Color, Shape, and Motion in Animated Literature
An exploration by Meredith Raiford
The main idea behind “Byzantium” by Ben Stroud is to experience the specifically embellished, animated, hand-lettered words of the sentence being presented in order to enhance or otherwise effect the meaning of each word as it is experienced by the viewer and reader. The piece is a single sentence animation, written for the online journal Electric Literature. These sentences are taken from context of the main piece, and animated. This particular piece involves only words. The words were written in different styles of inking onto sewn together paper. After the initial lettering of the words in this sentence, an image of the paper was photographed, imported into Photoshop and AfterEffects, and animated to further the accents of specific words with specific animation techniques. The sentence is of a man venturing into the nightlife of Byzantium and becoming a voyeur to the trysts of the time.
Here is the sentence mentioned:
“There I would watch others taking their pleasure—keeping to the shadows, my hand hidden as I studied a chariot racer leaning into a prostitute, her leg wrapped round his torso, or libertines goading a gilded crocodile in the bearpit, their bodies slurred by powders from the east.”
This piece is most successful in using varied colors, typefaces, and animation techniques in order to embellish the words expressed by the original author. While the sentence is a sensationally worded element in and of itself, the final animated product that incorporates movement, colors, and letter shape is experienced in a specific way based solely on said animation. These aspects could be experienced in any number of ways by simply changing the techniques used on the animation techniques applied to the words being changed. In the piece, the sentence begins, “There I would watch others taking their pleasure,” which, without either reading the entire piece or seeing the animated snippet, a reader/viewer wouldn’t gain the knowledge or implication that the narrator separates himself strongly from this world of pleasure. The word there is embellished sensually in crimson; each letter gets a flourish at the tip of a stem, where a serif might usually appear, while, the word pleasure is presented in non-specific dark blue, in crude, three-dimensional block lettering, much like one would see on the outside of a teenager’s binder. This suggests that the narrator is not familiar with this pleasure like [they] are. A cursory read of the full work seems to agree with this assertion. The inversion of the affectation of text (or simply reading the sentence out of context in 12 point, Times New Roman) leaves this implication out of the mix. The color and style of lettering does hard work for this otherwise innocuous phrasing.
The most intriguing phrase within the sentence is the final bit, reading, “their bodies slurred by powders from the east.” Addressing the literary aspect of the phrase, it stands out because it is unusually stating a normal occurrence of the time: men fighting. Most specifically, the word slurred is the most delightful, offering a small handful of meanings from which to choose in order to read the sentence. The bodies themselves could be marked and thus, blurred by these eastern powders, each individually, or, the bodies could be indistinct from each other, so because of these powders. Either way, the sentence is impactful and delicious at the end – a good place to leave an impression. The visual aspect of these words is curious, though, looking like a crude spraypaint or powder was pressed into a stencil slowly in order to mark the words slurred and powders appear, smudge by smudge. Appropriate, really.
This piece illuminated the impact possible with appropriate animation, letter shapes, and colors to play with meanings or implications of words in a piece such as this.
from Byzantium by Ben Stroud
Animation by Peter Lundgren
Music by William Lucky Lee
Available in Electric Literature No. 4