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ScreenFonts: August 2017

Although it’s sunny and summery outside my studio in Belgium, this episode of ScreenFonts evokes the atmosphere of colder, darker climes. Let’s start with It Comes at Night and move on to 11:55, Kill Switch, The Beguiled, Cars 3, The Book of Henry, Baby Driver, The Bad Batch, and Dawson City: Frozen Time.

It Comes at Night

Poster for It Comes at Night
© 2017 A24. Key art by InSync Plus.
Poster for It Comes at Night
© 2017 A24. Key art by InSync Plus.

It Comes at Night takes place as an unnatural terror grips the world. In Trey Edward Shults’ psychological thriller, a desperate young family seeks refuge in a desolate home, thus straining the fragile domestic order of the people who live there. InSync Plus’ intense teaser posters are like a breath of fresh air—I know, an odd metaphor in this context—compared to the many overly dramatic and often convoluted designs that populate the genre. No shock effect punctuated with mangled Trajan—just a quiet yet suffocating sense of impending doom as the family dog stares into the dark unknown, or the man walks toward whatever lies beyond that red door.

“Quiet yet suffocating” also describes the typography. The title is broken up into separate words, set as four lines of tracked-out Garamond capitals with generous linespacing. Each consecutive word gradually increases in size from tiny to still-quite-small, implying space and motion. The words appear to inch ominously toward the viewer, building a sense of unease portending that something horrific is bound to happen. This thoughtful typesetting enhances the imagery, resulting in a noteworthy and efficient poster. Speaking of Trajan, Richard Lipton has some surprises up his sleeve for fans of classic Roman capitals. (We’ll have some exciting news for you soon.) And should you tire of the all-too-classic “soft” digitizations of Garamond, Garamond FB offers an interpretation with some bite in Text and Headline optical sizes.

11:55

Poster for 11:55
© 2016 Gravitas Ventures. Key art by Hectah Arias.
Poster for 11:55
© 2016 Gravitas Ventures. Key art by Canyon Design Group.

We remain on the dark side for a little longer with indie crime drama 11:55, the story of a young marine’s attempts to escape his violent past when he returns to the hometown he fled years ago. Comparing the two designs side by side shows how the same photograph can produce two wildly different posters.

Hectah Arias, who also designed and animated the title cards for the film, created a very graphic festival poster. Shifting the houses in the background and cutting out the main protagonist forms a triangular composition with him at its center. The otherworldly orange and yellow sky generates a vibrant contrast with the gloomy burgundy, purple, and blue tints. Not only is the artwork eye-catching, it visually translates the central character’s state of mind: his resignation at the inevitability of his situation. Horizontally dividing the knocked-out movie title reinforces this concept, as the halved numbers reference a classic flip-down clock counting down to midnight. The numerals’ shapes recall those of Titling Gothic FB Skyline Medium, but with a rounded finish reminiscent of Garage Gothic.

Canyon Design Group’s main theatrical one-sheet takes the concept of an introspective atmosphere quite literally by framing the photo inside the silhouette of the main character in uniform. This creates an intriguing juxtaposition of a divided persona symbolically looking in opposite directions. The palette is much more subdued but no less beautiful, combining delicate pastels with gorgeous saturated greens, reds, and ochers. Beautifully matching the earthen hues, the woodtype-inspired slab serif has a hint of Belizio; consider Mønster or Manicotti as adventurous alternatives.

Kill Switch

Poster for Kill Switch
© 2017 Saban Films. Key art by Dan Forkin.
Poster for Kill Switch
© 2017 Saban Films. Key art by Ignition.

The shapes of words don’t just convey meaning; they also send subliminal messages evoking moods. Contrary to what I used to believe, the bouba/kiki effect transcends language and cultural boundaries, and taps into our global hive mind. Designers who understand this mechanism purposefully select certain typefaces to suggest particular film genres. This is why Agency FB—seen on the left in Ignition’s teaser for sci-fi thriller Kill Switch—graces the posters of countless action, war, and science-fiction movies. Its squarish letterforms are perceived as forceful, decisive, strong, and futuristic (even though Morris Fuller Benton’s original was designed in 1932). This typeface reinforces the foreboding atmosphere in Dan Forkin’s design, giving it a distinct action/sci-fi flavor. Bank Gothic used to be the typeface of choice for these situations, but the far more versatile Agency has steadily taken over. With five weights ranging from a razor-sharp Thin to a blocky Black in five widths from Compressed to Extended, the family offers twenty-five versatile styles that can efficiently fill canvases of varied dimensions and proportions.

