ScreenFonts: The Way Way Back, Pacific Rim, Only God Forgives, Blue Jasmine

  • Fonts in Use
Fonts in Use, ScreenFonts | Yves Peters | September 12, 2013

Summer will soon be over (the astronomical one that is) but the summer vacation is definitely gone and done with. We had uncharacteristically hot stretches here in Belgium which made people seek out the coolness of the air-conditioned cineplex. Let’s take a look at what could be seen on the silver screens. As always the selection of films is based on the quality of their posters, not the actual movies.

It’s not that often that film posters get coverage on general interest websites, so the article on BuzzFeed covering the movie poster for The Way, Way Back caught my attention. In the interview Oscar-winning writer-directors Jim Rash and Nat Faxon reveal why they shunned the floating heads treatment for their major stars, even showing them quite small on the poster. Says Jim Rash:

Obviously, we’ve hit the motherlode with wonderful actors. I think we let those names speak for themselves up on along the side of the title. We want their presence, but we didn’t want to also mislead anybody about the feeling of what the movie is about.

Jim Rash also has an unexpected yet very logical explanation why the poster doesn’t mention their previous Oscar-winning film:

(…) Descendants falls into a more dramatic place than The Way Way Back does. I hate that thing where you feel like you’ve marketed something incorrectly, and then that backlash of, like, “This is different from The Descendants!”

Both writer-directors display a brave attitude by putting appropriateness before glory-hunting. The poster image accurately reflects the theme of the movie. Besides being a rather literal visualisation, the kid sitting underwater in the swimming pool also is a beautiful metaphor for the emotional state of the main character. The barrier created by the water represents the feeling of being misunderstood, and the general alienation from the adults who behave more childishly than the teenagers in the film. The unassuming tagline seemingly pushing down Liam James’ head enhances his sulking posture.

The typographic treatment reminds me of the creative and tasteful typography for Gone Baby Gone, as pointed out by John D. Berry on his blog Easily Amused. Here the (ultra) condensed styles of Univers gradually increase in weight with each new word, giving them more flow and texture. The mirrored columns at the top – flush right for the actors and flush left for the movie title – are well-balanced. Their perfectly central position creates an interesting vertical axis that fans out in Liam James’ posture. This effect is enhanced by the subtly mirrored location of the adult stars, even in the clothes they are wearing. I love posters that are far cleverer than they seem at first sight and reveal more and more secrets with every examination.

Overlaying type on an image is a difficult exercise. There needs to be sufficient contrast for the text to remain readable yet the visual noise must be kept at a minimum. The movie poster for Of By For succeeds by keeping the character on the poster almost monochrome, thanks to the creamy white clothes that match her skin tone and the background. This makes it possible to have a second layer of FF DIN Condensed in delicate transparent white. Finally the movie title set in the black stencil serif face based on a didone and the mask and lips are perfect focal points for the design. Don’t be fooled by the flush left setting of the transparent white type – the title and the model’s face are perfectly centered along the vertical axis of the poster. The movie title for this political documentary refers to the famous “Of the people, By the people, For the people” from president Abraham Lincoln’s iconic Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863.

Oh, how I love it when I discover an obscure film hidden amidst the list of releases that turns out to have the most delightful poster. The blurb describes Israel: A Home Movie as a feature that

(…) weaves together stunning home movie footage from the early years of Israel up until the late 70s, to offer a critical look at the history of the Jewish state. Showing the birth of one nation and the exile of another, the film goes on to capture the development of Israeli society within the first 30 years of the country. The images recount history from a complex Zionist perspective, revealing Israel’s tangled past.

The poster emulates film frames to conjure up the personal, nostalgic atmosphere of amateur film footage. Both the repetition and the discoloured images in the black frames beautifully capture the warm, bittersweet feeling of melancholy we get when watching them. The treatment of the Hebrew film title is stunning, superbly integrating the rectangular nick from the film frames into the geometric yet warm and chunky letter forms. The faded sky blue fill of the characters, slightly worn and scratched, is gorgeous. This is grunge typography at its most subtle and elegant.

