Aaron Baker

A digital media design blog.

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The future of my website and personal branding.

I have plans for my personal portfolio website. Plans which I am excited to work on, and which may eventually lead to a complete overhaul of the site. However, I am at the moment caught up in the middle of this Media Practice Portfolio project, and I am putting the improvement of my personal website on hold for now. I will run through a few of my ideas in brief here though, just to have them somewhere other than my head.

Part of my formative feedback from my lecturers on the site was that it has no strong sense of branding. My ‘logo’, if it can be called that, as it stands is simply the letter A in a circle. I can do better than that. I have started coming up with new ideas for my personal branding, and have started with logo design. At the moment I am running with designs based around my surname, Baker. I’m doing this because it’s important to me that the site does not start to feel too corporate or impersonal, and I want to keep a strong sense of my own personal connection to it throughout.

My initial logo experiments have been based around the iconic baker’s/chef’s hat. I think that this is something that is easily recognisable if portrayed correctly, and has enough of a connection to my name to establish a branding around. It does however run the risk of confusing people, and I obviously do not wish to be mistaken for a bakery.

Initial baker hat themed logos

My initial attempts at baker hat themed logos, done in Adobe Illustrator.

I am not entirely sure whether I like this idea or not as yet. I will continue to develop different concepts and ideas for my website and branding throughout the coming weeks.

Summary of Kinetic Typography

The kinetic typography project was something which interested and inspired me. As part of my research I saw some really great examples in the area, and they gave me some insight into the techniques and ideas that should be considered in producing a successful end result.

I also learned a few helpful things about Adobe After Effects, a piece of software which I had previously only had limited experience with using. I look forward to experimenting more with the software and it’s various capabilities in the future.

In regard to my Gravity animation, I am generally pleased with the outcome, although I think that due to artistic choices previously mentioned as well as a lack of experience with the software used, the animation is fairly simple and therefore not the best exercise for teaching myself advanced techniques.

I intend to take a further look at a kinetic typography project at some point soon, and there are a few things I plan on changing from this first attempt. For example, next time I would like to use an audio/video clip which moves along faster and/or has more words present. I think this will result in a more challenging animating experience, and allow me to experiment and try out more styles and techniques of kinetic typography.

Overall though, as a first foray into the medium as well as a learning exercise, I think the project has served me well. I have developed a greater appreciation for the sorts of high production value kinetic typography pieces that are out there, as well as a desire to improve on my own skills.

A task with a certain Gravity to it.

In taking on this kinetic typography task, I first looked around at other kinetic typography videos, hoping to draw some inspiration and learn about some common practises of the format. I soon saw that there was a wide variety of ways to approach the subject. As well as the differences I mentioned previously on whether to include the original video or not, there are many different aspects that set one piece of kinetic typography apart from another.

How many words are displayed at once can make a big difference in the final video. The text can be jumped through one or two words at a time and quickly disappear from the screen by whatever means, or entire paragraphs or sections can be displayed at once, with each word being added on to the screen while keeping the previous words visible. This can have a large impact on the feel of the animation overall. If very few words appear at a time, more attention is drawn to them and the viewer is more likely to be reading the right part of the text at the right time in relation to the audio. However, this comes at the cost of possibly leaving people behind if the words are displayed for too brief a period to read and make sense of. In contrast to this, displaying whole sections of typography at once can help group the text into logical sections, which the viewer will then regard as a cohesive segment, possibly all connected to the same idea. This can have the drawback, though, of having a lack of focus on a specific part of the audio as the viewer could be reading any part of the previous text. Some techniques can be used to somewhat rectify this, be it by emphasising the animations of key points in the text or by using different fonts and colours to grab attention to the desired section.

The use of colour in these pieces is also another thing I took into serious consideration. While a lot of the videos I saw used several and varied colours throughout them, some only used a few. One video that I saw and will link here made particularly effective use of only two colours – in this case a near black and white.

