• Ainsley Carter

Type as a Tool: Conveying Emotion

On my Explorations page, I feature an exercise in the "typography" section called "Dracula Typography." In this post, I'll talk about this series as an example of how I used typography paired with a movie still to elicit emotions from/convey emotions to the viewer.


Image via themoviedb.org
About

This was done as part of the Visual Interaction Design class at CCA taught by Aubree Ball. We were to pick a movie, choose three screens from it, and create a typographic composition that expresses the same emotion as the still from the film. My selection was the original Dracula film from 1931 (an easy choice as a horror movie lover), and the emotions portrayed in the scenes I selected were confusion, fear, and dread.


The stills I chose are pictured below. Emotions from left to right: confusion, fear, dread.


. . . the emotions portrayed in the scenes I selected were confusion, fear, and dread.

​There were some restraints for this exercise that I should mention:

  1. The page size was predetermined, as was the arrangement of the content on the page. This just meant that the composition was divided into two squares: one for the movie still and one for the typography.

  2. Additionally, there was a minimum number of words required, so it was not permitted to only use a single word like "confusion." Instead, we were required to include text from a written work. Obviously, I chose Bram Stoker's Dracula.

  3. It had to be black and white only.

  4. Text only, and no shapes other than squares/rectangles or circles.

  5. The word for the emotion itself is required to be shown.

  6. Lastly, fonts could not be modified.

Composition #1: Confusion

The first composition shows the moment that Dracula, whose vampire identity is unknown to those around him, is entranced by the sight of blood. His fixation leaves those around him confused and perplexed as to what he's experiencing.



I searched online and found a typeface that felt reminiscent of those featured on Saul Bass' classic horror movie poster designs. I thought it was perfect for what I was going for, but I got mixed feedback from my professor and peers. Some people loved it, others told me they, "couldn't see anything but the Spongebob font." Still, it had more fans than detractors, so I stuck with it.


In the movie scene, the camera is moving about, as is the cross necklace and the man's hands. The motion of it all is what inspired the spiral shape, which is created by blocks of text. The width of the spiral decreases toward the center, giving the impression of a downward motion.


. . .I got mixed feedback from my professor and peers. Some people loved it, others told me they, "couldn't see anything but the Spongebob font."

Text is layered with one copy on top of another, with white and black fills of varying opacities. Disrupting its legibility was my strategy to create a heightened sense of confusion. The word "confusion" is copied and offset at lowered opacities so as to create the illusion of motion. It decreases in sizes toward the center of the spiral, giving the impression that it's being sucked downward into the blackness.


Disrupting its legibility was my strategy to create a heightened sense of confusion.

Composition #2: Fear

The next is fear. The image here shows the moment that people discover Dracula's non-human identity when they look into the mirror and his reflection isn't shown – a telltale sign of a vampire.



In my design, I had something very specific in mind. Imagine this:


It's the middle of the night and you've heard a noise or seen something out of the corner of your eye. Your intuition starts to tell you something's wrong, and your fear reactions start to kick in – heart beating faster, chill down your spine... Your rational mind tries to tell you it's nothing, but you want to investigate to be sure.


You grab a flashlight and light the way to conduct your inspection, telling yourself that you're overreacting and it's all in your mind. You're almost done with your search and have found nothing out of the ordinary. You start to regain your sense of calm until, in the darkness, you shine your light into the corner, not expecting to see anything... but someone is there, and they're staring back at you!


I wanted to create a design, within the very limited parameters of the assignment, that recreated the feeling of shining a light into a dark corner and finding something ominous there, the same way the characters in the film shockingly discovered the vampire in their midst.


Using the word "fear" as the central item in the composition, I layered and offset two copies to create a shadow effect to best represent my vision involving shining a light. This word was placed on a white rectangle, representing the illumination of a light in a dark room, represented by the black background. I found a line of text from Stoker's novel that corresponded to the move scene and placed that atop the white box to bring it all together and unite the two pieces of media.


I wanted to create a design, within the very limited parameters of the assignment, that recreated the feeling of shining a light into a dark corner and finding something ominous there . . .

Composition #3: Dread

The final composition is dread – no doubt that dread is what one feels when a vampire is looming over you.



I overlaid multiple blocks of type to create a color gradation that seems to be bearing down upon the text on the bottom of the page. The top is darker and heavier, and the weight and color is lighter at the bottom. The heavy darkness is slowly creeping down the composition, and the eventual overcoming of the entire page is imminent. I wanted to use this effect to suggest the emotions that are felt when one is staring down evil and knows that demise is certain, the same way the light on the page will soon be completely eliminated by darkness.


Reflection

This was not my first time working with typography as its own design asset to express meaning and emotion, but the constraints that came along with this project definitely pushed me in a way I'd never experienced before.


I couldn't rely on imagery or illustrative content to help make my point, nor could I utilize color or modify fonts to my liking. At times, ideation was a struggle (and I'm honestly not pleased with how my dread-themed composition turned out), but overall, I gained so much skill and confidence in my use of typography. Plus, I got to re-watch one of my favorite movies and call it homework, so that was a plus!