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Animated Typeface Project Invites Users To Create Moving Letters

In the future, will all our street signs move?

by Johnny Magdaleno
16 December 2013, 4:15pm

What if GIFs actually had a purpose? Yeah, they entertain, but the question is searching for a larger, civil application for these short-cycle moving images. It’s the kind of prodding we should be applying to any widely consumed internet ornament—especially if it’s a form of media.

In the bigger picture, let’s think of the mass utilization of GIF-like images applied across society’s signage: watch the folks on the yellow school crossing traffic signs move their legs across a conveyor belt of pedestrian stripes. Or a “Caution: Electric Shock” sign that shows a stick figure touching a chain-link fence before his body snaps to a vibrating X.

Or we can go even more primal and imagine this new symbology applied to the alphabet to create a digitized collection of energetic lettering. This is essentially what Jono Brandel has done with his new project Anitype, which invites anyone to create their own moving letter designs via code.


Brandel says he’s been working on the concept since his last project with Google Creative Lab’s Data Arts Team, in which he and a squad of other veritable tech artists generated an interactive short-film for Arcade Fire.

“I've been kicking around an idea based on the question: what if letters could move? I realized that a discussion is more productive than my own personal explorations, so I built a site where we could discuss,” said Brandel. “Unlike typical venues of discussion Anitype speaks in code—JavaScript specifically. We provide a letter and a sandboxed environment for anyone to tinker and animate characters from the roman alphabet.”

At Anitype’s website you can see what people have submitted thus far for each letter, with clever designs ranging from an A that does Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk, to a Y that fills up like a Martini glass. (No one cares about Z? What’s the deal? Zero submissions for our almighty concluder).

And for any JavaScript coding linguists reading this: Brandel wants you to give it a shot. Click on a letter you can’t stand watching just sit there, doing nothing, and you’ll be brought to a code editor dotted with boilerplate code. From there, you’re free to liven up the character of choice to your heart’s content. 

More details of the project’s mechanics can be found at Anitype’s “Documentation” page

We give a lot of love to typefaces that break boundaries and catch eyes, like the engrossing 3D printed alphabet designs by johnson banks and Ravensbourne art college, or Rus Khasanov’s many liquid and chaotic fonts. Each is worthy of interest in its own right, especially as virtually all conventions, structures, and components of language continue to get restructured in light of digital efficiency. But like LOL and OMG and other e-colloquialisms, the key to success with any kind of motion-enriched typography lies in its utility.

Any animation too chaotic may subtract from the implicit value of a letter or word by distracting. Like, an “OPEN” sign that glows and flashes and each letter held up by tap-dancing rap-video-sexy legs and fireworks shoot out of the O, on repeat, may actually deter people from entering the sidewalk cafe because of its complexity. It also runs the risk of over-exciting a few pedestrian epileptics in the process. 

But before something that advanced is considered, we know now that it works incredibly well when minimized. Case and point is the headline on Anitype’s “Documentation” page. Watch how smoothly the “MOVE” comes in to the screen. It’s short, simple and quickly understandable—three characteristics which happen to be the keystones of any communicable lettering.

Arcade Fire
Jono Brandel
Google Creative Lab