Type Essays

ScreenFonts – May 2016

May 30, 2016 by
Yves Peters
Yves Peters

Our monthly review of movie poster typography looks at the posters for Cloro; Sold; Sacrifice; Criminal; Kill Me, Deadly; The Huntsman: Winter’s War; Barbershop: The Next Cut; Miles Ahead; The Invitation; and One More Time (When I Live My Life Over Again).

© 2015 Uncork’d Entertainment – Click the image to see the poster for _Cloro_ on IMPAwards.
© 2015 Uncork’d Entertainment – Click the image to see the poster for Cloro on IMPAwards.

It is a little ironic to have witnessed Matteo Bologna trash Italian graphic design at the beginning of his fun presentation at TYPO Berlin “Beyond Design” two weeks ago, and then discover the beautiful artwork for the Italian film Cloro. In this sports drama, carefree adolescent Jenny dreams of becoming a synchronized swimmer. Her mother’s death however forces her to move with her sick father and little brother from her home at the coast near Rome to a mountain village in the middle of Abruzzi. The poster combines elements from the storyline in an unusual way to create a poetic image. An image of a fully clothed Jenny at the bottom of a swimming pool is positioned upside-down at the top. It serves as a metaphor for drowning under the weight of her new responsibilities; the reversal of the image for conflicting with her desire to follow her dreams. The bubbles of air swirling downwards to the snow-capped mountains at the bottom add a touch of magic realism to the poster.

Since it started gaining traction in 2009 Gotham has become the rightful heir to Trajan™ as the ubiquitous typeface in movie posters. Just like some designers began looking for alternatives for Trajan to introduce some variation, others have started looking for faces that have a similar feel to Gotham. This poster features Intro by Fontfabric, a sans serif of square proportions that adds curvy details to the mix.

© 2016 Matson Films – Click the image to see the movie poster for _Sold_ on IMPAwards.
© 2016 Matson Films – Click the image to see the movie poster for Sold on IMPAwards.

One of those Trajan alternatives is featured on Indika Entertainment Advertising’s poster for Sold. The dreamy depiction of the girl and the delicately chiseled golden letters belie the harshness of the film’s subject – she is a victim of human trafficking, snatched from her mountain village in Nepal and held captive in a brothel in India. What clearly distinguishes Shàngó from other Trajan alternatives is the wide ‘A’ with its low crossbar and the top serifs on the ‘M’, and the fact that it also exists in a Gothic variant with small spiky serifs, a little like ITC Serif Gothic® or Penumbra™ Half Serif, as well as a Sans variant.

© 2016 IFC Midnight – Click the image to see the movie poster for _Sacrifice_ on IMPAwards.
© 2016 IFC Midnight – Click the image to see the movie poster for Sacrifice on IMPAwards.

I want to quickly juxtapose the previous poster against Random Bench’s design for the horror thriller Sacrifice. The many similarities struck me – the colour palette of green, red and flesh tones; the sideways head of a woman/girl; the all-caps serif typography below the center of the artwork; positively tracked Trajan as supporting typeface. Yet the melancholy emanating from Sold couldn’t be more opposite from the menacing, claustrophobic atmosphere felt in Sacrifice. The sense of dread is due to the composition that is intended to disorient the viewer. Contrary to what you may think, the surgeon – the main protagonist of the movie – is not lying down but peeking from behind a corner, and the image was rotated sideways. Because of the streams of red blood next to her face run downwards, it takes a minute before you realise these are two images, not a single one. The ritualistic aspect of the horror, stemming from an ancient legend, is typographically translated by the use of Caslon™ Antique, with an upside-down cross substituting for the ‘T’.

© 2016 Lionsgate – Click the image to see the poster for _Criminal_ on IMPAwards.
© 2016 Lionsgate – Click the image to see the poster for Criminal on IMPAwards.

To come back to the theme of variants for overused typefaces, of course many designers only swear by the real thing. The original Gotham is used in LA’s poster for action drama Criminal. The concept of a death-row inmate who gets a dead CIA operative’s memories, secrets, and skills implanted is visualised with an intricate, multi-layered image that plays with transparency. Again an upside-down image – here the London skyline blending into Kevin Costner’s shoulders – lends the poster a surreal atmosphere. The flames licking at Costner’s cranium seem to refer to the whole memory-implant theme. The multiple layers may work well as far as the visual is concerned, yet the geometric pattern that is continued inside the letters of the movie title not so much. Because this lighter weight of Gotham doesn’t have that much ‘body’ the pattern is barely noticeable, and its squareness interferes with the character shapes, especially the ‘C’.