Ignition’s other teaser, shown on the right, is rather meta: a spray-painted guerilla poster within the poster. The designer(s) abandoned Agency FB in favor of DIN 1451 Mittelschrift. Different explorations of the technical sans serif model include DINosaur and New Rubrik Edge, while Kade is inspired by industrial letters cut in metal.

The Beguiled

Poster for The Beguiled
© 2017 Focus Features. Key art by P+A.

At the opposite end of the typographic spectrum from industrial sans types are copperplate scripts, whose delicate shapes and swirling swashes conjure up refinement, sophistication, elegance, and romance. P+A’s theatrical one-sheet for Sofia Coppola’s Civil War drama The Beguiled, a tale of jealousy and betrayal caused by the arrival of a wounded Union soldier at a girls’ school in Virginia, uses an ornate flowing face to great effect. It reminds me of The Refinery’s brilliant (if flawed) use of a copperplate script for I Am Love, discussed seven years ago on The FontFeed. Instead of relying on contrasting colors, the artwork for the newer film benefits from soft, desaturated tints. Running vertically over its entire height, the muted pink movie title interacts masterfully with the photographic composition. Each actress deliberately looks in a different direction, suggesting interpersonal tensions and intrigue. The T supports and enhances Elle Fanning’s head, shoulders, and hair, while Nicole Kidman’s pose matches the direction of the strokes.

Cyrus Highsmith’s delicate Novia and Ramiro Espinoza’s spectacular Medusa both restore the original manuscript forms that got lost when copperplate scripts transitioned to (metal) type; the vertiginous Krul is based on expert sign painting, while Biscotti is slightly less formal.

Cars 3

Poster for Cars 3
© 2017 Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Key art by Ten30 Studios.

I rarely feature marketing collateral for mainstream animated movies because, while such collateral is often well made, it’s seldom interesting enough to analyze and discuss. Ten30 Studios’ teaser poster for Cars 3 brakes the mold (typo/pun intended). Instead of presenting the usual happy-go-lucky family portrait of the main characters, this piece zooms in on the grim determination in the eyes of Lightning McQueen and his young opponents. The camera gets so close to the action that you can almost feel the spray projected by the racing cars’ tires.

The logo for Pixar’s CGI franchise has consistently been rendered in Zavier Cabarga’s Magneto. The slick mechanical script is one of Carbarga’s display faces that pay homage to the mid-century chrome and neon aesthetic; Rocket, Streamline, Raceway, and Neon Stream round out that collection. Their highly stylized letterforms create recognizable wordshapes that, given the proper chrome treatment, would feel perfectly at home on Chromeography.

The Book of Henry

Poster for The Book of Henry
© 2017 Focus Features. Key art by P+A. Poster artwork by James Goodridge.

If not all the way back to mid-century modern days, P+A’s key art for the crime thriller The Book of Henry still propels us to the dawn of the blockbusters of the mid-1970s and early 1980s. James Goodridge’s wonderful illustration introduces the main characters and sets the tone for the movie: a single mother is guided by careful notes written in her genius son’s notebook as she strives to rescue a young girl from the hands of an abusive stepfather. Despite the many characters populating the canvas, the unified palette combining complementary colors, a strong diagonal composition, and the crisp, classic illustration style reminiscent of the work of the legendary Drew Struzan keep the poster coherent.

The typography fits the bill. Goudy Oldstyle is a century-old design by Frederic W. Goudy. Typefaces from this American icon—one of the most prolific type designers of his time—informed Village and Californian. Similar soft, malleable letterforms can be found in Sibylle Hagmann’s superb Kopius, as well as in the Text and Micro styles for Eldorado, which was based on types by another American giant of type design, W.A. Dwiggins.

