Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Visual Language of Game of Thrones

Like many folks, I was entranced by HBO’s recent series Game of Thrones. So much so, in fact, that certain house words have entered my vernacular and that I took the unprecedented step of reading the books after watching ita feat only previously accomplished by Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. And, sure, the acting was great (Peter Dinklage absolutely deserves the Emmy) and the story was engrossing in all its bloody, incestuous, and betraying soap-operatic brilliance but these are things we’ve come to expect in our much lauded, current golden age of television. No, what piqued my creative interest wasn’t the narrative storytelling, per se, but rather the visual storytellingboth the art direction of the show's effects and the mindblowingly original opening credits.

As consumers of TV pop culture, I suspect most of us aren’t aware of how much of what we see on the little screenfrom the most fantastic to the most mundaneis accomplished with the use of virtual backlot. But a fantasy series like Game of Thrones invites examination and, thankfully BlueBolt, the company behind the show’s effects, has put together a effects reel to show you just how many and much of your favorite Westerosi settings are pulled from the bowels of a computer. Expecting elaborate effects, I was still surprised how much certain cornerstone setsWinterfell, in particularare artifice. It’s definitely worth a look (though there are spoilers aplenty late in the reel):

But the more daunting creative challenge Game of Thrones faced wasn’t just how to create a convincing look and feel for Westeros (which they certainly did) but, rather, how to orient the audience in a new world with unfamiliar geographies, politics, and history. Most genre and historical features meet this challenge with the standard map-and-sonorous-voice technique whereby a map of Middle Earth or Ancient Rome or the Pondarosa is presented, showing the lay of the land while a deep, male voice evokes the setting in brief turns of ominous phrase.

Game of Thrones does away with this precedent. In its places is a complicated opening sequence that is both a work of art and a layered info graphic. Through the use of an inverted globe, mechanical geographies, and an burning solar astrolabe (armillary sphere, to be specific) the lands, specific settings, heraldry, and dynastic history of the Seven Kingdoms is communicated quickly and stylishly. And that the opening sequence changes several times over the course of the season, orienting the audience to new localeskeeps each episode’s introduction relevant to the action at hand.

You can read a full interview with with Creative Director Angus Wall of Elastic about the Game of Thrones opening credits over at Art of the Title. And I encourage anyone in fiction, film, or infographics to do soit’s a fascinating look behind the curtain of the two-year process that produced the best title sequence on television. FB

Monday, April 25, 2011

An Award-Winning Bilingual Squiggle?

I’m a sucker for good typography and Latin-Arabic crossover work—as the last several posts no doubt attest. But I’m not the only one, turns out. The folks over at Brand New recently awarded the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art the title of best comprehensive identity program and best in show.

Mathaf, Arab Museum of Modern Art (mathaf, متحف, is Arabic for museum, pronounced mat-haf) is a new modern art museum in Doha, Qatar. Its mission is to "showcase modern and contemporary art from the region, shifting existing perceptions of arts practice in the Arab world, and provide a forum for dialogue and scholarship." The award-winning branding program was handled by the Dubai office of Wolff Olins with two custom typefaces—a handwritten face fashioned by the Netherland’s Tarek Atrissi Design and a clever corporate face designed by Pascal Zoghbi from 29ArabicLetters.

The corporate typeface’s ultra thin font lends the museum a contemporary image—and one that should be familair to those versed in museum and art’s branding . But the face’s hybrid Kufi-Naskh Arabic letterforms complement their edgy lowercase Latin counterparts and, combined with some unique ligatures and clever adaptations to standard Western letter-shapes, present a unique bilingual Arabic–English typeface. For instance, I love how the Latin ligatures with horizontal letter connections create a stylistic connection between the Arabic and Latin script—A refreshing adaptation given the frequency with which Arabic typography is so frequently bent to accomodate Latin conventions and not the other way around.

Across the campaign, the two typefaces and the two languages are used in combination to great effect. I love the overlapping Latin and Arabic numbers in the countdown ads and the bilingual applications of the handwritten face across the board.

But the typography best when the corporate and handwitten typefaces are used together or—more frequently—when the former is used in conjunction with the... uh... squiggle? The squiggle can take on many forms—looking in the example above most like a Latin A and an Arabic alif (each transliterating to the other’s sound and placement in the word mathaf)—but everywhere and in every form does a great job communicating the creative chaos of artistic expression. Plus, it looks pretty cool used on it’s own and across the campaign (the business cards, in particular, rock):

For more reading about the the campaign and the museum itself, check out:
Brand New: 2011 Brand New Award Winners
Brand New: Follow-Up: Mathaf, Arab Museum of Modern Art
Islamic Arts Magazine: Mathaf - Arab Museum of Modern Art