As the thunder of fireworks and election sounds, the people of the United States think to themselves: We need to re-draw state lines. Well, don’t worry America, I’ve done just that. I even took the same rule all modern country-makers take: Draw a bunch of lines in existing territories without much thought. Now, am I saying that this is a dark visage of of our own future? Yes. Yes I am. Pack your bags, this will probably happen tomorrow.
I’m currently wading into the world of creating an animated series about talking animals in space and as time goes on I’ll be posting more about it. For this show I wanted to create an alien language to use for background signage and the like, both as a way to explore more of this universe but also as a way of creating a more lived-in universe for my space- crustaceans to live in. This fictional language is Arsea, and it looks like this:
Now I know the question on all of your minds: Is there some overly-complicated linguistic history to back up this neat little alphabet? Why yes there is, thanks for asking. It all begins with emojis…
The Earthen Letterglyphs
Currently language is in the process of being deconstructed, and we’re starting to use pictures, numbers, and standalone letters to represent ideas and to replace whole words. My first task was to go through and figure out which of these pictures/letters/numerals would be included as a glyph once we inevitably create a unified logographic language. I ended up with thirty different glyphs that I would end up working with for this, all listed below:
From there I had to do the best I could going through hundreds of years of letter-shaping, much like our own alphabets did, in the span of a few days. I did this through taking the glyphs and tracing over them (sometimes with my left hand), and re-tracing them, and simplifying the forms so I use less strokes, etc. Eventually I ended up with a simplified New Earth Alphabet. Some individual glyphs (my favorites) are below, the befores and after.
So I had a Nu-Earth Sonoglyphic language from which I could now expand as the Human Race was about to expand. At this point in the story-world I’m creating humanity let loose leagues of Arks carrying with them all sort of animals as well as phonograph machines that will teach these animals language (Fun Fact, these phonograph machines are where the name “Arsea” comes from). We now enter into a new age of this language, the age of the arks.
The Space Arks
The first step was a simple one: As shown above I took all of the sonoglyphs (pictures that equate to a sound, or a fancy way of saying letters)and I “digitzed” them by tracing over all lines with tiny black pixel-like squares. Once everything was digitized, I could set out creating certain words, phrases, etc, which I would then use for the next step of this alphanumeric rabbit hole. I ended up with about thirty-five words and phrases that I eventually used to created a new round of letters, a few of those are included below to see how the Nu-Earth Sonoglyphs work together.
Well, as luck/fate/chaos would have it the Human race destroyed themselves and all that was left of them were these giant floating space arks. These arks floated around for thousands of years in space as new stars and planets were born (time also got a bit wibbly-wobbly here, this is all backstory for the animated universe). Eventually these Arks crashed on to planets and let loose all of the creatures held inside, and when these creatures gained self-awareness they would see these giant ships and the wreckage from them and begin to craft their new language from these ruins.
So my next step was to mimic thousands of years of wear-and-tear and damage from entrance to the atmosphere and crashing onto planets. This was done with the aide of data-bending and massive photoshop manipulation. Unfortunately a lot of the documents I had from this step seem to have disappeared, but I do have what came next: breaking up all of these wrecked and pixellated images and beginning this whole process of of abstraction to logoglyphs to abstraction to sonoglyphs again.
Fonos: The Hieroglyphs of the Old Systems
So we’re back at step 1: Creating a hieroglyphic language to be then transposed into a sonoglyphic language. I used the broken up chunks of the old Ark glitches to create new symbols. Some of these symbols were near direct translations from the Ark to the Glyph, others used ideas from the Arks but rotated or combined them to create a new glyph, and still yet some glyphs are based around other Fonos glyphs. I ended up with about 100 of these heiroglyphs.
