ScreenFonts: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Colombiana

  • Fonts in Use
Fonts in Use, ScreenFonts | Yves Peters | September 14, 2011

I am stuck. My research on two decades of Trajan in movie posters was moving along briskly, with more and more data confirming most of my theories. Now I have come to the very last stage where I hoped to get inside information from design bureaus and communication agencies that produce print collaterals for the film industry. Yet I am starting to get the impression there is some kind of omertà at play, because a typical answer to my requests would be:

I’m afraid we must politely decline being interviewed.

So now my problem is that I only have two testimonials to work from. One is from Brooklyn-based designer James Tung who “worked briefly, ever so briefly, in a firm that designed only Hollywood movie posters”. He wrote this in a five-year old Typophile thread:

I can say, yes, these people do not stray from Trajan. It was annoying as hell. Setting beautiful type never cut it. It looked boring to them. They wanted filters, bevels, drop shadows, and textures. It had to ‘pop’. The most common reason for using Trajan: “This movie needs to feel like Oscar material.”

The other one came from a member of the audience who walked up to me after my presentation at TYPO Berlin 2011: Shift. He said that he knew of designers who were specifically told to use Trajan (by their account managers or the clients, that I forgot to ask).

So here is my request – does anyone have inside information that I am allowed to use in my presentation? Although I’d rather use actual testimonials I can guarantee absolute anonymity if need be, no problem. Please get in touch with me, or help me find people who know more and are willing to share their experiences. Thank you so much.

And now onto last month’s film posters, amongst which only one case of Trajan in a regional adaptation.

We kick off this instalment of ScreenFonts with a typographic poster for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the prequel breathing unlikely new life in the 40-year old franchise. In the poster Caesar peers intensely through the movie logo, knocked out of an entirely black poster. Personally I consider this image to be more than merely a graphic design gimmick. As the film recounts the emergence of the intelligent apes and their uprising against the humans, the imaginary plane of the poster could be interpreted as the treshold from behind which the apes are observing the human world they are about to conquer.

This poster instantly reminded me of another beautiful poster I discussed more than four years ago, when Unzipped still was a Dutch-language blog. In the comments section of that post I had a discussion with a reader who thought the poster The Departed wasn’t any good. He argued that because the portraits framed in the character shapes rendered them hard to read, the movie title had to be repeated in plain white. I don’t agree – using the movie title as a framing device for the photography shifts the primary function of the letter forms from signifier to graphic device. The repetition of the title mustn’t necessarily be perceived as a sign of weakness.

Whereas the poster for The Departed used the pre-existing typeface Aachen, the Planet of The Apes series has its very own typographic identity. The title graphic for the original movie was custom lettered with the help of legendary type designer and letterer Ed Benguiat in 1968. It was subsequently expanded into a Photo-Lettering alphabet, a squarish sans serif reminiscent of both Frutiger and Handel Gothic with alternates and extenders. Eventually these two sources combined were the inspiration for Simian, developed ten years ago by House Industries aided by Christian Schwartz.

By the way, I am very happy the DVD release has a different cover from the VHS cover (don’t click this link if you haven’t seen the film yet!) for this classic science fiction movie, as it was an equally classic FAIL in movie marketing. Everyone agrees it’s an iconic image, but giving away the shock ending on the friggin’ cover? What the hell were they thinking?

The availability of an OpenType font family makes it difficult to understand why the two teaser posters above didn’t adopt the signature typographic style of the franchise. The teaser poster on the left has Neville Brody’s FF World as primary typeface. This seminal design from the late 80s was recently expanded and the new weight offered for free as FF World Wide Web. The other teaser poster makes a feeble attempt at imitating Simian but looks like a poor amateur effort. Both teaser posters use Eurostile Extended for the hashtag.

In the case of Bellflower I am not sure which version is the official movie poster. The one that generates the most hits is this beautiful design. Pared down to the bare minimum, the poster efficiently gets across the theme of the movie. In the artistic photograph a faraway explosion juxtaposed against the souped-up muscle car in the foreground serves as a metaphor for the extreme violence in the film.

I had to do some serious searching to find the geometric slab serif used in this poster. After going through Lexia, Museo Slab, Kulturista, and Dobra Slab, it suddenly dawned on me that this had to be Neutraface Slab, the serif cousin of Christian Schwartz’s Neutraface, designed by Kai Bernau and Susana Carvalho. Situations like these are what makes type identification so fascinating and fun – it is part general knowledge and research, and part intuition and serendipity. There’s a science to it, but you can’t ignore your gut feeling and that barely perceivable buzz at the back of your head when you “feel” the character shapes.

