Charles & Ray Eames, Powers of Ten
One of the challenges faced regularly by designers and ad people is explaining to people just what it is they do. In an excellent panel at Design Indaba, three filmmakers discussed the films they’ve made that are helping to illuminate the hidden worlds of advertising and design…
Opening the discussion was Eames Demetrios, grandson of Charles & Ray Eames, who talked about the film that he made of the Eames studio (which they worked in from 1943 to 1988) after Ray died in 1988.
“I’m a firm believer that design is the ability to surrender to the journey,” he said. “When Ray died we found out we only had six months to empty the office in Venice, California, as it was condemned as an earthquake risk. We asked for two years, but the guys said, ‘are you kidding me? That old lady’s been sweet-talking us for years to keep it, you’ve got six months.’ In some ways it was a mercy as we really had to deal with it – but I immediately had to start filming it, to capture it, as it was a really magical world.”
The resulting film, titled 901, reveals this magic, as well as the personal relationship that Eames Demetrios obviously has with its subject, which gives the film an unusually intimate feel (I’m afraid I can’t find it on YouTube or Vimeo anywhere, if anyone has a link to it, please post below). He described how part of the magic of the studio came from the fact it was always changing. “For Charles & Ray it was about flexibility, as even the walls were just clamped in so some days we’d go down there and it would look completely different,” he said. He also discussed the Eames’ love of film and documenting their work, particularly mentioning Powers of Ten, shown top, which they made entirely themselves. “With the Powers of Ten, they anticipated a lot of the desktop publishing world,” he said. “It’s the vision that matters, you can find the toolkit that goes with it.”
Art & Copy trailer
Also speaking was Doug Pray, who created the film Art & Copy, which takes viewers inside the much-maligned world of advertising. It features US ad industry legends including Dan Wieden and Lee Clow talking about some of their most famous campaigns, and how they were made. A trailer for the film is shown above.
Pray stressed that despite the bad reputation advertising holds, his film had to be made without judgement. “I’ve done a lot of documentaries about artists and mavericks and I tried to approach this in the same way,” he said. “Advertising is hard to do films about, as it’s so hated. So I tried to approach it in a non-judgmental way.”
He clearly came away with a huge respect for the ad creatives he interviewed. “I think if you want to fight advertising you have to get to know the human beings, the geniuses, that are constructing it, and then fight it, if you want to,” he said. “They are the greatest communicators there are…. It’s not easy to do, and they are really good at it.”
Finally Gary Hustwit, the documentary maker behind the hugely successful Helvetica film, and its follow-up Objectified, spoke about his work. Michael Bierut, who was chairing the panel and also featured in Helvetica, acknowledged that being in it was “to this day, my greatest claim to fame”.
Hustwit admitted that he’d initially made the film because it was “a movie I wanted to watch – as a fan of graphic design”. “I could believe there wasn’t already a film about graphic design or typography,” he said. “It was a little side project, it was a personal film for me to watch – I didn’t really expect to have everyone receive it so warmly.” Hustwit is currently working on his third film in his design film trilogy, although won’t at this stage be drawn on its subject matter…
All of these films, despite their varying styles, demonstrate how opening up the worlds of design and advertising to the public can hugely aid in explaining the complexities of what designers and advertisers do to a wider audience, and their success clearly shows a thirst for such stories to be told.