a as in dog

Dan Waber
Marko Niemi




Dan writes:

This all started several many years ago when I was working at a job that had me on the phone all the time. A lady called me up and was spelling out her last name and was trying to use the “a as in alpha, b as in bravo” type of spelling with me, to avoid any confusion. She was something of a scatterbrain, though, and at one point she said “a as in dog”. Really. It made me laugh and it made her laugh and it stuck with me.

A few months went by, and I ended up sketching out a way to make the letter “a” into a dog.

If it’s a serif font, look closely at it and think of the “tail” as the right-hand-side descender and the “mouth” the left side ascender. Now just slightly “wag” that tail and make some radiating “bark” curves in the area of the slightly barking-motion making ascender and voila! It’s a dog!

Then, with a bit of playing around, I found a way to similarly make every letter of the alphabet into some animal whose name doesn’t start with that letter (and no initial letters repeat). Nothing but single letters being everso slightly animated. I knew that I didn’t have the deft touch necessary to make these animations really work, so I put the list aside and waited for the right collaborator to come along.

Years later, in the Fall of 2006, the right collaborator came along. I met Marko Niemi through the bpNichol “First Screening” project, which we both participated in. After seeing some of his work (and working together (that part wasn’t work at all)) on getting a couple of my digital visual poetry pieces translated into Finnish, I invited him to submit some work to an issue of UnlikelyStories.org I was guest editing on “cross-media” works. I loved how ultra-minimal his work was, and I thought maybe, just maybe, this was the guy who could make the “a as in dog” pieces come to life.

So I pitched the idea to him, and he said he’d be interested in it, that he liked the idea. A few weeks went by and a first try of “h as in giraffe” appeared in my inbox. It was terrific, but, not as minimal as I’d been imagining. After a bit more explanation, Marko said, “Ok. It’s nice to meet someone who’s possibly an even stricter minimalist than I am; that doesn’t happen everyday.” Now, I don’t profess to be a stricter minimalist than Marko, but, I can totally relate to his initial plan of attack. It’s definitely more likely that I was less of a minimalist than him. The next batch of drafts were perfect, spot-on, better than I had imagined, and made me grin from ear to ear for days on end. And still do.

I had an idea that led to a suite of ideas. Marko made them better than I had imagined they could be, by making them, in most cases, slightly less than I’d’ve been willing to dare on my own. This is how good collaboration can be.

Thank you, Marko.


Marko writes:

When Dan first told me about this project last autumn, I wasn't sure at all if I was the right person to bring his ideas to life. I'm primarily a programmer-guy, not an animator or a visualist of any kind, but the brief descriptions Dan sent me just were so funny and crazy that I simply couldn't resist the temptation to give it a try.

After considering a few different formats like Javascript, Flash and Java, we decided to use the one that's possibly the simplest animation format available: the animated gif. Then, I started to think about the beautiful gif-based anipoems by Ana María Uribe, many of which contain a very limited number of frames--some of them only two, which I think is the last stop before the absolute zero point of animation, preferably also combined with an one-pixel change between the frames, and that became my ideal during this project. We actually never reached that far, but in some cases, we did get pretty close to it. And we had lots of fun along the way.

Thanks, Dan.

And from both of us:

Thank you to everyone who visits and who takes the time to see the animals in our minimalist zoo.

Dan Waber & Marko Niemi