Experimental Text for Screen

Experimental Text for Screen (Type IV ): Tony Brock
16-week semester, meetings twice a week for two hrs
Graduate with Sr. and Jr. by permission, Type I, II, III prerequisite for Jrs and Srs.
3 credit design elective

Course Summary and Goals

Type IV is an advanced typography course focusing on the range and role of time-based texts on screen. Screen-based typography is positioned as generally counter to the development of cinematic and televisual traditions in which both making and reading privilege image and spoken word. Students bridge narrative concepts of page and screen media by exploring distinctions between spatial text/image synthesis and time-based text/image mutability. The course makes distinction between the use of words that label, list, and credit—as is the case in the majority of motion design—with experiences of reading a paragraph or page, or engaging in spoken dialog.

Temporal contrasts—continuity, modulation, and duration—are presented as a set of necessary fundamental concepts that draw from histories of the performing arts, literature, and perceptions of time passing in daily life. This study of temporal contrast does not begin with nor presume motion. From this perspective, students better understand how to exploit the nuances of duration before compounding their explorations with motion.

Continuity and modulation are discussed as the building blocks of temporal structure and narrative presentation. Experiences of sound, motion, gesture, and the interplay of projected light on the viewer in cinema are discussed in contrast to a range of experiences in graphic design, architecture, dance, music, and theatre. Experimental practice is defined as generative, divergent, and challenging to established ways of reading, writing, and media use while relying on historical contexts, contemporary media studies, and collaborative speculation.

Week By Week description

Weeks 1-3
Discussion focuses on a formal gradient of time and space for use by designers in a range of media. This helps students digest the vast possibilities of choreographing image, text, and, sound in time and motion. Temporal contrasts are defined. Screenwriting methods are discussed and explored. Understanding Comics and The Language of New Media are reprised from prior courses in imaging and new media. Assignments one and two are develop simultaneously.

What is a ‘temporal sign’?
How do we define when a ‘temporal sign’ begins and ends?
What are the shortest and longest duration of a film?
What are the differences between simultaneous and sequenced presentation?
What are the expectations of a filmic experience? How has this changed over the last 100 years?
How have graphic design and film influenced each other?
How has cross-media influence challenged approaches to typography and typographic design?

Weeks 4-6
Experimental practice and modes of experimentation are defined while assignments one and two continue with additional iterations and approaches to process. Time and motion studies are translated into print—books, maps, posters—which are in-turn used as storyboards for additional movies. Moving between and synthesizing 2, 3, and 4-D media is encouraged. Pacing and larger temporal structures are discussed in terms of continuity and modulation. Graphic scores, musical notion, and sound are considered in detail.

What does it mean to experiment? How divergent is your design process?
How do representations and experiences of time correspond with those of space?
When do text and image become each other? How do we ‘read’ text and image differently in time?
How do text/image transitions alter experiences of reading and watching?
How does music imply temporal structure? How do sounds function like text or image?

Weeks 7-10
Students form working groups and begin assignment three. Projects one and two continue. Generating options collaboratively, improvisation, stage directing, acting, and capturing motion on video are the primary focus. Mise-en-scene is discussed and students further consider the conceptual differences between cinematic methods and practices with those of graphic design.

In contrast to animating with software in the box, what is it like to work on a physical set where motion, duration, and form can be manipulated ‘directly’?
How does collaboration influence your range of considerations and production?
What are the differences between painting with light in a dark space and inking a white page?
How do 3-D environmental variables affect a filmic experience?

Weeks 11 and 12:
Students shift from generating and capturing motion with a broad range of environmental subtleties in front of the camera to digitally animating individual black or white pixels. Planer symmetries— rotation, translation, reflection—combined with qualities of motion are reviewed in detail at pixel scale. Anthropomorphic, mechanical, and an array of symbolic movement and gestures are considered. Change/mutation of individual letterforms in one word focuses attention on both multiple meanings of the word and nuance in individual definitions.

How do patterns build, maintain, and alter temporal and spatial structures?
What are the differences between a cinemagraphic and graphic image?
What are the differences spatial text/image synthesis and time-based text/image mutability?
How can 2-D and 3-D space transition in and out of each other?

Week 13-16:
Assignments one through four are discussed as having primarily linear structures with prescribed durations in contrast to interactive texts with user-defined, user-designer-defined durations and primarily non-linear structures. Interactive, CSS-formatted typography, and online reading environments are explored. Students conclude work on assignments one through five and reflect on the semester.

What general audience expectations and thresholds exist for reading online?
What systems and conventions exist for reading online? How can they be exploited and/or subverted?
How do we begin to collapse approaches to and concepts of print and screen-based reading spaces?
What distinctions remain between media types and the experiences one has with them?