Neville Brody’s Typeface Six Point Five also makes an appearance. The all-caps typeface has the particular property of having a wider and a narrower variant for each letter – see the two Ms, the first one with straight and the second one with splayed legs. This allows the user to fine-tune the length of headlines.

Certain films somehow manage to plug straight into the collective consciousness of pop culture, and Pacific Rim seems to be one of them. It shouldn’t surprise us: giant fighter robots combating enormous monsters are the pinnacle of movie making after all, the epitome of cinema next to giant apes battling dinosaurs. The official poster is a no-nonsense design, typical for blockbusters, featuring the obligatory Bank Gothic alternative Agency Extended, a staple for action and adventure films. Yet when films are so perfectly in synch with the spirit of the times we often see scores of fan art and alternative posters appear.

The first alternate design I found is this poster by Spanish artist Raúl Monge (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy 2), a concept artist for Pacific Rim. The artwork adopts the typical style of vintage World War II propaganda posters; the unusual colour scheme and sophisticated fills leave no doubt this is a contemporary interpretation. The condensed ITC Franklin Gothic adds to its authentic look.

The other alternate posters come from the fun two-part fan art gallery on Blurppy, Poster Posse Project #3 – “Pacific Rim” – Phase 1 and Phase 2. I singled out three of them that I really like, but the two galleries are definitely worth discovering.

Matt Ferguson gives a nod to the classic Jaws poster, another icon of pop culture. The Kaiju does an excellent job at impersonating the great white shark, yet typographically this homage is less successful. Futura Extra Bold is a decent stand-in for the hand-lettered title in the original, but what on earth happened to the spacing in “Pacific”? There is a gap the size of an oceanic rift (see what I did here? ; ) between the ‘A’ and ‘C’. And the designer could easily have used ITC Souvenir from the 1975 poster instead of the much stricter and harsher-looking Times Bold Italic.

This great design by Doaly transposes The Great Wave off Kanagawa, the world-famous woodblock print by Japanese artist Hokusai, to the universe of Pacific Rim. The artwork draws a parallel between the enormous wave threatening the Japanese prefecture of Kanagawa and the Kaiju attack on Tokyo in the film. By having its head extend beyond the clouds and even the upper border of the poster the artist stresses the enormity of the monster.

Doaly explains that

The idea behind this set is how the culture would have changed in this universe after living with monsters and giant robots for over a decade.

The poster uses the visual vocabulary of the fabulous tourism posters from the golden age of Art Deco, updated for the near future the movie is set in. Instead of having one of the classic Art Deco sans serifs Doaly opted for Fontfabric’s Intro, again leaving no misunderstanding this is a contemporary design.

Film poster design need not be quantum mechanics. After the simple but very effective approach for the first movie, the follow-up V/H/S/2 finds an equally inventive solution for its poster. Instead of VHS cassettes, now strips of the actual magnetic tape render the skull. Helvetica headlines again in another winner.

Set in the 80s, the heydays of the aforementioned VHS tapes and other now-obsolete technologies, Computer Chess tells the story of a chess tournament pitching man against machine. The poster expertly conveys the time period with black-and-white photography against a flat beige background. Although the red striped square sans serif on the computer monitor is a good choice I somewhat regret the designer(s) didn’t go for one of those wonderfully nostalgic compu-retro fonts. The supporting typeface is the period-appropriate Aachen (released in 1977), which was expanded to nine weights with matching italics under the name Neue Aachen last year.

I don’t know why this suddenly pops in my head, but seeing the old school CRT screen reminds me of Stefan Kjartansson and Rodrigo Xavier CavazosArmchair Modern. The characteristic letter forms of this ultramodern yet nostalgic-looking unicase sans, reminiscent of work by Mark Newson and Arne Jacobsen, are inspired by the super-elliptical form of a traditional TV screen.

