ScreenFonts: The Cabin In The Woods, The Lucky One, The Raven, Sound Of My Voice

I’d like to welcome any new readers landing on The FontFeed after hearing me talk at the Ampersand conference last Friday. As organiser Richard Rutter mentioned in his introduction, ScreenFonts has me examining recent film posters. While I mainly look at the typography, I often can’t help but commenting on the design as well.

The Cabin in the Woods was one of only two posters out of the more than 100 displayed in the SXSW Film Design Awards for Excellence in Poster Design gallery that featured Trajan as the main typeface. Typographically the poster conforms to the horror movie canon – creating a type lock-up in Trajan and distressing the letters by scratching/smearing/fragmenting/erasing/adding noise.

While the design obediently adheres to current film poster typography conventions – also the secondary typeface is H&FJ Gotham, the new default in movie collaterals – I quite like the image. The Rubik’s cube-like treatment of the cabin cleverly hints at the movie’s story without revealing too much; exactly what you want a poster to do.

This alternate poster by Phantom City Creative was commissioned by Mondo Tees and Lionsgate. The M. C. Escher-like illustration visualises the concept of Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s horror genre bender just as effectively. The custom drawn Latin serif letters look inspired by Cortez.

Not only does the movie poster for L!fe Happens slavishly follow the trend of horizontal bands for romantic comedies, the typeface used for the movie logo looks quite dodgy. The skewed compact sans is very much in the same vein of Neville Brody’s FF Harlem.



And it’s time to make fun of Nicholas Sparks again. The man lays claim on a whole movie genre, and the posters for the screen adaptations of his books are as formulaic as his stories. Thirteen years after Message in A Bottle the poster for The Lucky One reverts back to the typographic cliché that is Trajan. Although most of the typefaces on these designs are run-of-the-mill – Helvetica for Dear John, Goudy Oldstyle for The Last Song, and Franklin Gothic for A Walk To Remember – two of them break the mold. The lesser-known Litera seen on the poster for Nights In Rodanthe marries the strict geometry and large x-height of ITC Avant Garde Gothic with the Art Deco flair of Bernhard Gothic or Kabel. And The Notebook adopted the all-caps serif titling face Largo, an interesting vintage-looking alternative for Trajan. But on a conceptual level, this series of posters is the pinnacle of commercial drivel. I bet Nicholas Sparks cries all the way to the bank

Although it’s an improvement on the previous designs, The Giant Mechanical Man also doesn’t stray from the beaten path. True to form, the poster for this indie comedic romance relies on hand-drawn letters to convey that it is “different”. Using a still from the movie instead of overly airbrushed portraits also yanks it away from the middle-of-the-road.

Due to the addition of the FaceType foundry FontShop has expanded its range of hand-drawn fonts with Mr Moustache and Strangelove. Yet the non-identical repeating characters tell me the lettering in this poster is not a font but done by hand. I like the legs in the silhouette of the walking man substituting for the “A” in the title.

Yet there is still hope. The poster for French film Un Amour de Jeunesse (Goodbye First Love) proves romance can also be done in a non-conventional way. The design combines a candid image of the main characters bathing in a warm colours with the bouncy and joyful Bello by maverick type design collective Underware. The composition of the image is radically different from mainstream movie collaterals. All the narrative elements are concentrated in the lower third, and the golden, overexposed sky is cleverly repurposed to hold all textual information.

After all this romance we go the completely opposite direction. Whores’ Glory uses a similar device as the romantic comedies. Here the photographs in horizontal bands don’t introduce the clean and wholesome protagonists in yet another insipid B-movie, but the practitioners of the oldest profession in the world. The pink, chunky movie title in Rockwell offset against the virginal white bands punctuates the brightly coloured portraits.

I added the movie poster for The Moth Diaries mostly for the rather lovely greyish blue colour scheme with violet and water green accents. This emphasises the creepy china doll-like quality of the girl on the left, and is nicely enhanced by the cracks covering the image. The image exudes an old-timey atmosphere, reminiscent of the coloured-in photographic collages from the late nineteenth century. The transitional serif face Baskerville matches the mood and period.

Images incorporated in the dark or light areas of other images are difficult to pull off, but when done right they make for beautiful, often intriguing images. We’ve seen some very nice applications pop up in ScreenFonts, just as recently as last episode: the image within an image within an image for Gone. Unfortunately In The Family misses the mark with its movie poster. Because the edges are not very well defined the composition seems a little haphazard, and the face of the boy does not make the most of the shape of the shadow area it is encapsulated in. Furthermore the image is too fuzzy, the colours washed out – not in a nice way – and the type at the right hand side of the poster is far too light to be used on the beige background.

