How an Ancient, Mythic Language is Coming Back to Life
- by PowToon’s creative director (retired superhero Oren M.)
At the time the internet started kicking off, I was studying graphic ‘communications’ as the faculty insisted on calling call it, which is really just a fancy way of saying graphic design.
In one of the lectures, the teacher unexpectedly ignited my imagination with something he said, and his words still echo through my working life today. He said that computers and the internet had brought an ancient language back to life – the language of pictograms.
An ancient language that had previously served cultures such as the ancient Egyptians is now making a comeback. What were once paintings on the walls of pyramid mausoleums documenting historic events have evolved into a language of small icons that help us communicate with computers.
Until recently, pictograms were mostly used in modern culture as traffic signs and airport directions, but now, driven by the need to find border-crossing means of communication, they suddenly inherited a new limitless platform to evolve to.
A Pictogram? What is it Good For?
So what is the function of a pictogram? Why is it so much more powerful than written text?
Firstly, the places where pictograms are used are typically places where there’s a necessity to convey a message quickly, like for example a stop sign that helps to prevent an accident.
Secondly, a pictogram must be universal so anyone can understand it, regardless of language, ethnicity, or origin.
Thirdly, a pictogram needs to be memorable, and since an “image speaks a thousand words”, it serves this purpose much better than text, in terms of memorability. In other words, a pictogram tells a story very fast without someone needing to actually read anything.
Falling in Love with Flash
After I left school, I wanted to become an animator. So I started working in a small studio that made classic animations. Classic animation, in a nutshell, means creating a new drawing for each frame. And you have around 25 of those in one second of motion picture. So that’s a lot of drawing…..
Usually, the characters I had to draw had a lot of detail and the backgrounds and props were insanely detailed as well. Luckily for me, Flash came along and saved me from drawing stuff over and over again. Instead, I could just draw it once really well and then add motion to it using the software.
That was a really good fit for me because it meant that I could now concentrate on the thing I love about animation, which is: the way the character moves and acts.
While working with Flash and leaving the classic animation world behind me, I came to learn that a minimalisticly designed character and animation are not a bad thing. Although it contradicted the principles I’d been taught, I found new magic in it. I felt the essence of the Pictogram world somehow interacting with my animation style.
The Best Design Style to Start With
Almost 10 years had passed when the PowToon venture came along – brought to life to help people and organizations create animated presentations. We came to realize that our tool will mix two art forms, promotional animated clips and presentations (or Powtoons as we now call them).
We were faced with a challenge, we needed to start with designed elements that could easily interact with text and images, and were infinitely adaptable and extendable. So we asked ourselves: What would be the best style to start working with? What would be compelling enough as a cartoon character but could also hold a very clear message within a static frame? The answer was the Pictogram style.
Not only does this style easily capture the viewers attention due to its recognizable visual, but in terms of design and animation, it is very easy to create. Using a character that is uni-colour makes it much easier to manipulate and create new poses. Props in Pictogram style are easy to create too with no color adaptations, strokes, or perspective issues to deal with. The Pictogram (or ‘Picto’) style was the best solution for us to start with from every possible angle.
These days, I find myself dealing with the challenge of intertwining the good old language of Pictograms with the advanced media of animation and motion to form a new way to help people communicate through cartoon presentations.
In case you are wondering about our other styles to follow on Picto’s heels…. stay tuned, we’re in the process of creating a veritable smorgus board of them.