A-Trak Kinetic Typography by DIA Studio
A-Trak Kinetic Typography by DIA Studio.
— Mitch Paone, September 2017:
About 2 years ago we got an email from A-Trak inquiring about a project. Not being an avid follower of DJ’s or electronic I had no idea who he was and kinda wrote if off as “just some DJ”. And for those who know me I’m a little cynical about the DJ Title. A nebulous label that implies musical expertise and taste but mostly falls far short of that. So my initial reaction was a say bit unenthusiastic.
However with just a tiny bit of research, I quickly realize this DJ, Musician, Producer, Turntablist…. is very very different than what I had imagined. My cynicism couldn’t have been more ridiculous. This is A-Trak. The polar opposite of my DJ Stereotype! Beyond his musical taste his a prodigy in a wide spectrum of musical output, especially on the turntables. He has sense of time and syncopation that arguably could eclipse that of Tony Williams (Miles Davis Quintet Drummer). So now I’m completely humbled and we enthusiastically take on his project. And little did I know at this point this project would have a tremendously positive on effect on our studio from that point on.
The kick off meeting was with both Alain (A-trak) & Dave Macklovich (coincidentally one half of the musical group Chromeo). Dave had been following our work for sometime and had taken a keen interest in our typographic experiments that we had been posting on our instagram feed for a while. Our specific research in merging typography, type design and motion in an experiential way was very appealing to them and they saw the potential of how this could play out specifically in a music industry context. With that in mind, Alain & Dave sort of set out us out on this a mission to redefine the EDM visual aesthetic. Most people’s first thought of club and electronic design is that it’s filled with cheesy lens flairs, illustrations and flashy CGI which is relatively a true assessment. So our general direction was to merge our progressive use of creative technology/animation with a typographic approach that is steeped in a cultural design tradition. Additionally, specifically for the album cover designs we made sure there was a concept that was the driver for the visual expression. While this made the project more difficult it did ensure that we didn’t just replicate a formal graphic style each time we generated new work. Everything had to feel unique, and dynamic.
We then had to activate this idea over a broad range of the deliverables. An identity that is solely based on conceptual typographic expression. We first defined a system for the tour and show flyers and social media postings. For the show fliers we created a stair stepping type system that we could update content and change color for each show. The tour flyers are composed of a fairly standard typographic layout to display the schedule combined with a region above the text to feature a unique treatment for A-Trak. Overall, we wanted to establish some strict parameters for consistency but allow for a bit of expression to present a surprise each time a new piece was posted.
Moving into the more expressive side of the identity are the single, mix and album covers. The primary visibility of these assets were going to be in thumbnails, instagram and other social media channels vs. printed. To take advantage of the screen based formats we used animation/generative tools in addition to traditional methods giving them a sense of dynamism both moving and still. This is a an unorthodox approach we often use here to make sure the design work captures the same dynamism regardless of format.
Lastly, and definitely the most demanding were the live show animations. We had to produce close to an hour of animated typographic content for his shows, which is an absurd amount of content. The real challenge with type is how to make it continuously dynamic and interesting over time in an experiential format. Luckily this has been the subject of a lot of our studio’s research long before this project began so this was very comfortable for our team to approach.
Through a few months of R&D, we were able to create a range of generative toolkits using a variety of software to design a range of loopable animations. This allowed us to produce a large quantity of ideas and iterations and easily update content making the process very efficient. Eventually we focused on specific content and prepared and rendered them for Lollapalooza, his first live show with the new visuals.
The A-trak project is ongoing and we continue diving deeper into typographic expression for his work. I imagine a more computational design process driving the work as we move forward. Beyond our standard animation and design software, coding languages like Openframeworks and Processing have given us some great results and as experiment more the possibilities seem limitless.
— Dennis Moya:
What are you thoughts about bringing animation in typographic designs and branding projects?
— Mitch Paone:
We view motion on the same level as the design / typographic component in our creative process. It’s less about a software or tool, but more about how we think about the work. We immediately consider the idea of time vs static in our creative development. How do we create visual consistency if the expression is always in flux and dynamic? It’s a lot like jazz music. There are set parameters like groove, melody, harmony… that create the identity of a song. Each time it’s played it can be a unique, but the identity is still clear and recognizable. This same idea can be applied visually. This requires an understanding of time based artistic mediums. Fundamentals of music, film, animation and even dance choreography provide loads of inspiration to this design process. There is a freeing improvisational nature to this way of working that produces really unexpected and exciting results.
Many branding and design projects view motion/animation as a technical skill applied to ideas after they’ve been developed. Like animating a still poster or a static logo. This generally feels forced.