Baby Driver

Poster for Baby Driver
© 2017 Columbia Pictures. Key art by BLT Communications. Poster artwork by Rory Kurtz.
Poster for Baby Driver
© 2017 Columbia Pictures. Key art by BLT Communications.

A lucid, well-defined color palette often plays a crucial role in a poster’s success. Similar to the previous poster, BLT Communications’s two illustrated designs for the heist movie Baby Driver rely heavily on cranberry reds, skin tones, and warm greys. This unusual color scheme, a far cry from the prevalent orange and teal combination, keeps the posters from tumbling into nostalgia. On the left, Rory Kurtz’ artwork effectively visualizes the film’s narrative—a young getaway driver is coerced into participating in a doomed heist. The minimal design at right condenses the movie’s concept to a gun with the getaway car speeding from the barrel, an imaginative, evocative solution. I mentioned the resurgence of hand-painted movie artwork in previous episodes; Rory Kurtz is one of two designers discussing How illustrated movie posters are making a comeback.

While the color scheme is surprising, the typography is disappointingly old-fashioned and dull. Selecting a modern stencil design like the striking Axia Stencil would have been the icing on the cake.

The Bad Batch

Poster for The Bad Batch
© 2016 Screen Media Films. Key art by Canyon Design Group.
Poster for The Bad Batch
© 2016 Screen Media Films. Key art by Canyon Design Group.
Poster for The Bad Batch
© 2016 Screen Media Films. Key art by Canyon Design Group.
Poster for The Bad Batch
© 2016 Screen Media Films. Key art by Canyon Design Group.

Canyon Design Group’s main theatrical one-sheet and character posters for the screwed-up sci-fi horror romance The Bad Batch, a love story set in a community of cannibals in a future dystopian Texas, take a novel approach. Letting the heads of the actors run off the canvas anonymizes them, which makes it easier for the viewers to identify with their characters. I like how, in each poster, a distinctive prop—gun, microphone, or cleaver—adds dynamism by bleeding into the bottom white area. The movie title is set in an unfortunately poorly digitized version of MGB Patrician, designed in 1980 by Don Munson. The display face is like one of those lesser-known-yet-excellent eighties tunes you had forgotten about. This is how I like retro design: a contemporary interpretation in saturated colors that winks and nudges at the period it references, without devolving into a teary-eyed parody wallowing in nostalgia.

Dawson City: Frozen Time

Poster for Dawson City: Frozen Time
© 2016 Kino Lorber.
Poster for Dawson City: Frozen Time
© 2016 Kino Lorber.

Sometimes, though, it feels so good to unabashedly go back in time, especially if it’s to discover a mind-blowing origin story. The documentary Dawson City: Frozen Time pieces together the bizarre true history of a collection of some five hundred films dating from the 1910s to the 1920s, discovered after having been buried for over fifty years in a subarctic swimming pool deep in the Yukon Territory. There are two ways to go about creating artwork for such a film. The left option is very prosaic: a black-and-white documentary photograph of the literal unearthing of the movie reels. The solution on the right is absolutely lovely, a thoughtful and poetic composition using some of the damaged film fragments. The creamy colors somehow emphasize how fragile these relics are, leaving us to wonder how challenging it must have been to try to restore the reels. There’s also something beguiling about trying to piece together the mysterious vintage scene from the brittle, incomplete images: is it a loving moment, a moment of ecstasy, or of sadness, of despair?

Nothing is inherently wrong with the distressed sans serif—BadTyp shows us that “bad” letterforms have a certain charm—but the poster on the left reveals sloppy spacing. A responsible designer would have manually kerned the film title to correct this, as they did for the version on the right. The supporting face is Bookman, restored by Mark Simonson to its original glory as Bookmania.

So far, any attempts to restore myself to my original glory have been in vain. I guess I have to resign myself to writing The Leftovers, and start scouring for interesting film posters for the next episode. See you then.

Bald Condensed, né Yves Peters, is a Belgian-based rock drummer known for his astute observations on the impact of letterforms in the contemporary culture-sphere. A prolific writer on typography, he has a singular knack for identifying the most obscure typefaces known to man.