The title sequence for the 1995-1998 animated television series Pinky and the Brain is best known for its memorable theme song but its kinetic typography, created by Bryan Evans, is worthy of attention as an unexpected e-poem. Its lyrics, penned by series creator Tom Ruegger, consist of comical rhyming verses in iambic trimeter (mostly) that introduce the characters and their motivations, as can be seen in the first stanza below.
They’re Pinky and The Brain
Yes, Pinky and The Brain
One is a genius
The other’s insane.
They’re laboratory mice
Their genes have been spliced
They’re Pinky and The Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain
Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain
These lyrics are central to the title sequence because they are kinetically displayed on the screen to the rhythm of the recorded song. This textual display isn’t a simple scrolling motion on screen or scheduled caption, it rapidly displays close to 50 different types of animation with an almost equal number of font changes during this minute-long sequence. Close attention to this animated text reveals that in addition to the lyrics it includes a few typical words and phrases spoken by the cartoon characters, such as “Are you pondering what I’m pondering?” “zort” and “narf” (see below).
The rapid pace at which the kinetic typography unfolds doesn’t prevent reading, in part because human beings are able to apprehend language quickly on a screen– about 250-650 words per minute, as research in Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP) has shown– but also because the kinetic typography works hand in hand with the text. For example, read the second stanza of the lyrics and examine three still images that show how they are represented visually and typographically.
Before each night is done
Their plan will be unfurled
By the dawning of the sun
They’ll take over the world.
Note how the typographical choices for each sequence are significant. The first line is presented fully with a thin white font and punctuated by a rapidly enlarging yellow “done” to mimic the rising of the sun a preparing us visually for the rhyme in the third line. The second line is split into two as the words glide in a wavy motion across the screen emphasizing “unfurled” through color as well as positioning. The third still image demonstrates what is now a recognizable typographical pattern: the emphasis on the final word of each line through spacing, color, size, font choice, animation, and/or temporal changes working in synchrony with the song, which highlights the words through meter, rhyme, pause and rising tone at the end of each line.
Motion typography is nothing new in American culture, going back to the early days of cinema, and title sequences have long employed techniques like the one analyzed here– as is explored in resources like The Art of the Title. This unexpected e-poem shows its computational nature in the types of transformations it offers, which are recognizable from the kinds of effects offered by commercial software in the mid 1990s, such as morphs, stretching, waving, and a rich palette of fonts, easily switchable by selecting from a pull-down menu. Such effects are the product of decades of research and design of hardware and software tools by the television, film, and software industries as well as by research centers like MIT’s Visible Language Workshop, founded by Muriel Cooper in 1973. And in the 1990s, such technologies became affordable and accessible to a much broader user base through affordable software like Macromedia Director and Flash.
Language has been dancing for over a century in analog time-based media (film) and for decades in time-based magnetic media (television). This poem from the mid 1990s shows how digital media took up that dance and made it accessible to many others, setting the tone for writers to create works like “dimocopo,” “The Dreamlife of Letters” and “The Struggle Continues.” And if there’s any doubt about how naturalized this kind of writing has become, notice how the seemingly reversed syntax in the still image at the top of this entry isn’t reversed at all when presented in the title sequence.