Category Archives: Art Direction

Arsea, or on the creation of Language

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:

The Emoticonal Letterglyphs
The Emoticonal Letterglyphs

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.

The cat-glyph
The cat-glyph, before
The "Cwa" Sonoglyph
The “Cwa” Sonoglyph, after
The "Pizza" logoglyph.
The “Pizza” logoglyph.
The "Eee" Sonoglyph
The “Eee” Sonoglyph
The "Poop" logoglyph.
The “Poop” logoglyph.
The "Guh" Sonoglyph
The “Guh” Sonoglyph

 

 

 

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 Digitized "Puh" sonoglyph.
The Digitized “Puh” sonoglyph.

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.

"Error", an important word in this world.
“Error”, an important word in this world.
"Gagnepain", yes I have a problem.
“Gagnepain”, yes I have a problem.
"Twarogowski", to honor the co-creator of  a lot of this imaginary mythos.
“Twarogowski”, to honor the co-creator of a lot of this imaginary mythos.
"Heisenberg 1", the name of one of the Arks.
“Heisenberg 1”, the name of one of the Arks.
"Quarters", for where creatures would live.
“Quarters”, for where creatures would live.

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.

All 100 or so of the Fonos Logoglyphs.
All 100 or so of the Fonos Logoglyphs.

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 Fonos logoglyph for "Fire".
The Fonos logoglyph for “Fire”.

 

The Fonos Glyph for "Living".
The Fonos Glyph for “Living”.

 

The Fonos Logoglyph for "Sense"
The Fonos Logoglyph for “Sense”.

 

The Fonos Logoglyph for "Government".
The Fonos Logoglyph for “Government”.

 

The Fonos Logoglyph for "Reason"
The Fonos Logoglyph for “Reason”.

 

The Fonos Logoglyph for "Interest"
The Fonos Logoglyph for “Interest”.

 

The Fonos Logoglyph for "Beauty"
The Fonos Logoglyph for “Beauty”.

 

THe Fonos Logoglyph for "Ground"
The Fonos Logoglyph for “Ground”.

 

The Fonos Logoglyph for "Science".
The Fonos Logoglyph for “Science”.

 

The Fonos Logoglyph for "Feast"
The Fonos Logoglyph for “Feast”.

 


 

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:

The Antiquity version of Arsean script.
The Antiquity version of Arsean script.

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.

 

The Modern Arsean Letters
The Modern Arsean Letters
Organ
“Or” making that sound, or the beginning sound of “Organ”.

And a few closer looks at some of my favorite letters:

"Wee", making the "Wuh" sound.
“Wee”, making the “Wuh” sound.
"Tho" making the beginning "Th" sound in "The".
“Tho” making the beginning “Th” sound in “The”.
"Oure", making the O-U-R sound in "Tour".
“Oure”, making the O-U-R sound in “Tour”.
"Go", or the "Guh" sound like in "Goat".  Also, it looks like a goat.
“Go”, or the “Guh” sound like in “Goat”. Also, it looks like a goat.
"Io", the letter that makes the sound "I" or "Eye" or "Aye".
“Io”, the letter that makes the sound “I” or “Eye” or “Aye”.
"Eer", making an "Ear" sound.
“Eer”, making an “Ear” sound.
"Choo", making the "Sh" sound like "Charlie".
“Choo”, making the “Sh” sound like “Charlie”.
"Al", making the hard "A" sound which begins "Alpha".
“Al”, making the hard “A” sound which begins “Alpha”.
"Oop", making the middle double-o sound in "book".
“Oop”, making the middle double-o sound in “book”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

The Computer’s Test

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:

Computer Test on Henceforth’s YouTube

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.

The Babel Project

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.

Small Security

Elevator Safety Information

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.

A Brain Scan of something

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:

THe Elevator may break.

Do Wash your hands
I’m not sure what’s happening with the background here, but it’s supposed to be the same binary behind everything.

Always look at Information

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):

Uh Oh Chemicals!

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).

Logos Labs: Information is the Future

The entry form for Subject 17, who has had all of her understanding of language removed

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.

Pig Death Machine

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.

Pig Death Machine on YouTube

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.

