Monthly Archives: August 2016

The Rise of the Diegetic Intertitle

Pri­or to the integ­ra­tion of sound, movies often dis­played text-based inform­a­tion using title cards or inter­titles. This form of com­mu­nic­a­tion is known as die­get­ic con­tent, as the act­ors can­not see it.

How­ever, even after the inven­tion of the talk­ie, oth­er types of inform­a­tion needed to be dis­played — such as trans­la­tions for a for­eign audi­ence. This was usu­ally done in a very per­func­tory way, with non-descript­ive text (typ­ic­ally achieved using a font such as Times New Roman, with a black out­line to con­trast with any back­ground) on the lower third of the screen. This text is extern­al to the story, so it seemed nat­ur­al that it should be styl­ist­ic­ally different.

In more recent years, there are increased demands on visu­al storytelling — small screen devices (e.g. mobile) and com­puters have star­ted to become part of the lan­guage of cinema (and, by exten­sion — the video and digit­al screens on which they are ‘pro­jec­ted’). Addi­tion­ally, in today’s more mul­ti­cul­tur­al world, the require­ment to show mul­tiple lan­guages with­in the same film means that dif­fer­ent typo­graph­ic tech­niques can be used to enhance this aspect of the story. In fact, this is an exten­sion of tra­di­tion­al sub­titles — where often sound effects and untrans­lated lan­guages are still included.

As mobile and inter­net tech­no­logy star­ted to appear on screen, an edit­or would typ­ic­ally cut to a shot of the device — allow­ing the view­er to read the dis­play. As post-pro­duc­tion tech­no­logy improved, TV’s require­ment for an increased speed of plot expos­i­tion, and product place­ment costs (and leg­al clear­ances) required a more gen­er­ic approach, this even­tu­ally evolved to show the inter­face dir­ectly incor­por­ated onto the visu­al frame.

Sub­titles, cap­tions and inter­face design typ­ic­ally sits inde­pend­ently on top of the con­tent as a lay­er added in post-pro­duc­tion — i.e. as a semi-trans­par­ent wall between the story and the view­er. Integ­rat­ing these titles to make them appear part of the con­tent can be quite a tech­nic­al chal­lenge — espe­cially when they need to be tracked to a mov­ing camera.

This over­lay­ing tech­nique was demon­strated in movies such as Man On Fire (2004), Stranger Than Fic­tion (2006), Dis­con­nect (2012), and 2014’s The Fault In Our Stars, John Wick, and Non-Stop, as well as TV shows such as (per­haps most influ­en­tially) Sher­lock (2010) and House of Cards in 2013.

There are two main types of ele­ments in mod­ern cinema: die­get­ic — any­thing that the char­ac­ters would recog­nise hap­pen­ing with­in their world (of the nar­rat­ive story) and non-die­get­ic — any­thing that hap­pens out­side the story (for example, this would usu­ally be open­ing cred­it sequences).

How­ever, (much like mod­ern media itself) on-screen typo­graphy has sur­passed merely being integ­rated visu­ally into the back­ground plate. It is now becom­ing increas­ingly self-reflex­ive, and blurs these die­get­ic lines. This is often referred to as “break­ing the fourth wall”, and is per­haps best demon­strated in the open­ing titles to the 2016 film Dead­pool, where even the actu­al names of pro­du­cers are sub­ver­ted into nar­rat­ive elements.

For more exeges­is of the dieges­is (sorry, I could­n’t help it), see Tim Car­mody’s excel­lent 2011 SVA Inter­ac­tion Design present­a­tion “The Dic­tat­ori­al Per­pen­dic­u­lar: Wal­ter Benjamin’s Read­ing Revolu­tion”.

“A fourth wall break inside a fourth wall break? That’s like, six­teen walls.” – Deadpool

Mind The Gap - Johnston100

Johnston100 by Monotype

Edward John­ston cre­ated the font used by Lon­don Trans­port over 100 years ago. Since then, needs have changed — so Mono­type were com­mis­sioned to redraw the entire set of glyphs, as well as cre­at­ing new weights such as thin and hairline.

via monotype.com and itsnicethat.com

The Amazon Dash Button

Amazon’s branded Dash But­tons were intro­duced in March 2015, allow­ing products to be eas­ily re-ordered with a single click of the bat­tery-powered device — not to be con­fused with the unbranded UK Amazon­Fresh ver­sion (which works like a mini­ature ver­sion of the pop­u­lar hands-free Amazon Echo).

