Continuing with my ongoing education in design, I focused recently on typography and layout. And I went through two Lynda.com courses to do it.
Those courses are called Learning to Set Display Type and Learning Graphic Design: Set Perfect Text. They are both taught by John McWade.
The classes John McWade teaches are exceptional because he is such an excellent instructor and quite good at explaining the concepts he is trying to get across. I recommend both of the classes I mentioned above, as well as other classes in the Lynda library by this instructor. Here are previews of these two courses.
Neither of these classes include exercise files. But after watching both of these courses I was inspired and motivated to try my own type projects, to put his advice into use.
Type Rules I Learned
It sounds basic, but I wasn’t aware that some fonts have additional glyphs that can be used instead of the regular font. Bookmania is an example of a font with tons of extra options for letters.
I also learned about justifying text, using hyphenation and spacing to help words fit. I also learned about using hair-spaces and thin-spaces, and using drop-caps.
Actually, the class doesn’t go into how exactly one would create a dropcap. So, I turned to YouTube – or as I like to call it, the second internet – to find another tutorial.
And I found one. This one is actually by another Lynda instructor, Anne-Marie Concepcion. She makes it look so easy.
As soon as I learned how to do this, I wanted to try it right away. Voila!
Type Stuff I Made
Now we’re getting to the fun part. First is the dropcap I made after watching the YouTube video.
In this one, I was able to move the text corners so that the text flowed around the dropcap R. Looks cool.
Projects with Images
I like to collect stock photos – I know, it’s a bad habit – because I think that someday I’ll use one for a project. So, I end up with many stock photos that I don’t use. (Sometimes I use them here on my blog.) Well, I was finally able to put a few to good use.
All Dressed Up
The first is this nice “Man in a suit putting on a tie”. I wasn’t sure what I was going for. Maybe a book cover or magazine spread. But, I think what I have is some sort of flyer concept.
This image uses Bickham Script Pro, which has tons of fancy glyphs, and Didot. Didot has a certain fashionable sense to it, and I think it works. I wanted this to have a bespoke aura about it, yet still masculine. The italicized Dido, and the extra swirls from Bickham Script Pro help to get that across.
New rules of computer technology
In this case I wanted to use justified type, as John McWade had shown in his course. I stuck with Minion Pro, because it was easier to work with. And I added in a few random elements – a few numbers, some quotes, some pronouns – just to incorporate some of the lessons from the course. One thing I wasn’t able to replicate was keeping the subsequent letters from the word in the dropcap closer than the other words on lines 2 and 3. InDesign just wasn’t cooperating for me.
But I did enjoy this project. BarryW90-Black and Thin are highly stylized, very technical-looking fonts. I was inspired to find a new stock photo for them. Something computer-oriented.
In my next post, I’ll talk about a few more projects in InDesign, and another type/logo(!) project I made for a fake company I invented called Apex Travel.
I was very interested in learning more about the artist after seeing that he uses a combination of video installations, animation, and live action. As seen in clips in the article, he’s also not afraid to explore the difficult history of his country. As MoMA puts it, “Dealing with subjects as sobering as apartheid, colonialism, and totalitarianism, his work is often imbued with dreamy, lyrical undertones or comedic bits of self-deprecation that render his powerful messages both alluring and ambivalent.”
This can be seen in the following video, which is embedded in the text of the article. It’s like a New Orleans marching band, set in a lyrically dystopian world.
When I looked up more about the artist, I was surprised to find that he was not ethnically African, because as the video shows he is using black subjects in the artwork. In my experience, it’s not that common to find an artist using the experience of another ethnicity in their artwork, although it does occur in decorative arts, photography, and performing arts.
I suppose performing artists do this because music, dance, and theater are somewhat universally accessible for all people. Photography is a little different, in that the photographer has to take a documentarian or voyeuristic point of view, as opposed to being part of the art. Wikipedia explains that Kentridge is Jewish, with attorney parents that fought against apartheid. Perhaps he felt like both an outsider, voyeur-documentarian and part of the struggle in South Africa.
What I find revealing is how well Kentridge’s use of African subjects shows his strong empathy and understanding of apartheid and this difficult period of South African history. He says, in Pain & Suffering, shown on art:21, that artists use the pain and suffering of others for their work.
