ScreenFonts: Super 8, Green Lantern, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Cars 2, Bad Teacher

Last week was pretty intense: the Ampersand conference sandwiched between two Rosa Luxe* concerts, all in three days and as many different countries. The conference was certainly worth the trip; very well organised and with solid – though not flawless – programming. Although I’ve already done my bit by intensively tweeting during the conference, I will also post a concise report here on The FontFeed by the end of the week. But first lets soak up some pop culture by looking at what the movie studios have come up with to lure us in movie theatres this month.

I am a bit in two minds about the movie poster for Beginners. It’s a joyous image, with the actors coming across as very spontaneous. This however could be seen as a marketing flaw, as Beginners is not the silly romantic comedy the poster makes it appear to be. On a purely formal level there is a pleasant contrast between their photographs neatly cut out against the pristine white background (and obligatory diffuse shadow) and the tidy sans serif caps on the one hand, and the movie title in large, slightly naive brush script on the other hand. Yet the Photoshop work makes the actors’ portraits seem artificial and even a little dodgy.

Seeing News Gothic/Trade Gothic used instead of Helvetica is always a relief. Agreed, it is almost as ubiquitous as Helvetica, but its narrower features and more humanist shapes at least leave the type room to breathe on the page. It doesn’t feel as blocky and oppressive as the overplayed grotesque. Setting the clean characters in bright red and magenta nicely offsets them against the simple black script. The movie title was obviously hand lettered, so nigh impossible to approximate in digital type.

We’ve had the cover for the album of original songs for the motion picture by Alex Turner in the last instalment of My Type of Music, and here is the actual movie poster for Submarine. Like I said two weeks ago, the transparent blue overlaid on the bottom part of the canvas is a fun and clever interpretation of the movie title. The title is again set in a 3 × 3 square in three desaturated colours, but in a single typeface this time: Futura. The even wider “M” makes the spacing iffier, especially with the unavoidably narrow “I” right underneath it. Optically adjusting the left alignment would have been beneficial for the composition.

These two adapted posters, probably for the American market, clearly show how marketing constraints deteriorate a poster even if the overall design remains basically unchanged. To increase the commercial appeal of this quirky British teenage comedy the bankable name of Ben Stiller was attached to it. The movie title was reset in one single line to make room for the added line “Presented by Ben Stiller”. Somehow the three colours work less well in this configuration. It reminds me of cheap logos for Italian restaurants that have the first letters of the name in green, the middle ones in white, and the end part in red. I’d rather not have any designs of mine associated with that.

The third poster emphasises the Ben Stiller connection even more, with a bright red area enclosed by a thin black frame that makes me think of Hugo Boss perfume advertisements. Not only does it overpower the top half of the canvas, but the signatures in the three original colours underneath the added laudatory quotes from a magazine and two newspapers don’t make any sense any longer. Same goes for the movie title which has been relegated to the bottom half of the canvas, making that area feel very crowded. Since they had to knock out the middle letters in white the cheap Italian restaurant connotation is even stronger. Furthermore zooming out and showing more of Craig Roberts lessens the comedic impact of the image.

Rejoice and Shout has a marvellous movie poster referencing silk-screen designs. The simple flat blue and red areas beautifully enhance the image of the church with the black-and-white collage of gospel artists’ portraits in the background. The cheerful hand-drawn serif caps of the movie title perfectly fit the overall atmosphere of the design, and the tagline in Bernard Antique adds a dash of vintage charm.

Gotham may be experiencing a impressive surge in posters for high-profile movies, but you shouldn’t consider Adrian Frutiger’s classic Avenir out for the count yet. It is used to great effect on the movie poster for Super 8. I really like simple solutions such as tilting the image 90° clockwise that turns an otherwise potentially average design into something so much more interesting and effective. Adding the inner glow to the Avenir caps as if the letters were backlit enhances the threatening storm clouds beautifully.