This example also makes very good use of another feature I identified in some kinetic typography animations. This is the use of illustrations outside of the text, as well as creative use of the text in suggesting shapes and ideas. For example, the words “hair extensions” can be seen to form an image of hair on a woman’s head at 2:50 into the video. This technique as well as having illustrated images mixed amongst the text is very effective at emphasising the key ideas of a section of text, as well as making the animation more visually impressive. However, excessive use can have the effect of making the scene feel cluttered or overly complex – something which I have decided to avoid in my Gravity piece, as I think it would work against the theme of the source material.

After thinking about all of this, I made a number of decisions about my intended outcome early on. These were primarily to keep the scene simple and free of clutter, to use generally only black and white, and to display only a limited number of words at a time during the animation. The reasoning behind these choices was based around keeping my work in line with the theme of the source material it is based on (Gravity/its trailer).

I chose to use a monochrome colour palette as I hoped this would evoke the idea of being in space and cause a general atmosphere of emptiness and being alone. I think this fits well with the film, and particularly the short section that the audio I’m working with was taken from, as it occurs when one of the characters is out in space alone and is struggling against the emptiness all around her. I later decided to use two main colour layouts – both white text on a black background and white text on a black background. I did this to differentiate between the two characters in the clip. The white on black I used for the female character lost in space, as I think the black background serves this metaphor well. I used black on white to portray the male character communicating from a control area, as I think the (actually slightly off-)white background has a clean, almost clinical feel about it, which gives the sense that the voice is coming from a different, and safer, location.

Only having a few words at a time on the screen was a choice I made to try to emphasise the urgency of everything that is being said. This is a scene without much unnecessary talk, and everything that is being said is towards the goal of potentially saving a life, so I thought it appropriate to make the visual representation of the dialogue short and rapid. This is also why I avoided excessively complex animation of the text, and instead used largely uniform animations or fades for the text, only embellishing certain points further to convey additional meaning (for example the text shrinking at the very end, meant to suggest a camera zooming out to show the true extent of the nothingness all around the subject of the clip).

I think this all worked well, and am reasonably happy with the result even if it is a little simple, but you can judge for yourself.

 

My finished kinetic typography animation for the Gravity trailer can be viewed here.

Kinetic Typography Brief

The projects keep on rolling in, and this time we’re taking on a brief based around kinetic typography. This is a style of textual animation that involves written words moving around the screen, and is often used in several areas such as introduction sequences and trailers for films and television. The commonly accepted first well known instance of kinetic typography being used in such a way was by Saul Bass, in the opening credits for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 film North by Northwest (Lee et al 2013).

Kinetic typography is also commonly used to accompany an audio clip of a person’s voice, whether giving a speech, singing, acting or any similar activities. There are two main approaches to this when it comes to working with a video source – namely layering the text over the existing visuals, and removing the video altogether and creating a new piece out of the motion type and the audio track. Each of these has advantages and disadvantages, and each is well suited for dealing with different source material, depending on what the creator wants to be portrayed through the typography. By utilising the video and adding the text over it, there is often a greater potential for keeping the context of the original scene, as the viewer can easily see the setting, characters and events unfold while reading the typography. This can be lost if the video is removed, however the lack of extra clutter generally makes the text itself the primary focus, which draws attention towards what is being said rather than what is happening visually. The text can also be manipulated to give a sense of the original scene, such as by making shapes out of the words or animating them in such a way as to suggest the action of the video.

The brief set by the university is to create a 15 second kinetic typography animation from a video/audio clip. We are free to choose our own source material, although a portion of the trailer for the film ‘Gravity’ has been given to us to work on. I have considered what I want to do, and I have decided to use the provided material. Some of my peers have expressed disdain towards the video clip, noting such flaws as excessive repetition and lack of any real meaning once the video is stripped out, and I admit the clip may not in fact be perfect for the task. However, this is why I have chosen to pursue it. I believe that working to a brief, flawed or otherwise, will be good experience for the professional world, and I will gain more from challenging myself to adapt to a provided clip than going out and finding an easier one.

With this in mind I aim to produce a piece which fits the mood of the trailer, but which also provides value as a standalone object, not requiring the trailer to have been seen or any prior knowledge of the movie to be held to be appreciated.

 

 

 

References

Lee, J. et al, 2013. The Kinetic Typography Engine: An Extensible System for Animating Expressive Text [online]. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University

 

A picture paints two words.

