Didot Typeface Animation

C Studio Fall 2021: Project 4

A frame from the video.

NOTE: WIP

For this project, we were assigned to create an animation about our typeface in two weeks. I wanted to focus on the elegant composition and details of Didot as well as its history and context.

Special thanks to Joe Dicey for showing me around the letterpress facilities and sharing an awesome background on typography!

Final version.

The type itself

What are some core elements about the visual aspects of the type?

High Contrast

Didot is one of the highest contrast typefaces out there: it’s one of the most defining features of it. It also means that it’s something that you really want to get your face right into: it just doesn’t resonate that well from afar. When I visited the letterpress area, I saw that we had a lot of big sizes of Bodoni (A very similar font). That’s why I chose to get very close with Didot during this animation, playing with positive and negative space with the typeface blown up across the screen.

Elegant curvature

I love Didot for it’s elegant curves. Again, these look great when made very large: the “camera” follows sweeping curves to show this in the beginning. I also had to augment this with the lines that move around the lowercase g to highlight aspects and to follow the type. They’re not precisely geometric, but they clearly have a rational mindset behind them– it’s accentuated by the vertical alignment of the glyphs.

Modern Type

This typeface is also part of a unique lineage of serifs, from old-style to transitional. In the end, I de-emphasized this in favor of contextual storytelling of the font for a couple of reasons:

  1. More difficult to interpret when there are a lot of different fonts in one vide (also loses focus)
  2. Conflicts with history in viewer’s attention span

The history/context

Originally, I did not intend to discuss that much about history. However, Didot is one of those typefaces that has been floating around for so long that it’s bound to have interesting changes in medium and contextual usage. It’s amazing that Didot was a product of the French Revolution, and the typeface of fashion: I wanted to share this as it transitioned between ages of metal type and digital usage.

Writing the script

Version 1

1784: Inspired by the neoclassical principles of austerity, simplicity and precision, Firmin Didot set to work on a definitive new type of typeface: the modern serif, Didot. While it felt mathematically precise and symmetrical, it also abstractly evoked its calligraphic predecessors. It’s high-contrast strokes render it as a display font. It’s bold, sophisticated, and elegant: today, it’s found in places like Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, and Elle.

This version was mostly created as a compressed narrative.

Version 2

The typeface of neoclassical principles: simple, vertical, and precise.
Ball-terminals, high-contrast letterform, vertical emphasis.
The typeface of a revolution.
The typeface of modernized serifs: an iteration from predecessors, an abstraction of calligraphic roots from tradition to transition.
The typeface of contemporary fashion: Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue.
Elegant. Bold. Sophisticated. This is Didot.

Writing out version 2 really defined how this typeface was going to show up: the idea of a repeating consistent element of “The typeface of” in the video started out here. Overall, it sets the tone for a bold and rhythmic typeface, something that is reminiscent of it’s contemporary usage in fashion with electronic music.

Version 3

The typeface of neoclassical principles: simple, vertical, and precise.
Ball-terminals, high-contrast letterform, vertical emphasis.
The typeface of a revolution.
The typeface of modernized serifs.
The typeface of metal type, translated to the digital age.
The typeface of contemporary fashion: Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue.
Elegant. Bold. Sophisticated. This is Didot.
This version was created to expand and incorporate more history into it. It also turned out that the line “The typeface of modernized serifs: an iteration from predecessors, an abstraction of calligraphic roots from tradition to transition.” was very inconsistent with the other sentences.

Choosing music

Picking a song was one of the most difficult parts for me. Here is the Spotify playlist I used to pick songs:

I looked to house-style music, something that was evocative of avant-garde fashion runway shows. I also picked out French songs that I liked with less strong beats.

Eventually, I settled on the Aphex Twin song, as I felt that the beat drop it came was good for pacing. I also liked that it was not very distracting with vocals and had a simple baseline.

Main process

Here, I’ll walk through some checkpoints in the process of creating this this animation. In this sketchbook spread, I planned for a rhythmic visual style that would reflect my repeating script.

I initially did not account for the beat drop of my song– on the right side of the spread, I added in a section that would move across the lowercase G and highlight important parts about it. This would eventually replace my section about “high contrast” and “ball terminals” with something that could give more overall attention to the elegant curves of my letterforms.

This was an initial exploration of my storyboarding in my sketchbook. In the process of translating over this movement, I got to see how my vision mapped out to the dimension of time. In class, Vicki pointed out that while my slide about “Neoclassical principles” was weak on it’s own, it worked well in conjunction with the other slide in that style. I think this was for a couple reasons: the consistency brought on by the typesetting and the color gradient overlaid over imagery tied these two slide together. Additionally, she pointed out a high-key and low-key dynamic balance between these slides with dark-tone imagery behind them and the text with a white background– alluding to the high-contrast qualities of Didot.

This iteration was where I brought in the rest of my entire storyboard. At this point, I decided to continue further emphasizing the repeating patterns of the text. I had to adjust the script at this stage, as there was a long line that didn’t fit the consistency of all the others. Instead, I created a section about the creation of the serif with gradually simplified forms.

Additionally, I tweaked the contrast between the two types of text.

There were some significant changes in this project. I explored the usage of guiding blue lines that were successful in interplaying with the viewer’s gaze throughout the moving composition.

In critique, Vicki pointed out that the quick switching and comparing fonts was not adequate to show minute differences and suggested to create more abstract ways to demonstrate these qualities. As a result, I created two sequences that showed “simplicity” abstractly and a more simplified portrayal of vertical axis orientations.

Design Student@CMU designbybryce.com