ScreenFonts #3: The Threequel

By Bald Condensed

ScreenFonts’ third installment on Create deals with doubles and powers of three: a trio of wildly varied posters for Mouthpiece and 3x3 posters for Aniara. We also look at the artwork for Diamantino, The Professor, Meeting Gorbachev, The Souvenir, Netemo sametemo (Asako I & II), and Perfect.

OFF THE LEDGE

© Culture Publishers (CP). Poster design by Gabriel Abrantes with painted art by Ivo Francisco.

We kick off this episode (pun intended) with the completely bonkers key art for Diamantino. (Key art refers to the iconic image at the center of a movie’s marketing campaign.) “The world’s premiere soccer star loses his special touch and ends his career in disgrace,” reads the official blurb for this Portuguese gonzo comedy. “Searching for a new purpose, the international icon sets out on a delirious odyssey where he confronts neofascism, the refugee crisis, genetic modification, and the hunt for the source of genius.” The description sounds as over the top as the poster looks: it’s a psychedelic extravaganza featuring offbeat characters and four giant, fluffy Pekingese puppies being shot into space from pink clouds. The artwork was designed with complete abandon by codirector Gabriel Abrantes, with painted art by Ivo Francisco. Abrantes told me he chose the chrome-like script Streamster because he wanted a typical retro Eighties cursive brush look. Other slick script fonts in the same style include Rian Hughes’ fabulous Cadogan and Richard Lipton’s Savanna Script; Sarah Script, P22 Pooper Black, and Origins are more brush-like.

© 2019 Saban Films. Poster design by and company.

I wanted to include the theatrical one-sheet (the term for a piece that measures 27" × 40", the common film-poster size in the United States) for The Professor to prove a point: straightforward solutions tend to work well. In this drama, originally titled Richard Says Goodbye, a college professor recklessly lives out his life after being diagnosed with a terminal illness. and company’s no-frills design—Johnny Depp walking toward the edge of a pile of books—conveys the movie’s theme efficiently by using easy-to-understand metaphors. The pile of books suggests the protagonist is a teacher or a scholar; the act of walking off the ledge implies he’s at the end of his rope, either desperate or dying, yet Depp’s calm, resigned expression fine-tunes our perception.

The film title is set in Sentinel, a contemporary interpretation of Clarendon-style slab serifs. Egizio URW is Aldo Novarese’s take on the genre, which was reimagined by David Berlow as Belizio. Oxtail, Stefan Hattenbach’s subtly subversive design, is a favorite of mine; when tracked tight, the italics become connected constructed scripts.

REFLECTIONS

© 2019 The Orchard. Poster design by Gravillis, Inc.

Here’s another design showing that, sometimes, simple is best. Gravillis Inc.’s theatrical one-sheet for the documentary Meeting Gorbachev simmers with quiet power. Two iconic figures—Mikhail Gorbachev and director Werner Herzog—sit face to face, as if each were the other’s reflection in a mirror. The plain red-and-yellow color scheme references the flag of the now-defunct USSR and makes the high-contrast black-and-white figures stand out. The choice to make the director equally prominent in the poster may be unusual, but it’s not illogical. The renowned German film director, screenwriter, author, actor, and opera director is an inescapable presence in the documentary and has a personality to match the eighth and final president of the Soviet Union.

Thankfully, no faux Cyrillic makes an appearance (that would have been a lazy and culturally inappropriate choice); instead, a compact sans serif similar to Refrigerator Deluxe is used. The angular letterforms recall the typography seen in constructivist posters from the 1920s and ’30s. This Russian art movement inspired quite a few typefaces; for example Rodchenko, a recent addition to your Adobe Creative Cloud subscription.

© 2019 A24. Poster design by P+A.

P+A came up with a fantastic concept for the coming-of-age film The Souvenir. Joanna Hogg’s autobiographical drama about her time as a young film student in 1980s London details her dysfunctional relationship with a complicated and untrustworthy older man. The hazy reflection of the two protagonists in the gorgeous domestic one-sheet is a superb metaphor for the film’s title. A souvenir is never as clear as the event itself and gets less distinct as time goes by, often subtly changing though someone’s experiences and interpretation. The framing of the photograph is just as important: by having their eyes bleed off the top edge of the canvas, P+A strips the couple of their current identity; only the memory remains in their reflection. The vertical, perfectly centered typography creates a virtual rift between the two people. The precise, delicate spacing and well-considered typeface choice prove that simple, classical typography still has a place in modern poster design. Goudy 38 displays the legendary American type designer’s signature softness and malleability, which can also be found in his most famous face, LTC Goudy Oldstyle.

