Three-Dimensional Type Spells Out The Rules In Zombieland

  • Fonts in Use
Fonts in Use, ScreenFonts | Yves Peters | December 10, 2009

In reaction to the most recent episode of ScreenFonts a couple of people directed me to a clip of Zombieland. Now, I really wanted to write something about it, but I had two problems. The first being that I haven’t seen the movie, so all I have to judge from is a clip posted on YouTube and what other bloggers who actually have seen it are writing about it. The second problem is that I tried for days to find out who was responsible for the integration of typography in the footage. Inquiries with visual effects companies Zoic Studios and CIS Vancouver led nowhere, and calls and e-mails to other people mentioned in the credits didn’t garner any replies. That is, until yesterday, when I finally found the fine folks responsible for the end titles – Scarlet Letters – who revealed that Logan created the opening titles sequence and the virtual three-dimensional type. Now I know I need to look for post-production facilities in the credits. Why can’t they simply mention wikkid kewl typographics? ; )

The integration of three-dimensional type is already present in one of the trailers. Quotes from reviewers receive a treatment similar to the movie logo, making them look like some sort of glowing electrical grill elements. The letters are positioned literally in the middle of the action, as we can see when the cart on the roller coaster turns towards Richard Corliss’ “An exhilarating ride” quote. The actors move behind and in front of the words which are made to look like actual objects in the scenes, yet there is no real interaction.

Even more interesting is how the type is integrated in the movie itself. Director Ruben Fleischer, newly signed to Caviar Content, has been a fan of Logan’s work for a long time. He explains in an interview with Tor.com that working with them was an exciting thing for him, and he thinks that the opening credit sequence is one of the signatures of the film. He really has them to thank for it because they brought them to life and made them so dynamic. The opening montage originally wasn’t even really intended as the credit sequence – it served to establish the context of how the outbreak happened, when zombies first really attacked in scale. Together with the writers he designed a lot of scenarios that were full of action so he could tell a complete story in a single shot, and tried to include a maximum of elements.

Wanting to make it look as cool as possible, (parts of) the sequence were shot with a Phantom camera, a digital high-speed camera that shoots literally thousands of frames per second. This allowed to have people getting attacked by zombies in super slow motion, making it look even more impressive. Fleischer really wanted to expand it, make it visually dynamic, and use it as a backdrop for the opening titles which needed to be included in the film anyway. Logan stepped up to the fore and created that incredible relationship, integrating the type in the footage so the actors would physically interact with the credits, bashing into the type in slow motion and so on.

Throughout the film, viewers are reminded of the basic rules of survival in Zombieland by typography creatively placed and animated within the scene. I found a pretty good description in last month’s blog entry The Unsung Hero of Zombieland: Typography by NYC designer Elisabeth Miller:

The part that I really enjoyed that most may not appreciate, however, was the fantastic integration of typography, from the opening titles and throughout the film. Jesse Eisenberg’s character Columbus keeps a list of rules that he explains throughout the movie as a guide to surviving the zombie takeover. These rules, done in Futura Bold, are totally integrated in the film within each scene, often getting splattered with blood, acting like a 3D element, or lighting up like a pinball machine like in the cardio one. This movie was such a great integration of type within the film in a compelling, meaningful and often humorous way.

Yet there is one thing I don’t understand. Although I did find a clip on YouTube that indeed has the “Cardio” rule executed in Futura Bold, the one I’m showing above has a much nicer integration of the type done in News Gothic. Are there different versions of the movie? I am bit puzzled.

In an interview for Creativity Online Fleischer explains that ultimately his sensibility as a music video director made him approach the opening credits and the rules in such a dynamic and visual way.

[The rules] were scripted to appear on screen, but I really knew they could be dynamic. I’ve done a lot of motion graphics in my music video work, so I was like, if we’re going to have words on the screen, they have to be awesome. So I collaborated with Logan to do all the rules and they went above and beyond. We all worked really hard to get that look down for both the rules and opening credits.

What I find most interesting is how the type is given physical form within the footage, yet somehow remains virtual: the actors interact with the letters as actual objects without acknowledging their presence. As you can see in the screenshot above Rule #3 takes the shape of metal letters on the bathroom door, as if it is supposed to be there, and elicits no reaction from Columbus. In all the other instances in the clip the type simply is hovering in mid-air.

This creates peculiar situations. The best example is when Columbus dashes away from the gas station bathroom while being chased by two zombies. Columbus successfully runs past “Rule #1: Cardio”, yet the female zombie hits the hovering word, dislodging the “I” and even making the “O” fall to the ground. This shows that ample thought was given to the whole “type within the movie” concept.

The type is also used playfully: the two halves of the word “Seatbelt” – each with half of the B” – click together, replicating the fastening of the seatbelt.

That’s it for now. I wanted to conduct a short interview with Kevin Shapiro, Executive Producer at Logan, but still have received no reply yet. If I do manage to get hold of him I will add an additional paragraph to this post.

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5 Comments:

  1. The font for the rules was Trade Gothic Bold Condensed. At one point the rules were going to be reprised in the end roll, so we had the rules typography to match to for the end roll type. Logan had made cool little line art animations to accompany all of the rules. Hopefully it will be on the DVD. The studio made the decision not to include the rules, probably because of deadline pressures.

    The whole movie was shot digitally except for the Phantom camera slo-mo shots.

    Ben Schoen, the end titles guy

    Posted by Ben Schoen on Dec. 10, 2009
  2. I think this is the best use of typography in a movie ever. I am nearly always disappointed by well-designed stylish movies with boring-ass title sequences.

    Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has great opening titles too.

    Posted by Soda and Candy on Dec. 11, 2009
  3. Stranger Than Fiction has great typo-graphics as well. Worth checking out.

    Posted by Simon Robertson on Dec. 12, 2009
  4. Yup, I already checked that one out. ;)

    Posted by Yves Peters on Dec. 12, 2009
  5. Great post! I was going to write one up myself, but you’ve saved me the trouble. This film exceeded my expectations in almost every way; and the clever use of typography, wonderful attention to detail, and great execution really added to the complete filmic experience.

    The typographics almost made the film feel “interactive”, like finding the hidden Easter eggs or getting to the bonus screens in video games. FUN, FUN, FUN.

    Posted by Jason Carreiro on Dec. 27, 2009

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