Class Projects

Assignment One: Alternates in a System
Students design a range of base-seven bitmap typefaces and alternates for characters in each face. They test screen readability while further exploring italic, bold, expanded, and condensed variations in a range of base pixel counts. This assignment reminds students of the micro level and has them revisit many of their fundamental studies including form/counterform. A graphic system is underscored as one with set rules that include alternates and gradients of change. This assignment is further developed in the fourth assignment as students animate a conjunction set in their bitmap typeface(s). This further expands the notion of a typeface to one that is mutable over time and establishes a dialog about spatial and temporal modularity and patterning.

Assignment Two: Constructing a Story
Students are given a dictionary page and a 3x5 index card with a window cut in it. The index card serves as a framing device and motion camera. Together the two pieces are used to sketch a range of stories and treatments. Several short films are designed with a focus on writing, syntax, reading speed, and the integration of sound. No additional texts or images are used as editing, cropping, degree of focus, and limited color controls are explored as ways of developing reading path and meaning. The integrity of the original dictionary page—its composition, intended use, ‘authority’, and form—is maintained as much as possible. Students assess each other’s work based on the original context of words on a dictionary page, the degree to which pixels have been modified, breadth of exploration/questioning, and the effect of the story and how it is told.

Assignment Three: Analog to Digital, Digital to Analog
Working in groups, students generate a broad range of motion and light studies working back and forth from analog to digital means. Still and motion text is projected into and onto an array of surfaces, textures, and environments. Three-dimensional letterforms are constructed out of a range of materials—ice, paper, soil, liquid—and/or suspended in liquid. Sets are built, multiple light sources projected, and several hours of experimentation are recorded. In-camera and digital editing take place and the results are projected, mixed, and re-recorded. This cycle continues as control and synthesis of digital and analog approaches are refined. Students present group and individual edits.

Assignment Four: Animating a Pixel
Using bitmap type designed in assignment one, students digitally animate a conjunction or correlative set of conjunctions. Several studies are designed in black and white with and without sound. Scale change, transitions between black and white grounds, and simulation of 3-d space via 2-d and 3-d means are considered. Extended durations are encouraged to better explore the range of temporal modularity and patterning.

Assignment Five: Interactive Page
Each student identifies a range of extended-length texts and considers their potential treatment online. One text is selected and presented on one or more web pages. Typographic variables including motion and interactive properties are defined in CSS. Students are required to work with browser conventions and ‘limitations’, and to exploit style sheets to the fullest. They are assessed on their ability to work efficiently and creatively within these systems.

Object of class projects
The assignments are meant to give students diverse, process-oriented entry points into the subject. Once students address the outlined processes and/or approaches, they are encouraged to combine and/or expand the scope of their projects. Many projects run concurrently so contrasts can be identified and hybrid approaches developed. Confidence working across a range of media is supported by healthy discussion and exploration of technological, conceptual, and contextual issues. As this is an experimental course, projects are both based on and assessed by the divergent range of results and questions they generate. To this end and to better optimize cross-media curriculum, each project integrates print design as both process visualization and possible final artifact.

Outcome or Conclusion
The course is designed to slow students down, have them reflect on their prior studies in motion and time, expand their range of typographic exploration, and project the future uses of text on screen.

Recommended Readings [viewing/listening]

Cerebus, Dave Sim and Gerhard, vol. 14-16, Aardvark-Vanaheim Inc., Windsor, Ontario, 2001-2004
Diamond Sea, Doug Aitken, Book Works, London, 2000
Dogville, Lars von Trier, Lions Gate, 2003
Type Design: Radical Innovations and Experimentation, Teal Triggs, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London, 2003
Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, Errol Morris, Sony Pictures, 1997
In the Blink of an Eye, Walter Murch, Silman-James Press, Los Angeles, 2001
The Language of New Media, Lev Manovich, The Mit Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2001
Mirrormask, Dave McKean, Sony Pictures, 2005
Moments in Time: On Narration and Slowness, Helmut Friedel, ed., Cantz Editions, Ostfildern, Germany, 2000
Motion Blur: Graphic Moving Imagemakers, DVD, Matt Hanson and Shane Walter, Laurence King, London, 2004
Narrative, Paul Cobley, Routledge, London, 2001
Sensemayá, Silvestre Revueltas, composer, 1937
They Called Her Styrene, Etc., Ed Ruscha, Phaidon Press Ltd, London, 2000
Understanding Animation, Paul Wells, Routledge, London, 1998
Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud, Kitchen Sink Press, 1993
The Visible Word, Johanna Drucker, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1994

posted by Tony Brock on January 4, 2007 | comments: 0 | post a comment