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Narration and style of written typography and text in animation

Chapter 1: Introduction

Since the development of the printing press, typography has changed, expanding into a new world of visual creativity. The crucial moment in printing was when type left the world of Letraset and entered the world of computer technology. Since then, words were no longer static and the various methods, the freedom and the fluidity with which type could be animated have been widely explored. Animation artists, with the help of digital technology, can use their imagination to tell stories in ways that have never been attempted before. The aesthetic experience can be transformed. The atmosphere, the meaning, can be brought alive to those interacting with the artwork, in just one line, one phrase, or one word. Although the message can still be conveyed through type without animation, animation can instill emotion. Company brands and logos rely on instantly recognizable typefaces.

Symbols that evoke experiences for the viewer: scents, smells, and even more complex feelings such as nostalgia, sadness, angst, hope, anger, fear, happiness, or curiosity. Animators benefit greatly from this unique ability to express their vision to the audience by making them part of an emotional journey. In animation, animated text and type are not normally the main protagonists. They help to support the film and its narrative. Their visibility is limited, maybe only to a few moments. However, is there something to be gained when the text and type are placed as the main focus of the film? Can their graphic and aesthetic function be indeed the main attraction of the visual design?

This dissertation will explore three animated films that feature text and typography. Specifically considering:

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  • the use of words as text in animation, the element of written typography, and how animation artists have exploited the various ways in which narrative can be conveyed through the visual medium, for example, by manipulating the style and presentation of written words with different types and text.
  • the type as an aesthetic element used creatively to help convey the story.

Background

In the centuries, since the development of the printing press, typography has changed and expanded a new way of creativity with type since the crucial moment when fonts left the world of Letraset and were downloaded onto computer and type started to be animated. For this dissertation, I am interested in animated typography: artists can make unexpected things and give the narrative a different meaning and atmosphere, all can be alive in one line, in one phrase or in one name. Letters and text can be full of symbols. Brands are made of types. Everywhere we look we see symbols. Type front words can evoke scents; smells and they can make one feel sensations, spark curiosity and take us on an emotional journey while connecting and engaging with what the animator wants to express.

I was also inspired by an exhibition of BA graphic design students in the Grove Atrium about the text; they used different materials to create letters and types, bent the materials and burned them making them malleable on their hands and adapted to their thinking. They then gave them a more personal character, cut them and gave them unusual looks. What followed was the reinvention of the language and we could see it like sculptures individually and collectively. The students played with different materials: metal, plastic, vinyl, glass, ceramic, fiberglass and modeled and bent the letters. They looked like sculptures and then were showed on all sides and showed different angles and were done like stop motion on the screen. I was completely amazed at their malleability and ability to transform and morph and building letters out of objects can create imaginative connections or making an alphabet or unusual materials.

Research question

My main research focus will be (1) how text and typography in animated films can be a tool of expression (2) how they can be the central part of the film and (3) how it can enhance the narrative and storytelling of an animated film. Additionally, I will explore how an animator could design immersive experiences to the viewer with typography and text.

Chapter descriptions

To link this dissertation to existing theory and put various issues to perspective, chapter 2 will review the relevant literature, mainly books. This will also help in the introduction of the key concepts of this paper (text, type, and typography). The books that will be useful in this work include Playing with Words: Typography and Text by Buchan (2006), Type in Motion by Hillner (2005), Film Art by Borwell (2013). Chapters 3 will then provide the methodological foundation that is necessary for this dissertation. In chapters 4, 5 and 6, three case studies will be analysed using the information that will be gained from the literature review. Further, chapter 7 will provide a relation to own film while focusing on how the dissertation research has affected my creative practice.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

First I am working with Buchan, Suzanne`s Playing with Words: Typography and Text (2006), then I will work with the following books: Type in motion: innovations in digital graphics (1959), Type Object and Transforming Type by Barbara Brownie (2005), Film Art by David Borwell (2013). Finally, I will move into Design as Art (1966) by Bruno Munari. In Playing with Words: Typography and Text, Buchan, the author, has a specific interest in the aesthetic qualities of words as images, the interplay of words and text, what happens when words move and the stylistic qualities of typography. She was writing with the 1970 context but it is useful to me now because it addresses and puts various issues related to text and typography to perspective. For instance, according to Buchan (2006), other than conveying meaning as a collection of signs, typography is also an image with an aesthetic and pointedly graphic function. This demonstrates the value of the book which also connects with the idea of text and typography as expression tools and forming the central part of a film due to their aesthetic nature.

