Motion Design: Poetry

In the Graphic Design Masters Program at Yale, I currently teach motion design. The objective is to shift the designer’s thinking from “composition” (getting all the elements into just the right spot and freezing them) to “choreography” (planning the path and behavior of multiple elements within the same time space).

One of the projects I assign, near the end of the semester, involves the visualization of poetry. I offer my students four or five audio files of poets reading their own poems. I ask them to listen to them all, then select one to work with. This is the prompt:

The goal of this project is to respond to the natural rhythms and inflections of speech and then find or make images that, through selection and editing, enrich the meaning and emotional tone of the language.

The entire project statement reads like this:




I have found that this project regularly produces some of the best work in the course. Often several students work with the same text and it is fascinating to see how differently they come out. For example, the following two variations were from the same class, responding to the same poem by and are among my favorite interpretations. Both of them are spare and elegant but entirely different in conception.

In the first, the austere palette, apt symbolic imagery and impeccable timing electrify the intense reading and feeling of the poem.

08-casparlam_theportrait (Created in 2008 by Caspar Lam, Yale MFA Design student, in response to the poem “The Portrait,” by Stanley Kunitz) 

In the second example, words are deployed instead of images. The text is obscured and a new message is found within it, adding a dramatic new layer of meaning to the poem.

08-danielkoppich_the-portrait (Created in 2008 by Daniel Koppich, Yale MFA Design student, in response to the poem “The Portrait,” by Stanley Kunitz) 

By their different choices of imagery, timing and behavior, the designers have enhanced the purely aural experience of the poem.

(I will be adding a range of examples to this post, so come back and sample it, from time to time.)