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Shadows and Light: How Timeless AV Design Meets Modern Multimedia

The solar eclipse this week got our AY-PE minds into motion…

Isn’t it funny how as a society :

  • We hunger for the latest phone and its multi-cameras, AI, lidar and AR

  • We thirst to go to the latest immersive tech event - hologram performance of Coldplay x BTS, Fatboy Slim or ABBA anyone?

  • We take for granted being in a position to have an opinion on whether the latest Netflix, Amazon, Apple TV release is of a high enough quality to warrant our viewing time (when this quality, just a little over 10 years ago, was reserved for cinemas only)

And yet...

Just for a few seconds...

When the moon passes over the sun...

and one round object, simply, blocks the light of another...


The world is captivated and social media is on fire.

A family stands in shadow as they view a solar eclipse
The timeless of beauty of a solar eclipse (image: kdshutterman)

The eclipse delivers an unforgettable, evocative moment through simple, natural, contrasts of light, living up to every human expectation as it always has and always will, no matter where in evolution mankind is. There's got to be a lesson in that...

Keeping up to date for the long term

Our digital multimedia experiences have to enthral millions of visitors per year, for at least 10 years if not more, until an exhibition has a change. If in the last 10 years alone, we have seen the rise of exceptionally high quality on-demand media, the advent of holographic technology and the ability for anyone to tap into the latest digital fad at the press of a phone, how then do you design AV exhibits to keep up with audience expectations and not date?

Perhaps we take a tip from the eclipse.

Plenty of multimedia designers will have different takes on the question and the answer isn’t black and white.  But, in responding to how multimedia artistry can maintain high quality appeal, positive engagement and survive a decade or more of trend changes, we would say: keep it classic - don’t follow the trend.

How do you survive trend changes? Don't follow them!

This might not be the hottest answer, but in following the latest, coolest, fashion or trend, the visual style runs the risk of dating quickly.

Example: Shadow / silhouette animation

Let’s take animation as a case study. To create something timeless, it helps to draw on the wealth of established, classic design techniques that command respect, understanding and an inherent appreciation of the style. Small amounts of VFX, motion graphics or other design elements may borrow from, or be influenced by a more on-trend style, but these should only be highlights, never the main feel of the piece.

Still from The Tale of Piers Shonks were a silhouette shadow cut out illustration stands in front of shadowy, silhouette streets
Silhouette animations bespoke made by AY-PE: North Hertfordshire Museum 'Tale of Piers Shonks'

A popular style reference which we receive from clients and agencies is that of the shadow / silhouette, illustrative animations used in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, for the “The Tale of the Three Brothers” (ie when the ‘legend’ of the Deathly Hallows is explained). The film exploded a trend for this style, with its ability to convey stark, powerful and mythical narratives through light contrast and movement.

Although seemingly a new style trend, which could pass and date, the truth is that it wasn’t new at all. Its roots go back to Victorian children’s shadow-puppet theatres (and likely further back still).

In terms of an animated, filmic device, it dates back to artists such as Lotte Reiniger, a German animator working with silhouette style animation from 1920s - 70s. Lotte not only adored the silhouette style, she also pushed the boundaries of technology to showcase it in moving film. In 1923 she created the first multi-plane camera, giving the illusion of realistic 3D depth to her worlds of silhouettes, lights and shadows.

Lotte Reiniger silhouette animation still of Thumbelina pulled by a butterfly through a lake
From the 1920s, Lotte Reiniger pioneered silhouette animation.

As with the excitement that the depth, drama and beauty of an eclipse brings, so too do we see the enduring love and connection to the shadow silhouette animation style.

But in choosing an animation style which could endure time, there are many considerations which will not necessarily lend themselves to silhouette design.

Adapting the right style for the message

It's important to remember when approaching any AV design, not to look at the latest gimmick or trend, at the cost of the message. It’s the message, the content and the outcomes which a museum, attraction or brand wants a visitor to go away feeling and understanding. We would have failed if the visitor sees an animation and has no idea what its purpose, story or takeaway was, because they had been overwhelmed by flashy, gimmicky design.

So in choosing the right style for the message, it's vital to ensure that it also suits the client's feel and brand - if they are at odds with each other, then the animation will seem out of place and dated quickly, even if you didn't follow the trend.

Create a cohesive experience with the context and brand

In the context of our work at Silverstone Museum it was right to have scientific and technological feeling motion graphic sequences, glitching effects to films, punctuated occasionally by fun, retro soapbox racing cartoon styles - a design classic.

But these styles wouldn’t have been right for Auckland Castle where we needed a meld of traditional and local community histories.

Two people stand in shadow in a room of bright projection mapped animated film showing miners and police in conflict in early 20th century clothing
AY-PE AV design at Auckland Castle using the Trade Union Banner art style, dating back to 1820s (Image: TAP)

The Auckland Project has an artistic pedigree and in creating a 360º projection mapped room of AV, depicting iconic pit strikes and the mining community, we respected the building and its artistry. We commissioned illustrations from those who actually designed the iconic pit flags, emblems and tapestry scenes of the miners in the area, respecting the heritage and knowing that this timeless, breathtaking, artistic style has been around for over a century.

From that we created a beautiful motion piece, gracefully merging scene to scene. Characters animated, their head torches twinkled and their frustrations grew across the walls, as the accompanying scripted soundtrack immerses viewers in the miners' struggles which occurred.

Timeless style foundations

Long-lasting, inspirational, captivating and evocative moments don’t just happen through the latest tech trend or fashion. They also happen through thoughtful, timeless design. Just as the eclipse’s contrasting bright and darkness will always enthral the world below, so too we would argue, will an animation of light and shadow.

Find the right timeless style foundation for an AV and build client bespoke artistry on top.

Modern media meets the eclipse.


Reach out to discuss how our AV digital artistry can help achieve your vision, messages and goals:


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