ScreenFonts: Shame; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

  • Fonts in Use
Fonts in Use, ScreenFonts | Yves Peters | January 13, 2012

My busy half year is about to kick in high gear. The first of my six presentations – one a month – is at the BNO Romeo Delta evening CUT! on Monday, January 23, at De Unie in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. The evening is entirely dedicated to the magic of the silver screen, but from a designer’s viewpoint. Move over film stars, it’s time for the creators of movie posters, title sequences, art direction and special effects to walk the red carpet. It promises to be a very entertaining evening.


Invitation for the event designed by Villadinamica

Four 20-minute presentations are programmed.

  • Art director and production designer Ben Zuydwijk is an independent set designer for film and television productions, and helped making numerous commercials successful.
  • Shosho designs visual effects and animations for film and television, and develops interactive programs for cultural institutions and businesses. Joost Hiensch will present; together with Susanne Keilhack he is responsible for title sequences and movie posters, many of which have been awarded.
  • Submarine Channel produces innovative web documentaries, motion comics and transmedia productions, and launched Forget the Film, Watch the Titles, the first online collection of beautiful title sequence design. Title design geek Remco Vlaanderen, web editor and creative producer at Submarine Channel, tells us all about this project.
  • I will talk about Two Decades of Trajan in Movie Posters.

Admission is €5 (€3 for BNO members and students). Doors open at 20:00; there are no reservations, so if you’re in Rotterdam and would like to attend the evening, come early.

To whet your appetite a little, here’s my take on last month’s movie posters.

As Christophe Courtois teaches us on his blog Le Sibère Carnet de Christophe Courtois, black-and-white posters with a red accent or flame burst identify stories with conflict – action movies, war films and so on. Coriolanus literally pits the two main protagonists against each other. In the movie poster the gritty portraits of Ralph Fiennes and Gerard Butler were treated as if they had been photocopied or faxed. What at first appeared like tribal marks or war paint turns out to be transparent red silhouettes of machine guns, overlaid on the raw and uncompromising renditions of their profiles. This design is perfectly in sync with the approach of the film – a contemporary interpretation but keeping the original texts by Shakespeare. It’s just a shame about the tame Futura; something a little more edgy, with a little more bite would have been nice.

In the French poster for Sleeping Beauty Emily Brown looks into the viewer’s eyes with a soft, dreamy gaze. While this solution may seem adequate, it actually belies the uncompromising topic of the film – “a haunting erotic fairy tale about a student who drifts into prostitution and finds her niche as a woman who sleeps, drugged, in a ‘Sleeping Beauty chamber’ while men do to her what she can’t remember the next morning.” The image is way too innocuous, and the Reanissance script used for the movie title doesn’t help.

In the pre-Unicode days no less than 21 fonts were needed to make the 1413 glyphs of Poetica Chancery conveniently accessible. Since the typeface has become available as a single feature-rich OpenType Std font its price has dropped to less than a fifteenth of its original price, while its functionality and ease of use have exponentially increased.

The main poster is far more appropriate. Emily Browning’s naked body, partly covered by luxurious sheets, and her detached stare as she looks over her shoulder strike the correct tone. The colour scheme is gorgeous; the muted tones of the set beautifully complementing the actress’ creamy skin and hard to define hair colour. Again the typography is entirely Futura.

And this third example of a light Futura set in all caps this month makes me wonder if this could be a typographic trend for intelligent, slightly edgy films – just like all lowercase Helvetica. Shame also covers a sex-related topic. Even more subtle than the design for Sleeping Beauty above, its movie poster broaches the subject of sex addiction in a tactful and clever way by showing its aftermath. I like that the photograph is somewhat ambiguous. A fast and easy interpretation would be that this is the bed where two people just had sex. I however think this image suggests the person left the bed in the middle of the night to compulsively search for non-commitive sex. Paradoxically the rather small spaced out white capitals filling the empty space where the body of the protagonist had been lying don’t whisper but shout. Do they accuse and stigmatise… or is it a desperate cry for help?

