Halloween: Our Most Visual Holiday

For those of you reading this in the future, today is Halloween. If Halloween does not exist in your time, I can tell you that it was an ancient custom filled with magic, during which kids dressed like monsters, men dressed like women, and women dressed like they were in Las Vegas. Everyone got candy, except for the kids who went to that one house where they gave out apples and toothbrushes.

If you are a time-traveling visitor from the past, here are some interesting facts about today’s Halloween: We don’t carve jack-o-lanterns out of turnips anymore! Now we use pumpkins. (Did you know that pumpkins are actually a fruit, not a vegetable? It’s a crazy world we live in.) And jack-o-lanterns, instead of welcoming the souls of deceased loved ones the way they used to, now welcome ungrateful, entitled children in plastic masks from Wal Mart.

Halloween is one of the most striking holidays from a visual perspective. It has a distinctive color palette: ominous, somber black, and the official color of prop comedian Carrot Top, orange. Centuries ago, Halloween was associated with orange and black because of the season of the holiday (fall) and the time of day that the holiday was observed (night).

These days, the visual vernacular of Halloween is spooky and ghoulish—ghosts, demons, witches, and all sorts of gruesome stuff:

Halloween has lost most of its original reason for being as a religious holiday, and it’s now perpetuated almost entirely through a commonly accepted visual aesthetic (also through the promise of candy). Ultimately, when the trick-or-treaters come by our houses tonight, we’ll all be aware that we’re witnessing a really well-branded product, with a well-defined color palette and visual voice.

That said, I hope you’ll share photos of your costumes with us either here on the blog or on our Facebook page. Happy Halloween!

Dynamic Typography: As Seen on TV!

So there I was, sitting on my sofa, watching football and drinking beer (or maybe I was watching Golden Girls and drinking apple juice, I can’t really remember). I recall thinking, “I wish the freaking Eagles could score just once!” (or possibly, “Oh, Rose, you’ll never learn!”) and this commercial came on:

It stopped me in my tracks. I was shocked, not by the truck, but to see type used so interestingly in a purely commercial venture. I’m not a truck commercial sort of guy, but I always watch this one, purely for its visual aesthetic.

Moving type is not new, dating back as far as cinema itself, but a specific vernacular of moving type, commonly called dynamic typography, has sprung up in the last four or five years. It usually involves slab-serif or sans serif all-caps type appearing in exact synchronicity with spoken words. The words on screen fit together like puzzle pieces, with quick pans, rotations, and zooms. Frequently, words on screen will reflect their meaning through movement (e.g., if the word is “fall,” the word will actually fall off the screen).

Picture-7I think that the music video below, “Ya no sé qué hacer conmigo,” which my wife tells me translates to “Would you please shut off your stupid computer and come help with the dishes,” is a visual masterpiece. It was made in 2007, when this particular brand of dynamic typography was relatively new.

A quick search of dynamic typography on YouTube will turn up countless student projects that set type to music or movie quotes in this style. Here’s an example from student Linzi Bergmann, set to audio from the movie Zoolander:

While I really enjoy this style visually, the interesting thing about this type of moving typography is that it directly violates one of the tenets of good visual communication. Any presentation expert will tell you not to read the words on screen, that it’s redundant to visually represent words that exactly replicate what is being spoken. I look forward to the growth of this movement, when these beautiful and intricate typographic treatments are more than just visual reinforcements, but rather add their own element to messages.

My Affair with Movie Title Sequences

In about a decade, I plan to have a midlife crisis, during which I will undergo a bunch of plastic surgery, quit my job, and move to Los Angeles to work as a movie title sequence designer. Also, I will live in a refrigerator box because LA is expensive and I’ll have spent all of my money on a red sports car.

My first love in graphic design is print design—the interaction of type and image on a tangible surface. But if, during my midlife crisis, I were to dump print design for something younger and sexier, movie title sequences would be a great rebound. Title sequences take type and image, then add the elements of time, motion, and audio. So many elements have to work perfectly together to succeed, and when they do, they are truly memorable. I’ve posted a few noteworthy examples below.

Frequently, title sequences are designed by firms that specialize in the medium and that are completely removed from the production of the film. Sometimes this results in a marked difference in quality between the titles and the rest of the film. The Island of Dr. Moreau is a famously terrible movie, but it’s well-known in design circles for its excellent title sequence created by Kyle Cooper of the firm Imaginary Forces.

The title sequence in the movie Catch Me if You Can created by the firm Kuntzel + Deygas tells a story in a visual voice completely different from the rest of the movie, but it works because not only is it visually interesting, it evokes the era in which the film is set and sets the appropriate pace for the rest of the movie.

You can tell that the designers at Shadowplay Studios who created the titles for Thank You for Smoking had fun with the project. The sequence doesn’t attempt to tell a narrative story (as with Catch Me if You Can), but rather uses the unique visual vernacular of cigarette boxes to set an appropriate tone.

One of the most famous title sequence designers was Saul Bass, a graphic designer and film maker who died in 1996. His work influenced (and continues to influence) a generation of designers (you’ll certainly see his influence in the Catch Me if You Can title sequence). Friend of IBD Brian Trosko turned us on to the above video, “Star Wars Versus Saul Bass,” which is the result of a school project in which student Brian Hilmers sets the titles of Star Wars in the Saul Bass’s unique visual voice. (For real Star Wars nerds, it’s essential to watch this video reply, which adapts this spoof to the remastered Star Wars.)

For those of you who are really into this sort of thing, check out the site Art of the Title. There’s enough there to keep you busy for countless hours that might otherwise be spent on work or family.