ScreenFonts: The LEGO Movie, A Field In England, Robocop, Son Of God

Hunh? What is this, a second episode of ScreenFonts this month? Well, if you checked the URL of the previous one, you may have noticed it said “January 2014”, which meant it technically was one month late. Valentype kept me busy at the beginning of February, and ScreenFonts kept being pushed forward in my schedule until it eventually ended up in the first week of March. So forgive me this little hopscotch in time and enjoy your double monthly dose of movie goodness, where we discuss one trend in film poster design I haven’t touched upon yet, an alternative to the infamous and oft-ridiculed “floating heads”.

When Mondo asked Tom Whalen if he was interested in designing a poster for The LEGO Movie, it didn’t take him long to decide. As his 5-year-old son is an absolute Legomaniac, this was a no-brainer. Whalen decided to heavily focus on the iconic minifig. From his website:

Since most of them are made with the exact same pieces, it seemed like a pretty straightforward assignment, but creating all of the clothing/facial details for each character proved to be way more time-consuming than I had envisioned. Copious amounts of coffee were spent on this one to make sure it was completed and approved (just) under the deadline.

The poster beautifully conveys the fun and mischief of the film. But it is the execution that truly makes the design shine. With its isomorphic perspective and lovely simplified colour scheme the artwork pays tribute to the familiar building instructions that have sparked the imagination of so many children over the decades. Yet, even more so, it is the seemingly random assortment of minifigs that encompasses the Lego experience so well. Because that is what it truly is all about – going beyond the instructions, recombining bricks and characters to create undiscovered new worlds of wonder. The typographic treatment of the film title is very cute – partly letters built with bricks, partly letters printed on bricks, with the misaligned ‘o’ in ‘movie’ as a little in-joke. … but wait a minute, isn’t this yet another orange-and-teal poster? 😉

As a type designer you really don’t have any control what your creations are used for. I feel for Hannes von Döhren, whose fine Brandon Grotesque ended up on this sad, shoddy excuse for a movie poster for Love & Air Sex.

On the website of A Field in England Kenn Goodall shares the design process through which the official posters came together. Kenn is one half of The Twins Of Evil, the occasional design partnership he forms with Luke Insect. It is interesting to get a glimpse of how the poster design took shape, and how exactly the two collaborated (Kenn did the photo-realistic illustrations, and Luke took care of the composition and typesetting). They started with generating imagery from ungraded stills from the shoot, while at the same time exploring different typographic treatments and creating different variations of the ‘orb/dot’. The article shows the many iterations of those design elements. The typography varied from the stark retro-futurism of Microgramma / Eurostile Extended to the curved elegance of Art Nouveau letters to spiky shapes loosely based on runic symbols, created by hand by Kenn. Eventually they settled for CG Lisbon, a legacy Agfa Compugraphic clone of Warren Chappell’s 1938 design Lydian. Once the various components were finalised, the teaser poster came together very quickly. The end result is breathtaking – textured and menacing, a painterly masterpiece with the oppressive blood moon-like orb framing the knocked-out movie title.

The theatrical quad poster expands on this design, adding more characters illustrated in the same stark, scratchy style, plus extra type for the credits and hyperbolic quotes. The landscape format works just as well, and the consistent typography nicely ties everything together.

It’s almost criminal that a movie with such great official posters gets equally stunning alternate posters, and yet here they are. Drafthouse Films commissioned these two designs from Jay Shaw, this time with a fairly extensive brief.

Jay Shaw | “Drafthouse Films were adamant about achieving a particular aesthetic. Colorful, psychedelic, bold. Luckily I had the exact same thing in mind so the process was completely harmonious. In these designs I wanted to focus on the psychedelic nature of the story first and foremost. The film is a period piece told with a very modern voice. I didn’t want the poster to feel ‘classic’ or ‘stuffy’.”

One thing is for sure – the designs definitely look psychedelic. The background of this first alternate poster looks straight out of an acid trip (not that I have any personal experience as I have never done any drugs, nor do I even drink alcohol). The overall atmosphere is very seventies, with its yellow, orange and purple hues, and the black mirrored characters pointing guns at each other, as if they’re seen through a drunken haze. The latter cleverly create an upside-down silhouette of the man in the hat from the original teaser poster. By using the sharp, geometric Art Deco features of ITC Juanita Condensed Jay Shaw makes the movie title pop out.

Even though they don’t have the same psychedelic effect as the Psilocybin mushrooms – which aren’t terribly interesting visually – the multicoloured rings of Trametes versicolor on the other alternate poster certainly look the part. They beautifully contrast with velvety wine-red clouds of the top section. The glyphic titling face is Aldo Novarese’s classic mid-eighties creation ITC Symbol.

