Falling Leaves: the Ardes blog

Monthly archives for "June 2009"

Separated At Birth: Respect!

Ray Drainville

Well, I may like to dabble in the occasional Separated at Birth series, but Totally Looks Like has some particularly incredible juxtapositions:

Alas, poor Quentin. It’s been hard to take him seriously for a long time now, but this may be the final nail in the coffin.

Includes Reinventing the Wheel, Too (Probably)

Ray Drainville

Could humans at any point in history, given the right information, construct an electronic communication network? To test this hypothesis, Substitute Materials will attempt to build a functional electric battery and telegraph switch from materials found in the wilderness, using no modern tools except information from the internet. The telegraph will be a first step towards an ahistorical internet.

What the author doesn’t say is that he’s doing this in the wilderness while wearing a business suit.

And that he couldn’t find any flint to make a good ax—he had to order it from the Internet.

I foresee much time spent reading this site.

Star Trek, Childhood

Ray Drainville

Apparently I’m merely one of many, many people who form the target market for the new Star Trek movie. The movie returns to the original TV characters: Kirk, Spock & many others; and it winningly creates a late 60s retro feel. It’s got a lot of little things in it that would appeal to someone who watched the original series—one of the first to die is even a red shirt. What I didn’t expect was an emotional response & the need to explore the meaning of that response.

Establishing My Nerd Credentials

It’s difficult to convey the magnitude of the effect the show had on me as a child. Like many people my age, I happened across Star Trek in my 70s childhood, when it was syndicated & run on TV daily after school. I was immediately hooked. Growing up in rural Connecticut, I ran around in a yellow velour shirt with a genuine! Star Trek patch sewn onto it. My mother was even kind enough to sew gold stripes on the sleeves to complete my fantasy of captaining a starship. The “aliens” I’d encounter would inevitably be my dog or whatever bug or snake was unfortunate enough to cross my path.

When I was in second grade (around age 6), there were two “gangs” in my school: the “Star Trek” gang, led by me as my hero, Captain Kirk; and the “Planet of the Apes” gang, led by an appropriately monobrowed kid I only remember as Joseph. Our Enterprise was a (to me) huge tree behind the school, from which we’d explore the universe; the Apes gang sat on a bunch of rocks farther away from the school and screamed at passers-by, perpetually threatening them. I look back upon that and marvel how we expressed contrasting visions of the future: one utopian, where the world united to explore the universe; the other dystopian, where humanity had been virtually destroyed itself & ruled by creatures representing the very worst within us.

Coming Full Circle

The cynical reader might think I’m exaggerating the difference between these two “gangs”: I’m not. Media consumption, particularly of favoured items, has a tremendous impact on a child’s outlook, on what he or she hopes and dreams and imagines. I don’t know if this outlook is lasting, but at the time it’s pronounced.

But when you get older, you learn—quickly—that science fiction isn’t cool: evincing any enthusiasm will not likely get you the ladies, green or otherwise. It further paled by the pooping out of some fairly lame movies & the existence of hardcore fans who argue about “canonical” stories & made-up languages (I mean, c’mon, people). For me, the whole idea of what ST was about—of hope for the future—was submerged into this compendium of disillusionment, of people trying to squeeze every last dollar out of the original series. Eventually I completely forgot about something I so loved as a child; to paraphrase Paul, I put away childish things.

And so we come to the just-released movie. When I heard about it, I decided to watch a trailer and was surprised to find tears in my eyes; the same thing happened at the movie’s end, when Spock’s voice intones “Space…the final frontier…”. That notion of putting away childish things was in part to remove myself from the lame, ancillary hangers-on—the lousy movies & the superfans. (And indeed, aren’t any superfans, whether for a TV show or a sports team, just fucking embarrassing?)

What hit me was more than nostalgia. It was almost a kind of mourning, for a time in one’s (my?) life when it wasn’t absurd to think the future offered hope & not ultimately disaster. It was also a deep sadness emanating from having buried something of immense importance to me as a child, of belonging to something greater than yourself, greater even than the earth: a humanistic desire to explore & understand, not just the world, but the universe around you & your place in it.

From the stars, knowledge, indeed.

Two New Posters

Ray Drainville

We’ve recently completed (and had printed) a couple of new A4-sized posters for the University of Sheffield, one advertising a series of lectures by the renowned philosopher Stephen Stich & the other promoting an MPhil degree in Political Theory.

Before we continue, you may wonder: why A4? Isn’t that small for a poster? It is, but not in the context of a university department bulletin board with lots of competing notices. If your poster is too large, it may not even be placed on the board; and even if it is, a larger poster will soon be covered up by other notices. So an A4-sized poster is about as large as you can safely make it.

Judging from this use-case, you might also conclude that creating a striking effect for your poster would be crucial: one that makes your notice stand out from the dozens of other notices. And you’d be right.

Stich Lecture Series

stich-leverhulmeThis was a rush job: I had 24 hours to go through the process of commission, design approval & printing. What’s worse, I was suffering through the worst flu I’ve ever experienced. What’s worst is that I was handed a huge wodge of text & only two source images. Luckily one image was large enough that it was feasible to expand it further to print quality.

With such a timeframe & under those conditions, you are subject to severe constraints. Constraints are sometimes wonderful & this was one of those times: it helps guide you quickly down the path towards a decent design.

Some of the constraints were posed by the photo. It was black & white and couldn’t be expanded further without risking pixellation. Also, the picture wasn’t fully optimal because a critical element—the top of Steve’s head— was cut off. So immediately we know that the poster should be black & white (to match the picture), it shouldn’t rely too much upon the picture to give it visual interest (because it was small) & that we were going to have to distract the eye from the missing top of Steve’s head.

When you’ve got a lot of text and your photo is small & suboptimal and you’re limited to black & white, then you’ve got to rely upon typography & stark contrast to attract the viewer’s attention. Black text on white is too common: reversing this will catch the eye. Using chunky typography, I covered the top of Steve’s head with his surname & used the look on his face to draw the viewer’s eye towards the explanation for lecture series.

The result is pretty good, I think, and certainly eye-catching, but it’s a little conventional. Had I more time, I would have made that chunky typography a lot chunkier: it would have taken up about half of the poster. But time was a real constraint here.

MPhil Poster


The second poster here is for the promotion of a degree offered jointly by the departments of philosophy & politics. We were to employ a really striking image that’s somehow relevant to the subject. My initial to represent the result of a broken political process: images ranging from protests, revolution, police in riot gear, bombed-out cities, etc. I also immediately thought of Orwell’s memorable line from 1984: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever”.

Any of these images would certainly contribute to a striking poster, but the approach was ultimately rejected as inherently faulty. I might have put out an unintentionally negative message: “Join us & together we’ll destroy the world”. So a re-think was definitely in order!

I came across an intriguing image of anti-Communist graffito on iStockphoto, one that still cleaved to my original idea of portraying a broken political process, but the action portrayed here was more positive. Here, the notion is of casting aside what didn’t work as the initial part of the transition to something that did. And of course, what do you need to make that transition successful? Why, lots of people with MPhils in political theory, obviously!

To keep to the conceit that the poster was itself political graffito, I opted to place the title in a hand-drawn stencil typeface. And finally, the actual content of the poster was placed on a semi-transparent bed.

By the way, if you’re a graphic designer in the Sheffield area & need digital printing done quickly, consider ASAP Digital, who printed both posters. Their quality is excellent & their turnaround time is fantastic.