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Wiggle Word, an animation based on letter and word transformations

One of my favorite pieces of animation is Ed Akerman's Primiti Too Taa, which is based on an Kurt Schwitters' poem "Ursonate" (Sonata in primitive sounds). This is the only film I know in which the only thing which appears on the screen is text (the entire film was typed on sheets of paper). And yet it is wonderfully expressive and amusing; a real masterpiece.

Primiti Too Taa inspired me to do a little piece called FOLLY, based on Samuel Beckett's poem What is the Word. My piece focuses on the "searching" affect of Beckett's poem, and emphasizes how some of the phrases in the poem grow by accumulation and extension. Since I didn't have the wherewithal (or permission) to do this as a film, I wrote a program (an MS-DOS program, FOLLY.EXE) which allows me to perform the piece, cuing the animation as I recite it.

I think it was sometime after FOLLY that I started thinking about other things I wanted animated text to do besides just move around. I've been interested in calligraphy and letterforms since I was a teenager, and the fact that some letterforms are very much like others (an "A" is like an "R" for example) has always interested me. So, one thing I wanted in a word animation was the ability of one letter to change into another. I also wanted to be able to have one word change into another (by a combination of its letters changing, and by letters either joining or leaving the word -- perhaps exchanged with other words nearby). I think the reason I gave this project the name Wiggle Word was that I didn't know the word "morph" at the time.

In 1991, Ralph Leighton told me about a project he wanted to do. He'd been transcribing recordings of Richard Feynman speaking, and felt that the act of transcribing removed a huge amount of the expressive content of the tapes. He wondered whether there was some easy way to create printed text in which the size and boldness of the type changed from word to word (or syllable to syllable) to reflect changes in the voice of a speaker. Since I'd been thinking about Wiggle Word, I had some ideas for how he might do it which I shared with him. I don't know whether I got the "different size" idea from him, but it now seems like this would be a natural thing to have in Wiggle Word.