While the scenes and sounds of our favorite show starting might carry their own associations (the end of the workday as we settle in for the evening at home), the introductory credits to a TV show are carefully calibrated works of motion graphics, (a.k.a. one aspect of graphic design) spun with storytelling, visual cues, and other details to set the scene and tone for the show that will follow. Students in TMCC Graphic Arts & Media Technology (GAMT) Instructor Felix Danger’s motion graphics class are grappling with those elements to create intro credits for self-conceived shows that span every possible genre.
“This is one of the first things I teach them, and the project includes establishing mood, creating a theme and animating text,” said Danger. “A lot of students weren’t really aware of the challenges in doing this, but they come out of this assignment excited, which makes me excited.”
One student created vampire-themed opening credits that incorporated dark forest scenes with hues of blue, which later contrast with the bright red blood that forms the show’s title. “Students create the show’s name, and a part of the preliminary work is coming up with a conception, so they have to have a plot. They need to know the main character, where it takes place if the story falls into a genre (mystery, action, etc.) and what kinds of objects are related to that,” said Danger, who explained that he encourages students to begin by thinking of associations of the genre, its various tropes, and expectations audiences might bring with them—basically everything that can be used visually to convey the right mood and story.
This is one in a wide variety of assignments—including lip-syncing cartoons, video, animating text and producing music videos—that teach communication strategies that are integral to this profession. In order to create in all of these different media, a student has to understand how to effectively use metaphor.
“So many of these visual storytelling cues that happen at the beginning of a television show—even during the opening credits—are all about metaphor,” he said. “So how can you take a simple object and relate it to something that’s so much better, the hidden messages and all of that? We find out really quickly that even without actors, we can produce a functional, professional-looking intro credit that has mood and all the elements viewers expect to see.”
Using copyright-free found footage, students in Danger’s class had to choose color schemes, add graphics and turn it into a 60 to 90-second video. The assignment requires that students not only learn a particular software but gain a deeper understanding that comes along with being a communications professional: how we can convey meaning through simple objects, evoking intended responses in the audience that are rooted in our expectations and cultural associations.
New Faculty, New Directions
TMCC’s GAMT program has offered students an excellent, cutting-edge, and relevant program for over 30 years. Danger brings decades of professional experience as a graphic designer to his new position as teaching faculty in the program along with several parallels: working with clients, like working with students, is a process by which Danger helps others to discover their voice, concepts, and direction.
“Most of the time when I’m working with customers a great deal of my work was trying to help them to figure out what they needed. That involved an interview, an exploration of what audience they are looking for, what their strengths are, and what kind of a voice they want to speak with because there is so much more to graphic design than making a logo,” he said. He does similar work with students: teaching them to use the elements of design and an understanding of audience as tools to convey a specific message through media that also (literally) moves.
Yet, why motion graphics? In many ways, it’s a sign of the times. “You can’t have a logo anymore without animation,” Danger said. “When things are advertised in this day and age in magazines are trending toward digital editions and that starts to include a lot more action and motion. The medium has changed. So, I like to think that what we’re looking at is bringing more of that aspect of graphic design to an already excellent program.”
This semester, Danger is teaching Introduction to Digital Art and Design (GRC 116), Introduction to Motion Graphics (GRC 117), Storyboarding (GRC 135), and Graphic Design II (GRC 355, for third-year students.) Students who take GRC 116 and 117 can expect to discover how motion graphics can be applied in various media and situations. “These classes are the prerequisite for moving on to the other classes, and also shows students a little bit about the software involved, as well as giving them a chance to try all the various types of designs. In GRC 116, we work with type, posters, logos, and magazine layout. In GRC 117, students work with video, typography, animation and lip-syncing. After that students can decide if they really like doing this and if they want to move on to higher-level classes, or even to pursue this as a career.”
Danger is also interested in bringing community connections to the classes he teaches through projects that have real-life applications. Possible future collaborations include the Holland Project, which hosts video/animation contests each year, as well as another local film festival called the Scum Dance Festival. “I think that film festivals in town are an excellent avenue to have a student show off anything from simple animated shorts, homemade movies or documentaries, or even something like kinetic typography,” he said.
Community involvement will also be embedded in-class assignments; Danger hopes to include 1–2 community-based projects each semester.
“We’ve always done something like posters for social change, or creating logos for various TMCC programs. But what I am hoping to do is to have assignments that are actually taken into the community,” he said.
Opportunities for Communicators
While there is no doubt that the growth in digital communications has opened several new avenues in the graphic design field, Danger cautions students from thinking too narrowly about what a graphic designer does. First, he said, graphic designers don’t just work for an agency; there are many opportunities across several industries for a graphic designer to find work. This could be freelancing, or even working for a particular company that needs to produce their own materials independently and that is not at all interested in hiring a graphic design firm.
The second misconception about the career runs deeper and has to do with our understanding of the role that creativity plays in this particular profession. You don’t have to be a talented artist to be a graphic designer, said Danger. Instead, what you need to be is an effective and strategic communicator.
“I’ve been involved in the graphic design profession for twenty years, and the career has always been about communication. And, communication doesn’t involve fancy art or some wild, unbridled talent. It requires being able to get your message across,” Danger said. “I usually tell students at the beginning of a program like this that good art is interpretive and good design is understood. In other words, if you see good art, you can look at it and get all kinds of messages. But, if you’re a good designer, the work is laser-focused on one message. So… students don’t have to be fantastic artists. They just have to be able to understand the principles behind how to draw an audience in, and to get them to see what you want them to see first.”
The changing landscape with an increased number of opportunities to work remotely has also opened opportunities in the graphic design field, enabling designers to work for companies that might be in a different city, or even in another part of the state or country. Social media, too, has increased the demand for eye-catching digital media.
“Graphic design is definitely one of those industries that is going to remain strong for the future,” Danger said. “Creativity isn’t something you can teach a robot to do. And again, creativity isn’t artistic talent. It’s being able to understand the creative aspects of something, and to tell that story visually.”
For more information about TMCC’s Graphic Arts & Media Technology program, contact the department at 775-673-7291.