Type Essays

ScreenFonts

May 12, 2015 by
Yves Peters
Yves Peters

Our monthly review of movie poster typography looks at the posters for The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Faults, It Follows, The Gunman, Insurgent, Spring, and others.

Preparing for, and performing my duties as a facilitator at TYPO SF threw a serious monkey wrench in my publishing schedule. It is high time to post a new episode of ScreenFonts!

© 2015 Fox Searchlight Pictures – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2015 Fox Searchlight Pictures – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

Though very colourful, the main theatrical poster for the The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an uninspired design – I have seen far better applications of the tile motif, here with the ITC Avant Garde Gothic® typeface. However the typographic teaser you see above is fresh and charming. Concentric circles of marigolds in alternating hues of yellow, orange and red on a purple background conjure up the festive flower necklaces worn at celebrations in India. They draw the attention to the center of the poster where the film title is rendered in square sans serif letters with bright yellow flower petals.

© 2015 FilmBuff – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2015 FilmBuff – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

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The artwork for Road Hard proves that posters can communicate just as efficiently with minimal means – no need for multiple image insets, floating heads, nor elaborate Photoshop trickery. A world-weary silhouette, slouched forward, drags his carry-on suitcase in one hand and a microphone on a stand in the other. As little as it may seem, this is enough to establish the nature of the character, and hints at the theme of the film. The suit, the microphone on a stand and the type of hand luggage tells us this is not some glamorous rock artist, but rather a crooner, jazz singer or stand-up comedian. His posture and the fact that he is dragging along trolley and mic stand suggest that he is traveling to perform, yet against his will, most probably out of dire necessity. And what does the one-sentence description on IMDB say? “Following an expensive divorce and the cancellation of his TV show, a stand-up comic is forced to go back on the road to provide for his daughter.”

The skyline sans allows for a very compact setting that has the film title fit snuggly on the character’s back. The supporting typography is less successful – Adam Carolla’s name was smeared across the poster’s width by stretching the letters horizontally and letterspacing them, and the designer applied elastic setting to the credits on the carry-on trolley, creating ugly uneven spacing in the names. A much better solution would have been to use a similarly wood type-inspired family with many different widths, like David Berlow’s Titling Gothic or Bureau Grot for example. You can make the names fit by using those different widths instead of playing it fast and loose with the tracking.

© 2015 Freestyle Releasing – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2015 Freestyle Releasing – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

I have always had a soft spot for Aurora Condensed, also originally a wood type face. The compact headline sans has clever features solving the problems with diagonals in compressed typefaces and with exceptionally large x-heights. It can be seen on some of Reid Miles’ iconic album sleeves that defined the visual identity of Blue Note Records in the sixties. Eduardo Manso used a similar technique of having curved diagonals in his custom typeface for Puma. On the poster for Hayride 2 it serves as an alternative for the Trajan™ typeface we commonly find on collaterals for horror movies.

© 2014 Screen Media – Poster reproduced with kind permission from Riley Sterns and Screen Media.
© 2014 Screen Media – Poster reproduced with kind permission from Riley Sterns and Screen Media.

Faults is one of those rare movies that have a theatrical poster that is as special as the variant design. Cold Open shredded the artwork and reassembled it to convey the unraveling of the main protagonist’s psyche, torn between the mysterious new cult she fell prey to and the expert on mind control recruited by her parents to win her back. The movie title looks like it’s set in Berthold Akzidenz-Grotesk Condensed; the secondary type is FF DIN® Condensed.

© 2014 Screen Media – Poster reproduced with kind permission from Riley Sterns and Screen Media
© 2014 Screen Media – Poster reproduced with kind permission from Riley Sterns and Screen Media

Director Riley Sterns told me the unusual story of how the beautiful illustrated poster came to be.

Riley Sterns | “The artist is this awesome guy named Enrique Corominas. He saw the film at Sitges Film Festival in Spain and reached out to me abut designing a poster. I told him it wouldn’t be official but if he wanted to make something I could tweet it out or Instagram it. He then gave me his design and it was so beautiful that I talked my distributor about releasing it as an alternate poster. If you know anyone who works for Mondo, tell them to hire Enrique!”

“I set the text for the poster myself in Signal No. 1. I’m very particular about things so whenever I can be hands-on, I am. While playing around in Illustrator I found that inverting the title and credits produced interesting results. The side effect was that our lead character’s image was stamped with the word ‘Faults’ which fit perfectly with the film’s arc. Personally, I prefer the alternate poster to the official poster; it’s the one hanging on my wall.”

