[-empyre-] visualization as the new language of theory

Lev Manovich manovich.lev at gmail.com
Wed Feb 3 18:49:32 EST 2010

In the 20th century, intellectuals devoted lots of energy to analyzing
lens-based narrative visuals (photography and cinema) and modern
non-figurative art. Animation, graphic design, typography, information
design, and other areas of visual culture were mostly ignored. in
fact, if you are to search for books which theoretically analyze
graphics, you will find only a single title published in France in the
end of 1960s: Jacques Bertin, Semiology of Graphics (English edition,

In the 1990s, most areas of culture industry switched to
software-based production. As a result, graphic design (as well as as
other areas of visual culture I listed above) assumed much more
central position in contemporary culture. Additionally, visual culture
became hybrid. Today, a still design or a moving image sequence now
typically combine many previously separate media. Such hybrids are now
the norm.

A case in point are contemporary motion graphics (commercials, music
videos, film and TV titles, and other short forms). They are as
prominent today as film and TV narratives - but they cannot be
adequately described using the concepts of film theory. Motion
graphics typically combine multiple media and techniques (live action
video, 2D and 3D animation, typography, effects, compositing, etc.).
Instead of being divided into a number of discrete shots, a work often
is a single visual flow which constantly changes over time. (For a
more detailed analysis, see the chapter "After Effects, or How Cinema
Became Design" in my book Software Takes Command.)

Cultural Analytics approach can be used to analyze motion graphics -
as well as other areas of contemporary visual culture largely ignored
by academic theory. The algorithmic analysis and visualization of how
different visual parameters change over time allows us to describe
moving images in new ways.  We can graph temporal patterns across many
visual and semantic parameters, and compare them across different

Below are links to some results of our explorations into different
ways of visualizing temporal changes in motion graphics.


One of the most important advantageous of Cultural Analytics approach
is the ability to analyze and graph continuos qualities such as the
amount and type of motion. The following graph reveals the amazing
motion patterns across a feature film by Dziga Vertov (I have not
applied this technique to a pure "animation" work but it will be
trivial to do):


(full-size image)

More information about the empyre mailing list