Akwantu: The Journey

One of the films you might not hear about at Sundance this year is a history of the Maroons of Jamaica, a small slave population that uprose against their British masters in the 18th century and secured their independence in a treaty that predates both the American and French Revolutions. The film is called Akwantu: The Journey, and it comes to the screen courtesy of filmmaker Roy Anderson, who has worked extensively as a stunt coordinator in Hollywood, and whose ancestors were Maroons.

The Maroons are not widely known beyond academia, but their history offers a fascinating glimpse into a culture transported to the Americas from Ghana via the 17th and 18th century slave trade. Much of Akwantu: The Journey centers on Roy’s own journey through both his family history and the deeper and more obscure tale of the Maroons from their African roots to the present. It’s a good story.

Roy initially approached Pie a la Mode Productions to design a handful of the maps used in the movie (some of which you can see here). After that initial engagement was completed, and following a test screening of the movie in New Jersey last summer, Roy called Pie a la Mode again to do some further work cleaning up some of the images, reconstituting some of the additional maps, and designing the end titles.

Just like that, Pie a la Mode is in the movies.

Akwantu - Trade Route Map

Map of Trade Routes - click to enlarge

Akwantu - Jamaica Map

Map of Jamaica - click to enlarge

Akwantu - Maroon Treaty

Maroon Treaty - click to enlarge

A good deal of Pie a la Mode’s work on this project was cleaning up, restoring, and reconstituting images. Since demonstrating that requires a slightly wider column than the blog (who designed this thing, anyway?), some links to comparison images are included as follows:

  • Trade Routes – reconstituted map
  • Amazing Grace – reconstituted image, background texture
  • Maroon Treaty – reconstituted image, background texture
  • Captain Cudjoe – image enhancement, background deletion
  • The next stop for Akwantu: The Journey was a preview screening in Jamaica last December, to be followed by an official release in June 2012. For more details, stay tuned here, or head over to Akwantu: The Journey’s Facebook page.

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    Pie a la Mode Productions went live in late August, and it was easily the most beautiful website ever created by the hand of Man. But now it’s six weeks later. And it’s time for something fresher.

    Behold Pie a la Mode Productions 2.0. (Which you’re also looking at right now.)

    Welcome to Pie a la Mode Productions

    Hi there!

    As you can see, Pie a la Mode 2.0 hangs onto the best aspects of Pie a la Mode Productions 1.0 — namely, the color scheme and my unerringly wonderful sense of aesthetics. But now, we have an awning at the top of every page!

    Aren’t you SO jealous?

    The primary focus of the redesign was to provide a better display of the actual graphic work produced by Pie a la Mode Productions. The two most obvious ways to do that were to remove some of the more distracting graphic elements (I’m talking about you, picnic table background) and to get rid of the “bloggy” feel of the showcase pages in favor of more concise project descriptions that feature the work more prominently.

    Blogging should be left to the blog. And speaking of that, it should be equally obvious that The Scoop got overhauled, too, leaving me considerably less excuse for not keeping it up-to-date. Dammit. I hate it when I do that.

    I’ll be writing more about the redesign later, but for now, please enjoy the gorgeousness that surrounds you. If history is any guide, you have about six weeks before I get tired of this and start working on Pie a la Mode Productions 3.0

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    The origins of Pie à la Mode (the dessert)

    It’s been a humdinger of a month here at The Mode, but I didn’t want to leave the blog dark for too long. You know what happens to a blog on mothballs, don’tcha?

    Let’s just say it ain’t pretty.

    Today’s entry: the history of pie à la mode.

    According to the historians of the Cambridge Hotel in Washington County New York, Professor Charles Watson Townsend, dined regularly at the Cambridge Hotel during the mid 1890′s. He often ordered ice cream with his apple pie. Mrs. Berry Hall, a diner seated next to him, asked what it was called. He said it didn’t have a name, and she promptly dubbed it Pie a la mode. Townsend liked the name so much he asked for it each day by that name. When Townsend visited the famous Delmonico Restaurant in New York City, he asked for pie a la mode. When the waiter proclaimed he never heard of it, Townsend chastised him and the manager, and was quoted as saying; “Do you mean to tell me that so famous an eating place as Delmonico’s has never heard of Pie a la Mode, when the Hotel Cambridge, up in the village of Cambridge, NY serves it every day? Call the manager at once, I demand as good serve here as I get in Cambridge.” The following day it became a regular at Delmonico and a resulting story in the New York Sun (a reporter was listening to the whole conversation) made it a country favorite with the publicity that ensued.

    I got an assist on this from Linda Stradley’s History of Apple Pie, whose account is so reputable and reliable that even the mugs over at Wikipedia believed it, too. And if it’s in Wikipedia, it’s gotta be true.

    As for the history of Pie a la Mode Productions, you can read a little bit more about that here.

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    Fun with Fonts

    I was strolling down 46th Street last week, keeping my eyes on my shoetops when I noticed this little honey of a sidewalk tile in the middle of the block:

    45 W 46th St

    45 West 46th Street

    I showed this picture to the missuz, and the first thing she noticed was the chewing gum (the black spots — that’s what happens to chewing gum on the sidewalks of New York, for those who aren’t in the know). Me, I noticed the numbers. New York is loaded with interesting typography like that elegant little ’45.’ Take a stroll down a block downtown and you’re bound to walk past half a dozen fonts you probably won’t see again till you come back that way.