Alphabet photography full name image

My name made out of the environment around us.

 

Here it is – my finished alphabet photography image. This task has been an interesting one, and one which has engaged me and taught me some new things.

To start with, we went out in small groups and tried to find enough objects and places in the environment to create the individual photographs resembling letters of the alphabet. This at times proved to be more of a challenge than we perhaps initially expected, as a lot of the environment is made up of either organic flowing lines such as in plants and trees, or the straight forward, logical rectangles and geometric shapes of man made structures and buildings. These types of objects lend themselves well to the simpler letters (such as O, which can be approximated by countless circular objects, or L, which any right-angled line can stand in for), but as we discovered quite rarely make up more complex shapes (such as a K, for example). As such, some improvisation was needed to make a couple of letters. The K of my surname was carefully constructed out of marker pens, for instance.

I decided to keep the editing and manipulation of these photographs to a minimum, as I did not think that it was necessary to apply any over the top effects or similar tactics to the images due to the processes that I went through to capture them to begin with. I feel each image was framed well enough that the letter being shown in each is apparent to the viewer, and the lack of significant editing past resizing and stitching the images together helps the feel of the overall composition. I also think that it helps to convey what I believe to be the overall theme of the project, which is that these are just scenes that may be observed in every day life, but by looking closer at the details of what is there new patterns and ideas can be observed. I think some of the significance of that idea might have been lost had I excessively manipulated the images to show what I wanted to be seen.

In finding these letters, I learned a lot about composition and framing of photographs. An object which from one angle or location may have looked ordinary and unhelpful might from a slightly different position have taken on a different shape which resembled a needed letter. The task also made me think about other photographic ideas such as depth of field / focal length, since using these tools can bring out a specific region of a scene to portray, rather than just blanket capturing everything in view.

Overall I think this task has turned out well, and the images that were captured are of generally high quality. A slight drawback that I can see with the task is that the act of spelling out my own name, while certainly making the result more personal, may have resulted in a poorer image overall, since there is a lot of character repetition in my name and this caused less actual new content to be displayed.

If I were to redo or continue with this alphabet photography idea, I think I would like to be more selective with my photography to convey more of a mood or idea, such as using a limited colour palette. However, I think that limiting the available objects that could be photographed in this way would make it much more difficult to find the appropriate letters amongst the limited selection.

Photography Project

The next brief is in, and this time it is a photographic one. The project is to create an image which spells out words (specifically, our own name), using photographs of the environment to make up the letters. I think this has the potential to be a very interesting task, from both a theoretical and a practical standpoint. On the practical front, it will be a good chance to experiment with photography and related techniques, as well as possibly some photo editing afterwards. This will be beneficial, as photography is something that I’ve never really seriously got into (outside of the occasional holiday snap) and it will be a good chance to learn the ropes.

From a more theory-based perspective, I think the task will really influence the way that I perceive my surroundings, and require a certain frame of mind to see things that I would normally see one way (as everyday objects and places) as something entirely different (representations of letters and language). This has the possibility of touching on some interesting philosophies and ideas.

Outside of the set task, we have also been introduced to some other photographic techniques such as creating time-lapses and panoramas. I look forward to trying these activities out as well, and hope to come up with some interesting pieces at the end.

Flash Animation Summary

The ‘Flash animation with soundtrack’ brief was something which I think helped to improve my skills, from both a very specific technical and software-oriented perspective and a broader conceptual viewpoint. I learned important things on subjects ranging from basic animation and soundtrack creation / synchronisation to visual abstraction and simplicity.

I think the animation I created had merit as an experiment with the techniques involved in the task, and I am generally happy with it as an artefact, however were I to attempt this task again there may be things I would do differently. For example, the animation I created was perhaps too rigid in it’s structure and characterisation, where the task called for a more abstract piece of work. This is something which I stand by as a creative decision, but which maybe could have been a follow up piece to an initial , more traditionally abstract animation.