I am blown away by the exceptional quality of the collaterals for A Field In England. Honestly, with four posters in a row that good, this episode could just as well end here for me.

But whaddayaknow, it doesn’t… : )

I’ve taken up the habit of occasionally comparing posters for movie remakes with their counterparts for the original films. The movie poster of the re-imagined eighties cult classic Robocop seemed like the perfect candidate. Just like the design of the cyborg policeman, the visual style of the poster is much sleeker, with the bright blue and red police lights reprising the blue shades of the buildings and the red visor. The movie logo looks custom designed. It shows hints of the obligatory Bank Gothic for action movies and Clicker for sci-fi flicks. The supporting typeface is Mark Simonson’s Changeling Neo, whose science-fiction credentials were cemented by its use for the displays in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. The red underscore preceding the tagline is a nice typographic detail, suggesting computer data entry.

Even though this moody design is very nice, it still cannot hold a candle to the undiluted badassery of…

… the poster for the 1987 original. Yes, it looks a little dated, especially the arcade game-style beveled metallic letters of the movie logo. But nothing beats the iconic image of Robocop stepping out of his squad car, ready to utter menacingly: “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.”

Four years ago the popular Olly Moss took a crack at the cult classic for the Alamo Drafthouse’s 2010 Rolling Roadshow Tour. This tour went across the country showing free screenings of classic movies outdoors in the places they were filmed and/or where they take place. For example you were able to catch Dirty Harry at San Francisco’s Washington Square Park, or The Blues Brothers at Chicago’s Joliet Prison. Amongst the posters that Olly Moss drew up for each film on the tour, his Robocop cleverly substitutes the visor of the cyborg policeman’s helmet with his signature gun on this cool two-colour screen-printed poster.

The Russian poster for Snabba Cash II (Easy Money: Hard to Kill) made me do a double-take. What at first sight looks like a very dirty shirt actually is a “floating heads”-style collage integrated into the fabric. The poster pays tribute to the artwork for the original Swedish poster of the first movie in the trilogy. It used the same device to cram as much information as possible in the movie collaterals. Now keep this poster in mind …

… because you are about to see a whole lot more of those. The movie poster for Dutch black comedy Black Out immediately reminded me of Vantage Point, reviewed three-and-a-half years ago – the pose of the silhouette with the gun is almost identical, yet the multicoloured photo insets turn the composition into a restless mess. Nevertheless I think the movie title with its shaken up characters and integrated gun and axe is well executed.

According to Jan Pieter Ekker however – a graphic designer, (freelance) journalist and advisor who writes for Het Parool, and De Filmkrant – Black Out doesn’t just look like Vantage Point; it is part of a much larger trend in movie posters.

Some distributors deem it necessary to show as many actors as possible: the infamous “floating heads” posters. Others try to condense the entire film on its poster. This results in a whole bunch of characters awkwardly Photoshopped against and next to each other, with no consideration for perspective nor proportions. In the somewhat more modern variation the silhouette of the main protagonist either is filled with a spectacular image or a crucial scene, or the shape is subdivided in a multitude of little frames – sharply delineated or fading into each other – each holding a portrait or scene from the film. One of the better examples of this style is Michael Jackson’s This Is It, with the characteristic silhouette of the late King of Pop against a smokey backdrop, filled with colourful images of the preparations for what was supposed to be his final tour. Jan Pieter Ekker found quite a few more examples, either with complete bodies or only hands filled with photo collages.

I don’t know if this can really be considered a (typographic) genre in film posters as well, but I have seen it recurring often enough to point it out: carved letters for historic movies. The engraved Trajan on the movie poster for Pompeii kind of makes sense, even though the destruction of the city by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius predates the erection of the Trajan column by some thirty-odd years. Because the design of Trajan is a direct interpretation of the letters carved on the base of the Colonna Traiana, giving them an engraved treatment is perfectly legitimate.

The engraved Gotham on the movie poster for Son of God – set in roughly the same time period as Pompeii – however seems gratuitous. The letter shapes are inspired by vernacular architectural lettering in New York City, so they don’t bear any relation with neither the time frame nor the technique.

To be honest I wasn’t expecting to find any worthwhile poster designs for Son of God – given its origin and the motivation for filming the story – yet the prolific Gravillis Inc. once again managed to concoct some excellent artwork.

