Category Archives: Films

Tintin and the Ligne Claire Style

On the eve of the release of the first big-screen Tintin movie, I have just one thing to say to those unacquainted with the intrepid young reporter and his faithful dog, Snowy: buy one or two The Adventures of Tintin books and start reading. Get the original, large-format paperbacks. If you have children, especially around the ages of 8-10, now is also the perfect time to introduce them to this wondrous world of high adventure in exotic lands.

The Adventures of Tintin has been translated into over 50 languages and is loved the world over but mostly unknown here in the U.S. It remains to be seen if the new Steven Spielberg/Peter Jackson film will capture the hearts of an American audience in the same way the comic novels have for the rest of the world for the past 75 years.

The new film is rendered with the latest 3-D, motion-capture technology of current animated movies, but the original comics on which the film is based was rendered in a style of drawing called Ligne Claire. French for “clear line,” the style was pioneered in the 1930s by Tintin creator Hergé. It uses clear strong lines of uniform weight and importance, paying equal attention to every element depicted. Contrast is downplayed and the artist does not use shading or crosshatching. The style features strong colors and a combination of cartoonish characters against very realistic backgrounds. This combination allows readers to more easily identify themselves with the characters: one set of lines to see, another set of lines to be. Cartoon characters are universal because the more cartoony a character is, the more people it could be said to describe. Tintin represents the everyman.

In Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, he explains cartooning as a form of Amplification through Simplification. “When we abstract an image through cartooning, we’re not so much eliminating details as we are focusing on specific details. By stripping down an image to its essential ‘meaning,’ an artist can amplify that meaning in a way that realistic art can’t.” In the same way that the design principle of less is more emphasizes the simplicity of a design’s intent more powerfully than complexity, so too does the Ligne Claire style of cartooning emphasize the ideas behind the forms. Read the related article on Less is More.

If you don’t know where to begin in the world of Tintin, here is a quick reference guide of a few of over 20 titles:

If you like Morocco, you’ll love The Crab with the Golden Claws
If you like Peru, you’ll love The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun
If you like Scotland, you’ll love The Black Island
If you like Eastern Europe, you’ll love King Ottokar’s Sceptre
If you like Egypt, you’ll love Cigars of the Pharaoh
If you like the Middle East, you’ll love Land of Black Gold
If you like Indonesia, you’ll love Flight 714
If you like the Himalayas, you’ll love Tintin in Tibet

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Filed under Book Recommendations, Films

The Resurgence of Letterpress Printing

The current resurgence of letterpress printing may puzzle many techies. Like saying blacksmiths and haberdashers are really making a comeback. But it is true, letterpress (platen presses and handset type) is being celebrated again after what was thought to be its extinction. Designers love it for the hands-on experience of creating something in the physical world and consumers love it for the feeling of old world charm and exclusivity it connotes. The growth of letterpress workshops and classes has exploded all over the country and many art schools are now offering these classes. I soon hope to have a guest post from a friend who is currently taking one of these classes.

In reading about this I came across a documentary called Typeface, a film by Justine Nagan, about the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers, WI. The film chronicles the preservation of and renewed interest in handset type at one of America’s great wood type printing companies. Old timers who used to work at Hamilton mix with graphic design students from Chicago who travel 175 miles north to Two Rivers to participate in workshops and use the museums working presses. It’s a fascinating look at an analog craft once thought long-dead that has been rediscovered by a digital age generation that had never known it.

The DVD is well worth purchasing, especially for the typophiles among you. I bought a copy and enjoyed it very much.Watch the trailer of the film here.

Looking at this picture of the California Job Case instantly brought back memories of this phrase: Be Careful Driving Elephants Into Small Foreign Garages. It’s one of many mnemonic devices that Mr. Little, my junior high school printshop teacher, taught us as a way of remembering the compartments in which the movable type for letterpress printing was stored. It was in this class that I first fell in love with the “graphic arts.” Thank you, Mr. Little.

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Filed under Exhibitions, Films, Graphic Design, Printing, Typography

Powers of Ten, A Film To Rediscover

You may already know of this famous 9-minute documentary film by husband and wife design team Charles and Ray Eames. Or you may never have heard of it. Either way, it’s time to watch Powers of Ten. Click here.

I was first introduced to this film when it was re-released in 1977. I was in college at the time and my Humanities professor showed it in class. I remember how fascinated I was by the science and the art of the film. The science in understanding the relative size of the universe and the art in the film’s presentation of information to the viewer. Keep in mind that this film was produced decades before GPS and Google Maps made viewing points on the Earth commonplace and discoveries at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Cern  challenge our understanding of the building blocks of the universe.

What is Powers of Ten? To quote the official website:

 “(The film) takes us on an adventure in magnitudes. Starting at a picnic by the lakeside in Chicago, this famous film transports us to the outer edges of the universe. Every ten seconds we view the starting point from ten times farther out until our own galaxy is visible only as a speck of light among many others. Returning to Earth with breathtaking speed, we move inward – into the hand of the sleeping picnicker – with ten times more magnification every ten seconds. Our journey ends inside a proton of a carbon atom within a DNA molecule in a white blood cell.

Powers of Ten is a 1968 American documentary short film written and directed by Ray Eames and her husband, Charles Eames, re-released in 1977. The film depicts the relative scale of the Universe in factors of ten (see also logarithmic scale and order of magnitude). The film is an adaptation of the 1957 book Cosmic View by Kees Boeke,

In 1998, “Powers of Ten” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

It is difficult to overstate the contribution Charles and Ray Eames have made to modern design. From architecture to film to furniture, their visionary, cross-disciplinary approach to design is still an inspiration. Click here to watch Powers of Ten.

Left: Ray and Charles Eames

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Filed under Films