Vvinni on the Set of Pig Death Machine
Another plus was that I got to make fake cocaine. A LOT of fake cocaine.

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!

A still from the film "Pig Death Machine"
This is actually a cut of raw bloody fake meat, I thought I had some chunks but I can’t seem to find them anymore.
This girl does NOT like lettuce!
Another still: This one of a woman who begins to hear plants talk and this head of lettuce SCREAM!
Behind the scenes on the set of Pig Death Machine
Behind the scenes in a greenhouse showdown location.

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:

The fake logo for a fake meat place.
Cuts of pork and Helvetica. Industrial.

Also there were these labels to put onto boxes:

Lickin' Pete'sLes Rogatons LabelTMC LabelAnd, although it never made it into the film (and granted, it needed a bit more touching to work) there was the logo for a fake farm where the evil hell smartpork was harvested:

Hayman Farms

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.

Taco Tapir: The Design

What is Taco Tapir?

It’s the best psuedo-Central American/Mexican fusion food that three dollars can buy, that’s what. Or so we can only theorize, as Taco Tapir was created as a fictional taco to win a presidential seat, and the creation of the Taco Tapir was something in and of itself.  The Art direction, and therefore the creation of Taco Tapir, fell to me.

My first step was to create the character of Taco Tapir itself, an enigmatic character created by a company that may or may not actually know what a tapir is.  As such, I spent some time wondering about what kind of cute-ing up a fictional chain would do to a tapir, but then I drew this and realized that they’d do nothing to change the tapir, as it is perfect the way it is:

It's fantastic.
It’s fantastic.

From here, I got working on different styles for this tapir: How do the ears work? How about its adorable and telling paunch? Should it wear a hat? Should it have Maracas? What about a mustache? You can see plenty of the process in this page from my sketchbook:

Images from the creation of Taco Tapir, including many of the failed mustaches of Taco Tapir.
Images from the creation of Taco Tapir, including the face of Taco Manatee.

And so once I had the Taco Tapir shape figured out, as well as its hat, etc. I compiled together the final character design and finished phase one.  The next step was to create taco wrappers and a fictional brand identity for the Taco Tapir restaurant chain. Again: Do they know that Tapirs are primarily South American? Does this factor in to their presentation of Mexican food? Do they even serve Mexican food?  I decided to go for an Incan feel, and keep many of the questions of what kind of food Taco Tapir serves largely as a mystery (I think they’re South American fusion myself). I went through a variety of wrapper evolutions, each time focusing on how to make the overall product believably and well designed and ways to incorporate more and more of the South American feel of Taco Tapir.

The first wrapper a made: Boring, unbelievable, but there were a few nuggets to keep and move ahead with.
The first wrapper a made: Boring, unbelievable, but there were a few nuggets to keep and move ahead with.
The next wrapper design: A bit more of a differentiation in its quadrants, but still not the best. Also, after consulting other designers, Papyrus was deemed too hideous to even use as being hideous.
The next wrapper design: A bit more of a differentiation in its quadrants, but still not the best. Also, after consulting other designers, Papyrus was deemed too hideous to even use as being hideous.

 

The final wrapper design: An Incan-inspired cross, the double tapir, Bauhaus font (which works, in a strangely Tex-Mex-esque way), the Maracas, and of course a star.
The final wrapper design: An Inca-inspired cross, the double tapir, Bauhaus font (which works, in a strangely Tex-Mex-esque way), the Maracas, and of course a star.

The final design turned out well, I think. The only thing I may have changed is the blank space in each of the quadrants, and I’m still not sure about all of the colors used in the wrapper (after all, wouldn’t this be too pricey to mass produce for a restaurant that sells cheap, cheap, CHEAP tacos?).  But, I feel the design certainly reached a good point, and it ended up just fine. It’s a shame it never made it into the final film.

Once the Taco Tapir wrapper was completed, and once I had a firmer grasp on Taco Tapirs aesthetic and advertising feel, I created this short Taco Tapir commercial for publicity and to be used in the larger film work “Write-In 2012” (which will be discussed at a later point).  Enjoy, and vote for flavor.

Taco Tapir Ad from Vvinni Gagnepain on Vimeo.