While they don’t cross over into the realm of crass commercialism and exploitation the localised posters for the French and Italian markets are less strong. Somehow showing Michael Fassbender diminishes the impact of the design, and the larger type comes across less powerful.

The fourth example of this film genre relinquishes Futura in favour of Univers. The movie poster for We Need to Talk About Kevin thoughtfully translates the subject matter in a subdued image that – silently – screams with pain and anguish. The simple structure, tinted black and white image, and light sans serif give the poster a distinct Modernist flavour.

With this alternate poster the design shifts from Modernism into hyperrealism. How can you make a person that has been emotionally hollowed out cry? By placing her behind a window with rain drops running down, one of them serendipitously from the corner of her eye down her cheek – a trick also employed in Toy Story 3 for the key scene where Lotso discovers he has been replaced by a new teddy bear. The typography is lovely; a vertical zone holding all of the text set in Akkurat suggests a curtain from behind which Tilda Swinton peers outside.

This final version by Mojo with its duotone image in greenish grey and plum is quite creepy. This impression is strengthened by the use of Perpetua. Its classic serif letter forms remind of Trajan, since a couple of years the default typeface in colaterals for horror movies and thrillers.

The latest instalment of My Type of Music featured an album cover cum poster for Superheavy designed by Shepard Fairey, and here’s a movie poster by the street artist turned… well, artist tout court. While the original poster for The Lady is completely forgettable, this version boasts Fairey’s signature style, inspired by propaganda posters from the early 20th century. While he already was a household name in art and design circles, his posters for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign propelled him to international fame. He keeps expanding on this style, tirelessly perfecting it. However, because he uses mostly the same graphic devices and colour combinations I sometimes wonder if he is on his way to become a one-trick-pony, a brand. Only time will tell.

The custom lettering is reminiscent of the Arts & Crafts movement; like a blend of P22 Victorian Gothic and Sweet Square / Sackers Square.

Forget the sucky distressed Helvetica – this alternate poster for Autoreiji (Outrage) is seriously badass. Blood splatters and smears; a grainy, high-contrast photograph of Takeshi Kitano discharging his gun, barely contained between the edges of the poster; a dirty background with semi-transparent katakana characters; hot pink type… this explosive design fires on all cylinders.

The graphic treatment of the movie poster for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is very interesting. The spy theme is cleverly visualised by rendering Gary Oldman’s portrait in numbers, and then have single words hidden within this sea of digits. Besides the noticeable white tagline “The enemy is within” and red release date “Winter” other words are to be found, turning this poster into an amusing hide-and-seek game. The typeface is the now-conspicuous H&FJ Gotham.

Strangely in the character posters, while the portraits are still rendered in Gotham, the condensed squarish typefaces are Agency for the actors’ names and some other square sans serif I can’t seem to pinpoint, like a less tall Regency Gothic or a squarer Alternate Gothic.

I really like straightforward, efficient concept posters. Take this oversized realistic recreation of a cigarette pack for Addiction Incorporated. While it features different graphic elements and the brand name is not literally spelled out, it is easily recognised as a spoof on Marlboro products. Every type element is repurposed to hold new information related to the film. The use of the corporate face Neo Contact, together with the obligatory Helvetica and wide gothic / grotesque, perfects the illusion.

These minimalist posters for Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol were designed by Matt Owen. A few weeks ago for the IMAX release Paramount commissioned two event posters; the one on the left was handed out to audience members of the midnight release only, and the one on the right was intended for audiences the following week. The design combines a lit fuse with the silhouette of the Burj Khalifa building where some of the action takes place. The graphic language can be seen as an homage to Saul Bass, whose lettering style it reappropriates. It reminds of director Brad Bird’s The Incredibles and Ratatouille.

The main problem with the promotional campaign for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is that it lacks its own recognisable identity, making it look like a continuation of the campaign for the previous movie. The movie posters use similar visuals, a similar colour scheme, a similar image texture, and the same Clarendon. It fails on all fronts.

