Conan O’Brien’s Farewell Speech in Kinetic Typography

Just when you thought you’ve seen them all, along comes a kinetic typography project reassuring you that, yes indeed, there still is potential in the medium. This video was created by Jacob Gilbreath, a graphic design student at Oklahoma State University with an emphasis in motion graphics. It visualises a portion of the farewell speech from Conan O’Brien’s final episode of The Tonight Show on NBC. Conan describes his feelings about NBC and the situation at hand. His personality exudes positivity and humour, and this monologue characterises him very well. Even through the hardships of leaving NBC he promotes hard work and kindness.


Conan O’Brien Kinetic Typography from Jacob Gilbreath on Vimeo.

Jacob Gilbreath:

The concept behind this video is to show Conan O’Brien as a solid wall and a monumental entertainer. Also portrayed is the relationship between old and new. This comparison shows the idea of a span of time. Conan O’Brien is and will continue to be seasoned television entertainer. After drawing inspiration from Lou Dorfsman’s Gastrotypographicalassemblage, this concept was achieved by creating a literal wall out of over 60 individual typographic layouts. These layouts reference a variety of vintage type designs. The combination of vintage styled type layouts and the sleek 3D look achieved in Cinema 4D allow the wall to seem both old and new. This contrast emphasizes time and creates a sturdy and timeless object which is the perfect metaphor for Conan O’Brien.

Created with Illustrator, Soundbooth, Cinema 4D, and After Effects, the video uses a compact yet eclectic type palette. Let me start by saying both the typography and the movement are excellent. The complete speech is locked up in a large number of individual three-dimensional typographic compositions in a type case-like arrangement (obviously referencing the Gastrotypographicalassemblage – see the bottom of this post). Orange stylised objects punctuate the otherwise monochrome white composition. By rotating and panning the camera fluidly glides over all those typographic units, visualising the narrative in synchronisation with Conan O’Brien’s speech.

As a typographer I was mildly surprised by Jacob’s use of the adjective “vintage” to define the type layouts. Because we are a generation removed we perceive this concept differently. I can understand the wood type references – like PL Davison Americana, Poster Podoni, H&FJ Knockout, Ziggurat and Leviathan from The Proteus Project, as well as that decorative wood type face similar to Madame. Same goes for representatives from clearly defined periods – Eaglefeather, Broadway for Art Deco; a College-style slab serif and a baseball-style bold script similar to Home Run Script for the ’40s–’50s. Funnily enough Jacob uses both Cooper Black and Goudy Heavyface, the typeface that was designed to compete with it.

Other type choices I don’t really associate with “vintage”. Because I grew up with the first generation of PostScript fonts some of them are simply standard faces for me, and as vintage as yesterday’s newspaper – Courier, Helvetica, Rockwell, Univers, VAG Rounded, … If I wanted to convey “vintage” I wouldn’t have used the ITC versions of ITC Century, ITC Cheltenham, ITC Bookman, ITC Garamond but the original designs they are based on, respectively Century, Cheltenham, Bookman, and another Garamond. Similarly I consider Onyx, a text face like Bembo and that weird serifless version of Caslon Swash Italic, as well as the recreation of the generic architectural lettering in New York H&FJ Gotham to be “timeless classics”.

There’s also two clunkers – Deftone is one of those dodgy designs by freefont star Ray Larabie, and I still can’t get over my distaste for Futura Condensed; something like Erbar would’ve looked better and more accurate. But all this is nit-picking. I do realise that criticising the type choices may be a little unfair, because as a student I suppose Jacob Gilbreath must only have access to a limited selection of digital type.

The typography is augmented with cute little extras. While some are purely ornamental – literally – others enhance specific typographic compositions, reinforcing their meaning, like the two outward arrows in “We’re going our separate ways” at 0:20. For me the best one is the fractured “I can never ever thank you enough” where the emotion causes Conan’s voice to break at 1:50.


Gastrotypographicalassemblage from Kemistry on Vimeo.

The story behind Lou Dorfman’s Gastrotypographicalassemblage on YouTube.

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2 Comments:

  1. Thank you for your deep insight to my project and this great writeup over it. I appreciate your extended palette of type knowledge. Thanks again.

    Posted by Jacob Gilbreath on Mar. 7, 2011
  2. Congratulations on a job very well done, Jacob. If this is your student’s work, I can’t wait to discover your “professional” work in a couple of years. Very impressive.

    As a side note, I am more of a Craig Ferguson fan myself. But that’s completely besides the point. ; )

    Posted by Yves Peters on Mar. 8, 2011

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