© 2019 Grasshopper Film. Poster design by Sam Smith.

The mirror image is figurative in Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s otherworldly romantic drama Netemo sametemo (Asako I & II). Two years after Asako’s first love Baku drifts out of her life, she meets a young, solid businessman named Ryohei who bears a striking resemblance to her old flame. They begin building a happy life together until traces of Asako’s past start to resurface. When I emailed designer and fellow drummer Sam Smith to ask about his sophisticated, elegant international one-sheet, he revealed that this image was essentially the first idea that came to him. “Explaining the significance of having two Asakos would ruin elements of the story, but I can say that the concept is referenced within the first two minutes of the film,” Smith wrote. “In general, it’s a film about doubles: there’s the double of a boy Asako falls in love with, yet the title refers to the female protagonist, not the boy. So what does that mean? It’s a nice figurative and emotional puzzle for the viewer to ponder after seeing Hamaguchi's beautiful film. Doubling the Lato typeface in the title treatment was something that already existed in the film’s trailer.

“We toyed with many variations of this image—two Asakos standing side by side, overlapping, echoing, mirroring, with different color gradients and treatments,” Smith continued. “An early version had a thick border around the edge filled with flowing and faded blue water, another reference to imagery in the film. The final poster was my preference. These days, I try to create designs that catch your eye in person at a theater, but also have an impact as a thumbnail on a small screen. In this case, I hope the simple, iconic image surrounded by negative space provides that. Also, I added the cat because the cat is so cute, and it figuratively punctuates the image by standing right next to the two Asakos.”

© 2019 Dada Films. Poster design by Version Industries/Caspar Newbolt.

Mouthpiece made me (re)discover the art of Version Industries’ Caspar Newbolt—I reviewed posters by him in past episodes of ScreenFonts without knowing he was the author. In this Canadian drama, the main character is portrayed by two actors to express the opposing voices existing inside a woman’s head. The first question in my email to Newbolt was: Why three such wildly different variants? “I like to come at a film from as many distinctly different directions as I can,” he answered, “so at the beginning of the process I put together a very in-depth and varied set of ideas that the director or producer team can pick from. Sometimes, we have the budget to explore just one idea; this time, we could do three. The main poster used for the theatrical release was chosen by the distribution company. This version wasn’t so related to my initial concepts, but it still had some tricks up its sleeve.” 

Newbolt’s design visualizes the protagonist’s inner dialogue by combining a frontal and a profile portrait—an image and its mirror image—with the missing half of the frontal portrait bleeding off the right edge of the canvas. Looking at the subject from different viewpoints in one single, combined image was often seen in cubist paintings, and this strategy works well here. Newbolt used Parry Grotesque for the typography; Maple Bold and Basic Sans Black have a similar feel.

© 2019 Dada Films. Poster design by Version Industries/Caspar Newbolt.

Even though the other two posters were never officially released, they were favorites with the director and producers. “As such, I got permission from all involved to post them online,” Newbolt wrote. “They have since—naturally—been more widely praised for their visual power than the official poster.” The two unused posters are more adventurous in their interpretation of the film’s central theme, transcending their function as marketing materials to become art. Newbolt continued: “To me, every poster has to have a clear concept, thus I almost ‘psychoanalyze’ the film from a graphic-design perspective. Then—almost like a Rorschach test—I roll with whatever idea the director or producer team is most excited about. I produce only one draft for that idea, a draft I’ve worked on intensively for a while. This may involve painting, drawing, photography, collage—anything I can do to make it truly unique, and present that to them. From there, I take notes and work often two to three rounds to finish the piece, or we change tack, revert back to one of my other original ideas and start over.”

The typefaces in these two posters are Monotype Grotesque and Kolikö—compare them with Supria Sans, Tenso, or Bureau Grot, and the Emigre classics Citizen and Variex, respectively.

