2012: the on-screen Olympics
On-screen animations form a major part of the presentation of London 2012, with each venue having its own programme of films created by LOCOG and Crystal CG
What strikes you about the presentation of the London 2012 Olympics (I was lucky enough to visit yesterday) is its use of broadcast metaphors, with each event presented like some kind of live TV show complete with pounding music. Even the language used reflects this - at the start of yesterday morning's athletics we were welcomed by Ben Shepherd (A TV host) to "this morning's show". Shepherd then went on to interview actor Patrick Stewart before handing over to the commentators who provide voice over throughout the session.
A key part of this presentation packaging is the use of moving image material on the venues' big screens. Each venue has its own 'producer' who can choose from a variety of elements provided by LOCOG's sports presentation team and Crystal CG, the Games' official supplier of animated moving image material.
Crystal has created introductory films for each venue, using the venue's specific colour scheme. This, for example, is the film used at the North Greenwich Arena to introduce gymnastics
While, as we posted earlier this week, this is the Velodrome film, using a Chemical Brothers track written specifically for the Games
As well as the intro films, Crystal has produced a suite of other options for the venue producers. Many of them feature a 2012 'avatar' - a humanoid figure created in 3D using motion capture for the various sports. Here's a film for the athletics stadium
And this for the archery
The avatar (designed by LOCOG and animated by Crystal) also turned up in the video for Muse's official Olympic song
At the venues, other elements are used to whip up the crowd - here's a shot of the beach volleyball big screen in action
While this 'clapometer' video urges crowds to up the volume
And this sequence was used at the start of the cycling to suggest the build up of tension
While other sequences help explain the sports and the action to come, such as this for mountain biking
Crystal have also produced fly-throughs of London for use by the BBC, NBC and other broadcasters
The Olympics-as-game-show element to the 2012 Games might not be to everyone's tatse but the crowd I was part of yesterday certainly seemed to be enjoying it. Apparently, the levels have been turned up or down depending on the venue and sport - sedate and fairly downbeat for Wimbledon, turned up to 11 for the beach volleyball.
But there has been a lot of imagination and innovation used in the way in which the big screens are used to both inform and entertain crowds. The films also illustrate the importance of a solid visual language at the heart of everything (even if it is not to all readers' tastes) and the sheer scale of the visual communication involved in a modern Olympiad.
See our blog on the look of the games here
And our interview with LOCOG head of marketing Greg Nugent here
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The August Olympic Special issue of Creative Review contains a series of features that explore the past and present of the Games to mark the opening of London 2012: Adrian Shaughnessy reappraises Wolff Olins' 2012 logo, Patrick Burgoyne talks to LOCOG's Greg Nugent about how Wolff Olins' original brand identity has been transformed into one consistent look for 2012, Eliza Williams investigates the role of sponsorship by global brands of the Games, Mark Sinclair asks Ian McLaren what it was like working with Otl Aicher as a member of his 1972 Munich Olympics design studio, Swiss designer Markus Osterwalder shows off some of his prize Olympic items from his vast archive, and much more. Plus, Rick Poynor's assessment of this year's Recontres d'Arles photography festival, and Michael Evamy on the genius of Yusaku Kamekura's emblem for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
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"The films also illustrate the importance of a solid visual language at the heart of everything"
"visual language" is an unquestioned but much used phrase in the design industry. In essence it is a lie used to persuade clients that the graphic design they are buying is a communication tool that will be understood by its viewers.
This is not the case. A set of stylised shapes, colours, textures, etc, does not make any kind of language, even in its loosest definition as a tool for communication, enabling cooperation. Without any grammar or vocabulary of semantically related meanings, the 'visual language' that you talk about is simply a set of shapes, colours and juxtapositions. They communicate nothing more than a mood that is open to interpretation, no bad thing in itself, but it is not language.
A typeface, being a very carefully designed and standardised set of shapes, is not a visual language either.
Interesting point you make there though If that is the case I wonder how one could talk about the whole set of narrative tools we have at our hands when putting together a film. For us there is a grammar and a semantic meaning to the choice of cameras and how they are organised. You can take a look at some basics of this just by searching for film semantics or reading a bit about montage.
It may sound pretentious from the outside but we do need to understand these narrative tools, even if our 2min films are no Potemkins the public out there is more educated nowadays, kids seem to intuitively understand way more than we used to when we were students. Time to catch up!
Could you explain the grammar for me?
I'd like to disagree with Miles about disregarding the phrase "visual language".
Words, letters and numbers are only specific shapes arranged in a particular way to convey meaning. This is no different to arranging more abstract shapes and colours to convey a (sometimes less acute) meaning.
Learning to deconstruct these visual cues and 'read' the meaning is part of people's visual literacy – e.g. red=stop/bad/danger. You can create narrative (e.g. Chris Ware), express emotions (e.g. Rothko) or explain complex ideas and processes (e.g. IKEA furniture instructions).
Each of these examples has a different set of 'grammatical' tools which account for the different uses of form, colour, shape, tone, texture, scale etc. to convey different ideas in different contexts. The issue with being unable to define the grammar of visual language is that there are so many different visual languages. In the same way that, say, Swedish has different grammatical rules to English, so do IKEA instructions to abstract expressionism.
The only difference in these languages is that one's seen and the other's spoken or written, hence 'visual' language.
There's extensive literature on the subject, you could start with DW Griffith (considered the father of film grammar) but I think Shot by Shot is a better, easier, place to start with. Even on Wikipedia you get pretty handy definitions, unreliable as it can be.
Miles seems to be right from the philologists point of view. As a creative metaphor (see Wikipedia) I will keep using film language and grammar.
Good read if a bit on the heavy side.
"Words, letters and numbers are only specific shapes arranged in a particular way to convey meaning. This is no different to arranging more abstract shapes and colours to convey a (sometimes less acute) meaning."
This is not true. That "particular way" is language. It totally different to arranging things in other ways. If I arrange the words, letters and numbers in a visual way, a way that does not conform to a language, it becomes what you call 'visual language'.
That is the same as saying that it's possible to do mathermatics with a disregard for logic and truth if we call it 'artistic mathetmatics'.
Visual language is just a way to describe the way we look at the maths that runs through everything. Really it's a pretty nice way to to encapsulate the core of a piece! How we see the whole, is the most important bit! It's how inspire and inform the audience.
Hi Miles – just to be clear, my name's Ed (not short for editor), sorry for confusion.
I understand what you're saying, but you've not commented on the bit about visual grammar.
If there's a contextual difference between literature and mathematics (you wouldn't apply the same linguistic rules to one as the other, but they both have their own linguistic rules) then surely that can follow into many other areas? Would you even agree that mathematics has its own language?
Grammar is not a tool - its a rule, and no, i don't think that any of the examples you cite - have grammatical rules. A rule is definable. Not being able to define the grammatical rules of abstract expressionism or IKEA instructions doesn't help your argument.
Mathermatics is not language, but mathermaticians use language to talk about mathermatics:
Miles, you are right that a collection of random shapes and colours could not be relied upon to convey certain meanings. When people talk about a 'visual language', however, they're talking about the creation of internal consistency, and it is in this accumulation of exposure to consistent elements that the viewer begins to learn the 'language'.
This is how graphic design aids in communication - through consistency, it provides visual shortcuts to concepts. Some aspects may not be immediately apparent, this is true. But consistency will eventually set up expectation in the viewer through longer exposure.
It's exceedingly difficult to do this well. Attitudes like yours - or more specifically, words like 'lie' - just make it even more difficult for designers to engage with their clients at the intellectual level required.
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