Wikipedia explains one of his animation methods: “in all of his animated works do the concepts of time and change comprise a major theme. He conveys it through his erasure technique, which contrasts with conventional cel-shaded animation, whose seamlessness de-emphasizes the fact that it is actually a succession of hand-drawn images. This he implements by drawing a key frame, erasing certain areas of it, re-drawing them and thus creating the next frame. He is able in this way to create as many frames as he wants based on the original key frame simply by erasing small sections. Traces of what has been erased are still visible to the viewer; as the films unfold, a sense of fading memory or the passing of time and the traces it leaves behind are portrayed.”
The video above doesn’t show one of this animation style very well, but his style can be seen in other clips. He also uses stop-motion.
Aside from animation, he uses live video and different masking and editing effects in his work. Here’s a video of him, from the Danish museum, the Louisiana, interviewing himself:
I won’t be in Copenhagen anytime soon. But if you’re interested in learning more about William Kentridge, there are examples of his work online.
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
Of course, there is the Louisiana Museum that is currently holding a William Kentridge exhibition. It looks like an interesting exhibit. The site is in Danish, but Google should be able to translate.
Wikipedia also has plenty of information about Kentridge, from his bio, to listing his films and many exhibitions around the world. There are also external links, if you’re interested even more information about this artist.
After watching a few, I did a little research. It turns out that Kawamoto was a well-known animator in Japan and internationally. One of his signature animation styles is stop-motion animation, especially his use of puppets. As Wikipedia points out, Kawamoto was well known for his puppet making skills and design.
I wanted to share these films as another example of storytelling. Japan has so many traditional methods of storytelling, which these films are a part of. As far as World and Character go, many Japanese stories are set in the samurai/Edo period. Most of the films below are the same. I suppose that frees up the storyteller to focus on the subtleties of how the story is told, rather than convincing the audience that the world and characters are believable. For instance, in Dojoji, there’s a scene where the woman chases after the priest. I love that Kawamoto takes the time to animate her breathing.
All the Kawamoto films were good, but there were a few that stood out to me. Here they are below:
Dojoji is a well-known Japanese play and one of the few that involves a large prop. The play tells the story of the installation of a new bell in Dojo-ji Temple. After the monks have been hypnotized by a mysterious dancer, the abbot tells the story of what happened to the first bell. The story is a woman falls in love with a priest who stays in her father’s inn every year. When the woman admits her love, the priest rejected her. She pursues him anyway, across a river to Dojoji Temple. In her passion, she transforms into a demon that kills him and destroys the bell. Kawamoto’s version of Dojoji is the story of the woman and the traveling priest. It is very tragic.
Going into the story of Dojoji more, I’d heard of this story after watching a Japanology episode on Kabuki and Noh. Dojoji was one of the examples of Kabuki, which is more elaborate than Noh and features a female dancer.
I was very impressed with the beautiful watercolor backgrounds serving as the backdrop for Dojoji and House of Flame (below). The sets are also well done.
The Demon (or Oni)
The Demon is also based on an old story, but I did not come across any versions of it as a play. The story is that an old woman, who has had a hard life, now lives as an invalid with her 2 sons. One day they go out to hunt and come home to a shocking discovery.
The postscript of the story is: “It is said that parents in their old age become demons who will consume their children.” Maybe this is the origin of the practice explored in Ballad of Narayama?
House of Flame
House of Flame is another stop-motion puppet animation that caught my interest. This one animates a horse, very realistically. I was quite impressed. This is also the only story with a narrator for the puppets. The story is about a woman who cannot decide between two suitors and lives in guilt forever more.
As I mentioned above, this one is another example of beautiful backdrops and sets.
A Poet’s Life
I chose this story for the interesting story about a worker who is fighting for worker’s rights after losing his job. The details of this story are too unusual to give away, but it is a very unique story.
This animation is a drawn style, though it still could be stop motion using paper cutouts. It reminded me more of The Snowman, by Diane Jackson, because of the way the pencil markings jump around frame by frame.
Video 3 and Activity 3 are all about What if? Coming up with a story scenario, by asking “What if?”, the Pixar story tellers do a great job of putting popular movies into What if statements. For instance, what if our toys were sentient and could come alive? This is Toy Story.
Part A. What would the What if statements be for my favorite films?
What if unicorns still existed and could only be seen by a few people?
What if a couple accidentally adopted a girl, instead of a boy?
What if the King of England lost his mind?
What if the new Emperor of China was just a little boy?
The exercise is a little hard with true stories, but I guess they still work.
Part B: Come up with 3-5 What if stories
I have to admit something embarrassing. I created a list of about 30 what ifs about a week before I wrote this – but somehow, I lost them all! So I had to come up with new ones. I needed some inspiration.
