up in a crash
  • A deadly combination for the driver and surrounding motorists.

4. Tips for drivers to decrease the chances of hydroplaning

  • Dos’

-Keep tires properly inflated, rotated and replaced periodically, and have enough thread left.

-Slow down when roads are wet

-Drive in the tire tracks left by cars ahead of you.

-Stay off the painted road lines

  • Don’ts

-Using cruise control

-Sharp turns and hard stops.

-Drive through puddles and standing water

-Driving in outer lanes where water tends to accumulate

5. What to do if your car hydroplanes

  • Stay calm
  • Steer and brake gently until tires regain contact with the road

Week 1– Session 2


In today’s session, we reviewed Scott McCloud’s reading “The Vocabulary of Comics” (Understanding Comics, Ch. 2). McCloud defines as cartoon as “a form of amplification through simplification”, which means focusing on specific details to amplify meaning. He also stresses the difference between icons and symbols. Symbol is a subset of icon.

One takeaway from McCloud’s reading is that as we visualize things, we can place them in scales to understand how they function.

Initial thoughts about narrative sequences

After some initial research, I think it’s important to explain why hydroplane occurs, when it occurs, and how people can avoid it. Although skidding or sliding of a car’s tires across a wet surface can be as short as a split second, it can be a deadly combination for the driver and surrounding vehicles.

Hydroplaning can still occur no matter how careful a driver might be. The vehicle speed, tire tread depth, water depth and the road surface are all contributing factors of hydroplaning. It gets complicated to explain in which situation hydroplaning happens, because hydroplaning is the result of a combination of many factors.

I tried to sketch out the key frames of my story:

Storyboard of hydroplaning

Story first draft

Week 2– Session 1


Peer Review

In today’s session, we each did three rounds of peer reviews where we explained our topic and walked through the storyboards with a classmate, and had them repeat what they heard and what they saw.


  • Narration is clearly organized in 3 parts: contributing factors, do’s and don’ts, and how to recover. But in the second section, I covered a lot of information during a short period of time, some were formatted as ‘tips’ without further explanation. Especially when I talked about Don’ts, my classmates were wondering the reasons behind. “What happens if I do so?”
  • Another feedback is to add more data and clarification to my narration. For example, how much water is “too much” on the road for hydroplaning to happen, and the feeling of driver when experiencing hydroplaning is unclear. This feedback made me consider to provide more details on “how does it work”.
  • As a whole story, the second part felt a little bit separated with other two, in terms of narrative style and density of information. I should using examples or further explanation to emphasize contributing factors to hydroplaning.


According to the feedback, I created storyboard version 2. I tried to sketch out one continued story. In addition to visual boards, I noted information I plan to communicate through motion and sound effect. Hydroplaning is abstract because it is quite fast. When explaining that hydroplaning might cause the driver to lose complete control of steering and braking, the sound effects I would like to include are tire skid sound and car crash sound.

Week 2– Session 2



The visual style I am considering involves simple and clean illustrations and animations. It’s easily to encounter hydroplaning when driving in the rain, and I want to immerse my audience in a rainy day’s setting. For my color palette, I will use blue and mint as main colors with some orange or red as highlight colors.

Since I want to keep the style simple, when introducing the process when hydroplaning occurs, only showing car elements associated with that process makes the audience focus on fewer objects. For example, a sideview including tire, road surface and water, or a driver’s perspective highlighting the motion of raindrops and windshield wipers.

moodboard with reference images

Week 3– Session 1


I created the first storyboard before drafting the narrative, while in the second round, I revised the story narrative first, then using it as a reference to sketch out key frames in the video.

When doing the third round iteration of my storyboard, I kept asking myself several questions:

  • Is the transition between frames warranted? Is it smooth?
  • How much closure does the transition require?
  • How can I leverage visual and narrative to convey meaningful information?
  • Is the visual style consistent?

In today’s session, each student did three rounds of peer reviews where we walked through the revised storyboards.