Mathias Hillner`s Type in Motion (1959) is valuable to my subject matter especially in the first chapter where he writes about how the art form of typography has no limits and how it is possible to paint with letters. He states that Norman Mc Laren made the title and credit sequences for the Wonderful World of Jack Paar (Hillner, 2005). The characters proceed to play, dance, race, and fight with each other in efforts to perform their tasks of spelling the names and words. Mac Laren’s visual sensibilities and light-hearted approach to typography and animated letterforms offer a refreshing glimpse into the pre-digital past. Chapter 4 of the book considers choreographic, musical, operatic, painterly, sculptural, architectural, plastic (metamorphic and mutational), liquid and intelligent role that letterforms may assume in time-based three-dimensional situations (Hillner, 2005)

Barbara Brownie`s Type Object and Transforming Type is relevant to my theme as Brownie (Brownie, 2014. pg., 223) suggests that three-dimensional typographical objects and spaces (real or virtual) force a radical reassessment of typographical conventions. The relationship between letterforms and writing space must be reevaluated, as letters are now fully integrated into space. Text may be read, and it may also be navigated around, stroked, fondled or put to use for alternative practical functions. It can be architectural, tactile, and even collapsible. And she also affirms, when we create objects, we manipulate the world around us. Objects occupy space and in doing so actively change our environment. The book that I found more useful thought was his other book, Transforming Type, New Directions of Kinetic Typography as she explores how letters move and transform into other forms.

Bordwell and Thompson`s Film Art (1997) is also useful for my topic because in chapter 2, they discuss about the “significance of film form” especially when the two investigate the themes of form as patterns, form versus content, conventions and experience, form and feeling and also form and meaning in filmmaking. From the perspective of these two authors, form refers to the total system that a viewer attributes to the film and every component serves as an integral part of the overall pattern that engages the viewer (Bordwell & Thompson, 1997, pg. 54). Thus, from this point of view, both subject matter and abstract ideas enter into the artwork`s total system. The viewer relates these elements to one another dynamically and thus film form plays a key role in guiding the activity of the audience (Bordwell & Thompson, 1997). Therefore, like any other artwork, a film has form.

As argued by Bordwell and Thompson (Bordwell & Thompson, 1997), given that artworks are creations of human, and that artists live in history and the society, they cannot keep from relating their work to other works and aspects of the world in some way. Therefore, different artworks will be found to have a popular form, tradition or a dominant style. These common features are normally referred to as conventions (Bordwell & Thompson, 1997). To put the vital role played by emotion across, the authors explain the difference that exists between emotions represented in the artwork and the emotional response that is felt by a spectator. This has an implication that emotions represented within a film relate as important parts of the film`s total system.

Further, Design as Art by Munari (1966) is also important to me as he affirms that visual language changes according to the needs of the day. The author says “not only does each letter of a word have a shape of its own but all its letters taken together, give shape to the world” (Munari, 1966, pg. 56). Animated typography is one of the ways that can alter the way we perceive things. One of the ways in which our experience is affected by form is the creation of the sense that everything is in place. To put this into perspective, Munari uses the example of a case where an individual is satisfied when a character glimpsed earlier in a film resurfaces sometime later or when a given shape in the frame is balanced by another shape. The reason given for this is because such relations that exist among parts imply that there are organising laws and rules that exist in relation to the film (Munari, 1966).

These books were important because they sharpened my research focus by placing the relevance of my research in a larger context of what other researchers have previously done in the same area. By reviewing the works of others, I was able to gain insight into various aspects of text and typography something that was crucial in the analysis of the case studies. Through the books, I was able to identify the relationship between various concepts such as themes, written letters, phrases, words and the narrative of the film. Additionally, the books functioned as a fundamental basis upon which comparison of my work and that of others is possible.

Chapter 3: Methodology

The methods applied in analysing and evaluating the case studies are to compare, contrast and illustrate. Finally, I will summarise the key points of my research. The films that I will describe are Secondary Currents, Herzog and the Monsters as well as The Child. These films present a different way of using typography, text, and words as moving image, as a source of storytelling and as the central part of the film. In the analysis, the following themes will be highlighted: the relationship between written letters, words, phrases as well as how they develop in both the setting and the narrative of the film. I will also consider how typography has been employed in narrative films. Not only is it a form of communication to convey meaning but is also an image and abstract symbol, which we have learnt to communicate in and use in every day of our lives. It is also designed with a pointedly aesthetic and graphic function in mind, rather than an individual’s handwriting – this gives us ‘typography’. The audience is familiar with reading type as in the title sequences of some films. As such, the animator can choose to express their personality and style and as Suzanne Buchan explains in Playing with Words: Typography and Text (2006), “Animated type and text can be central to a film's design or even a narrative feature. By making typography and text move, letters and words can be endowed with new levels of meanings beyond semantics” (Buchan, 2006, unpaginated). This suggests the ‘alphabetic letters’ can be freed from concerning themselves with only matters such as meaning – making sense and as a reference, or words having relations between them.