Inspiration: Sanjay’s Super Team
For inspiration, I watched a short video called “Sanjay’s Super Team”. One of the Pixar storytellers mentions the movie. “Sanjay’s Super Team’s” What if question is: What if an Indian father could show his son, who loves action figures, what he sees when he’s praying? It is a pretty impressive video and it’s only about 7 minutes long, so no excuses!
My What ifs?
Sanjay’s Super Team did inspire me. I didn’t come up with as many ideas this time around, but here are a few:
What if my cats could be real people?
What if pets could give their owners advice about life?
What if there was a world where your imagination rule everything?
What if my lost What if stories came true?
What if there was a land of lost and found, where every lost item lived?
What if my search to find my lost stories took me on a quest to an imaginary land, where my cats came along as my companions but were turned into humans?
Turns out, I’ve got cats and lost stories on my mind!
Lesson 4: World and Character
Part A: Identify the main characters and worlds in your three movies.
The Last Unicorn
World: Medieval world of magic. Most action is on the road or the woods, and then in a castle. Main Characters: Unicorn, Magician, Cook, Evil King Connection: I definitely connected more with the unicorn, but sometimes with the magician.
Anne of Green Gables
World: Small yet idyllic town in the 1800s. Main Characters: Anne, Marilla, Matthew, Gilbert, Donna Connection: Definitely connected with Anne!
Madness of King George
World: England, English palaces, late 1700s. Main Characters: King George, Dr Willis, Equerry Secondary: Queen, Lady Pembroke, Prime Minister, Lord Chamberlain Connection: I connected with the equerry, who’s just trying to do the right thing.
Part B: Mix characters and worlds from a different stories
Combining worlds and characters gives pretty interesting results. The first time I did this exercise, I used The Last Emperor instead of the Madness of King George. So I got Unicorn + Forbidden City combinations. The combinations that make the most sense would be Anne of Green Gables + The Last Unicorn. Helping a unicorn find other unicorns would be Anne Shirley’s life’s dream. I could also see the Evil King thriving in the Forbidden City, or the mad King George doing pretty well in the medieval world of magic.
Part C: Pick your favorite What if statement. Imagine a possible world and character.
Going back to my favorite What if statement, I guess the last one is the most obvious. A main character would be someone socially anxious who spends a lot of time living in his head. My cats as people would be about 11 years old. One cat would be an energy-filled girl. Not that different from Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna, or Pippi Longstocking. The other cat would be a girl that’s a little bit overweight. She would have a pleasant demeanor, but also be easily frightened. Both of them, would at times be absentminded and always ready to take naps. But they would be very loyal and supportive.
Final: Storytelling Advice
The final video in this lesson features Pixar storytellers giving advice to new storytellers. The thing that I connected with in this video, is that getting good takes practice. Even if you think you’re not getting better, what you will see over time is a stack of drawings and papers that show your progress. Sometimes what you think are mistakes are not mistakes. They are signs of the search for the right story.
It’s going to take some time for me to think about Part D of Activity 4: What would my world look like? Until then, I’m going to keep thinking about storytelling inspirations, and remember to keep chipping away at it.
I don’t know when the next section in the Khan Academy course will come out. But, in the meantime, I will post more articles about storytelling.
More artwork from Sanjay Patel, the creator of Sanjay’s Superteam, can be found at Ghee Happy. It’s just cool.
It seems like every few weeks I see a tweet, essay, or article mention about storytelling. Many of these articles seem to be written with the idea of using the concept of a story to convincing others to trust your business idea.
Storytelling is a very old art form that serves that has also served as a cultural communication tool. I find it somewhat disappointing that “storytelling” has been co-opted for the purpose of selling a business plan. As a kid who got lost in stories but gave verbal book reports that started off strong, but finished off weak, I could actually use some tips at telling a good story. One thing I don’t see from these posts is info about how to tell good stories, or what the components of a good story are. I am cynical that these storytelling articles are really about storytelling.
How to tell a good story
To learn how to able to tell a good story, I should learn from the best, right? Enter Pixar in a Box, The Art of Storytelling, a lesson series by Khan Academy. Can you believe it? One of the best contemporary storytelling companies on the planet is giving free lessons on how to tell a good story.
Available right now is Lesson 1: We are all storytellers. This lesson is broken down into 6 videos and 4 activities. The first few videos explain what story telling is, and then a few people from Pixar talk about their own inspirations and how they got started.
Here’s a breakdown of the videos and activities/exercises:
Intro to Storytelling
Your Unique Perspective
Exercise 1: Expressing memories
Your Favorite Stories
Exercise 2: Your three favorite films
Exercise 3: What if?