This alternate design convincingly mimics an old folded poster that surfaced at a flea market or car boot sale. ITC Serif Gothic is a wonderfully appropriate choice of type; the narrow Helvetica feels a bit like a cop-out.

The description for The Act of Killing reads like one of the most powerful cinematic statements I have ever encountered. The documentary

(…) challenges former Indonesian death squad leaders to reenact their real-life mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers.

Shying away from gratuitous depictions of violence and death, this purely typographic poster recreates the film title (set in Helvetica Black) with skulls and bones. An interesting concept with potential, yet I am not sold on the execution which I find rather bland.

Everyone’s favourite thespian cum typographer Ryan Gosling stars in Only God Forgives, his second collaboration with Nicolas Winding Refn after the controversial Drive two years ago. The neon treatment of image and movie title in the main poster is gorgeous. With colours shifting from red to blue over all kinds of pink and purple and glowing areas the image exudes a bizarre, contradictory atmosphere that is both dreamlike and foreboding. The rendition of Red Rooster’s Helium for the movie title is superb: a luminescent outline emulating neon lettering that seems to twist and undulate.

This teaser poster takes the idea one step further by turning the whole poster in a neon sign of a demon’s mask with actual neon letters.

This gorgeous special edition poster to supplement the UK release was designed by Canadian artist Randy Ortiz. The stylised design in reds and blues reuses the mask as primary motif. The demon’s head is recreated by numerous hands, two jumping Thai tigers, dripping blood, and other assorted graphic elements into a visceral image. The extra bold compact sans serif looks like the original House Gothic.

I cannot decide whether the fragmented, multicoloured vertical image strips and the “broken” film title set in Standard Extended on the movie poster for Broken are either clever or phoned in. It all looks quite nice, but how literal do you want to get with the concept for your poster?

When your artwork needs to prominently feature an impressive killer whale you are pretty much set. Fortunately the designer(s) of the poster for the documentary Blackfish decided to let the majestic sea mammal speak for itself. They preserved the stylised and very graphic black-and-white patterns, only adding the geometric sans serif ITC Avant Garde Gothic in simple white.

This quad poster further abstracts the killer whale until it dissolves into barely recognisable symmetrical white areas. The typeface here is Century Gothic.

Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen’s latest. Windsor is on its poster. Nuff said. If you want “la petite histoire” behind the strange loyalty of a film maker to a typeface, read Randy J. Hunt’s account in the June 2009 episode of ScreenFonts.

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5 Comments:

  1. also nice little idea that on the Quad poster for blackfish, the bottom of the ‘k’ is the shape of the whales dorsal fin.

    Posted by Naomi on Sep. 13, 2013
  2. Interesting post, as always. I would pile on though with your comments on the JAWS-inspired Pacific Rim poster. Aside from the heinous spacing as you’ve called out, the font used is actually not Futura Extra Black, but is in fact the atrocious Arial Black which is certainly even more of a self-induced gouge on itself. Arial? As a title on a poster? In fact, are you even sure this one is made by a professional?

    Posted by Lemony on Sep. 16, 2013
  3. Lemony, I think you just made a little bit of a fool of yourself. The typeface is Futura Extra Bold (there is no Extra Black), certainly not Arial Black. Besides, the point if the poster was made by a professional or not is moot. All that matters to me is that it is a good concept. It definitely is. I think Matt Ferguson made a clever and humorous reference to one of the all-time classics in the history of film posters. The lay-out and illustration are nigh-perfect, so I can forgive his typographic transgressions.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Sep. 17, 2013
  4. Yves, you are absolutely right, the Jaws inspired Pacific Rim is certainly not set in Arial Black. However, there is a Futura Extra Black and I reckon that is what was used. But anyway, good post.

    Posted by Stuart on Sep. 17, 2013
  5. Stuart, it looks like I am the one who made a little bit of a fool of myself now. There is a Futura Extra Black after all. Apparently Biststream is the only foundry to use this name for the weight everyone else calls Futura Extra Bold.
    BTW Naomi, sharp eye! Very well observed.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Sep. 18, 2013

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