PONDERING THE SURVIVAL OF MANKIND AND HUMAN PERFECTION

© 2019 Magnolia Pictures. Poster design by Gravillis, Inc.

While only one of Mouthpiece’s three posters was officially released, Aniara boasts nine published designs. The Swedish science-fiction drama follows a spaceship carrying settlers to Mars that is knocked off course, causing the consumption-obsessed passengers to consider their place in the universe. The pleasure that the Gravillis, Inc., design team must have had referencing different time periods and graphic styles is almost palpable in this eclectic series. The op-art-like starburst motif in the main theatrical one-sheet lends the artwork a mid-century-modern vibe, as do the parallel lines interrupting and repeating the starship and Mars in the other variant. The main poster features a wide sans serif like Allumi Extended and Titling Gothic FB Extended, for example; the other variant uses Gotham Light.

© 2019 Magnolia Pictures. Poster design by Gravillis, Inc.

Two more posters use the new de facto movie-poster typeface, Tobias Frere-Jones’ iconic (and inescapable) Gotham. Mark Simonson’s equally inescapable Proxima Nova adds a little bite to the vernacular architectural sans genre. The painting of the space vessel hurtling toward the incandescent white ball reminds me of the cover art for the sci-fi novels I devoured in the 1980s; by contrast, the starship framed within the glowing red silhouette looks very modern.

© 2019 Magnolia Pictures. Poster design by Gravillis, Inc.

Two other posters use visual metaphors for the starship missing its mark: one has a motif of repeating triangles referencing triangulation as a means of establishing one’s position and course; the other places the starship at the entrance of a honeycomb maze, with Mars rendered as an off-center red dot. The former uses Compacta; the latter’s condensed sans serif is Neusa Next.

The yellow variant adopts the glitchy typography of 1990s grunge, applied to T.26 Carbon.

© 2019 Magnolia Pictures. Poster design by Gravillis, Inc.

The peculiar geometric shape that pops up in most of the posters—a triangle inside a hexagon/3D cube—intrigued me. Kenny Gravillis explained to me that the movie has a very strong design aesthetic, and the inspiration for that shape came from the main ship. “You notice a ton of triangles and hexagons when you watch the film,” he said. Letter Gothic’s monospaced nature makes it better suited for vertical setting than most other typefaces, and the colorful gradient inside the letters looks lovely. David Jonathan Ross’ Bungee is a rare example of a typeface specifically designed to be set vertically.

© 2019 Brainfeeder Films. Title treatment by Tom Kan.

More often than you might expect, poster designers inherit typography created by title designers for a film’s title sequence. When impressive talents meet, magic happens, as it does for Perfect, a sci-fi horror mystery that explores existential questions about beauty and perfection. The magnificent one-sheets are a transatlantic collaboration between two powerhouses in the film industry: Neil Kellerhouse, a contemporary American legend in the film poster world; and Paris-based Japanese director, photographer, and graphic designer Tom Kan. Kan designed the fascinating layered typography for the movie title. It took me a second to realize the futuristic shapes behind ITC Blair were recognizable typographic constructs. Fans of wide sans serif forms should take a look at Halogen and Aviano Sans.

Kan explained to me that director Eddie Alcazar wanted letterforms inspired by Japanese katakana characters that also needed to look extraterrestrial. “From the outset, I wanted to introduce a techno influence and combine the experimental shapes with readable Latin letters,” Kan said. “Turning them into luminescent outlines allowed me to transition from the experimental to the traditional letterforms for the title sequence.”

© 2019 Brainfeeder Films. Poster design by Neil Kellerhouse with typography by Tom Kan.

Kellerhouse took Kan’s typography and ran with it. The smeared and stretched face in the colorful variant seems to allude to the body dysmorphia experienced by patients seeking physical perfection. Kellerhouse told me that the dark, gloomy version of an impeccable human form emerging from a generative liquid is his personal favorite.

Do I wish every new ScreenFonts episode could emerge, effortlessly and impeccably formed, from a generative liquid? Nah, I enjoy writing this series far too much. Come back next month for more movie-poster design and typography, and—as always—keep checking Instagram and Twitter for the hashtag #screenfonts.