World and Character
Exercise 4: Characters & worlds
Yes, but will studying how to tell a story actually make me better at storytelling for business?
That is a good question. I don’t know about putting video clips from Finding Nemo into presentations, but I am going to participate in this course. I mean…who doesn’t want to learn from Pixar? This is going to be fun!
Hold on, here we go! Next stop, knowledge!
Activity 1: Expressing memories
The first activity is about using written words, drawings, or telling a story to someone to describe a vivid memory. This activity follows a video in which Pixar artists talk about their own experiences as storytellers. They’ve obviously been doing this for a long time.
I chose to draw an emotion.The instructions say to use only lines and shapes to draw the memory. Here is a link to examples of shapes that describe emotions. As you can see, it’s OK to be abstract.
The overall emotion to the memory I chose is sadness. It’s a strong emotion. I chose a very simple sketch. Hopefully the isolation of sadness comes across.
You may think that the Pixar folks, being animators, stuck with sketches and expanded on this initial start into memory and emotion….
But no! They went on to explore inspiration!
Activity 2: Desert Island stories
Part A: Identify the three films that you would take to a deserted island….
Part B: Why do you think you connected with these stories? Come up with at least one reason for each.
Part C: What, if anything, do these three films have in common? How are they different?
Gosh, oh gosh, oh gosh!
This was the question after a video with Pixar storytellers talking about stories that made an impression on them as children. What would I pick? Why did I connect with them? Here are some movies that came to my mind and why I think I connected with them:
I used to watch this over and over. Given the unique drawing style, I came to realize later that this was the start of my appreciation for anime. It also has great songs by the band America.
Why I connected: I loved the animation and the fantasy setting – and the songs! I like that it’s a story about innocence…or, rather, the loss of innocence. It is a movie about about growing up. The price of knowledge is the loss of joyful ignorance. I like that it rewarded the goodness in the characters, and the creatures, even scary monsters, get justice. In this movie, almost everyone gets what they deserve.
I’m not sure any girl of the 1980s survived without crossing paths with Anne of Green Gables. This was a great story about imagination and youthful spirit. Sometimes when I watched this, I would get so lost in this story that I didn’t notice when my friends actually showed up…and left.
Why I connected: It’s a movie about growing up, about using your imagination and being creative. A big part of the story focuses on Anne trying to fit in, even though she’s different. And, I especially liked that friendship and goodness were so important in this story. (Who can forget Matthew?)
As an adult, I watch this often. I think it’s a funny story about how the king loses his mind, yet instead of treating him like a true patient, the pressures of court life still require everyone to behave like nothing’s wrong.
Why I connected: This is a movie I return to again and again, when work gets overly hectic. I use it to find the humor in what can be the absurdity of everyday life. It helps me laugh when trying to do what’s expected doesn’t seem to be working, because what’s expected is wrong or absurd. As a fan of history, I appreciate the historical context of this movie, and as an Anglophile, all the great English actors.
Also based on a true story, I really enjoyed the historical context in the movie. The change of the emperor over time in embracing new ideas and people is both entertaining and tragic.
Why I connected: I again love the historical context, and this movie introduced me to Asia. It came out in 1987. My father took me to a “Son of Heaven” museum exhibit at COSI in Columbus, Ohio, that was all about imperial China. We looked at real artifacts, such as the yellow robes the emperor wore, as well as bells, and other artifacts from China. I even got to buy music – a cassette tape! I also appreciated that so much of the story was about growing up and losing innocence.
…Wait! There’s something missing!
I got so caught up in thinking about my childhood that I forgot to write what I thought was the connection between these films. So:
2 of these films were books before they were movies
2 of these films are based on historical events
3 are about growing up
All four have a thread about losing innocence
They all focus on the importance of friendship and companionship – something that’s so easy to forget.
Having written all that, and having reminisced about my childhood, this gives me something to think about for a while. So this is a good place to pause until jumping back on the story wagon.
The next part of Lesson One on Storytelling is called: “What if?”
The way it works: User steps on the board, which completes a switch inside the board. An accelerometer inside the board reports back to Processing which way the user is leaning. Right – fast forward. Left – slow down. Tilt forward – screen gets darker. Tilt backward – screen lightens.
This week I worked with two other students, Noah Waxman and Macaulay Campbell, to create a short stop motion, animated film. When we added the sounds, it definitely became pretty ridiculous. We used a whiteboard to create our animations; it was a lot easier to work with than physical objects. Plus, our illustrator stole my is a graphic designer job, so it turned out well.