Nevertheless, I think that this short project has been a success, in that I achieved my initial aims for it. These were to refresh my knowledge of simple animation using Flash and to take a first look into the area of music production for the soundtrack. I definitely did both of these things and more besides, and learned from the experience.

Speaking of music production, I do not think that it is something that I wish to continue too much further at present. The brief was a good entry point into it and I learned a few basic techniques, such as layering tracks and using sampled loops. I also think that the track I managed to produce was fit for purpose and served the animation well, even if it was a bit basic in it’s composition. I think however that my efforts would be more wisely spent pursuing other areas which are of more interest to me.

Again, the final result of this project can be seen here.

Flash Animation Progress

This animation task has thrown up some interesting design choices and questions. At the start of the project, upon receiving the brief, it was suggested that we make our animations in an abstract style. This, from some of the examples shown from the early days of animation, might be most commonly interpreted as consisting of simple shapes, colours and lines with no real structure or meaningful progression throughout the animation, other than variation with the beat or melody of the accompanying music track. This sort of style can be seen for example in the short animation “A Colour Box” by Len Lye (accessed at: http://vimeo.com/6276547).

This style is all well and good, and certainly has its merits in experimenting with animation techniques and music synchronisation, however, it did not really interest me enough to pursue it for this task. I instead opted for a more (albeit very loosely) plot-driven piece, with a defined character and progression through the animation. Where I brought in the abstract ideas, then, was with the events of the animation. Rather than seeking to animate this character going through some ordinary task or activity, I chose to portray a scene based more around the emotions or feelings associated with a specific activity (in this case, listening to music).

I went about this by having a clear transition from the character simply walking along, to the activity taking place. This transition was primarily achieved by the initial lack, and then introduction of, the music track. I also added some visual cues such as a pair of headphones being dropped on to the character.

The music that I created for the piece is meant to convey a sense of joy, and a carefree attitude that the character is portrayed to be feeling during the activity of listening to the music. The character is then animated moving around the screen in a way that is greatly exaggerated, and which defies the normal rules of motion and gravity. I have used this motion as a visual representation of the mood being represented, which in this section is meant to suggest an elation at the music which removes everyday worries, and therefore physical restrictions on the animated character.

I also tried to make the piece humorous in nature, as it is quite a light hearted subject matter and I think that the humour works well with the exaggerated animations.

The final animation can be found here. 

Flash Animation Mini-Brief

The next piece of work to be done towards the portfolio of mini-projects is an animation made using Adobe Flash. The task also calls for an original soundtrack for the animation, which should be produced using GarageBand. The animation should be roughly 15 seconds in length, and should fit on a canvas of 22mm by 16mm in size.

This task will help me extend my skill set as I have only briefly used Flash to create animations in the past, and I have no experience at all with the GarageBand software, or any form of music production. While the task calls for only a simple soundtrack to last the required 15 seconds, I think even this will give me an insight into the creative processes involved with audio production, and let me get a feel for the area and see if it is something I would be interested in continuing with after the conclusion of the task.

I will also, I think, benefit from going through the animation process in Flash, as it is an area I haven’t done anything in for a while, and so it will be useful for me to be refreshed on the techniques and practices that go with it.

Thoughts on hand-drawn animation.

After I had produced the bouncing ball animation by hand, I realised several things. The first of these was that with such a small number of frames, it is quite hard to see small changes or deformations in the drawn shape. Because of this, the ‘squashing’ of the ball at the edges of the paper is not really exaggerated enough in the drawings to be entirely obvious in the final animation. This and many other reasons (primarily the ridiculous simplicity of the animation) cause me to acknowledge that what I produced is not very good as a piece, although it did serve well as a learning experience.

Another thing that I learned is that hand animation is really not an area that is meant for me. My drawing abilities are not up to scratch to produce anything in this manner except the most basic of animations using simple geometric shapes without taking an extraordinarily long time trying to draw something more complicated. Due to this, I do not intend to continue much further with this particular form of animation, although I see the usefulness of this task in learning about the history and foundations of animation.

Thanks to this task and my research around it, I have become more interested in animation as a whole, and am keen to try out some different methods and styles of it. I will focus, though, on more computer-generated areas where my drawing skills may not have so much of an impact.

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