ScreenFonts: J. Edgar, Immortals, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Hugo, The Muppets

  • Fonts in Use
Fonts in Use, ScreenFonts | Yves Peters | December 16, 2011

ScreenFonts is now enjoying a parallel career on stage. After bringing Trajan in Movie Posters live to TYPO Berlin “Shift”, Now We Are Talking Festival, and Beyond Tellerrand, I will soon present my not-so-serious investigation on the rise and fall of the ubiquitous movie poster typeface at the RomeoDelta evening (in collaboration with BNO) in Rotterdam, The Netherlands on January 23 (TBC), at South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, TX on March 10, at TYPO SF in San Francisco, CA on April 5 or 6, and possibly in Berlin, Germany in early 2012 and in Brighton, UK in September. After which I guess the presentation will have reached the end of its life span, and it will be high time to turn it into an article.

Somewhat related – Jon Tan, who concluded the conference with a wonderful presentation on web type, made a funny remark at Beyond Tellerrand. He told me I have become the “movie poster typography guy”, and this topic now somehow belongs to me. I am not sure what to make of this, but I can guarantee you that my interests are much broader, so please don’t assume I am obsessed with it. Specifically the Trajan in Movie Posters thing was merely a fun investigation that spun into a talk, nothing more. There really is no need to make Trajan jokes if you ever run into me at a conference or other design-related event. No, really. Don’t. I mean it. ; )

But for now: a fresh batch of movie posters with no Trajan in sight! In this last episode before the New Year we are going from colourful to black-and-white, and back to colour again. The post concludes with a selection of delightful spoof movie posters and teaser trailers which are sure to put you in a premature holiday cheer. Ho- ho- ho- ho- oh, whatever…

The first three posters convincingly illustrate how the graphic treatment of a photograph usually makes a poster much stronger. The first example is this movie poster for Clint Eastwood’s biopic J. Edgar. The “standard” poster merely superimposes his signature over a close-up of the first Director of the FBI. However the design above uses a greyscale version of the same image in monochrome blue. Replacing the background with vertical red and white stripes turns the poster into a stylised American flag, reinforcing the perception of J. Edgar Hoover as the most feared and admired, reviled and revered man in America for almost 50 years. The coarse raster and gritty backdrop only add to the sheer intensity of Leonardo Di Caprio’s enraged expression.

I am not sure if Hoover’s hand written signature that graces the poster is genuine, but it reminds me of Ryoichi Tsunekawa’s scripts Banana and Nothing. Check out his other typefaces as well – Flat-it Type Foundry offers excellent quality-for-value. As for the secondary typeface I was surprised to discover Footlight used as an alternative for Trajan.

The second example is this movie poster for London Boulevard. What I believe to be the main poster relies on a timidly tinted photograph of the film’s two main protagonists. This alternative version resolutely goes for colour, bathing Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley in hot pink and vibrant purple. I am certain a certain vocalist would approve. Tilting the image makes the exaggerated perspective created by the gun’s silencer even more dynamic, lending it an “in-your-face” directness.

Just like the movie logos for The International and the remake of Straw Dogs, London Boulevard integrates a silhouette in the squarish extra bold shapes of Compacta Black. In this case it is very well done, as the shape of a man holding a revolver with a silencer cleverly doubles up as both counter for the “O” in London and letterspace between the “U” and “L” in Boulevard. I really like the typography in this poster – the lines of text tumbling down, and the partially cut-away character shapes and ink splashes in the movie logo. Together with the background textures and the coarsely rasterised graphics at the top and bottom these design elements elevate the artwork to a higher level.

The third design to bathe its image in colour is this intensely red movie poster for Stuck Between Stations. The colourised black-and-white photograph with large reversed-out white type carries a whiff of Reid Miles. Unfortunately the image and the inserts at the bottom have become very dark and unclear because of this.

To be able to turn the geometric slab serif ITC Lubalin Graph into a stencil design the center bar on the “E” had to be raised. This is evidenced by the bar on the “B” – on the same level as the original position of the “E” – that disappeared.