I originally wanted to draw a too-clever-for-my-own-good connection between the American eagle in the background of the Cook County poster and the beaks in the typeface Warnock, but then I realised I am not that desperate for material…

The posters for the American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo were designed by one of my personals Kellerhouse. I like this version as it beautifully overlays and cut outs the portraits of Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, including the dried flowers that play a crucial role at the beginning of the story. The movie title is set in a custom typeface designed by Neil Kellerhouse, based on or inspired by Trade Gothic Bold. The elegant serif caps are Jupiter Pro. Neil explained to me that director David Fincher had something very specific in mind, and he presented him many different options, from his own custom font to more traditional looks. Neil really enjoyed working with Jupiter, experimenting with its many ligatures and character options.

On her blog Flick Filosopher Maryann Johanson rightfully shreds the teaser poster apart, as it completely misrepresents and objectifies the strong female character that is Lisbeth Salander. Worth a read.

While the main poster for Albert Nobbs is quite ordinary, I really like the typographic treatment. The movie title set in all caps Bauer Bodoni nicely rests on the serving tray held by Glenn Close. The actors’ names in Neutraface are strategically positioned left and right on her jacket.

The use of Trajan on the alternate poster – with Helvetica as secondary face – is just as uninspired. Very much inspired however is the image itself, a surprising juxtaposition of the male and the female side of the main character. The restrained lay-out and careful lighting make this a sophisticated, beautiful poster.

While the main poster is nothing special, Arsonal created a nicely stylised alternate poster for We Bought a Zoo. The tree looks like it was cut out in wood-textured paper, its crown composed of paw prints. Those simple shapes against the pristine white background produce a striking image. The typography is an integral part of the design, composed in different widths and weights of Interstate. And the red kite is a colourful detail that provides the finishing touch.

The movie poster for the lovely Minoes (Miss Minoes / Undercover Kitty), based on the 1970 novel by iconic Dutch children’s author Annie M.G. Schmidt, is an obvious Adobe Photoshop concoction. The playful serif face Fontdiner.com hits the right tone, yet the identical repeating characters somewhat negate the fun. It’s a pity the designer simply set everything out of the box instead of customising the typography, shifting the baseline here and there and rotating individual characters.

Intelligent feature-rich OpenType fonts can do that automatically. See for example how the type looks set in the reworked FF Fontesque. In Engaging Contextuality, his article on I Love Typography, Nick Shinn explains how Fontesque’s Contextual Alternate (‘calt’) feature in two parts – Toggle and Proximity – manages to get the best possible result with only one set of alternates.

After a family movie and a children’s film we dive into the dark regions of the human condition. Angeline Jolie’s directorial debut In the Land of Blood and Honey depicts a love story set against the background of the Bosnian War. The movie poster defines the silhouette of the two lovers with a pool of blood on a map. Although it is not the archetypical ITC Machine, the peculiar faceted display sans suggests lettering on army equipment. Other examples of faceted sans serifs are Mashine, FF Pullman, Brothers, Taktical, and Tremble.

We started this episode with war in black and white and red, and this is how we’ll ends as well. Half a year after the US release of Chinese war drama Nanjing! Nanjing! (City of Life and Death), another film set against the atrocities of the Rape of Nanking in 1937 hits the movie screens. The collaterals promoting Jin líng shí san chai (The Flowers of War) however use a very different approach. The international poster melds the two opposites from the movie title into a surprising visual. A dark red bullet has become the heart of the flower-like shape created by its impact; a hard and broken object as a metaphor for a thing of delicate beauty. Death and decay, the outcome of war, is suggested with a distressed compact sans serif.

The Chinese poster is far more traditional, with Christian Bale overseeing the destroyed city floating-headwise. The red butterfly shape was lifted from…

… the Chinese concept poster; a simpler and in my opinion better design. The absence of distracting elements around the shape makes it easier to identify it as red fluid, like blood. Blood is a recurring graphic element, also found in the cherry blossom in the top left corner and in the calligraphy. The resulting artwork is very painterly, and strikes a delicate balance between the fluidity of the butterfly shape and rough brush strokes on the one hand, and the faded image of destruction in the background on the other hand.

