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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Graphic Details: Designing Migrating Forms

At BAM, it isn't uncommon for the seed of a design idea to originate with a print designer and only later make its way to the video team for adaption there. This makes sense when a campaign calls for more postcards and brochures, say, than video trailers. But for Migrating Forms, a boundary-pushing film and video festival now in its third year at BAM, we turned that model on its head. Apropos of the festival’s name and cinematic bent, ideas were passed back and forth between print and video, each informing the other, to create an identity that honors its shape-shifting subject in a multitude of ways.

The Background 

The goal of Migrating Forms is to bridge the gap between the art and film worlds by bringing together moving image work from a wide range of venues—video art from biennials and museums, experimental film from festivals and microcinemas, and so much in between. Aesthetically, it leans towards the experimental, blending heady art-world conceptualism and filmic innovations of every sort into an eclectic cinematic experience.   

To create the visual identity for this year's incarnation, we began by distilling these ideas into a few keywords: film, hybridization, elusiveness, sophistication, and, most importantly, motion and the illusion of motion—the essence of cinema. The identity would need to at least hint at these ideas, but without being too alienating or intimidating. It would also need to do this within the bounds of the larger BAM identity, which has its own rules to be followed, or lovingly bent.

Lastly, and for practical reasons, it would need to accomplish this through a typographic treatment that was graphically strong enough to stand on its own while still being flexible enough to work over images. Websites, emails, banners, brochures, Instagram posts, Facebook ads, and other mediums all have their own best practices, and a visual identity should be flexible enough to accommodate them all.

Creating a Visual Language 

Step one was the creation of an inspiration board showcasing a few different ways type can be used to suggest motion and illusive depth:

From there, we turned to our own typeface, News Gothic, and began sketching ways that it could be similarly manipulated:

Out of this came our first design iteration, based on the notion of a warped grid. A regular square grid was established and then arbitrarily manipulated. The letters were then adjusted to fit the resulting lines:

But the results seemed too arbitrary and lacking in conceptual clarity. The desired effect of motion and illusion had been subsumed by a more general effect of morphing. 

With inspiration from BAM Creative Director Andrew Sloat, we shifted the focus to an idea more directly based in animation: the notion that 2D letterforms moving through space create the illusion of 3D. We then combined that concept with another iteration of the warped grid from the example above. Here, however, the grid is three-dimensional, made up of non-parallel planes that dictate the distorted, or "migrating," forms of the letters as they project into space:  

Here is a print study of the idea based on the animation:

And here is another iteration applied to the full title. As you can see, the distorting effect of the non-parallel planes on the letterforms is even more exaggerated here:


But ultimately, this too felt a bit arbitrary and lacking in a certain conceptual elegance. Something of BAM's overall identity, so rooted in a clean and confident sans-serif simplicity, was also being lost.

Towards the Final Identity

The solution was to simplify. Designer Kyle Richardson returned to a 3D "wireframe" of an "M" in News Gothic and took a different point of departure: the triangles, parallelograms, and other latent geometries that the eye sees haphazardly in a 3D image (see the middle image below), causing it to shuttle back and forth between flatness and depth. The extruded "M" appears to be a representation of a three-dimensional letterform, but a closer look reveals that each plane is actually a separate and disconnected shape. To further emphasize the effect, Kyle subjected those geometries to a process of subtraction that fragmented and further abstracted the letterform while preserving its overall shape. The result is the image on the right:

Here is the idea adapted into an animation:

For the final iteration, the idea was tightened even further. The fragmented geometries were simplified, increasing legibility while emphasizing a more rational, rhythmic relationship between the resulting angles and shapes.

The simplified concept was then passed back to video, where Kaitlyn Chandler developed an animation called "fireflies" to trace the fragmented geometries and further obscure the visual cues that help differentiate two- from three-dimensions: 

Finally, designer Alison Whitworth created a static version that picks up on Kaitlyn's "fireflies" concept, resulting in the festival poster below:

27' x 40' poster, adapted by designer Alison Whitworth

The result is an identity, born out of its own process of migrating forms, that we feel serves the festival well. It pays homage to the filmic illusion of motion and depth. It maintains legibility while flirting with obfuscation and formal abstraction. And it echoes the festival's hard-to-pin-down programming with an identity always in flux.

Instagram video, adapted by Kaitlyn Chandler

Migrating Forms creative team: Andrew Sloat (Creative Director), Kyle Richardson (Designer), Kaitlyn Chandler (Video Editor), and Alison Whitworth (Designer).

Related Post:
Graphic Details: A Visual Identity for BAMcinemaFest 2014

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