The two other designs also use the explosion / muscle car motif, but with the addition of characters from the movie. The version on the left by Mojo has actor / writer / director Evan Glodell and Jessie Wiseman locked in a passionate embrace in the foreground. The film title is set in Hoefler & Frere-Jones’ Ziggurat from The Proteus Project. If you need more than the two available styles David Berlow’s extensive Giza family is in the same spirit.

The third version is the 1-sheet on the right by UK agency Name Creative. The same embrace is integrated in the image floating heads-style. A translucent ITC Machine is used for the movie title. Although here it was most probably selected for its military overtones, it fits just as well in the Collegiate Athletics category.

It’s not the first time we see a movie poster using a broken glass motif, and just last month we saw it applied in mesmerising 3D CGI in the opening title sequence for The Ward. This rendition is very realistic and convincing. In the original movie poster for Mistérios de Lisboa – translated as Mysteries of Lisbon – it is a welcome alternative for the dreaded floating heads, as the glass fragments create subdivisions that hold the portraits of the different actors.

The Art Deco display face is quite similar to Nick Curtis’ Mighty Ditey NF, an interpretation of Aphrodite, designed by Richard Nebiolo for Photo Lettering in the 1970s. Fivos Vilanakis replied to my identification request on Typophile’s Type Identification Board, telling me his software Find My Font helped him find it is the free font Riesling, which is in fact a shameless rip-off of inferior quality of Nick Curtis’ type design (examine for example the curves of the “S” in the large version of the poster).

Because it has de facto become the standard font in movie posters, the international poster simply resorts to Trajan. Keeping in mind the setting of the movie, Felix Titling, based on an alphabet developed in 1463 by Veronese calligrapher Felice Feliciano, would have been a much more interesting option.

Furthermore I don’t like seeing Scriptina for the middle word in the title. The main problem with this overused single-weight script is that its swashes are omnipresent and ruin the spacing. Regrettably the built-in kerning doesn’t really make things any better. A far superior alternative is Avalon. This design by Richard Lipton was also drawn with a fine brush and features the same big swashy loops, but as alternate characters. By judiciously substituting the standard forms of selected characters with their swash variants the user achieves a flamboyant yet balanced appearance.

I won’t go as far as to say that the poster for Glee: The 3D Concert Movie is a rip-off of Fame, but really… Huge golden Broadway-style logo, tiny figures playing guitar, singing and dancing? A little too close for comfort. Consistent with the look of the series the movie logo is set in ITC Avant Garde Gothic.

However I am concerned I may be sometimes a little quick on the draw, like David pointed out in May last year.

[A]re you expecting all movie posters to be unique to the point where they don’t look “a bit like” a.n.other poster produced at some point in history, if you flip it, rotate it, and perhaps squint a bit? Isn’t that a bit harsh? : )

This is a valid argument. Let’s take the example of this month’s poster for Fright Night, the remake of Tom Holland’s 1985 horror surprise hit. The original illustrated poster shown on the left had a cloudy vampire face surrounded by smaller sharp-toothed heads towering above the house. It was replaced by a single, far less menacing portrait in the photographic poster for the remake on the right. The movie logo is virtually identical, yet with another treatment. The rough structure applied to the outlines of Copperplate Gothic – with an extended F and T to symbolise fangs – was updated to some red glossy three-dee nonsense. The recently added Sweet Collection from MvB Fonts offers an interesting alternative to Copperplate Gothic – Sweet Gothic Serif, which has a counterpart without serifs Sweet Gothic.

Movie buffs will probably have recognised the similarities of the new Fright Night poster with BLT & Associates’ design for No Country for Old Men on the right, discussed on Unzipped two-and-a-half years ago. On the Internet Movie Poster Awards website the commenters were quick to call foul play, but is it really? Disregarding the artistic quality of both posters, I think it’s dangerous to draw hard and fast conclusions. On a formal level the designs may be very much alike, yet their intent is quite different. In the Fright Night poster the small figure in the foreground is static, while the face in the background actively gazes at the viewer. This is basically the opposite of what happens in the No Country for Old Men poster. Here the small silhouette is the active element, frantically running towards the viewer with briefcase with money and gun in hand. The towering portrait of Javier Bardem on the other hand is static, barely acknowledging the viewer, his cold, dead eyes far more chilling and unsettling than the supposedly scary vampire on the left.