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14 Comments:

  1. Fascinating, thanks.

    Posted by Jayne Walsh on Jan. 16, 2012
  2. Another fine issue of Screen Fonts. The only thing I’d like to disagree is the tightly spaced Bauer Bodoni on “Albert Nobss”. I think setting the title in Neutraface would be far more appropriate…and I really wonder how you’d missed that horrible spacing.

    Land Of Blood & Honey poster illustration is rather amateurish, in my opinion.

    Posted by Ivan Filipov on Jan. 16, 2012
  3. Well, the spacing of Bauer Bodoni may indeed be too tight, but I felt it was warranted in the context of what the typography is trying to achieve in relation to Glenn Close’s jacket. But you are correct, technically speaking that is questionable spacing.
    And to be honest, I was mostly intrigued by that faceted display sans on the poster for Land Of Blood & Honey; I didn’t really pay attention to the illustration.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jan. 17, 2012
  4. If you talk about Toy Story 3 you ought to mention the famous scene from In Cold Blood (1967) as well: the most famous tears of rain in cinema history.

    Also: Neil Kellerhouse told me his custom Dragon tattoo font was based on three typefaces: Trade Gothic bold condensed No. 20, Heroic, and Knockout. He also created alternate characters, like you can see on the poster: the movie title contains four different T’s.

    Posted by Christian Annyas on Jan. 19, 2012
  5. Thank you, Christian! Michael B. Johnson referenced that scene in his Making Movies is Hard Fun: Building Tools for Telling Stories presentation at TYPO London, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember what film it was from. Now I feel all stupid remembering the kid’s movie but not the original film it was inspired by.
    And thanks for the extra details about Neil Kellerhouse’s custom font. It seems like he was more loquacious in his communication with you than with me.
    People, Christian is the owner/curator of The Movie Stills Collection, the most fabulous resource of main titles of feature films on the ’net. Steven Heller described him as “the online curator of all things typographic in cinema”. You like film and typography? A must-see! :-)

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jan. 20, 2012
  6. Wow. That’s very kind of you, Yves “movie poster typography guy” Peters!
    Neil Kellerhouse showed me a specimen sheet of the custom font (called GDT Gothic), featuring all the alternative characters. The “EVIL” on his website is an early version of the custom.

    Posted by Christian Annyas on Jan. 21, 2012
  7. Hi Yves.
    I’m curious about your opinion on distressd fonts, like the one in “The flowers of war”, with similar ink details for repeating letters like ‘E’ or ‘F’.
    Sorry for my poor english.

    Bye,
    Mino

    Posted by Mino on Jan. 24, 2012
  8. Check out the Hungarian poster for Shame (rejected by the distributor).

    Posted by Armando Roque on Jan. 31, 2012
  9. Mino, distressed fonts are very practical if you need a quick solution, or if you need a lot of text set in them. However in this poster design the similar ink details for repeating characters are indeed a little distracting. I would have distressed the type myself, for example by using my own technique.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Feb. 1, 2012
  10. Love these posts!

    A minor nitpick: the “semi-transparent Japanese ideograms” aren’t ideograms, since they’re phonetic morae, or more specifically, katakana.

    Posted by Ingrid on Feb. 7, 2012
  11. Oops, thanks for pointing that out! I’ll correct it in the post.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Feb. 7, 2012
  12. all the images are broken, please fix me

    Posted by larry on Feb. 23, 2012
  13. Yves, that “other square sans serif” you couldn’t quite nail down on the original British “character” versions of the “Tinker, Tailor” posters is MVB Solano Gothic®. Kind of a strange pairing with Agency FB, but what do I know!?

    Posted by Tamye Riggs on Feb. 26, 2013
  14. Of course! Thank you, Tamye. : )

    Posted by Yves Peters on Feb. 26, 2013

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