Life of Type
6mins 46secs
Concept, design and production : Ian Mitchell

This short film exploring the life and death of type, features a motion typeface generated from Conway's Game of Life, in which cells live or die depending on the number of living or dead adjacent cells.

The process —

A cell is born if it has exactly 3 living neighbours
It stays alive if it has 2 or 3 living neighbours
Or it dies otherwise

The Game of Life cellular automaton, devised by British mathematician John Horton Conway in 1970, has been used to generate motion attributes for each letter of a typeface. Glyphs from stylised bitmap typeface drawings were each run through the Game of Life automaton. The resulting iterations were then turned into animated sequences. These animations have been composited together to create animated words and text.

An example —

The film presents an animated sequence generated by the Game of Life automaton for each glyph. In Game of Life terms the glyphs are the "seeds" of the automaton. The sequences have been grouped into the established patterns familiar with the Game of Life; "deaths", "still lives", "oscillators", "spaceships"; and their various combinations. Some grow beyond the edge of the canvass. And some, due to the length of their growth, have been 'cut-short' once an element in the pattern begins to oscillate or stabalise as a still life. Creating more managable and useful lengths of sequences for making amnimated text.

This example is one of the most visually interesting oscillators. It is commonly known as a "pulsar". In this instance it has been genrerated from the T glyph seed.

The project —

The film and the typeface are outcomes of an ongoing research project by Ian Mitchell exploring the validity of typographic experimentation. In this instance: the potential of movement and motion to challenge the established forms of type; and the feasibility of designing original typefaces with inherent animated or motion attributes embedded within the letterforms.

The project builds upon an earlier motion typeface project by Ian Mitchell called Bambino.

A version of the film was exhibited at re_Type, an exhibition of experimental type design staged at Liverpool School of Art and Design in December 2012.

About the designer —

Ian Mitchell is Graphic Design and Illustration Programme Leader at Liverpool School of Art and Design, Liverpool John Moores University. He is an occasional contributor to the typography and graphic design collective, Beaufonts.

Research and practice website
LJMU staff profile

i (dot) mitchell (at) ljmu (dot) ac (dot) uk

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