ScreenFonts: Free Ride, Maidentrip, Big Bad Wolves, 24 Exposures

Some months I truly despair when going through the film posters for the upcoming episode of ScreenFonts. Especially so many of the posters for movies in wide release (the “big” ones, as opposed to the films in limited release) turn out to be faceslappingly asinine. This is why there is no popular title in this post’s heading; no Nut Job with its obligatory extra bold sans; no Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit with its middle-of-the-road skyline sans; no Devils Due nor I, Frankenstein with their fallen-from-grace Trajan, no That Awkward Moment with its equally obligatory H&FJ Gotham. Fortunately there will always be some smaller movies that still dare to take risks, some of them showering us with scores of fascinating poster designs. Fortunately there is Big Bad Wolves this episode, or Breakfast With Curtis and The Selfish Giant in the last one. And I am pretty sure there will be others next month. And the next. This is what makes this series so enjoyable for me to write (and hopefully for you to read).

Sometimes what I like in a film poster is a small, easily overlooked detail. For the movie poster of The Truth About Emanuel it is a simple yet very effective typographic trick. Cutting the ‘N’ in two and shifting right-hand part of the ‘N’ downwards suggests a hidden truth, something unknown that is revealed in the film. Please observe the attention to detail: the tiny cut-off corner at the bottom of the ‘H’s right leg, and how the “about” is shifted down as well. The wide grotesque lends itself very well to this kind of typographic treatment, akin to Ignition Print’s stellar design for Brothers from four years ago.

The poster for The Rocket sends out a cautionary message to teenagers worldwide, warning them for the dangers of anal fireworks. Said warning is set in Futura, which is entirely inconsequential, yet – noblesse oblige – as this is The FontFeed I am kind of obliged to mention it. This somewhat reminds me of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow performing that impressive “fart with lighter” trick on Iron Man 2’s main theatrical poster.

Posters for documentaries are a mixed bag. Their main problem is that designers too often feel the need to either treat the material in an overly literal way, or they try to cram as much information in the image, turning it into a jumbled-up mess of concepts within concepts within ideas. The architectural theme of If You Build It however was inducive to an interesting poster, with the barn-like construction as focal point. The repetitive geometric components create a nice rhythm and structure. Having the construction align with the text elements set in Alternate Gothic reinforces the flush-left Modernist typesetting. The complementary orange-and–teal colour scheme – very popular in Hollywood since several years – injects some comforting warmth in what otherwise may have turned into a rigid, clinical poster. A very nice, unusual design.

Even though not complementary, the deep-green-and-pale-yellow colour palette looks just as good on the movie poster for Free Ride. The movie title is set in ITC Bookman with swash capitals. Personally I am not too fond of this slick interpretation from the mid-seventies of the 1936 original by Chauncey H. Griffith and Alexander Phemister. For me the best possible contemporary version with all the swashes and more is Mark Simonson’s Bookmania.

When I discovered this rather mediocre theatrical poster for Maidentrip in the list on Metacritic, I could have never guessed this independent documentary had such lovely dreamy, poetic alternate designs.

The three posters above are festival posters for the 2013 SXSW Film Festival, where Maidentrip received the Audience Award in the Visions category. They all revolve around thirteen-year-old Dutch girl Laura Dekker’s quest to become the youngest person ever to sail around the world solo, with each poster relating to a different aspect of the film. Leah Koransky – designer, art director and illustrator of the poster – created an intimate atmosphere by writing by hand the movie title in an informal style, in combination with delicate watercolour backgrounds by Moth Collective, who animated the maps for the film.

Now that we are on the topic of alternate posters, comedy horror movie Big Bad Wolves boasts an impressive collection of great, eclectic designs. In this Israeli thriller a series of brutal murders puts the lives of three men on a collision course: the father of the latest victim now out for revenge, a vigilante police detective operating outside the boundaries of law, and the main suspect in the killings – a religious studies teacher arrested and released due to a police blunder.

The first two posters I would like to single out belong to the original Israeli movie collaterals. Both are beautiful illustrated designs in simple black and red. The poster above visualises the classic idiom “wolf in sheep’s clothing” by having a wolf wear a sheep’s mask as a metaphor for the sexual predator in the movie. The design reconnects with the tradition of classic high-concept designs of the seventies that convey strong messages with very simple means. Hand-lettering the movie title – the style reminds me of the FF Dirty Font FF InnerCity Brixton – and coupling it with ITC Avant Garde Gothic for the credits cements the period style.