© 2014 Samuel Goldwyn Films – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2014 Samuel Goldwyn Films – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

The illustrated poster created by Matt Frost for David Kennard’s documentary A Year in Champagne is pretty epic. At 40 inches tall, it is painted entirely with millions of bubbles. I am not so wild about the Art Deco-style typography. Matt started with Neutra Titling but tweaked it a lot, fattening it up and adding the triangular crossbar in the A. Unfortunately the many alterations give the typography an uneven appearance, as if it was composed from a couple of similar yet different faces. I think Matt may have been better off using something like Mostra Nuova, which Mark Simonson based on a style of lettering seen on Italian Art Deco posters and advertising of the 1930s. The typeface has all the character shapes he needed in a consistent design.

Matt Frost also followed up on my review of the poster for Beloved Sisters two months ago:

Matt Frost | “Good job with spotting Didot. I’d probably never use it myself, but did you see the film? There’s a whole scene where he geeks out on Didot at the printer – “At last a universally legible typeface!” – like he’s Jan Tschichold freaking out over subway signage. I had a second major in German literature in college, so that scene was hilarious perhaps only to me. In any case, I was pretty much bound by the film to use Didot – I can’t understand why the German campaign was so modern-ish. I recall the actual titles in the film being anachronistic as well.”

© 2014 Radius TWC – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2014 Radius TWC – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

When it comes to illustrated artwork it doesn’t get much better than Akiko Stehrenberger’s designs. The versatile artist commands a number of varying styles with complete confidence. The movie poster for It Follows sees her in full-blown photorealistic mode, referencing film posters from the 80s. Again the economy of means – a frightened look in the rear view mirror – proves how little a terrific artist needs to tell a whole story with one strong image. The rough brush script emphasises the classic atmosphere; the choice of ITC Avant Garde Gothic®, the typeface based on Herb Lubalin’s iconic magazine logo, as a supporting face brings home the classic style.

© 2014 Radius TWC – Click the image to see the complete poster on Richey Beckett’s website.
© 2014 Radius TWC – Click the image to see the complete poster on Richey Beckett’s website.

A truly gorgeous illustration graces the official Limited Edition screen print by Richey Beckett commissioned by London film creative agency AllCity. Richey is an illustrator based in South Wales, UK who works in pen and ink, creating original illustrations for record cover artwork, shirt design and poster art. His client list is pretty impressive, as it includes 
Metallica, Mastodon, Converge, Kvelertak, Trash Talk, New Found Glory, Sick Of It All, Mondo (Game Of Thrones/Lord Of The Rings/Army Of Darkness). Richey’s art, though unmistakably contemporary, is richly steeped in Art Nouveau. The loose brush lettering nicely contrasts with the sinuous, sensual pen strokes recalling the floral motifs of the art movement from the turn of the 20th century.

© 2008 Magnolia Pictures – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2008 Magnolia Pictures – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

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It’s been a while we have had such a dense collection of different typefaces in one single poster, and The Wrecking Crew really delivers. Even though I am not sure if every single typeface choice is accurate, their colourful treatment makes them look the part. The Microgramma™ typeface, predecessor of the Eurostile® typeface precedes the formation of The Beach Boys by a decade, so no problem there. The Franklin Gothic™ typeface was released 15 years before Nat King Cole was even born. I don’t know about the specific wide inline version of a Latin, but suffice to say this typographic style emerged in the display type craze of the last half of the 19th century. Next we have a squarish bracketed slab serif for Dean Martin; the Righteous Brothers further down use the real deal. The Mamas & The Papas and Glen Campbell share a love for wide wood type slab serifs. The spacey minimal square display faces for Phil Spector and Sonny & Cher look like they might be typographic anachronisms. Frank Sinatra is rendered with appropriate flair in one of the casual brush scripts that were so popular in his heydays, while his daughter Nancy looks far less elegant in the butch Gothic typeface with threedimensional treatment. The Univers® typeface was released the same year as the Helvetica® typeface, seven years before The Byrds banded together. Simon & Garfunkel express their close harmonies in the sexy fat face Didoni. Finally The Monkees is set in an inline wood type sans similar to Font Diner’s Turn Pike. The font for the actual movie title looks like other Font Diner releases, like Square Meal or Motel King.

© 2015 IFC Films – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2015 IFC Films – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

There’s predictable, and then there’s so phoned in that it becomes funny, like this trainwreck for The Lovers, “an epic, sweeping and riveting tale of an impossible love set across two time periods and continents.” The poster goes to painful lengths to make the message come across by dividing the poster in two parts with a sweeping curve, with the preoccupied lead of the film (”Oh noes, I am in between time!”) cut in two and both female stars looking in opposite directions with a bizarre expression on their faces. Apparently the art director/designer also picked up something about teal and orange being the colour combination “du jour”. Add to that the ITC Quorum® font in powdery gold with a mystical ring substituting for the ‘o’, and you’re all set.