The only thing that intrigues me about the movie poster for Immortals is why would anyone go through the trouble of customising Rotis Semi Serif of all faces? Yep, I am not so fond of the typeface you love to hate – or hate to love.

In Into the Abyss Werner Herzog’s conversations with death row inmate Michael Perry and those affected by his crime serve as an examination of why people – and the state – kill. The two beautiful posters are of an appropriately crushing poetry. The top design captures that fateful moment when visiting hours are over, when the inmate has to disconnect from the outside world by proxy and re-enters the microcosm of the prison world. The perfectly centred geometry emphasises the solemn quietness of the image.

The engraved features of Perpetua lend the typography a dignified look, akin to the lettering on a tombstone. The typesetting was done with great care and attention to detail. This can be witnessed by the perfect alignment of the movie title with the frame of the window, and the precise distribution of the text elements in the successive horizontal areas at the bottom of the photograph.

The bottom poster uses an allegorical approach. The startled birds flying away from the trees can either be a metaphor for death, for life leaving the human body, or a more literal visualisation of fear in the face of death, be it by murder or by execution. Just like Perpetua the flared titling face TF Arrow also has a chiselled appearance reminiscent of stone cutting and letter carving. Giving the type the same colour as the silhouettes of the trees and birds lends the design a beautiful, stylised look.


Sigur Rós: Festival (Live) from Sigur Rós on Vimeo.

Now that we’re on the subject of poetic beauty, few do it better than Icelandic alternative band Sigur Rós. The movie poster for Inni re-appropriates the black-and-white damaged image quality of the concert movie and combines it with delicate Linotype Didot capitals. I am getting truly demotivated by always seeing these same dozen of tired old mainstays used over and over again on film collaterals, especially since they all have so many far more interesting contemporary alternatives. Time for a change, you lazy, complacent designers and art directors!

And no, I don’t consider Bodoni a valid alternative, as it is as overused as Linotype Didot. I love the moody movie poster for Tyrannosaur though. The division of the image in a dark and a light area makes the poster almost look like a book cover. The buried tyrannosaur skeleton beautifully symbolises the violence and rage that is brooding under the surface of the main character Joseph, driving him to self-destruction. It’s just a shame of that single tree that was cloned and mirrored to obtain three.

I was specifically asked in a tweet to take a look at the movie poster for The Descendants. Honestly it doesn’t do much for me. The image is adequate, the composition of the poster not very interesting, and I rather dislike Caslon Antique. Furthermore I don’t see the conceptual link the use of a distressed text serif face could have with the film.

Every new instalment in the Twilight saga reminds me of the legions of devotees who yearn to know what typefaces they need for creating fan art. The “official” typeface – also used on the book covers – is Zephyr, a swirly ornamental serif face by Hungarian type designer Gábor Kóthay. The movie posters and album sleeves for the original motion picture soundtracks feature customised H&FJ Requiem, Hoefler & Frere-Jones’ humanist Renaissance face inspired by an illustration in a sixteenth-century writing manual.

Weirdly enough, every new instalment in the Twilight saga also reminds me of bestselling author Stephen King’s comparison with that other insanely successful franchise:

Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend.

And no, I don’t care much for Harry Potter neither, so there’s little use in getting on your high horse and starting a flame war. It will leave me as indifferent as the vapid expression on undead Edward’s face. Boom, your move. : P

How could the joyous movie poster for the biopic Eames: The Architect & The Painter not use Eames Century Modern? This design by Erik van Blokland and House Industries – with typeface direction by Ken Barber and Andy Cruz, who also art directed the project – honours the Eames aesthetic, masterfully translating it into an eighteen-style serif typeface family. Erik was the perfect person to create this typographic homage, as his typical playful yet dedicated and thorough approach to type design resonates with the late Eames’ œuvre. I wasn’t surprised at all when Eames Century Modern was awarded a Certificate of Typographic Excellence at the most recent TDC2 typeface design competition.