The other poster in the same retro style cleverly overlays three silhouettes: the little girl is enclosed in the “happy” wolf who symbolises the sexual predator acting out his obsession, and the even larger “sad” wolf represents the father, grieving for his little girl and exacting revenge on the abductor. Here the hand-lettering channels the deconstructed swash shapes of NotCaslon or Zanzibar, with the credits set in ITC Bookman, another perfect combo for this type of artwork.

Visual communication agency Gravillis, Inc. is responsible no less than five posters for Big Bad Wolves. Not for special screenings nor film festivals nor specific territories, but simply because the client loved all the iterations and decided to use more than one. The design above uses a striking and strangely familiar yellow-and-black colour combo to stylise the photo of the three men, faces cropped and each a weapon in hand, looming over the girl as Red Riding Hood entering the forest. The nadirs of the ‘W’ and ‘V’ in the hand-lettered angular brush caps, similar to the recently released LiebeDoris, were extended downwards to suggest wolves’ teeth. The secondary typeface is the geometric slab serif Rockwell.

These weapons come back in this illustrated poster, covered with feverish pencil hatching and modified with bloody wolf jaws.

Image and letters are wonderfully merged in this variant, as high-contrast portraits of the three main protagonists function as counters in the forceful, extra bold rough brush sans caps.

British illustrator and Association of Illustrators 2011 Critic’s Choice Award Winner Peter Strain designed a stunning painted poster for this year’s FrightFest, where Big Bad Wolves was the closing film. The artwork is one seamless, organic piece with hand-painted lettering. The idea behind the illustration and its execution are brilliant: the hole symbolising the grave dug by the small figure morphs into the buried girl’s profile, with a wolf’s head savagely invading the innocent silhouette. A powerful, emotionally arresting piece of art.

Mondo too commissioned a variant design, a stark black-on-white silhouette of the girl’s head with hands clenching weapons or torture as some kind of hair braids and a thin, bright-red stream of blood running down the obscured face into a shoe. The psychedelic typeface Lazybones was customised and transformed to fit the shape of the head. ITC Benguiat is another typeface that gets associated with the seventies.

It’s fun to see so many illustrated posters popping up left and right. This movie poster for the comedy Back in The Day (a.k.a. Old Days) was designed by Janée Meadows, another artist I wasn’t aware of yet.

Janée Meadows | “Michael Rosenbaum asked me to create the poster as a teaser for his film (it’s hilarious by the way). The concept was all his. He wanted it to look and feel like the 1977 film Slap Shot with Paul Newman: fun, retro, and full of great characters. I worked closely with Michael to bring out each individual characters’ personality by getting their poses and actions just right. It took some fine tuning with a few rounds of sketch concepts, but in the end it was worth it. I’m really proud of the end result!”

The faceted typeface is in the typical style of Collegiate Athletics.

I get a weird feeling when I examine the posters for 24 Exposures, the last movie for this episode. They look nice, however the underlying misogynist tone disturbs me. This design is a strong graphic image. Even though it approaches the film’s storyline in an almost abstract, deconstructed manner, the viewer has a pretty good grasp what the movie is about. The limited colour palette is very effective, with the dark pink lips dripping into the policeman’s silhouette pointing his gun at his head as a powerful eye-catcher. Film perforations (how many young children still recognise those?) at both sides of the yellow area hint at the photographer, one of the main characters in the movie.

The typesetting is a little bizarre – the tagline in the lips is set in all-caps Mrs Eaves with a some characters substituted with a distressed typewriter face. The simulation of multiple exposure of the film title in Franchise from Animography is a nice touch.

It is with this alternate poster that I have the most problems, as the post-cubist depiction of the murdered woman doesn’t sit well with me. It is difficult to explain, but to me it betrays a casual misogyny that has no place in our day and age, especially since still so many women are the victim of violence. Yes, conceptually it makes sense; no, that is no excuse.

The three-dimensional typography in the poster – using Standard – is reprised in the trailer – using Interstate.

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