© 2015 Indican Pictures – Click the image to see the poster for _Kill Me, Deadly!_ on GoldPoster.
© 2015 Indican Pictures – Click the image to see the poster for Kill Me, Deadly! on GoldPoster.

We reside a little longer in the province of crime. While the poster for Criminal looks pretty serious, the artwork for film noir comedy Kill Me, Deadly is anything but. The Kickstarter-backed feature tells the story of hard-boiled private investigator Charlie Nickels whose client is murdered and her priceless diamond stolen. Both the image and the typography have fun with the conventions of pulp literature imagery of the late ’40s and ’50s. The poor spacing of the font makes me believe it is an amateur effort. Which is a shame, because for example Rian Hughes and Comicraft have released several good-looking typefaces in that specific style that are professionally drawn and spaced. You can find most of them in my Pulp Fiction Fontlist.

© 2016 Universal Pictures – Click the image to see the poster for _The Huntsman: Winter’s War_ on IMPAwards.
© 2016 Universal Pictures – Click the image to see the poster for The Huntsman: Winter’s War on IMPAwards.

Creative Partnership’s poster for fantasy film The Huntsman: Winter’s War also sports a typeface of unclear origins. This prequel to Snow White and the Huntsman follows the adventures of Eric and fellow warrior Sara, members of ice Queen Freya’s army who try to conceal their forbidden love. I thought I recognised Romana, a mid-19th century interpretation of the Oldstyle roman model with a convoluted and interesting pedigree. Yet besides the obvious customisation of the initial ‘H’ and final ‘N’ I also noticed the narrower proportions of the letters and the sharpness of the serifs and corners. A little research led me to discover it actually is Denver Serial by SoftMaker, a company that produced cheaper “interpretations” of other foundries’ fonts. Apparently these fonts have lame spacing and sharper edges, the latter which may appeal to some. I am not so quick anymore to cry foul, so if you want to know more about the back story of this foundry please read this revealing reply by Sean Cavanaugh on the old TYPO-L discussion board.

© 2016 New Line Cinema – Click the image to see the poster for _Barber Shop: The Next Cut_ on IMPAwards.
© 2016 New Line Cinema – Click the image to see the poster for Barber Shop: The Next Cut on IMPAwards.

Customising a retail typeface to turn a movie logo into something more unique is a common practice, yet not everyone is as adept at it as they wish to be. Frankly some people really should leave it alone. The comedy Barbershop: The Next Cut is an unfortunate example: it has a customised logo so ludicrously bad it almost becomes funny. Almost. None of the elements make sense, with mistakes and poor decisions piled upon one another.

Let’s start with the choice of typeface. The addition of the barber pole and the dimensionality of the letters seem to indicate the designer wanted the top part to look like an actual barber shop sign. Why they selected Frederic W. Goudy’s elegant ITC Berkeley Old Style™, a book text face, to mimic a 3D sign is puzzling to say the least. The letter forms are too refined, with delicate curves and small serifs that are very hard to execute in extruded form, and they don’t convey the idea of window lettering, let alone a physical outdoor sign. As if that weren’t enough the red plastic effect just makes it look gaudy. On top of that, the sharply delineated black shadows make the outside letters appear fatter than the ones in the middle – see for example how small the counter of the ‘P’ has become.

The bottom half of the title is even more ridiculous. The pair of scissors and what is supposed to be a strand of hair are tacked onto the letters in a completely illogical way. They could have been integrated much more thoughtfully. The no-brainer solution is to replace the letter ‘X’ in ‘NEXT’ with the open pair of scissors, as they form that exact shape. A more subtle option is to have the ‘C’ in ‘CUT’ be one of the eye rings, so the pair of scissors can extend underneath the line and find the perfect spot to interact with the strand of hair. Just like ITC Berkeley Oldstyle, Gotham is completely miscast, its geometric letter forms unfit for this purpose. A sign painters’ script would have offered numerous options for having a swash extend organically to form that strand of hair. Now it just is a squiggle glued to the bottom of the sans serif ‘T’. It’s a shame so many opportunities for clever typographic play were missed…

© 2016 Sony Pictures Classic – Click the image to see the poster for _Miles Ahead_ on IMPAwards.
© 2016 Sony Pictures Classic – Click the image to see the poster for Miles Ahead on IMPAwards.