And to play the devil’s advocate, I could argue that the similarities between the poster for No Country for Old Men and Saving Private Ryan are far more obvious. Just sayin’…

A graphic device occasionally employed in film posters is the addition of small photographs to help set the mood of the film and provide a little bit of story information. The way this was done on the poster for The Whistleblower is rather awkward. Strewing three photographic inserts over the surface of the poster and connecting them with a heavy orange line that also frames these inserts cheapens the design. This impression is strengthened by the orange “shade” behind the movie title in all-caps Futura. The only redeeming factor is that Interstate Compressed was used instead of the dreadful non-typeface Futura Condensed. Honestly this resembles more the back cover of a straight-to-video DVD or VHS than a film poster.

The movie poster for Senna uses these small photographic inserts much better. They are grouped in a neat row at the bottom, leaving ample room for the close-up portrait of the Brazilian Formula 1 champion looking through the visor of his helmet. The helmet itself was replaced by a flat, bright yellow background that proves to be an ideal support for the text elements at the bottom. The dynamic diagonal created by the visor is counterbalanced by the left-leaning alternate capital “A” of ITC Avant Garde Gothic.

One Day has a nice poster, not exactly ground-breaking but simply good looking. The faded colour scheme suggests the image is a photograph that has been lying about for twenty years, which neatly ties in with the theme of the movie. I also like the composition – having the movie title in simple white at the centre, knocked out of the lovers’ silhouette, allows for the tight cropping at the top of the poster. The only thing that keeps grating me is the use of Adobe Garamond in movie posters. Beautiful as many people may think it is, it is such a literary design, obviously made for text use, that it always seems out of place in display sizes.

Expanding on the premise that Dexter and Em are shown each year on the same date to see where they are in their lives, this alternate version takes the whole concept one step further. The same image is now fragmented into twenty Polaroids, suggesting twenty separate snapshots that allow the viewer to see the complete picture. I think this is even better than the original poster, yet I am not so hot about the type in two colours.

The fact that the poster for Griff the Invisible is loads of fun doesn’t take away that I think it’s not such a good design. The yellow raincoat blending in with the wall, the superhero shadow, the love interest… There are too many ideas at play, which makes the final artwork clog up conceptually. True to the genre, this quirky comedy has hand-drawn Memphis for its logo.

As usual there was more leeway to keep the teaser posters simple and effective, because they need less information in them. The minimalist version on the left masterfully plays off the concept that the main protagonist imagines he is invisible. Ryan Kwanten’s character is wearing the same yellow raincoat as in the main poster, but set against a simple black and yellow background this works much better. I am less enthusiastic about all-caps Neue Helvetica 95, but whatever.

The constructivist teaser on the right combines the iconography of superheroes with the stylised imagery of propaganda posters of the early 20th century. The skyline sans reminds me of Steile Futura and its contemporary interpretation Tasse.

There are also two alternate versions of the main poster. The hand-drawn indie-comedy-style poster sticks even closer to the credo with its hand drawn characters and background. The super-hero-style poster successfully adopts the comic book way of representing the hero in a… errr… heroic pose, with a powerful three-dimensionsal wide grotesque slapped on top of it.

It is bizarre how Amigo has two posters that are virtually each other’s opposites. The composition and stylised aesthetic of this first poster makes it resemble a classic baroque painting. The calligraphic character shapes of Hiroshige Sans perfectly complement the painterly qualities of the photograph. There is an eerie tension in this design as the detached beauty of the image betrays the harsh theme of the film.

This grimy version however resolutely opts for cinéma vérité style, as if it were a freeze frame of a newscast. We’re in the middle of the action, witnessing a heart-wrenching moment. Consistent with the image the film title is set in a distressed extra bold compact sans. Cheltenham Extra Bold Condensed is used as secondary face.

I couldn’t be bothered to include the main poster for Our Idiot Brother as it’s a rather insipid affair, featuring H&FJ Gotham like all good movie posters do these days. Nevertheless the two teaser posters I found are worthy of mention. The bold design on the left is a refreshing take using striking primary colours. The yellow starburst on the red background and the extra bold compact sans pack extra punch.