Aside from directly translating these fractured bits of broken imaginary broken screens and spaceships, I also wanted to try and simplify these glyphs a bit, or at least make them more organic feeling. So to get each of the cards above I again went through and traced and re-traced each sketch until the glyphs were broken down enough. Then I brought them back into the computer, which that process in itself then added new wrinkles to each drawing (often times the filters I used would fill in circles with smaller circles, or they’d cause smaller lines that were just wrinkles in the paper to appear). So to get the digital files that I’d then be working on, which I’ve included some of my favorites below, I would pick and choose which aspects of the new files I liked and which aspects needed to go and finished off with all of these:
The Final Frontier
Okay, we’re near the end. Once I had all 100 or so glyphs finished and digitally uploaded I split them all apart into different categories based on what their main features were. From there I combined the glyphs, simplified them, anything to see what sorts of forms or recurring shapes could be seen among all of them. I then took 44 of these combined glyphs (though some were direct translations) to match up with the 44 phonetic sounds. These 44 starters can be seen below:
As you can see, though my goal was simplification, it didn’t really work out. But that was no matter, because it was time for another round of tracing and re-tracing these pictures in an effort to compress hundreds of years of letter-mutating in the span of only a few weeks. On top of tracing and re-tracing I also wanted to be sure that (almost) every letter for this new language could be accomplished with only three strokes of a pen/pencil/claw, and so through eventually amongst all of this change I came to the final 44 letters of Arsea, shown in two plates below along with their phonetic alphabet words to let you know the sound they make.
And a few closer looks at some of my favorite letters:
So that’s it. Arsea is a direct phonetic cipher, so any word you want to write you just break apart into its sounds and pick out the correct letters for it. Was this an extremely complicated way to get at something extremely simple? Yes. Did I waste my time? That, I open up for your discussion.
Cold sweat drips down your brow, terror creeps in, you lie awake in bed wondering: What if Vvinni Gagnepain’s many famous movies that everybody knows and loves were actually horror movies? What if, all those years ago, instead of deciding to name this thing “Henceforth” Vvinni decided to make… HELLnceforth Productions?
Here’s another piece of Mail Art I sent to my aunt Debbie in Japan. I believe it was around spooky Halloween times, hence the spooky nature of the card: Skulls, cookies, ghosts.
This was the first piece of MailArt I sent to Debbie, but I think it works. It acts as a bit of a Frankensteinian creation of words and images, although it does function more as art and less as mail (I think it was a bit greasy because I cooked it, and the actual contents of the letter were rather difficult to read thanks to all of the sewing and re-patching). I long ago gave up trying to cook my letters (although it was an interesting idea, now I need all the cooking supplies I have), and I haven’t gone back to the patchwork idea (again. it kind of makes the letter unreadable). But as a first go, and an exploration of Halloween, I think it works. Here ‘s the envelope it was sent in, just for fun:
In preparing for my upcoming film “Superb Fire Space Laser Blasters” I had to do some per-visualization for what a panicky computer would look like. Here’s what I have so far:
This project is very much informed by 16-bit arcade shooters and by classical sci-fi from the 1960’s, and I wanted a computerized face that’d reflect that. I also need a computer that can reflect the panicky nature of it (Within this world, the ship’s computer lives in constant fear of being yelled at. The computer is doing everything it can, but it’s just one computer and it could REALLY USE A BREAK). I think I still need to make a few tweaks here and there, but It’s still fun to see the process, don’t you think? Anyhoo, keep at least one eye open to this space, because Superb Fire Space Laser Blasters should be releasing by mid-November, and it’s going to be wacky fun.
During my junior year of college in my design class I was tasked with making a poster, there were a few stipulations, but overall I had free reign to make a poster on whatever I chose. So, I decided to turn my gaze to the Ministry of Playwriting, a writing group I headed up in high school that still occasionally met. We were talking about releasing a book of some of the more coherent writing warm-ups and short scripts we made, and I decided that when this theoretical book was published we’d have a theoretical reading from that book. So, here’s the process behind the creation of the very real poster to all of these theories.
Firstly, I decided that I wanted to hand make this poster, mostly because one of the signature styles of the Ministry was it roughness and its unpolished nature. Many of our warm ups featured instantly incorporating something into a script regardless of whether or not it would fit (resulting in multiple bus crashes and giant squids int he middle of emotional dramas). I also decided that it would be interesting to create the poster on top of script pages from our write-ups, after all this was a reading from the Ministry of Playwriting, why wouldn’t our poster highlight our writing?