Purely from a typographic point of view I must say that the movie title in Gypha is well set and nicely kerned. See how the serifs of the ‘A’ and ‘M’ touch to minimize the triangular space between them, and how the ‘A’ and the ‘Y’ nicely slide into the boundaries of the ‘F’ and ‘Y’ respectively. The vertical column with credits separating the first word from the other two is a nice idea.

Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story also takes a shot at framing a second image within the main one. Again the blurriness doesn’t help, and there’s just too much visual noise between the armed policemen in the hair of the main character and the typewritten text for background. Basically the whole design feels very cramped. The typeface is Tobias Frere-JonesGarage Gothic, a compact design with blunt corners derived from numbered tickets given at city parking garages.

This poster for The Raven immediately reminded me of the work of Ralph Steadman. Is the poster actually by Steadman, or is it a homage / rip-off? I haven’t found any credit for the poster designer nor communication agency yet. The only link I found is an article in New York Magazine mentioning that the film’s leading actor John Cusack is a friend of Steadman, and owns pieces by the British cartoonist and caricaturist. The mystery remains unsolved for now…

In this otherwise entirely black second poster blood red wings composed of image fragments were added behind John Cusack walking up to the viewer, head slightly tilted, gun in his left hand. The silhouette of a flying raven is integrated very effectively in the movie title and performs a double function. The wings separate the ‘A’ and the ‘R’ while at the same time the tail of the bird serves as counter for said ‘A’. Notice how the vertex of the ‘V’ was extended to form a sharp point.

In the teaser poster for Safe the counter of the ‘A’ is created by Jason Statham walking up to the viewer, head slightly tilted, gun in his left h… hold on, didn’t we just have this? The movie title looks like Franklin Gothic rendered in rough paint; the secondary typeface is Eric Olson’s very popular straight-sided tech sans Klavika, a typeface that surprisingly almost didn’t happen. Nice texture overall.

We conclude this instalment with a movie with an elaborate viral campaign that had a lot of people talking. Although I regret the use of Helvetica, the movie poster Sound of My Voice has an understated, classy design and soothing symmetry that is very appealing.

Part of the viral campaign, which also included videos and secret gatherings, are these alternate posters by Mark Carroll detailing the cult’s secret handshake.

And this last teaser poster is reminiscent of Olly Moss’ Videogame Classics.

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8 Comments:

  1. I thought Helvetica in Caps for Sound of My Voice looks great.. Not so much for the teaser poster version…

    Posted by Patrick Tan on Jun. 21, 2012
  2. I just have a general dislike for Helvetica because it always feels like a cop-out to me. Unless there’s a clear historic or stylistic reference like the 60s book cover-like teaser poster I don’t care for it. In my opinion designers should use Helvetica only if there is a very good reason for it.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jun. 22, 2012
  3. Hi Yves,
    It is not a “custom drawn Latin serif letters look inspired by Cortez” on the second poster of Cabin in the Woods, it’s my typeface Sans Merci. > http://www.smeltery.net/fonts/sans-merci
    Thank you for pointing out this beautiful use ;-)

    Posted by Jack Usine on Jun. 22, 2012
  4. Very glad to see the return of Screenfonts! I know it’s labeled as “April” in the link, but to be fair, we’re nearly 3 full months removed from April.

    I was nearly ready to delete my bookmark for this feature, having no new installments for so long!

    Thanks for bringing it back, Yves!

    Posted by Matt on Jun. 22, 2012
  5. @Jack: I will update the post, possibly with some extra information from Justin Erickson, the designer of the poster.

    @Matt: I have to get used to the one-conference-a-month regime. I love doing it, but it’s very hard on my publishing schedule, especially since I had to write two completely new presentations for TYPO Berlin and Ampersand. And I always discuss the posters of the previous month, so technically this episode is only one month late. I’ll catch up, promise. ; )

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jun. 22, 2012
  6. It’s a great article to see the way type is used on some of these posters. As one of the printers in Las Vegas, my company produces some of these posters for the movie houses down in LA, and we love to see what the artists have come up with. One font change makes all the difference in the world on the impact and style of any marketing piece.

    Posted by Robert Bloecker on Jun. 27, 2012
  7. Yves’ response about the use of Helvetica is almost identical to one of my other favorite writers, Armin Vit from UnderConsideration. You can read more of his thoughts of use of Helvetica by today’s designers and agencies here

    http://www.underconsideration.com/brandnew/archives/new_university_of_the_arts_london_logo_or_why_i_hate_helvetica.php

    Posted by Ivan Filipov on Jun. 27, 2012
  8. That indeed was an epic yet thoughtful rant. :-)

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jun. 28, 2012

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