No code at all

In the early 80’s (of the previous century) Jeanne de Bont and I worked at the renowned design agency Total Design in Amsterdam. Beside work we had also presentations we could go to. On one of these friday-afternoon presentations Dutch graphic designer, writer and creative director of Total Design Ben Bos presented us a short film. It was a short stop-motion film which was made in 1965 and it showed us the unlimited amount of variations you could make using a simple grid. The amount of variations were astronomical. IBM calculated that if you would display all variations next to each other it could easily fill the length of the earth’s equator. Anyway it was very impressive. So from that moment on I thought I would like to know more about working with computers and how to use them in my own design process. But that seemed not as easy as I thought.

Besides the work that we did during the day at Total Design we did projects which we made public by silkscreen posters. The design and implementation of these projects was a very lengthy and expensive process because everything had to be done manually. You had to draw the illustrations which explained the idea and beside of that there was also a photography and printing process. This process lasted sometimes for a whole year. But the result was always a static poster in an edition of 500 copies.

During one of these projects, which we later gave the name Dialogue, the idea came up to try to use a KORG MS10 synthesizer for an animated film. I experimented with music at that time so that brought us to the idea to design a symbolic language that allowed us to generate images of the KORG MS10 settings. For the music I made a composition with the KORG MS10 that I recorded on tape. That composition was the basis for the images that we were going to show in the animation. The animated film we wanted to realize through computer animation because that appeared to be the easiest and most efficient way. But the most important reason to use a computer was because we were very interested in the new graphic possibilities. We were not at all interested in the hardware.

When you would like to use computer graphics as a starting point for your project then questions arise immediately. Where do we get a computer? And where do we get one who does what we want? And who does the programming? We only had indirect contact with computers through the redesign of the Eurostyle font. This font was to be used for Philips computer keyboards. A project we worked on in 1978. We had almost no money so we decided that we needed some funding. Thinking of funding let see first whether it is possible to create a test on a computer. Somewhere. Somehow.

It was almost impossible for a graphic designer with an income of barely 1,850 guilders per month (about 839 Euro) to buy a computer. Computers were too expensive and not yet produced for the consumer. Therefore, computers were only to be found in government institutions and multinational companies such as IBM, Philips or Shell. Another place they could be found where the universities. Luckily for us Total Design had already contact with the Technical University in Delft.

So we tried to get in contact with the Computer Centre of the Technical University in Delft. It took several weeks before we had found the right people. All communication had to go by letters written with a typewriter or by telephone. Finally we ended up at R Janse and engineer C Thijs. After a first meeting in which we explained what our intentions were, they were willing to make a small test for our Dialogue project.

There is not much left of these experiments. I found a few slides (click on the ‘Next’ button when you are at the Flickr page) with a terrible photographic quality because I was not interested in photography. I used a Russian Zenith camera which I had bought 10 years before. But the test was successful and we managed to compile a document in which we explained the end result we would like to get. That document was sent to the Frans Duwaer Foundation to ask them for funding. The funding was rejected. And we still don’t know what the reason was.

This was our first experience with computing and graphics but also with getting funding for projects. Now you may wonder why we did not go ahead with the manual approach. Beside of making the illustrations of the different settings of the KORG MS10 that would take us more than a year. After that stage we had to rent a studio with staff who would produce the film. Also the synchronisation of sound and visuals would be an awful lot of work. Financially this would be impossible for us at that time. But we had gained a little experience with computers and some essential changes in the near future would make it very much easier for us.

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