Here are some feedback from my peers:

  • All of my peers got lost when I was talking about cruise control. I should add more visuals to smooth that transition.
  • Showing raindrops falling on the windshield is simply and effective. But the driver’s perspective

What did you learn from reviewing other’s work?

I learned how others use metaphors to make the abstract or complex part of story easier to understand. For topics involving a lot of technical terms, the audience easily get lost when first heard those terms. Visualizing terminology in an abstract form could help people follow the sequence of the narrative.

What did you learn from the review of your work?

I have some transitions between frames to work out. For some parts of my story(for example, cruise control), I need to add more visuals to make sure the transitions are warranted and smooth. Peers like the simply and clean visual styles I would like to follow. I want to spend more time figuring out sound affects I can leverage.

What are the next steps you plan to take? Why?-

  • Revise the script to be more concise, current one is a bit long.
  • Start working on illustration style and color palette for key frames.

Week 3– Session 2


Based on peer review feedback on my narrative, I made a third draft of my script.

In the third version, I kept the structure of three contributing factors to hydroplaning, but adjust the position of some examples, to make sure each piece be integrated well with the key point of each paragraph.

I started my script with the driving experience people might have, and ended my story with why the knowledge of recovering from hydroplaning important.

Moving forward, I will start visualizing key frames of video.

Week 4– Session 1


Today is in class work day. I started put together a slideshow with key frames to test out transitions. This method allowed me to spot where I need visual explanations to match the text, and where animations would help the audience catch the idea.

Week 4– Session 2


Here are some feedback I got from Stacie and TA Amrita:

1. Some information in my visuals could be conveyed through other channels of information such as aural. What people can learn from my narrative doesn’t have to pair with visuals.

2. Though consistency between frames are important, when interpreting ‘car loses control’ or ‘slow down the car’, using driver’s perspective instead of an outside view of car could better situate the audience in those situations.

3. Make sure the transition to a different perspective is warranted.

Week 5– Session 1


In today’s session, each student presented a draft video to the whole class and the visit reviewer professor Dan Boyarski.


  1. Including structure of car, instead of only showing the tire/steering wheel, would help the audience understand the context.
  2. Using a driver’s perspective will be more effectively to explain speed change, car losing control, raining conditions etc.

Week 6- Session 1


Today we did another round of peer reviews for the current video. The feedback I received are really helpful to inform my next steps:


  1. The concept is well communicated. Illustrations are straightforward and easy to understand. The steering wheel in the beginning could be highlighted more and lessen the brightness or contrast of the background with the trees, hills and road.
  2. The narrative is a little fast paced for people to process the information. Based on this feedback, I will stretch the whole narration to make the pacing comfortable.

Week 7 — Session 1


Final Video


What are your key takeaways from the second project?

The biggest takeaway from this project was to think about how to communicate information through different channels including visual, aural, motion etc. For the first round of my key frames, I tried to visualize the same information communicated in the narrative. I received valuable feedback from Stacie and Amrita that what the audience can see is not necessarily the same as what people can hear. Rethinking how much information is needed to convey the concept clearly helps me to focus on the most complex part of how does hydroplaning work.

Peer feedback is also important for the development of my video. Every time I presented my work in progress to instructor or fellow classmates for critique, I received invaluable feedback that allowed me to take my project to the next level.

My previous experience with Adobe After Effects was only related to importing and editing video clips. For this project, the video crafting process alternated with watching tutorials and practicing what I learned, and I really enjoyed the process of exploring and making.

If I had to do it again, I would start making animations earlier on in this project. I was struggled with changing point of views when creating storyboards, but when I began making motion graphics in After Effects, I realized there were simple ways to smooth the transition, for example, zoom in/zoom out and slide in/out.

How might you apply what you learned in the future?

For future projects, I will start visualizing the concepts early on in the project, which I believe will give me more time to receive feedback and refine my work. This project helps me become more comfortable in using After Effects to make animations in the future.

I will continue to consider using visual, aural, and temporal components to communicate information for future projects.