Robothon 2009 Recap

8 March, 2009



For those of you not able to make it to Robothon 2009, here are some thoughts, recollections, and images from the great event. A good deal of the conference has already appeared online thanks to the readily available Wi-Fi throughout. During the talks, 1/2 of the attendees were pecking away at their laptops and providing some nice Twitter coverage. Plus, as you hopefully heard in time, Erik and crew graciously provided live streaming of all the events! The recorded footage will (probably) be released as podcasts so it can be watched over and over. (I will update with a link when available.)

Robothon was held at the Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten (KABK) in The Hague. It is a beautiful old city that also has some great modern architecture; I would highly recommend a visit. As a tourist, there is plenty to see and do, contrary to some of the TypeMedia students complaints of it being too small. Compared to Reading, England it is a major upgrade!

The Talks, Day 1:

Day one of the conference was chiefly product demos and illustrations of possible workflows using various tools. Miguel Sousa from Adobe gave a nerdily exciting talk about the AFDKO 2.5; there are many significant new features. Personally, some of the most interesting include: the abilities to handle one-to-many substitutions (even though most application do not support this yet), the naming of stylistic sets (also not yet supported in other software), and most importantly – the ability to generate TTF fonts!

For the remainder of the day, Erik van Blokland and Tal Leming presented a variety of their cool apps. I won’t get into them here, but you can check them out in depth from their sites: Erik van Blokland / LettError & Tal Leming / Type Supply

Erik's Intro

The Party:

The evening ended with a party hosted by Petr van Blokland + Claudia Mens. Their building and studio is incredible and they were generous hosts. The drinks were plenty and the space:people ratio led to a comfortable density for socializing. And of course the nerd conversations never ended. The highlight may have been the demo and resulting passionate discussion regarding the new UFO versioning system Antonio Cavedoni is developing. Geekiest party ever!

Petr van Blokland's Studio

The Talks, Day 2:

Day two began too early with an excellent report by Ben Kiel about kern table overflows. This is complex and mysterious topic, but this problem can completely break your font and it proves very difficult to remedy.

Just van Rossum presented TTX and FontTools – this was another hardcore topic – perfect for the audience but it might have been under-appreciated if given at a different conference.

Georg Seifert is developing his own font editor called Glyphs and it has some brilliant concepts. He will be setting up a website and forum for it in the next months to help get user input and feedback. This is an exciting project – to put it lightly.

Yanone showed his Autopsy plugin… it might be useful for you when working with multiple master fonts.

FontLab’s head programmer, Yuri Yarmola, was on hand (Adam Twardoch was ill, yet he made a brief Skype video appearance) and he outlined the roadmap for the next two versions of FontLab! Version 6 should be released this year, sometime, and will contain many upgraded features. These updates include: it will (finally) be a universal binary for OSX, have native UFO2 reading and writing, incorporate FDK 2.5 fully built in, automatically generate OT features, and have simpler font naming options. While they are busy working on FL6 they are also beginning work on FL7. Word is that will be out in 2010, but I am not counting on it. Version 7 is being 100% rewritten and will be a radical departure from what we now know as FontLab. One of the Yuri’s major dreams for v.7 is that it will contain no toolbars or palettes!

Frederik Berlaen demonstrated his UFO Rounding tool as well as several other scripts and applications he is working on. This guy is seriously smart and is doing some incredible work (plus he is quite friendly and interesting to boot). I really wish I had that rounding tool two years ago when I started Vesper. Now I have about 8,000 glyphs all with hand-made rounded corners! This could have saved weeks of work and headaches.

Last up came my friend Tim Ahrens. His Font Remix Tools are some of the best FontLab plugins out there now – try them, they will change your life. He explained some of the backend of these tools and showed several new, radical things he is developing. He uses “dumb” math in genius ways to help type designers get their letters just right and faster.

Frank Blokland gave a bonus talk at the last minute to show his OTMaster application. It seems to do some powerful things, and should be useful in batch processing, but I had a hard time imaging it my workflow. But maybe it will work for you…

This was the official end to the Robothon conference, but there were still more related events!

The Gerrit Noordzij Prize:

The Gerrit Noordzij Prize was bestowed on Wim Crouwel this year. Tobias Frere-Jones was the previous winner, so he was there to hand over the crown (so to speak) to Wim. The tradition of this prize is that it is not a monetary award; instead, there is a gift presented by the previous winner to the next. Tobias reported a short biography and slideshow of Wim’s work then gave him a plaque of sorts featuring the Gotham type family for the gift. (Hopefully someone closer in the audience snapped a photo of this, I wasn’t able to get a good look…)

Wim Crouwel accepting the Gerrit Noordzij

Another award was given out to honor Mr. Gerrit Noordzij himself. SOTA was on hand to present him with the SOTA Award for his typographic achievements and contributions. They also put together a nice retrospective of some of his works that was on display during the conference.

SOTA's Noordzij Display

Tobias Frere-Jones had a significant exhibition of his typefaces and some inspirations in a large KABK gallery. The rooms were packed with Robothon attendees, locals, and distinguished guests.

Tobias's Exhibition

Tobias's Exhibition

The evening was rounded out by a lovely dinner at the Juffrouw Ida Zaal. A few of us were not able to get tickets to the event, but were luckily rescued by a few others who had tickets but were not able to attend. In the end it seemed to work out – thanks very much to Nicolien van der Keur and to Jos Buivenga!

Almost Over – One More Seminar:

Saturday had an afternoon seminar for the occasion of the Noordzij prize. Paul Barnes was first up and he spoke about some of his many type designs.

Next came Rich Roat from House Industries. He is always entertaining and can never be accused of going too slow or covering too little content. His talk detailed House’s history and some of their work philosophies. I have seen this talk four times now, but each time there is something new to it.

After a short break came Tobias Frere-Jones who spoke about the design of Archer. (The talk and typeface are both excellent.)

And the last presenter of the week was Piet Schreuders. I had previously only known of Piet because of his publication De Poezenkrant, but he has had many other fascinating projects. He has had a long career as a graphic designer, however for this occasion he spoke little of design. The main theme of his talk was about recreating the unique music of LeRoy Shield – specifically from the Laurel and Hardy films. He discussed his, and others’, research into this music and the labor of love this project demanded for many years. Eventually, a musical group called the Beau Hunks was formed. Their repertoire was to faithfully reproduce the exact composition and sound from the 1930’s films. The afternoon climaxed with a rousing performance by 3 (or 4*) saxophonists of the Beau Hunks. They played several classic Laurel and Hardy songs and really gave quite a show. Following the performance, there were a few more drinks and socializing in the galleries.

The Beau Hunks
*one musician was a stand in

Final Thoughts:

The content summarized here illustrates only the tip of the iceberg of how much work went into this conference and week. It was truly organized precisely and went off flawlessly. Many many thanks to Erik van Blokland, Tal Leming, Paul van der Laan, and the students of the TypeMedia program for their excellent work! You were all wonderful hosts, presenters, and friends. I am looking forward to the next Robothon – just make sure to expect even more attendees next time! 2012?

Some work by previous TypeMedia students

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