Chapter 4: Case study 1: secondary currents

Secondary Currents (1982) a film made by an American artist and filmmaker Peter Rose, who also works in video and installation. This film explores text as image in animation, spoken narration, and an enigmatic writing style imitation as an expression of language. At the beginning, we see the words in the centre, a very minimalist background. We don’t have so much colour to distract us, only black and white so we look at the form. We cannot see this person, only the words he is muttering. This person is talking random words and we can only see the text as images as the main visual design and the main point of focus; it is talking about his thoughts, like an invented language. At first impression, one tries to recognize if there is any language that is familiar. The rhythm is irregular as feels as he is struggling as the film develops.

The only images are the words that he speaks on a black background. At the end, there are no words only letters and symbolic forms to depict an alien-like language and the sound that he makes with his voice and his surroundings. It looks like it is the beginning of chaos finishing with incoherent words. Language doesn’t make sense. He plays with the idea that a language, the mind, thought processes and workings of the mind, which is something that does not need to be understood. This film shines a light on the complex relationship existing between spoken and written language and as well as the representation of sound. The sound that we hear in the film perhaps can help us to decipher the mental process of the person talking. After all, we all make sounds when we make art so we can show the sound and sound is part of the work. Sounds can help us to create interpretations as it can suggest a particular idea. Sound, speech and writing can be connected as we use many forms of writing to represent speech.

The film seems to dilute the content of the words little by little and is reduced to a nonsense series as the letters shift into like unidentifiable characters, and strangely made up symbols. These make the spectator feel disorientated as the language becomes unfamiliar and unclear. As Buchan (2006) suggests, this is similar to a Babel-like gibberish, where even numerical formulae replace letters. The type, text, and content are being transformed into something unrecognizable and beyond comprehension, and as a result, it has an extremely ephemeral nature as the voice becomes inaudible, erratic and starts to falter.

In this film, the filmmaker removes the meaning. It’s about the experience of viewing communication without the art of understanding the potential behind it. It’s like an exploration of written words, verbal communication, and written language.

The letters of this film possess similar qualities of asemism although is not asemic writing in itself but has similar qualities because is a language and writing that has no meaning. On the other hand, Brownie (2005) suggests that the challenging morphing signs that we encounter in asemic writing, prepare the viewer to seek out language and search for meaning. This perhaps makes the viewer recall as they try to connect with what is seen; they try to connect what is seen on the screen with what is heard and struggle in vain to identify the familiar. The viewer starts to feel disorientated and question what has just been seen if there is a language that is known as it seems to be a foreign language or try to look for meaning. One starts to question themselves, as they want to have an understanding.

Buchan (2006) affirms that the spectator cannot decipher meaning and that the experience is almost akin to the experience of illiteracy. This gives the audience a sense of being uninformed and unsettled. The filmmaker adds another layer of confusion and appears to subvert the normal purpose of subtitles and sentences, which in turn seem numerical and continue to confuse the viewer. He made certain aesthetics choices to render this into an unusual and interesting film. In this case, he wants the audience to not to feel that it is necessary to understand but rather to engage and question what is going on.

As Borwell (2013) suggests “the filmmaker may choose to disturb our expectations. We often associate art with pleasure, but many artworks offer us conflict, tension, and shock. Yet when they do so, filmmakers still arouse our expectations and if we can adjust our expectations to a disorienting work, me may find it satisfying in a new way” As a viewer, one feels this tension because art is often associated with pleasure, beauty, harmony, and although arguably in a more passive form. When art produces conflict, tension and the unfamiliar the spectator is forced to question their expectations, which are subverted and then examine them in a more active and engaging experience for the audience. After all, animation artists can give the meaning to anything, can make an interesting shift, play with the conventions, create something unexpected, effective that commands methods and techniques that are not available to the live-action filmmaker.

Chapter 5: Case Study 2: Herzog and the Monsters

The second film Herzog and the Monsters starts with the words of the title animated, the whole animation consists of storytelling made up of words and images. The words come up from unexpected places and the fonts are classic. Sometimes they are jumbled up and sometimes they start to gyrate. After they appear with the music and follow a rhythm and harmony. Barnes used also cut outs and the animation is done in black and white. It is very visual and graphic. She uses many symbols with her characters which makes it very entertaining to the viewer. The end is very effective while before the end, some silence is maintained. The letters move in and become a penguin in colour. What all this world moves ‘in a house full of books” (Felici, 2011, pg. 77) is a linear narrative that is told by word and all that we see in the film is made up of words. By narrating over time, the scene is developing a theme.

