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Creating visuals for stories about programming language isn’t always straightforward. The artwork for the first few episodes of this season was inspired by origins and functions. But for Episode 6, Heroes in a Bash Shell, we decided to take a more abstract approach.
Shells, particularly the Bash shell, are widely used large-scale IT environments. Shell scripting allows us to automate repetitive tasks and do much more with standalone utilities. Our graphic designer, Karen Crowson, and animator, Drew Carrow, share how that reality, mixed in with some pun-related imagery, provided the frame for the Heroes in a Bash Shell artwork.
What elements are taken directly from the language?
Karen Crowson, Designer: We labeled the green boxes stacked around the bottom with the shebang. It’s used in a script to denote which interpreter should be used to run the script, in this case Bash. Those boxes have a fun story too—they refer to the source code being packed away in Bash designer Brian Fox’s trunk.
What’s the coolest/most surprising thing you learned about Bash?
Karen: After reading up on and learning about the programming languages for the past five episodes, it was a nice surprise to find out this one is a little different. Shell languages are a separate part of the tech world, and it’s great to see that side of it.
What was your biggest influence for this episode’s art?
Karen: The biggest influence was the story behind Bash and the scene it painted. After learning about Brian Fox, we had this feeling of this young kid who was brought on to take on this big task and recreate a language for everyone. We also had a great title for the episode: Heroes in a Bash Shell. Thank you Wayne Lee for the excellent suggestion. And that kept us talking about the Ninja Turtles. The picture of underground pipes just seemed to fit every time we dove deeper into Bash’s history. It’s great that we could make art that refers to the title and the functional representation of Bash.
Drew Carrow, Animator: Yeah, the Ninja Turtles kept coming up. With the name of the episode we tried to lean into that a bit. We’ve got the kind of sewer look, and the pizza box to really bring that feel forward.
How did you get from an abstract language to the images used for the episode?
Karen: Even though this language has a unique creation story, there weren't a lot of obvious visual references. A lot of it depended on metaphors, and tone. When we thought of a shell language, we thought of piping that takes a language or program from one end and executes it to work on the other. We thought of it as the workings under a city, much like steam pipes. Because the story and title made us think so much of the Ninja Turtles, we put this environment underground. Brian Fox also tells the story of how he had the reels of tape storing the language in his car as he drove up the California coast. We used that as an open door, as Bash was meant to be.
Drew: One way to get around interpreting an abstract language into a visual is to just show the actual physical things from the story—the tape reels, for example. So the first thing we see after going through the tunnel in the animation is two giant tape reels that help move us along to the main episode art.
What’s your favorite part of this episode’s art?
Karen: The piping was a lot of fun to create. I was able to play with shadow, light, and curves. Because this language’s artwork was based a lot on abstract concepts, it was fun to take a break from research for a minute and create this large piping that wove in and out from itself.
Drew: I love the tape reels, and the smoke/steam coming out of the pipes. The pizza box was a fun object to create and animate.
What was the most difficult part to draw?
Drew: The most difficult part to 3D model was the tape reel. It’s kind of complex, and the wavy tape presented a challenge. I love the way it turned out.
That’s all for our Heroes in a Bash Shell artwork. The artwork for is available for download on the episode page. We’ll finish our series with the next post on the visuals of Talking to Machines and The C Change.