This first poster translates the anguish and despair – come on people, seriously, being crucified is not a picnic, whatever divine intervention may or may not come – in rough brush strokes over a beautifully textured photograph. Positioning the figures low in the frame makes them seem frail and vulnerable under the oppressive sky.

The second poster focuses on the figure of Jesus, wearing his crown of thorns. The red haze in the bottom right corner and the single red “God” in the movie title set in ITC Avant Garde Gothic refer to the blood spilled by Christ.

This final design brings back the image to its bare essence: a close-up fragment of the crown of thorns. The interlocking three O’s in the movie title represent the idea of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The religious symbols in Holy Ghost People are far more sinister. The synopsis on IMDB explains:

On the trail of her missing sister, Charlotte enlists the help of Wayne, an ex-Marine and alcoholic, to infiltrate the Church of One Accord – a community of snake-handlers who risk their lives seeking salvation in the Holy Ghost.

The artwork was created by Otto is the One, alias for the Malaysian-born writer, director and designer Yen Tan. Even though this pulp literature-style design looks really nice, I feel there may be too many concepts competing with each other in this movie poster. First, you have the cross towering over the two main protagonists apparently defending themselves, who are in turn towering over the followers of the Church of One Accord. Then, inside the cross is the movie title set in a compact sans serif morphing into a face (the church leader?) facing a rattlesnake. That is a lot of different snippets of information in one single design. Nevertheless the stark posterised treatment of all these elements, each in their own colours, keeps the poster sufficiently stylised to be perfectly intelligible.

The sole reason why I included the movie poster for Highway is the movie title which strangely made me think of a potato print rendition of Orgovan. Do I need a life?

And here’s another example of the photo-montage-within-a-silhouette type of poster. As always Tom Hodge provides plenty of information and context about his movie poster for trashy sci-fi horror flick Almost Human, even revealing his sources of inspiration this time.

The film tells the story of Mark Fisher who disappeared from his home in a brilliant flash of blue light almost two years ago. His friend Seth Hampton was the last to see him alive. Now a string of grisly, violent murders leads Seth to believe that Mark is back, and something evil is inside of him.

Tom explains the preview of the movie conjured up visual impressions of sci-fi horror classics from the eighties like Altered States, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and most importantly The Thing – John Carpenter was a big inspiration. This was mainly down to this distorted scream that Mark lets out, which is such a powerful image that he really wanted to lead with it. The other strong image he got from the film was of Mark getting hit by a blue beam of light in the introduction sequence. Both elements provided Tom with the main visual hook for the artwork, with added inspiration from 80s posters like The Beast Within, Drew Struzan’s iconic artwork for The Thing, Madman, Friday the 13th Part III (Tom’s personal favourite of the series), even Berserker, Prince of Darkness and the Altered States poster itself. His other big inspiration was the John Saul novel Comes The Blind Fury which had an image of a blind girl lit from the below.

Tom Hodge drew inspiration from all those images to compose a montage design, as per request by director Joe Begos. Tom wanted to interpret it in a different way, framing the imagery into the main scream. To convey a sense of fear and loss of control in the characters, and to keep an air of mystery to draw the viewer in, Tom only showed some of the action in the montage without giving away too much. His design gives a trashy, painterly twist to the silhouette poster style.

The title treatment is perfectly in tune with the artwork. Tom experimented with different letter forms to create one of those typical retro movie logos with an alien vibe, very much inspired by classic 70s designs and reminiscent of compositions using ITC Avant Garde Gothic with its numerous alternates.

Because I care about the quality of your sleep and don’t want to send you to bed with nightmares tonight, I am ending on a much sweeter topic. The movie poster for The Lunchbox struck a chord with me because its premise was the subject of an engrossing article in the first issue of the slightly fantastic Works That Work, winner of Magpile’s Best New Magazine of 2013 Award (if you haven’t subscribed yet, you are seriously missing out: the magazine is inspirational, surprising, uplifting, and beautifully designed).

Mumbai’s Dabbawallahs are a community of 5000 dabba (lunchbox) deliverymen. Harvard University analyzed their delivery system and concluded that just one in a million lunchboxes is ever delivered to the wrong address. This film is the story of that one lunchbox.

The pale yellow tint throughout the image and the faded background make for a coherent poster with the two main protagonists clearly in the front plane. The typography is interesting; maybe I am reading too much in it, but I think the curved, wavy letter forms of the sports script Metroscript symbolise the feminine, and the skyline shapes of Univers Ultra Condensed Light 49 represent the masculine. The way they merge together seems to suggest the unexpected meeting of two lonely souls, with red – the colour of love – blending with the austere black. A very lovely typographic solution.

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