Chapter 6: Case Study 3: The Child

In this film directed by Antoine Bardou-Jacquet (1999), every person is represented as a word. They move like the objects they are representing. The words and patterns are a character. The narrative is in relationship to the people that is being depicted.

The frame uses the conventions of theatre. The theatre of the world in front of you made up with text and words. It plays with objects and editing. The music helps to set the atmosphere. As Bordwell (2010) suggests, onscreen typography has developed to become expressive, helping to establish the tone of associated content or express a set of brand values and evoke a certain mood. The animation artist presents the woman with the words in magenta that says pregnant, red dress and sneaker per example. In this film, everything is a buildup of words. The Cadillac car is made up of long words that say the name of the brand because is long. The anxious woman, the cars, the bridge, the forms are what the word is.

When the woman says the baby is coming and the husband says let us go. They take us into the journey. As Bordell (2010) suggest, the dynamic aspect of form also engages our feelings (pg.56). An expectation, for instance, spurs emotion. To wonder what will happen next is to invest some emotion into the situation. He also affirms that like emotion, meaning is important to our experience of artworks. As viewers, we are constantly testing the work for larger significance, for what it says or suggests. Because of this, it can have different interpretations to different people.

How they develop are the actual source of narrative. In this film, the letters take the form of the objects and people represented, play with the type and repetition. You can associate words with feelings and vivid memories

Borwell (2010) suggest that we make sense of narrative by identifying its events and linking them to cause and effect, time and space (pg. 740). We also look for parallels that can shed light on the ongoing action. Child character and figures are the shapes of form that the letters and words are made of, for example, the pregnant woman it’s represented with the type, the colour and also the voice. With it, we can find a surreal way of describing or portraying something and show it in the most inventive way. Words can have secrets code too. Having the types and text as a form an animator can restrict itself and will have no other choice but to be creative and driven to create a character on their own. There should also be formal relations in the film, perspective, and scale.

The difference in Lesley Barnes with her film Herzog and the Monsters is that she uses words linear narrative when words come then an object appears. Words tell a story and prepare us for what is going to come next. In the film, words prepare the viewer for what is going to be shown. The Dynamic narrative comes from a book linear narrative. Borwell (2010) suggests that typography drives a scene or event. For instance, as noted earlier, child character and figures are the shapes of form that the letters and words are made of. In this film, the letters take the form of the objects and people represented, play with the type and repetition can associate words with feelings and vivid memories.

Discussion

The aim of this dissertation was aimed at exploring the use of words as text in animation, the element of written typography and how animation artists have explored the various ways in which narrative can be conveyed through a visual medium. Besides, the type as an aesthetic element used creatively to help in conveying the story was explored. This was achieved by

looking at three films that feature text and typography. There were efforts to related the case study analysis to the existing literature such as Film Art by Bordwell and Thompson (1997). throughout the research, the concept of text and typography was used to analyse the case studies and depict the concept as a fundamental part of a film. The use of various works of others in relation to text, type and typography proved to be of much significance due to the powerful perspectives on the subjects. Typography can be used in many film genres from action, adventure, comedy, drama, crime and gangster films to epics, horror, musical, science, and war films. As stated by Buchan (2006), original designs form the basis for typography and ones it is converted into typesetting or computer fonts, it can readily be used. However, the design part of typography is done by the artist in sketches and drafts.

Felici (2011) emphasises the vital role played by typography in the feature presentations that they introduce. The author further states that typography sets the mood that facilitates a smooth entrance of the audience in the world created by the film. This is in agreement with what has been put across by the case studies analysis.

