Next Big Design: The Movie Font

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Movie Font

This time of year I tend to watch a ton of movies. Not solely because the weather is cold and dreary, but because Hollywood has released its nominations for the upcoming Academy Awards. For whatever reason, I feel compelled — if not ordered — to watch as many movies from the list as possible. And I enjoy doing so, even if it makes me somewhat anti-social for a few weeks in January and February.


There was some minor graphic design related news regarding the Oscars. The envelopes are being redesigned. Cool, I suppose. But I'm thinking once again about one of my favourite parts of the ceremony, comparing movies based on their typography.


Recently, I spotted a series of "alternative" poster designs from Mr. Shabba, aka Dean Walton, wherein he displays the movie's title arranged in white against a coloured background. This is essentially the same technique used during the Oscars ceremony broadcast. I love seeing the movie's typemark arranged as minimally as possible, removed from the poster and actors' faces, not surrounded by credits, nor animated in any fashion. In the case of the Oscars ceremony, it's meant to remind us of what we are already familiar with, but in doing so, the entire essence of the movie is wrapped up in these little letters.


I'm purposefully not displaying them here because I want you to think in your mind about what I'm saying. Think of Toy Story's blocky sans-serif, stacked clumsily upon itself, or The Social Network typed out in a web-safe font and reminiscent of Facebook's own logo. Think about the bold 19th century metal type that inspired True Grit or the swoopy little S in Black Swan. Some are more elaborate than others, of course. Think about Harry Potter or The Matrix, both type treatments are forever associated with those films. Let's not even get into classic movies like Star Wars or The Rocky Horror Picture Show which became famous in part due to their unique typographic title.


No matter our taste in movie fonts, we've probably never thought about how similar they are, generally speaking. The Oscars feature the best of the best, and usually this means some effort went into typography. For the rest, they use Trajan. Check out this great video illustrating just how many movies default to Trajan for their title logo. For knucklehead comedies, it's almost certainly Helvetica Extra Bold, set in bright red.



That just about says it all. So this year, when you create your Oscar predictions, remember to factor in typography. Subtract points for anything that uses Trajan. Bonus points for Helvetica.


Prescott Perez-Fox is an independent brand developer and graphic designer in Metro New York. He admits to using Trajan in past projects, but not on his blog, perezfox.com »

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