    Typography is another one of my unschooled design-related hobbies. I go purely on aesthetics and hearsay, so for instance, when I read a professional-sounding article that suggests eight ways I can improve typography in my design, I generally assume it’s pretty sound advice to follow. (Whether I follow it or not is another story.)

    So let’s say you’re me, you just took a picture of a font you saw on the street, and you wanna know more about it. Whaddya do?

    Enter myfonts.com. This is generally my first stop when I’m on the prowl for new typefaces. They have roughly a gajillion fonts tucked away in the corners of their site. More importantly, though, they have whatthefont!, a tool that makes a game attempt to tell you what font you’re looking at in any image you throw their way. If you stump the automatic guesser, you can submit your image to their forums and give the professionals a crack at it. Once they find the font you’re looking for, there’s a good chance myfonts will have it for sale, too.

    I could end up spending zillions of clams on myfonts.com just to try out new sets and families that appeal to me for a moment at a time. (You knew these things cost money, right?) Only, on account of the fact that I’m a do-it-yourselfer and a cheapskate, there are a couple places I visit every time I’m on the lookout for typefaces that are stylish and free. The first place is the League of Movable Type. They don’t offer a ton, but what they have is fantastic, and their site shows it off so well it’ll make you drool over the chance to use it. If you check out the front page of this very site, you can see an example of League Gothic, which was a last-minute stand-in for Adobe’s Rockwell Condensed.

    The next one is the Lost Type Co-Op. The Co-Op is run by a couple of cats who know what looks good and will sell it to you at a price you get to choose yourself. They’re practically begging you to let them give away the store! That’s my kind of deal!

    These are all great for designing and graphics, but I also wanted to use a distinctive font for my actual website and blog (the one you’re reading right now), so I turned to Google Web Fonts for help. All you gotta do is pick a font you like, and then it’s a cinch to throw a style sheet link into your HTML code and a line into your CSS to make that font come to life. Incidentally, the font you’re peeping at is called Goudy Bookletter 1911. I’d tell you not to steal it, but it’s out there for public use, and I doubt I’m the first mug who thought of using it.

    Getting back to our friend on 46th Street, I stumped WhatTheFont!, so it’s on to the experts now. I’ll be sure and let you know what they come up with…

    Some more reading:

  • web designer wall – contrast & flow
  • HF&J – four techniques for combining fonts
  • Smashing Magazine – 8 simple ways to improve typography in your designs
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    Maybe you don’t need me to tell you what stylesheets are. Maybe you already know. Maybe you wrote a book on the subject even. Maybe you’re heading back to your mousehole tonight and pouring yourself a tall glass of milk before you get to work writing nice, clean CSS for all the boys and girls in Internet-land.

    Or maybe you’re like me, and you started out not knowing CSS from a hole in the ground. Cascading style sheets. CSS. That’s the gig. The web don’t look the same without ‘em.

    I’m not real big on classes or tutorials when it comes to web languages and protocols, but if you are, I’d bet all the gold in the California hills that you’re a Google search away from finding some. If you ask me, the game changes way too fast for tutorials to keep up with, so I prefer to go it alone.

    So when I set out to learn how style sheets worked, I went hunting for places that had some really primo CSS that I could break apart and put back together on my own. It’s like a mechanic taking apart your engine to see how the pistons and the cylinders work, only it won’t cost you thousands of clams to get the thing reassembled.

    Enter CSS Zen Garden.

    Here’s how the site works: you start with a page that’s real basic — nothing special at all, just some text divided into sections. Then, you let your imagination run wild, and you come up with some way to lay out the page, which you then bring to life using CSS. Make it as pretty as you want. Give it a vintage flair. Take it to the movies.

    The point is to prove how capable and versatile CSS is, and CSS Zen Garden has that proof in spades.

    I came across the site a bunch of years back and helped myself to the code so I could take a peek behind the curtain. Strictly speaking, I’m not sure that’s what CSS Zen Garden intended, but as long as you’re using it to learn — (not just swiping someone else’s code and passing yourself off as a smart guy), there’s really no harm done. Do some experimenting, figure out what happens if you change the margin-top from 20px to 40px here or the padding-bottom from 32px to 64px there. Then, take your knowledge, and get out there and write your own.

    Once you have the lay of the land, here’s another handy spot for you to visit: CSS Reference at w3Schools.com. They keep a working glossary of CSS terms, along with examples you can noodle around with to see what’s what. Very good to keep around.

    I’m not saying this is the perfect way to figure out how CSS works, but it’s pretty amazing how much education you can find without spending a nickel or setting foot in a classroom.

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    Welcome to The Scoop.

    Hello there.

    You’re visiting The Scoop, the official blog of Pie a la Mode Productions. Pie a la Mode is a do-it-yourself design concern, and The Scoop is where we give you the lowdown on design and do-it-yourself projects that tickle our fancy.

    Keep an eye out for us here, and also on twitter and facebook. We’ll be seeing more of each other real soon.

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