Chapter 7: Relation to own film

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This research has helped me decide not to use typography and text in my graduation film because I felt that I needed more time to be clear about what my work is and find a way forward. To achieve this, I can communicate to others. I have made some experimentation and some preliminary test shots but I wanted to release myself from the need and pressure to produce, slow down and stop making the film to distance from the initial ideas and investigate more and look at things from a different angle and perspective to explore the possibilities. Thus, this paper helps me to build a strong foundation for that. This research has affected my creative practice by providing me with the necessary knowledge regarding text, type, and typography. As such, I am better positioned now to decide on the best time to apply text and typography based on my understanding of the matter. I have decided instead to use typography and text in this time to express another idea that draws from real life experiences. The research in typography has influenced me in a number of ways. On chapter 3 Secondary currents, I found out about the relationship that exists between language and mind. Also, based on chapter 4 of this paper, my knowledge about typography has been extended after gaining some insight into the approach of Lesley Barnes to her film typography and linear narrative. Moreover, on chapter 5, the findings about emotion and typography in the film The Child have enhanced my knowledge and understanding of typography. Though I am not using typography in the current film, all the research is going to help me greatly as I make the crucial decisions. The studies of conventions and experience, form feeling and meaning from Bordwell are going to be an integral part of my upcoming film and my future creative practice. The studies have also shifted and pushed the boundaries of ideas of what I was thinking before I made this dissertation.

Conclusion

As depicted in this paper, there is strong evidence that text and typography in animated films can successfully be used as a tool of expression while there are various ways in which they can be the central part of the film. Further, through the analysis of the case studies, it has been demonstrated how an animator could design immersive experiences to the viewer with typography and text. Animators can find with text and typography a way to communicate, experience and move people with the storytelling, narrative or the visual images. Through animating text and typography, one can say something about the moment they are living and something important about the world in a powerful manner hence drawing the audience in. Further, animator artists and filmmakers have the potential to address design as art through a multidisciplinary approach. They can express ideas in several languages and mediums that can work in the commercial and experimental areas and influence the sensory experience of the viewer. To achieve the aims of this dissertation, three research questions were formulated to guide the research.

First, I asked if text and typography in animated films can be a tool of expression. Therefore, I dynamically analysed three films to gain insight into how the filmmakers have used text and typography to express different scenarios while evoking experiences for the viewer. By looking at the film Secondary Currents by Peter Rose, it can be seen that at the beginning, only text is seen as the primary visual design and the main point of focus. The text is used to express the thoughts of an individual who is muttering but cannot be seen. Furthermore, at the end of the film, there are no words but only text that depicts an alien like language. The text signifies the beginning of chaos concluding with incoherent words. A similar case applies to the second film in the paper, Herzog and the Monsters, whereby text has been incorporated as an integral part of the narrating process. In the third film, The Child (1999), text and typography have also been used as a key expression tool. The text has been used to represent each individual and words move in the same way as the objects they are representing. This is in line with Bordwell`s (2010) suggestion that typography has developed to become expressive thus helping to express various values and evoke certain moods. Additionally, in The Child, letters forming the text are in the form of the people and objects represented hence can be closely associated with the expression of vivid memories and feelings.

Second, I asked how text and typography can be the central part of the film. Hereby, I analysed the three case studies in relation to text and typography being a focal part of the film. In the Secondary Currents, text has been used as the main visual design to represent a man who is talking randomly. Similarly, in the Herzog and the Monsters, text makes up the bulk of the film with letters moving to tell the story. The text appears to go with the music hence following a particular rhythm. A similar case can be viewed in The Child whereby text represents everything from objects to people thus being the main part of the film. Third, I asked how kinetic typography can express and communicate specific emotions through text on a film. Overall analysis of the three films helped shed some light on this question. As explained in the book Transforming Type, New Directions of Kinetic Typography by Barbara Brownie (2005), kinetic typography involves the movement of letters and transforming into other forms. This aspect is well depicted in the three films. In the Secondary Currents, letters are seen shifting into unidentifiable characters forming strange symbols. Also, in Herzog and the Monsters, letters move in and become a penguin in colour. Similarly, in The Child, letters move repetitively and take the form of people and objects.

Bibliography

Hillner, M., 2005. Text in (e) motion. visual communication, 4(2), pp.165-171.

Buchan, S., 2006. Playing with words: typography and text. 5th Norwich Animation Festival. Pugh, Adam. 60-63 Cook, D.A., 2016. A history of narrative film. WW Norton & Company.

Bellantoni, J. and Woolman, M., 2013. Type in motion: innovations in digital graphics.

Rizzoli International Publications.

Malik, S., Aitken, J. and Waalen, J.K., 2009. Communicating emotion with animated text.

Visual Communication, 8(4), pp.469-479.

Bordwell, D., and Thompson, K., 1997. Film art: An introduction (Vol. 7). New York:

McGraw-Hill.

Munari, B., 1966. Design as art (Vol. 83). Penguin UK.

Brownie, B., 2005. Transforming Type: New Directions in Kinetic Typography. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Felici, J., 2011. The complete manual of typography: a guide to setting perfect type. Adobe

Press.

Bodine, K. and Pignol, M., 2003, April. Kinetic typography-based instant messaging. In CHI'03 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 914-915).

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