1998 - present


The Concrete Poets of the '60s, and their Dada and Futurist forebears, treated the visual appearance of text as a principal participant in the production of meaning. Their interests in such experimentation grew out of a deeply held belief that traditional forms of written communication, with its clean spacing, rectilinear layout, and sober letterforms, no longer could speak to the cultural schizophrenia of the modern age. Working within the constraints of traditional letterpress, these artists and poets managed to explore text's visual presence in ways that seem fresh even to the MTV-jaded eyes of today.

As concrete poets practicing at the beginning of a new century, we have embarked upon the ActiveText Project. The ActiveText Project is an on-going experiment in radical ways of treating and interacting with the visual appearance of text in ways which reflect our post-millennial data devotion. Users can set glyphs, words, or entire passages in motion, pull them apart, blow them up, infect them with dynamic behaviors and even reconstitute them, in an attempt to deconstruct standard notions of text presentation and reception. We use these behaviors to write digital poetry, create whimsical web pages and do performance art in dance clubs.

At the core of the project is a C++ library called ActiveText. This library implements a general purpose architecture for creating dynamic texts, using an object-based hierarchy to represent texts. This hierarchy makes it easy to work with the ASCII component and pixel component of the text at the same time. Static, dynamic and interactive properties of text can be easily intermixed and layered. The user can enter and edit text, adjust static and dynamic layout, apply dynamic and interactive behaviors, and adjust their parameters with a common set of tools and a common interface. Support for continuous editing allows the user to sketch dynamically. The documents produced by the ActiveText library can be of use in a wide-range of areas, including chat-spaces, email, web-sites, fiction and poetry writing, live performance and low-end film & video titling.


Related Work

Chloe Chao
Designed Kinetext, an environment for programming typographic animation which itself employed animated type.


Peter Cho
Focused on creating fonts which were designed for computational manipulation.

Paul Haeberli
Haeberli created a utility for doing real-time, 3D transformations of letterforms. Unfortunately I can't find a reference anywhere on the web. You might as well check out Dynadraw an early drawing program that uses gesture to interpret stroke, etc.

Suguru Ishizaki
Early work on Kinetic Typography. Ph.D. thesis a good starting point, along with Wong and Small, for a discussion of the usability issues involved in the reading and experience of dynamic typography.

Golan Levin
Relentless experimenter, Levin has produced a number of smaller pieces which play with typography in various expressive ways.

Jason Lewis
Dynamic Poetry sought to create a new genre of poems driven by interactive/dynamic type; ActiveText project build a number of tools to create such texts.

John Maeda
Has made innovation with computational type one of the cornerstones of his work, and of the work done by his students in the Aesthetic and Computation Group at the Media Lab

Tara Rosenberger-Shankar.
Rosenberger-Shankar built an environment which used prosody information from marked-up text files to animate text.

  • Prosodic Font: The space between the spoken and the written. Masters thesis, Massachusetts Institute for Technology, 1998.

Bill Seaman

  • The World Generator / The Engine of Desire
  • Recombinant Poetics: Emergent Meaning as Examined and Explored Within a Specific Generative Virtual Environment

David Small
Conducted a series of experiments at the Media Lab's Visual Language Workshop in dynamic and three-dimensional typography.

Douglas Soo

  • Implementation of a temporal typography system. Masters thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1997.

Josh Nimoy

Camille Utterback

Yin Yin Wong

Sha Xin Wei
Conducts Conducts Hubbub, a project dedicated to different means of visualizing speech in public places. The project uses TextOrgan as the it's text visualization engine.

Type In Motion: Innovations in Digital Graphics



dynamic text performance tool

It's Alive!
dynamic and interactive text editor

Tu Uyen Triptych
triptych of interactive poems

painting with text

first sketches

Dynamic Typography
playing around with type


ActiveText: A Method for Creating Dynamic and Interactive Texts

Dynamic Poetry: Introductory Remarks to a New Medium

ActiveText SoftType

ActiveText Behaviors