The photographic teaser poster shows the idiot brother snuggling up aginst his three sisters who desperately try to get away from him. The image conveys the theme of the movie very well. The underline and arrow in the asymmetric typographic composition in Akzidenz-Grotesk Condensed is very effective and adds humour to this design.

Another remake of a classic horror, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark surprisingly has a typographic movie poster. The type cluster in a compact extra bold sans serif – I think Helvetica Compressed – has an interesting scratchy texture and colour scheme. Barely distinguishable in the background, the antique-looking handwriting script Aquiline invites the viewer to “come play with us”.

Other versions reveal a little bit more of the film. Both the purple version and the red version incorporate Sally’s bare feet and nightgown. On the wall the threatening shadows of the little monsters’ outstretched arms and claws set the mood. The type cluster in the former is compact and inventive, yet I prefer the more open waterfall composition in the latter.

This beautiful illustrated poster is quite a radical departure from the other collaterals for this film. It was presented at Comic-Con 2010. The artwork was drawn by the movie’s director Troy Nixey, who also happens to be an accomplished comic book artist. I love the movie title in expressive natural handwriting with ink blots.

We end this month’s overview with three beautiful flowers in the three primary colours. When I first saw this movie poster for Colombiana it immediately made me think of two designs discussed here two years ago.

The portrait of the main actress enclosed in a bright red flower is conceptually identical to the alternate poster for I Can Do Bad All by Myself. And the portrait of the main actress enclosed in a bright yellow rose is conceptually identical to the two faces incorporated in a deep blue rose for I Know Who Killed Me. And with this floral trio we arrived at the end of this episode of ScreenFonts.

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9 Comments:

  1. Brilliant, as usual.

    Posted by tungsteno on Sep. 14, 2011
  2. Thank you, your insight and examinations are always interesting.

    Zing!

    Posted by Paul on Sep. 14, 2011
  3. Glad you mentioned the Whistleblower poster; I also thought it was horrible. Shame, it’s a great film.

    Posted by Bendy on Sep. 15, 2011
  4. Great post.

    A few comments.

    Bellflower fails on all 3 counts I think. What should be a great subject matter to work with ends up in a blend of nothing on all 3 variations. I hate it when great themes go wasted. It looks like they wanted to go Death Proof-ish yet they also wanted Die Hard explosions, yet didn’t get close to either. All wrong.

    The poster for the new Fright Night has got to be one of the worst, most uninspired posters I have seen in years. Why? It creates no energy, the color palette is flat, and even the urban neighborhood is cropped without much thought or implication because it looks as thought the black background behind the title had to be pushed up and therefor you lose the dawning neighborhood theme altogether. And lastly, the HEEEUGE picture of Mr Farrel is not necessary. I recall being at the theater, and most people I asked couldn’t even tell it was him, and you would think the point of it being at such a size would be to drive the ‘star’ power of him. And that failed too.

    I would also like to add that the right hand poster for My Idiot Brother would be way better without the clunky ‘shelf’ line design element with arrow, and instead, just bringing the H down into the arrow.

    Having said all that, my favorite poster of this article has got to be Senna. The creative cropping, the title and graphic simplicity shines here.

    Posted by Sideshow on Sep. 15, 2011
  5. Just a quick note about The Departed poster.
    The most likely reason for the repeated title is due to legal requirements.
    As most of you who read this blog probably know, the majority of posters that publicize the release of films here in the US, are required to include a billing or credit block. On one-sheets the type size of these credits is mandated to be at least 25% the average height of the letterforms in the title treatment. Therefore, rarely does one see a movie poster with a huge title, since it would follow that the billing be massive too – not ideal.
    One work around that is sometimes cheekily employed is to add a second much smaller title treatment, this forces the required size of the billing block down, thus creating a more pleasing layout.

    Posted by AJP on Sep. 19, 2011
  6. Well, I write these posts and I didn’t even know this. Fascinating info, AJP, thanks for sharing. : )

    Posted by Yves Peters on Sep. 20, 2011
  7. Can somebody Please tell me what font they use in The Departed Movie Title please & Thank you or email me at moc.oohaynull@29_bagev

    Posted by Brittany on May. 16, 2012
  8. No need to email; that would be Aachen Bold.

    Posted by Yves Peters on May. 17, 2012
  9. I am no longer a Brooklyn-based designer (I moved out of my living space o 14 years in Park Slope and relocated to Morningside heights, Harlem), but you have my permission to quote me. :-) James

    Posted by James tung on Oct. 24, 2012

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