Working Hollywood: ‘Client 9' motion graphics specialist Josh Norton
For director Alex Gibney’s new documentary “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer,” Josh Norton, a founder of the motion graphics company Bigstar, produced versions of historical New York Post articles, archival photos and the movie’s main title sequence, drawing inspiration from the real-life headlines surrounding the prostitution scandal that brought down the former governor of New York.
“A lot of times, headlines from newspapers are there to reassert the authenticity of the film itself and to make things really simple and plain,” he said. “And if anybody makes things plain and simple, the New York Post does.”
For those who might not know, “motion graphics is such an inclusive term because it involves production, animation — whether it’s fine art animation, cell animation, motion graphics animation or 3-D animation — graphic design, editing, sound design, music,” Norton said.
The lifelong New Yorker — Norton grew up in Buffalo and works in Manhattan — embarked on his career after graduating from Savannah College of Art and Design, working at VERSION2 and Imaginary Forces before cofounding Bigstar with his high school friend Alex Krawitz in 2004. Since then, he’s contributed to documentaries including 2007’s “No End in Sight,” 2008’s “Food, Inc.” and this year’s “Inside Job,” a look at the 2008 economic crisis that features Spitzer in his so-called “Sheriff of Wall Street” persona.
The field was a natural for Norton, who says that it enables him to combine his love of both art and technology while remaining true to the working-class ethos of his childhood home.
“Buffalo’s a really blue-collar town,” he said. “A lot of people missed out on that blue-collar education that I’m really happy that I had growing up. One of my things is that I believe that there’s nobility in doing things well, regardless of what the project is, and I think that any motion graphics shop worth its salt does the same thing.”
Typographically speaking: For the onscreen titles that appear in “Client 9,” Norton selected Bodoni, a classic serif font, and Super Grotesk, a sans serif font that he describes as “modern and clunky and clean.” “Typography is a real mood point in a film that has a lot of motion graphics,” Norton said. “We picked two fonts that complemented each other, that were different. Playing the two against each other spoke to the duality of the story. You have this guy in Eliot Spitzer who is a classic American politician. He comes from a rich family, he has a great education, he’s polished. And then you have this modern world that we all live in, where you have access to great carnal sins, and it’s all right there for you. Part of that is the technology, it is the Internet, it is this modernization. And I like the way the two played against each other.”
Media circus: “What you want to do with headlines is not only underline the pertinent information, but also give a sense of how the headlines were being viewed in the first place,” Norton said. “What was the energy, what was the environment, what was happening at the time? You almost want to create a period-piece feel to the energy of the motion graphics and how things move and behave.... For the headlines, we really wanted to create a frenetic sense of energy and repetition in order to drive home the idea that not only is this being mass produced, but it’s being consumed in a fast, frenetic way.”
All the angles: “We’ve done a lot of newspaper animations in our time, and you want to give the viewer something that’s exciting,” Norton said. “Sometimes, it’s just throwing it at an angle or creating some type of interest that effectively creates style for the film. We work on very somber films at times where steep angles with newspapers and typography have no place. This isn’t one of those films. The Eliot Spitzer story: Sure it’s tragic, but it’s also a lot of fun. It’s sensationalized for all the right reasons. So we wanted to have some fun with that.”
Final impressions: “Rarely in motion graphics do you put something on the screen that you don’t want to read, but sometimes you do,” Norton said. “Sometimes, you just want something to be a flash, an impression. You just want the viewers to catch a few words. Other times, you really want them to take a moment and let things soak in. But I would say for the most part, when it comes to headlines, the important thing is you see a face and then also you catch the headlines. At times, we’ll highlight dates and the name of the publication in order to give context. We’ll put lighting [on documents], and we’ll also have color. Things will scroll, things will get underlined. And all of this manipulation of cadence and reading is what makes motion graphics effective.”