This first poster has a few issues. FIrst, I was originally thinking about using hand made stamps to create the type on the poster. Well, I found out that firstly almost every letter stamp I made would come out backwards (and I was all out of stamp foam), and second I found out that all of the stamp type would come out almost entirely illegible. Also, for the general format of the post I wanted to invoke both mid-century modern but also the work of Tandori Yokoo. Unfortuantely during critiques I found that going for an almost direct translation resulted in the conveyance of the idea of “No Japan”, which is nowhere near anything I believe. So, I decided to take what worked from this design, scrap the rest, and come up with something entirely new from scratch.
Okay, now we were getting somewhere. I had settled on to a way to incorporate the zero sign without conveying anything terrible, and that was what would be described as the Squid. It’s actually meant to convey both a zero and an explosion (One of The Ministry’s earliest motto’s was “If at first you don’t succeed: Explosion”. Needless to say, we weren’t very good writers at the beginning). Also it’s meant to be a squid, as that became our de facto mascot (see also the Ministry of Playwriting coat of arms at the top corner of the poster). Aside from the Squid tying everything together, we also had a great cluster at the top that conveyed information in a visually interesting and simple manner. The only thing I needed to work on for the next round was the lower half of the post (everything beneath the Squid looks like chaos, and not in the playful way I wanted. Instead in the ugly, “I don’t know what I’m doing” way), and I still needed to work on the color palette a bit.
So there’s the final design. It mostly works, although after looking at this poster fairly regularly for the past few years, I can say that the title “No Cash Value” still isn’t reading as a title, and that the treatment of the repeating “May 16 2010”, although interesting and worth exploration, didn’t come out as well as it could have. The 7:00 MST came out fantastically, and I finally found a way to incorporate the magazine photo cutouts while also incorporating them into the overall piece well. Further, I finally found a great color palette. So, an overall success I suppose.
As the seven readers I had before the Henceblog reboot know, I worked as the art director on two student senior theses before I left Santa Fe. The later of the two was called “The Babel PRoject”, a sci-fi film about a future where people can download information directly into their brains, thus causing the downfall of language and the commodification of information. Well, that’s the world the film’s set in, the actual film itself is about a mind-erasing conspiracy at a research company, but for me it was all about the creation of the info-filled dystopia. So let’s dive head first into it.
The main art direction for this film was to create a number of large infographic posters that would be featured throughout hallways and on walls. These posters were about everything from the functionality of walls to the history of Tungsten to the reason why information must be hoarded and gotten at the risk of human rights.
And I also created an entirely separate typeface built around the idea that once information became something that you can simply have, then the very basic act of reading and interpreting letters becomes almost irrelevant, and that as such letters would be stripped down into their most basic forms in order to be more efficient and less extravagant (the entire design philosophy for this world was to create something that would be crowded with data and information but be presented in the most simple of ways). Seen below is a brains can that was printed onto a transparency, with information written in English (Fun Fact, the dominant typeface int his dystopia is Lucida Grande, which is the placeholder typeface for the creation of titles in the Final Cut editing suite), Chinese, and in the Simplified typeface.
The Simplified type and many elements of the art direction for this film were a bit rushed, and I don’t think I ever really got into the swing of things and really got to create a fully realized world, part of it had to do with me and part of it had to do with lack of communication between the director and me. But for the entirety of the production I was acting off of my first impulse, and one of the reasons I wasn’t able to act off of more than the first impulse was because of all of the information and the complicated nature of how the inforgraphics looked. Let’s take a closer look at some of the smaller pieces:
So with every single smaller part of each sign every element had to be measured (because measurements are information), the color information had to be placed (again, the more information the better), and I also had to think about how best to simplify forms (People are inverted exclamation points, because we’re already using exclamation points and because all you need to show a person is a body and head) as almost everything in these infographics (minus the hands) is a combination of letter shapes found in most fonts (parenthesis, astrix, O’s). So in between doing this for every inforgraphic of every poster, I also had larger warning signs to make that are full of almost every language (again, if you have the knowledge of speaking a language, and if this knowledge is incredibly easy to obtain, then everyone will want to use it):
And on top of all of this I also had to create an info-filled letterhead and the Logo to the evil Logos Labs. Fun Fact about the Logos Logo: Most of the type is all based around the same square repeated over, the only difference being the “L”: I wanted the L to bring to mind both an eye (because this is an evil future lab that’s always watching you because of science fiction) and to look like a fermata (Thus, Logos becomes a company that is focused on holding, keeping and hoarding. It’s a company that resists change and will do whatever it takes to make sure that Logos stays Logos).