© 2015 Well Go USA Entertainment – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2015 Well Go USA Entertainment – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

If you thought it couldn’t get any worse, think again. At first sight the movie poster for Sword of Vengeance looks like it could be the DVD packaging for some run-off-the-mill sword-fighting film. It has everything: the worn, scratched image quality; the blood on the sword; the undefined particles flying through the air; the tortured expression on the hero’s face. But then you notice how his hand is in an illogical position, as if he has a tiny upper arm, and the perspective of the hilt in relation to both hand and sword makes absolutely no sense. And I am not even mentioning how the golden three-dimensional letters of the Times® typeface were butchered in an effort to make the film title look edgy.

© 2014 Cinema Guild – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2014 Cinema Guild – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

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No, the designer(s) at Simplissimus did a much better job at customising Cheltenham Extra Condensed Bold (or is it FB Cheltenham?) on the US one sheet for Jauja. They tilted the serifs to match the angle of the apex on the ‘A’, lending the film title that certain “je ne sais quoi”. The work showcased on the Simplissimus website leaves no doubt the agency cares about good typography. Seeing their posters on IMPAwards made me realise I featured the excellent retro-looking artwork for Computer Chess on ScreenFonts two years ago. Here they struck the perfect typographic tone for the introspective western.

© 2014 Amplify – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2014 Amplify – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

The theatrical one-sheet for Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is a thing of beauty. The film tells the story of a jaded Japanese woman who discovers a hidden copy of Fargo (1996) on VHS, believing it to be a treasure map indicating the location of a large case of money. In the colourful image of the woman the dashes of intense red, warm orange, blues and beige in her poncho are offset against her fair complexion and rosy cheeks framed by raven black hair. It creates a powerful contrast with the blueish off-white background. You can almost feel the cold emanating from the picture. The little bunny in her hand adds a mix of cute and wonder; the silhouettes of winter trees knocked-out in her poncho form a delicate latticework. The film title set as a solid block in the Futura® Display font reprises the red colour of the poncho’s hood, strengthening the coherence of this splendid design.

© 2014 Amplify – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2014 Amplify – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

It doesn’t happen often, but for once the artist’s poster doesn’t really improve on the main poster. Sam Smith’s stylised illustration integrates more elements from the story line, like the VHS tape from the story, sandwiched between a nightly cityscape and a nature scene. It’s nice, but to be fair it is not really necessary, and I still prefer the original.

© 2015 Open Road Films – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2015 Open Road Films – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

Square display faces are standard fare in collaterals for action flicks. The most common are Bank Gothic and Agency, so it was nice to discover that something different was used on the movie poster by Concept Arts for The Gunman. The faceted sans serif is Wim Crouwel’s Gridnik. It os based on the numbers and letters Crouwel originally designed for his classic cijferzegels (Number Postage Stamps) for the Dutch National postage and landline services, introduced in 1972. There are more options available to add some variation to the action genre – Blender, also a faceted face; Virus Fonts’ slightly quirky Bourgeois; the FF Oxide™ typeface by Christian Schwartz; or Sweet Square from the Sweet Collection to name but a few.

© 2015 Open Road Films – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2015 Open Road Films – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

I don’t really understand what conceptual link can be found between the subject matter and the typography on both this alternate poster by BLT Communications, LLC and the character posters by Concept Arts. The faceted sans serif style makes sense as the character shapes convey values like strength, resolve, endurance and so on. I can also perfectly see it used for the arms manufacturer’s logo that probably is found somewhere on the gun. But this here? Are we to believe that a sniper on a mercenary assassination team uses a Dymo label maker to personalise the case he keeps his gun in? You know, just in case he loses it, so it can be returned to him? This is not Just van Rossum’s FF Dynamoe® typeface, part of the revolutionary (back then) set FF Instant Types, but a different font mimicking the typical embossed letters in digital form.

© 2015 Lionsgate – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2015 Lionsgate – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

I like this trend of having specially designed posters for the IMAX premieres, as it allows artists to stretch their talents and approach the source material of the movie with fewer of the constraints they encounter when designing the theatrical collaterals. For the IMAX poster for Insurgent, the latest installment in the Divergent Series, L+A turns a futuristic, monumental architectural structure into something akin to Art Deco. It subliminally suggests the syringe with which the simulation serum used in aptitude tests is injected. My interpretation is that the character falling through the shape symbolises the divergents who are not affected by most of the serums and remain aware that they are in a simulation. Yes, the Divergent Series has a wiki. ;)

I may be mistaken, but the Divergent logo and font looks like somebody took a hack saw to the Serifa® typeface.