As an inex­pens­ive (US$4.99) wifi-enabled IoT device, in less than 3 months they were start­ing to be re-pur­posed. There are a hand­ful of approaches, from fairly non-tech­nic­al ARP probe detec­tion through to bare-met­al repro­gram­ming. Amazon them­selves are also reach­ing out to developers and smal­ler brands with their Dash Replen­ish­ment Ser­vice.

Get­ting star­ted seems pretty simple — when you get a Dash but­ton, Amazon gives you a list of setup instruc­tions to get going. Just fol­low their list of instruc­tions, but don’t com­plete the final step . Do not select a product, and just exit the app.

Most tech­niques use some­thing like IFTT to con­nect the but­ton event to a IoT trig­ger of your choos­ing. Instruct­ables has a great step-by-step tutori­al, and there’s some great open-source code avail­able on GitHub.

Amazon Dash Button (Tide) on washing machine
The Dash But­ton as it it usu­ally used — to order more Amazon products (such as wash­ing powder).

The detailed specs:

  • The CPU is a STM32F205RG6 pro­cessor which is an ARM Cor­tex-M3 that can run up to 120mhz and has 128 kilo­bytes of RAM and 1 mega­byte of flash memory for pro­gram storage
  • The WiFi mod­ule is a BCM943362 mod­ule which in com­bin­a­tion with the CPU make it a plat­form for Broadcom’s WICED SDK
  • There’s a 16 mega­bit SPI flash ROM which is typ­ic­ally used in con­junc­tion with the WICED SDK for stor­ing applic­a­tion data
  • An ADMP441 micro­phone is con­nec­ted to the CPU and used by the Dash iOS applic­a­tion to con­fig­ure the device using the speak­er on a phone/tablet
  • There’s a single RGB LED and a button

Quite power­ful for US$5.

How­ever, the next step in this evol­u­tion has just been released — the AWS IoT But­ton.

The AWS IoT But­ton is a pro­gram­mable but­ton based on the Amazon Dash But­ton hard­ware. This simple Wi-Fi device is easy to con­fig­ure and designed for developers to get star­ted with AWS IoT, AWS Lambda, Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon SNS, and many oth­er Amazon Web Ser­vices without writ­ing device-spe­cif­ic code. 

Tar­geted at developers, this US$20 ver­sion con­nects to the web using the Amazon Web Ser­vices Lambda plat­form without writ­ing a line of code (ok, so not developers then). How­ever, even the “Hello World” example described here seems quite tech­nic­al — in some ways, even more so than hack­ing the ori­gin­al (and at four times the cost). It seems to have three types of but­ton pushes, though — short, long and double for more interactions.

AWS IoT enables Inter­net-con­nec­ted things to con­nect to the AWS cloud and lets applic­a­tions in the cloud inter­act with Inter­net-con­nec­ted things. Com­mon IoT applic­a­tions either col­lect and pro­cess tele­metry from devices or enable users to con­trol a device remotely.

Masters of Videomontage

Some of the most fas­cin­at­ing video anim­at­ors I’ve ever seen — Cyriak (Brighton, UK), Fernando Livschitz (Buenos Aires, Argen­tina) and Till Nowak (Ham­burg, Ger­many). Using found foot­age and masks, they cre­ate a sur­real and often dis­turb­ing view of reality.

As men­tioned in the ‘Her­oes of Anim­a­tion film’, Cyriak sees this style as a nat­ur­al evol­u­tion of the Terry Gil­li­am school — tak­ing pho­to­graph­ic ele­ments and mov­ing them in unex­pec­ted ways. I would go fur­ther and in that it takes Rus­si­an Con­struct­iv­ist fine-art pho­tomont­age to a nat­ur­al conclusion.

We are so used to ama­teur cam­cord­er and mobile films these days that this approach seems to tran­scend anim­a­tion — and we are drawn into their world.

We are so used to ama­teur cam­cord­er and mobile video these days that this approach seems to even tran­scend anim­a­tion — and we are drawn into their world. So much so that The Insti­tute for Cent­ri­fu­gal Research seems to be (remotely) plausible.

And here’s how it’s done.

This pro­file of Cyriak includes a his­tory of his work, and a demon­stra­tion of his pro­cess. This behind-the-scenes video from The Cent­ri­fuge Brain Pro­ject shows the CGI over­laid over the source foot­age, and this After Effects tutori­al explains the basics, using a locked-off cam­era (then you can add nat­ur­al cam­era move­ment afterwards).