The Horse in Motion | A New Kind of Animated Font
To “put the horse in motion” means to put forth an idea that challenges previously established norms or traditions.
Photography and typography are influential mediums in my practice. The concepts of composition, motion, character, and pace (among others) are key drivers for photographic representation. Over time I challenged myself to take a cross-disciplinary approach to thinking about typography as a visual storytelling medium. Instead of type being primarily a set of characters used to tell someone else’s story, I am exploring the idea of the letters of a typeface performing as characters of the story itself.
I was taught at university that typography is the mechanical notation and arrangement of language. It is a graphic system of symbols and code that mimic the sounds, objects, or ideas understood by a culture. Today, typography is once again emerging to challenge our visual understanding of language.
In today’s digital landscape, font and typeface are used interchangeably, but the two have distinct meanings. Type is a physical piece of metal with a raised face on one end with the reversed image of a character. A font is a set of characters of a given typeface, all of one particular size and style. Thus, a typeface refers to the total set of fonts under a related design. For example, the font Helvetica bold at 12pt is one font character set from the entire Helvetica typeface (which includes a range of weights, widths, and styles).
With these definitions in mind it’s important to distinguish typography from calligraphy. Typography deals with the creation and arrangement of typefaces to convey a message. Type is mechanical and requires each character to be repeatable. Whereas, calligraphy (c. 1605–15, from the Greek word kalligraphía meaning beautiful writing) is an expressive form of handwriting with unique qualities derived from the individual hand producing the letters. Though distinct, their traditions are intertwined by the notation and arrangement of language.
Digital type families today are no longer physical objects representing the inverted shape of letters. Instead, typefaces are a piece of software—a script to be executed by a computer program that calculates the representation of the letter shape on a screen or printer. This abstraction of typography as a software enables a multitude of type applications that may stray beyond the traditional definition of typography.
To apply this concept, I first became inspired by one of my favorite photograph(s), The Horse in Motion by Eadweard Muybridge. This work was a sequential series of six to twelve “automatic electro-photographs” depicting the movement of a horse. Muybridge captured these photographs in June 1878 and later experiments are regarded as a pivotal step in the development of motion pictures.
And so I began with my stallion characters, the first twelve characters of the Latin alphabet.
I then replicated the twelve photographs captured by Muybridge in the same sequence.
Test these letters:
1) highlight the horses
2) right click and copy
3) open a new window and paste
Do you see a horse or letters?
I coded a short animation loop that grabs the characters inside a timeline element as uses these to generate animation frames. The animation frames are output on a display element and looped at a pre-defined pace. The result is an animation of the Horse from Muybridge photographs.
Click to put the horse in motion.
In conclusion, fonts and motion are already being explored by a number of digital artists, type designers, and other creatives with a love for letters. To be 100% honest, I am unsure of the reach of this experiment, but it proved to be an interesting concept. With this I challenged traditional models of text animation where motion is simply applied to letters. Instead I propose this new model where the motion of the letters are intrinsically tied to their character shape and their apparent sequence.