© 2014 Drafthouse Films – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2014 Drafthouse Films – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

Oooh, this is the good stuff. The brightly coloured gradient from green to red with the faces of the loving couple in the sky and the hazy female silhouette in this movie poster may trick you into thinking Spring is a romantic love story. That is, until you notice the menacing claws and tentacles emerging from the mist-like background. That’s some serious Lovecraftian imagery creeping in. It made me think of one of my favourite comic book series of late, Fatale by the unstoppable noir dream team that is Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips, as apparently it explores similar themes of passionate love intertwined with frightening horror. ITC Avant Garde Gothic® continues the recent trend of typography for horror movie posters inspired by the classic 80s visuals.

© 2014 Drafthouse Films – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2014 Drafthouse Films – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

I see a pattern developing here. Just like Faults, It Follows, and Kumiko, Spring also has an illustrated alternate poster, this one by Los Angeles-based artist Evan Yarbrough. His artwork is more powerful, more direct, with strong colours and the claws and tentacles forming a dark, narrow corridor through which the doomed lovers attempt to escape. Still I miss the mystery and subtlety of the main theatrical poster. The “imperfectly printed” treatment of the movie title capitalises on the popularity of weathered typefaces, like the fairly recent releases Trend Rough, Brandon Printed, and Sofia Rough. The smudged ‘I’ turning into a stream of blood cutting through the holding hands is a nice touch.

© 2014 Cinelicious Pics – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2014 Cinelicious Pics – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

Málmhaus (Metalhead) had me on a wild-goose chase. Upon seeing the international one sheet I thought the designer chose Gotham to emphasise this film was not focused on the actual heavy metal music. It is a drama about a girl caught between the life that took her brother and her own inability to strike out on her own, and how, in her grief, she finds solace in the dark music of Black Metal and dreams of becoming a rock star. The reserved tone of the generic (in a good way) character shapes serves this subject matter better than something like the (otherwise great) FF Imperial™ typeface would.

However when I stumbled upon the original Icelandic design and immediately noticed the ‘S’s don’t match. They were more akin the FF Basic Gothic™ typeface, Priori Sans or Granby, but then other characters didn’t match. Going through my new Fontlist collecting digital fonts emulating vernacular architectural lettering garnered no results. Eventually the typeface turned out to be Kris Sowersby’s Metric, which together with Calibre forms are a pair of typefaces that share a fundamental geometry yet differ in the finish of key letter forms. This not only shows how certain characters are crucial in successfully identifying a typeface, but also how sans serifs tend to be harder to distinguish from each other in the darkest weights.

© 2015 Mance Media – Click the image to see the complete poster on By Any Means.
© 2015 Mance Media – Click the image to see the complete poster on By Any Means.

Instead of pausing on the atrocious theatrical poster by Dog & Pony featuring Neutraface, I prefer to go straight to the superb exclusive Kickstarter poster by Serban Ionescu for Lily & Kat. The angularity of the customised ampersand nicely matches the crisp geometric shapes of Paul Renner’s Futura® typeface. The typography enhances the great photographic composition, two pictures of the inseparable best friends in basic monochrome colours, overlapping a little and repeated as running off the page at the top. The organic forms of the handwritten film title and credits in a casual brush script are the perfect foil to the geometric forms in the top portion of this lovely carefree yet artful design.

© 2014 Kino Lorber – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2014 Kino Lorber – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

This is how I like to end an episode of ScreenFonts, with a double whammy of really good posters. The second one is the illustrated key art for the Australian theatrical release of 52 Tuesdays was designed by MASH design. This variant design is so much better than the rather plain photographic key art created by Visit Films, the sales agent, which each territory have been primarily using. Melding the dark red profile with illustrated movie stills by Raynor Pettge creates an intricate image full of narrative power. The understated yet elegant shapes of Adrian Frutiger’s Serifa® typeface and the simple handwritten quotes beautifully complement the sophisticated image.

Trademark attribution notice
Avant Garde, ITC Quorum are trademarks of Monotype ITC Inc. registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and which may be registered in certain other jurisdictions. Basic Gothic, Imperial, Microgramma and Oxide are trademarks of Monotype GmbH and may be registered in certain jurisdictions. DIN, Dynamoe, Eurostile, FF, Helvetica and Univers are trademarks of Monotype GmbH registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and may be registered in certain other jurisdictions. Franklin Gothic is a trademark of The Monotype Corporation and may be registered in certain jurisdictions. Times is a trademark of Monotype Imaging Inc. registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and may be registered in certain other jurisdictions. Futura and Serifa are registered Trademarks of Bauer Types. Trajan is a trademark of Adobe Systems Incorporated which may be registered in certain jurisdictions.