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Import/Export: Design Workflow and Contemporary Aesthetics


Let us take a closer look at import/export commands. As I will try to show below, these commands play a crucial role in software culture, and in particular in media design. Because my own experience is in visual media, my examples will come from this area but the processes I describe apply now to all media designed with software.

Before they adopted software tools in the 1990s, filmmakers, graphic designers, and animators used completely different technologies. Therefore, as much as they were influenced by each other or shared the same aesthetic sensibilities, they inevitably created differently looking images. Filmmakers used camera and film technology designed to capture three-dimensional physical reality. Graphic designers were working with offset printing and lithography. Animators were working with their own technologies: transparent cells and an animation stand with a stationary film camera capable of making exposures one frame at a time as the animator changed cells and/or moved background.

As a result, twentieth century cinema, graphic design and animation (I am talking here about standard animation techniques used by commercial studios) developed distinct artistic languages and vocabularies both in terms of form and content. For example, graphic designers worked with a two dimensional space, film directors arranged compositions in three-dimensional space, and cell animators worked with a ‘two-and-a-half’ dimensional space. This holds for the overwhelming majority of works produced in each field, although of course exceptions do exist. For instance, Oscar Fishinger made one abstract film that involved moving three-dimensional shapes – but as far as I know, this is the only time in the whole history of abstract animation where we see an abstract three-dimensional space.

The differences in technology influenced what kind of content would appear in different media. Cinema showed “photorealistic” images of nature, built environment and human forms articulated by special lighting. Graphic designs feature typography, abstract graphic elements, monochrome backgrounds and cutout photographs. And cartoons show hand-drawn flat characters and objects animated over hand-drawn but more detailed backgrounds. The exceptions are rare. For instance, while architectural spaces frequently appear in films because they could explore their three dimensionality in staging scenes, they practically never appear in animated films in any detail – until animation studios start using 3D computer animation.

Article  2006