And so that’s it. Again, not my best work, but for a rush job it turned out alright. At least, I can safely say that I think this production had bigger problems than the art direction.
Believe it or not, I do occasionally send other strange packages to people besides Andrew. Most of the strange things I send are to my Aunt Debbie Davidson, who is herself a very accomplished mail artist and Ainu translator. This is a series of cards I sent to Debbie last July, right around the time I was leaving New Mexico. I decided make these cards more concrete than some of the others I’ve sent her, as well as base them all off of animals found around the Santa Fe area, and finally to top off each card with a general feeling I had at the time of leaving. They’re posted below in order, more or less, so let me know what you think.
As the seven previous readers know, there was a point during my senior year that I thought I would have a retrospective showing of the work I made throughout college. This retrospective never happened, which is a bit unfortunate, but I still have these posters advertising it which I designed. Let’s take a look at how they grew and evolved over time, shall we?
I knew that I wanted to include the manic sensibility inherent in all of my films, and I knew the title of my retrospective: VVVV. So, I started out just by exploring the V form and figuring out how to include it in with selected images from each of my films. Here’s what I started with:
So the later poster was much more dynamic and interesting: It does more with type and uses it in an interesting and formative fashion, and the varying degrees of size and color (as well as the difference between the photo and the type) help pull the viewer in. But it was still too busy, and it was still missing something. So, I spoke with some fellow designers, put on my thinking cap, and came up with these:
This last design is what became the “official” design for the VVVV poster, as shortly after designing this one I found out that the senior retrospective wouldn’t be happening. So, there are still a few steps missing to make this into a really great poster series, but there are still a few good gems in here:
Recently the Chicago Underground Film Festival was put on at the Logan theater, and among other things the newest film by Underground Low-Fi filmmaker Jon Moritsugu premiered titled “Pig Death Machine”. This film, as well as his near 11 other underground films, won him the Lifetime achievement award (which is well deserved, and I suggest you all check out his work. It’s bizarre, and the type of wonderfully insane and low-fi work that can only come out of an extreme love for the craft of filmmaking). But why bring this up? Because I was the art director for “Pig Death Machine”. And This is my Story.
It was the summer of 2010. I was just about to begin my senior year of college and I was planning on taking a trip back to Colorado to see friends and the like before beginning. Then I got a call from the internship director at CSF/SFUAD who told me that Jon would be making his next film (which came after nearly a decade away from filmmaking) in Santa Fe and he was looking for an art director. I decided to give it a chance and read the script, after all I wanted more work in the art department, and the idea that I would be the art director on a feature film instead of a mere intern was enticing.
Once I read the script, I knew I had to do it. It’s a nutso piece about raw pork, and plants, and people going insane from eating raw pork and looking at plants, and if you know two cents about me you know this is right up my alley.
The biggest part of being the art director on Pig Death Machine was figuring out how to make the raw pork that the protagonists eat to get higher IQ levels. The problem was not only in making edible and gross-looking raw pork, but it also had to be completely vegetarian. After a bit of thinking I came to a solution: Seitan. After some tests with my art department, we figured out that Seitan actually takes food dye rather well and when suspended in red juice looks an awful lot like chunks of gross, bloody meat. This was FANTASTIC news!
Some of the other set decoration I had to do was create the living space for a woman who likes plants more than people, turn a dog washing clinic into a meat warehouse (I don’t have any stills from that, unfortunately, but let’s just say we used a lot of boxes), and create an Old Mexican drug haven in most exploitative way I could (if you ever get a chance to see the film, keep your eyes peeled for a cactus taped to the walls). Finally, I also had the chance to create the brand identity of the meat supplier who looses this horrific raw hell unto the world. This was The Meat Center:
Also there were these labels to put onto boxes:
As I hope I’ve made abundantly clear, this was a fantastic project to be a part of and please keep your eyes open for it in a theater near you (I heard that it may be getting a European Tour, so watch out Paris and Minsk!), and I’ll certainly let my seven readers know when Pig Death Machine is available online.