There is something bizarre about this alternate poster, as it illustrates how our memory can play tricks on us. Upon seeing this design I was convinced it was an almost literal re-imagining of the poster for Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of The Third Kind; some kind of inside joke, as Spielberg also produces Super 8. Yet when I checked the collaterals for the seminal science-fiction movie from the late seventies I was surprised to see none of them was close. Apparently my memory had constructed an idealised design, an amalgamation of the original poster and the poster for the Special Edition with elements of one of the key scenes from the movie. But it works, because the reference is instantly recognisable.

It is safe to say the following is to be listed under “Stuff I should have known if I want my readers to take me seriously”. A comment on the Internet Movie Poster Awards website about this alternate poster led me to (re)discover the work of Drew Struzan. Finding out this influential movie poster artist was responsible for all these iconic film posters from my youth finally made a whole lot of puzzle pieces fall into place. By the way, I don’t know if this specific Super 8 poster was done by him, but even if it wasn’t it heavily borrows his trademark style. It is a shame Avenir was (incomprehensibly) swapped for a similar yet inferior sans.

A short interview with legendary artist Drew Struzan, featuring rare footage of the artist working in his studio and talking about his poster artwork. Includes interviews with film directors Frank Darabont and Guillermo Del Toro.

Trailer for the how-to DVD Conceiving and Creating the Hellboy Movie Poster Art, in which Drew Struzan reveals a comprehensive look at his technique used to create some of the most widely seen movie posters in history.

It was to be expected that this summer’s super-hero blockbuster (well, one of them) Green Lantern would have a very mainstream movie poster. No Trajan like last month’s Thor, nor that seemingly custom-designed condensed square sans for the upcoming Captain America: The First Avenger. No, Concept Arts safely stuck with Bank Gothic, just like Agency a staple for action movies.

More than the so-so poster it was the teaser campaign that caught my attention. Attentive readers will immediately have recognised the similarities with the similar campaign for Star Trek featured exactly two years ago in the June 2009 episode of ScreenFonts. Yet the shape of the lantern “logo” doesn’t lend itself as well to this treatment as the Start Trek shield, offering very limited possibilities for incorporating the actors’ portraits. Plus that daft comic book tagline “In brightest day, in blackest night. No evil shall escape my sight.” looks exceptionally silly on a movie poster.

We continue with unintentional silliness on the movie poster for Bride Flight. My goodness, what a stinker! Not only do we get very amateurish floating heads, but the two protagonists in the image are guilty of utterly ridiculous silent-movie-style overacting. Tracking down the serif caps used for the movie title would be a complete waste of time.

And here’s the third cliché in a row – Gill Sans Bold and Ultra Bold for a comedy: the movie poster for Mr. Popper’s Penguins. It seems that more and more often blue is used, as if the movie studios realised the public was onto them. “Wait, people expect big red type. Let’s use blue instead, maybe they won’t notice then!”

It is difficult to understand why The Art of Getting By received such a poor Photoshop cut’n’paste hack job for a movie poster

… compared to this far superior design for Homework (the original title for Fox Searchlight’s $3-million Sundance pick-up). Agreed, this is the fourth cliché in a row – hand-drawn block letters for an indie comedy – but it truly is lovely. The big blue movie title is Futura Extra Bold Condensed with some three-dimensional letters and some comic book lettering above it.

This film clearly went through an identity crisis, because this third version is again quite different from the previous two. It is much slicker, with some lovely bokeh effects in the cityscape. Although the graphic treatment may not be what we generally would expect for this type of film, the purple portrait of Emma Roberts in the compact sans serif letters of the movie title looks very nice.

One of my credos is that very often teaser campaigns have better-looking and cleverer collaterals than the eventual main posters. For this teaser poster for Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times, the restrained design is a simple typographic composition consisting of a solid tagline and the movie title. Fittingly the poster features the Cheltenham headline faces used in The New York Times newspaper itself (either that or they were approximated; I don’t know inhowfar Cold Open had access to the actual proprietary faces drawn by Matthew Carter for NYT in 2003). It looks quite convincing and newspaper-ish. The blackletter – Cloister Black / Old English Text – is definitely not the real deal, as the newspaper has a custom-designed nameplate.