What I like about ScreenFonts is that we can switch from a gorgeous contemporary slab serif to a godawful, dated display place without skipping a beat. And yet, the movie poster for Martin Scorcese first foray in three-dimensional film Hugo achieves the unimaginable – using University Roman well, and extruded in gold to boot! To quote the legendary Wolfgang Weingart:

A good designer can make a beautiful design* with an ugly typeface.

* I wouldn’t exactly qualify this poster as “beautiful”, but it is a well-executed mainstream design.

We’ve already had our first black-and-white poster a little earlier with Inni, and here’s two more, both using a smidgen of red to accentuate the artwork. Just like Inni’s the movie poster for My Week With Marilyn uses Linotype Didot to convey classy elegance. It is contrasted against the wide, sturdy character shapes of Neue Helvetica Extended.

The last design this month to fully exploit the power of black and white is the movie poster for period piece The Artist. Conceptually this one is a no-brainer, as this movie is set in 1927 Hollywood, at the dawn of the “talkies”. The image subtly updates the visual language of the silent movies to a contemporary interpretation.

Unfortunately one of the two typefaces used doesn’t really strike the right tone. While the jazz-era-inspired stressed display sans does an adequate job, I always cringe when I see the freeware font Scriptina used in professional design. Its swashes are omnipresent and ruin the spacing. Regrettably the built-in kerning doesn’t really make things any better. There are far better similar thin brush scripts available, like Avalon, Angelus, or Enchanted for example.

And now we swing back to full colour. We conclude this final episode of 2011 on a high note with a series of amusing posters for The Muppets. The fairly standard official poster sticks to the convention for comedies with its Muppets logo set in an extra bold sans serif. However the marketing campaign comprises a delightful collection of spoof teaser posters which are very colourful in a more figurative way. The little gems below remind us why The Muppets are the masters of good-hearted yet subversive satire, and blow Tyler Perry’s inane attempts right out of the water.


The Muppets take on the Twilight Saga.

The Muppets take on super hero blockbusters.

Not stopping at spoof posters, the marketing for The Muppets also includes a suite of great parody teaser trailers. For your amusement Film School Rejects has gathered all of them. Get ready for some chuckles…


Green With Envy, the romantic comedy parody, with a cameo by Hermes at the very end.


Being Green, the superhero parody (not in Swedish), featuring Eurostile.


Fuzzy Pack, the crime drama parody (Danny Trejo is a muppet).


The Pig with the Froggy Tattoo, music not by Trent Reznor.


Two Muppets, the final Muppets parody trailer (it’s very meta).

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5 Comments:

  1. Yours are one of those posts I really look forward to reading and seeing… I know you don’t want to be known as “the movie poster typography guy” but I reckon is a great reputation…

    I couldn’t agree more with you in regards of Scriptina, its simply horrible… it should be banned from designers computers.. I have yet to see it having a good use.
    greetings from Australia

    Posted by Tatiana Hindes on Dec. 19, 2011
  2. A great post as ever. I can actually feel my typographic skills sharpening as I read!

    Posted by Daniel Pomlett on Dec. 21, 2011
  3. I disagree with you Tatiana, Scriptina is not horrible is just chaotic, I sometimes use it to suggest rushed handwriting.
    As for banning maybe you would like to extend that to all free fonts and just dance on FontShop’s music ?

    Posted by Boris on Dec. 28, 2011
  4. “Cringe”, “horrible”, “chaotic” are all subjective expressions of taste, so I see no harm in expressing them here. And I don’t think anyone feels all free fonts should be banned; I even wrote a whole post to guide users in their selection.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Dec. 30, 2011
  5. What a colorful issue of Screen Fonts!!! As usual I agree on all reviews and it is really a shame, shame about the cloned and mirrored trees on Tyrannosaur. May add that the poster for Descendants would be far more intriguing if it wasn’t that artificial – the depth of field is amateurish. The spoof posters for Muppets are plain great and I do appreciate these as every time I see Jason Segel on a movie poster these’s something wrong going on in my stomach.

    Scriptina is not going anywhere, it’s here and will stay, like it or not. Quality is the price you have to pay when you choose free things, although there are plenty of choices of free fonts when it comes to scripts.

    Posted by Ivan Filipov on Jan. 2, 2012

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