This train wreck forms a stark contrast with the thoughtful customisation of Gill Kayo (a.k.a. Gill Sans UltraBold) for biographic drama Miles Ahead, an exploration of the life and music of jazz giant Miles Davis. During a conversation at TYPO about cultural differences in typography, it was pointed out that of all the members of the quintessentially British Gill Sans® family (recently overhauled by George Ryan as Gill Sans® Nova), only Gill Kayo made it big across the Atlantic. More recently it became a favourite in posters for comedies, preferably in red. The typographic lock-up in the poster by Empire Design is very well done. The massive letter forms are set very tight, which made it possible to knock out the silhouette of the trumpet master between the ‘H’ and the ‘E’ in ‘AHEAD’, with his head poking into the leg of the ‘L’ in ‘MILES’. The music emanating from the trumpet is visualised by a fat swash that sweeps through the ‘A’ and becomes the ‘S’, beautifully tying together both words. While the shape of this custom ‘S’ looks radically different than the original glyph, its weight and curvature harmonise perfectly well with the other letters.

© 2015 Drafthouse Films – Click the image to see the Mondo poster for _The Invitation_ by Alan Hynes on Collider.
© 2015 Drafthouse Films – Click the image to see the Mondo poster for The Invitation by Alan Hynes on Collider.

A custom movie logo doesn’t always need to be that elaborate, as attests the poster for the thriller The Invitation. While the main theatrical poster isn’t anything special, Mondo lives up to its reputation as purveyor of exquisite pop culture artifacts. The prestigious brand commissioned Dublin-born, San Francisco-based graphic designer Alan Hynes to produce an alternate poster for the film. Hynes used the image of a wine glass turned upside-down to trap annoying flies at the dinner table as a metaphor for the film’s storyline – a man is invited to his former home by his ex-wife and her new husband for a dinner party that takes a turn for the worst. The two dead flies suggest it doesn’t end well for the guests. The bright white letter forms of David Quay’s Bordeaux™ light up dramatically against the simple red and black of the artwork. The letters are sliced horizontally, as if they had been cut with a knife, and the initial ‘I’ transformed in a sharp spike. This simple treatment is just as effective.

© 2015 Starz Digital Media – Click the image to see the poster for _One More Time_ on IMPAwards.
© 2015 Starz Digital Media – Click the image to see the poster for One More Time on IMPAwards.

The main theatrical poster for generational drama One More Time – about the relation between a New York City crooner trying a comeback and his singer-songwriter daughter – is not really special, apart from the typeface. Van Condensed is a sans serif with blunt corners by Portuguese designer Ricardo Santos, whose typefaces used to be released by the late Peter Bruhn’s Fountain type foundry. Its letters have the same mechanical appearance as Mark van Bronkhorst’s popular ITC Conduit®, but with a more humanist feel thanks to the open double-storey ‘g’ amongst others.

© 2015 Starz Digital Media – One sheet by Akiko Stehrerberger for _When I Live My Life Over Again (One More Time)._
© 2015 Starz Digital Media – One sheet by Akiko Stehrerberger for When I Live My Life Over Again (One More Time).

However the stunning one sheet by Akiko Stehrenberger is a thing of rare beauty. One More Time is one of those movies that were renamed after the first posters had already been produced. You can find its original title When I Live My Life Over Again on this earlier design. It is impressive how Akiko managed to encapsulate the theme of the film so intelligently in one bold image. Father and daughter play a quatre mains at the piano, the fledgling singer-songwriter figuratively and literally emerging from the shadow of her famous crooner father. The economy of means is breathtaking. On an entirely black canvas white hands dance over the white piano keys, and the white silhouettes of both faces are punctuated with the signature hot pink of the daughter’s hair that is reprised in her lips and her name in the credits, a nice touch. Those credits are an exquisite example of how Modernist typography should be done: three equal columns of Basic Commercial/Akzidenz-Grotesk in decreasing sizes, set flush left. Flawless, and a wonderful coda for this episode.

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Header image by Antony Ruggiero
Trademark Attribution Notice
Caslon, ITC Berkeley Old Style and Bordeaux are trademarks of Monotype ITC Inc. and may be registered in certain jurisdictions. ITC Serif Gothic and ITC Conduit are trademarks of Monotype ITC Inc. registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and which may be registered in certain other jurisdictions. Gill Sans is a trademark of The Monotype Corporation registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office and may be registered in certain jurisdictions. Trajan and Penumbra are trademarks of Adobe Systems Incorporated which may be registered in certain jurisdictions. All other trademarks and copyrights are the property of their respective owners.

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