What irks me most about the main poster is that it leaves the newspaper connotation behind and moves into fashion magazine territory, with its review quotes set in an extra light Neue Helvetica in grey. To further confound matters it is conceptually an almost exact replica of the poster for The September Issue, which is about… Vogue, a fashion magazine. The latter has ITC Avant Garde Gothic strewn all over it, in an equally thin weight, also in grey, with the movie title in black with red accents, and a “product shot” against a simple white background in the lower area of the poster.

Here comes the revenge of the tilted poster. Cars 2 has a series of rather conventional posters like this version, which adequately do what they’re supposed to do. Most of all I wanted to point out the movie logo. It is quite similar to Magneto, which emulates the connecting script lettering style commonly found in the chrome emblems on automobiles, gadgets, and appliances of the 1930s–1960s. A couple of fun Easter Eggs can be found in this design – if you look attentively you’ll notice that several cars are hidden in the globe design in the background: Lightning McQueen attached to Scotland, Mater in Canada, and Finn McMissile around Central America.

And another tilted movie poster; however here it is not supposed to convey speed but rather the dishevelment of the character played by Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher. The different character shapes for repeating letters tells us the text on the chalkboard is hand lettered. Although this is the preferred solution to achieve this effect, there are a number of digital fonts that mimic this style of hand printing quite convincingly.

We end this episode with one more ill-inspired Photoshop composition, displaying the same mistake as last month’s Bridesmaids poster. When situating the two figures in the movie poster for A Better Life in their surroundings, and comparing their size with the setting one can’t but conclude that they are both very tiny, like little figurines from toy train sets. The leg of the “R” makes me think the custom-distressed compact sans serif could be Helvetica Compressed.

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  1. Would it be too much to ask to see any of the movie posters you have worked on?

    Posted by Andy on Jun. 22, 2011
  2. I don’t really see the point. It is common knowledge that reviewers are failed artists. ; )

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jun. 23, 2011
  3. Wonderful blog/review. Kept me off my work for quite a while.

    Posted by Elzo Smid on Jun. 23, 2011
  4. Yves, I can’t tell you how much I enjoy your reviews, every time. Congratulations and thank you.

    Posted by Hannes Famira on Jun. 23, 2011
  5. Great post! Although I don’t agree with you on “Submarine”; I think the “Ben Stiller” version (w/o the red box) works far better than the original. The original typographic idea isn’t brilliant, and poorly executed. The title does little but standing in the way of the blue overlay, which is a far better idea.

    Posted by Alexander Fjelldal on Jun. 23, 2011
  6. Comic letterer and logo designer Todd Klein has a series of posts on the design of Green Lantern logos in the comics:

    His comments on the film indicate the final logo used in the movie was closer to the comics than those shown here:

    Posted by Zen Faulkes on Jun. 23, 2011
  7. I love your blog! Thanks!

    Posted by Michael Chameides on Jun. 24, 2011
  8. Both Super 8 and Cars 2 have a secondary set of retro posters…you’d probably be more interested in those. I picked up the red text on black poster of Super 8 at the theater, and the Cars 2 retro posters are on the Pixar blog:

    Posted by Sarah on Jul. 8, 2011
  9. Nice blog, but that’s actually Craig Roberts in the Submarine poster, not Noah Taylor.

    Posted by Ian Robinson on Aug. 12, 2011
  10. You mentioned in your blog that you re-imagined the Close Encounters of the Third Kind poster being close to the Super 8 poster but you must have made a mistake. I thought the same thing and assumed it was paying homage to Close Encounters. During research, I found this Marvel comics cover and believe it may be the poster you were thinking of.

    Posted by Su Pearce on Feb. 24, 2012
  11. Hey Yves. :)

    Any idea what font the Green Lantern teasers used for their tagline “In brightest day, in blackest night.”?

    I’ve never noticed it anywhere else and I’ve always wondered.

    Cheers. :)

    Posted by Seth Winn on Mar. 27, 2013

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