Using Typography to Brand Films
In this written piece I will be investigating how typography is used to brand films. Films more often than not use word marks for branding purposes rather than using iconography; as the word-mark spells out the name of the film and is often stylized towards the specific genre or direction of the film. Due to the heavy saturation of word-marks used in the branding of films can this element alone alter the image of a film before a minute of content is seen and how is this typography used, altered and applied to expose the films genre further. The branding for films appears to be on the nose and very obvious in terms of reflecting the films content and genre to appeal to fans but is this actually true and is there anything involved in the branding that’s more than meets the eye?
95% of graphic design is typography (digital synopsis) and there are six main categories of typeface: serif, slab serif, sans serif, script, modern and display. Each typeface can communicate a different message and offer a different aesthetic, they all offer contrasting elements and can be used in many different ways. Psychologically a typeface can lead you to preconceived ideas depending on how it is presented and specifically which style of typeface is chosen. Serif typeface is often used to expose the aesthetic of class and heritage, making them perfect to when attempting to create something with an established feel. They also denote feelings of trust and respectability to a consumer adding to an identity that revolves around authority command. Slab serif typefaces are usually associated with confidence, solidity and strength. They often lend themselves to be used alongside bold new ideas or to create a strong confident aesthetic. Sans serif typefaces are clean and modern in appearance more often than not they are used to demonstrate a no-nonsense, straight forward attitude resembled in the aesthetic of the type. There are no added decorative elements which reinforces this message and can be valuable for a simplified approach to type. Script typefaces appear a lot fancier to the serif typefaces they derive from due to their often decorative appearance. The use of these typefaces is usually to provoke ideas of femininity and elegance due to their hand written presentation. To give a more personal feel to something they are very useful as well as adding a touch of creativity as an aesthetic. Modern typefaces are often used to communicate intelligence and style along with a modern spin. They are used to reach a younger audience with broad style connections to social media and network. Display typefaces are unique and or frequently customized type offering a unique decorative appeal. They can be used to convey any type of personality or feeling and subsequently have no boundaries the limit of a display typeface is endless and is used to create a very personalized look and feel.
Typefaces are a lot more complex than what you can physically see; they have been used since the 1400’s when Guttenberg invented movable typefaces and throughout this time the specific use of typefaces has labelled them with preconceived ideas about what they stand for. For example, the typeface Fraktur was used heavily for Nazi propaganda and therefore has negative connotations attached to it due to its use during this period in time. However, this doesn’t label the typeface as unusable as it comes down to the context it is used in because if it was used to brand a film about Nazi Germany during that time there wouldn’t be an issue whereas if it was being used for a kid’s film then there might be a problem it all comes down to context.
Typography can also hold notions of gender as throughout the years heavy, bold, jagged typefaces are usually associated with men and playful, lighter, curly typefaces are often associated women. This notion is conditioned from being a child the same as, if a baby were to be dressed in blue it would see as a boy, and pink for a girl, although a lot less prevalent now compared to years ago this still stands as a formula for differentiation. There are also physical attributes applied to type based on how they look which can relate to how they are perceived. To illustrate the point, an example of six traits: heavy, thin, small, large, loose and tight all being adjectives that can describe type forms as well as anything outside of design and typefaces showing typefaces share visual characteristics with things from the real world, offering the specified use of typefaces for this reason alone. If a bold, condensed typeface was used to brand a film whose spotlight was focused on a big, strong protagonist in an action style film this pairing would fit perfect as bold meaning heavy and condensed meaning dense both relate directly to the main character in this film and would offer the audience a glimpse at the film by just reading the title of it. Whereas, if the film was branded using a tall, thin typeface it wouldn’t have the same effect or feel as these characteristics are usually associated with beauty and would be more suited to a chick flick style of film over an action based one.
Striking that balance between the functionality and basics of type versus expressive type and grabbing someone’s attention, especially when relating that to the branding of a film it is an important balance to get right. Upper and lower case can have a large bearing on how typography is perceived, “the term comes from the position of loose metal or wooden letters laid out in front of the traditional compositors’ hands before they were used to form a word – the commonly used ones on an accessible lower level the capitals above them”. Using road signs as an example, in the 1960’s Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert designed and applied the road side system in Britain that is still being used to this day. During this process both Kinneir and Calvert established that upper and lowercase words are more legible than words all in uppercase as the words and letterforms create silhouettes making them more distinguishable from a distance. To relate this back to the branding of films it is an element that needs to be considered, that being legibility, especially from a distance with the logo being small on a poster from far away a more legible poster will stick in a consumers mind a lot more than one that is not. To add to the case for the functionality of type; a quote from the famous graphic designer Massimo Vingelli “I don’t think that type should be expressive at all. I can write the word ‘dog’ with any typeface and it doesn’t have to look like a dog. But there are people that think that when they write ‘dog’ it should bark”. The famous advocate for Helvetica insists that type should not have to show what it says and if the basics and functions of the type are addressed correctly and it is presented well then this should be good enough to portray what you are trying to say no matter what it is. Alternatively, from the beginning of typography titling fonts have been used they were fonts made of metal specifically designed to be used at larger point sizes mainly aimed towards headlines and titles. Titling fonts differ from normal display fonts in this way as they were a lot bigger than their counterparts and have been modified to look better at these larger sizes. Newspapers usually use titling fonts for headlines to grab the attention of the reader but have since been emphasized further to create more of a dramatic look especially for things like books, magazines and films really stylizing the type and to use Massimo Vignelli’s quote making the type bark. This opposes the functionality of type more than aligning with it as the function of a titling font now has been extended from its original use of a simple large title to being as big and as bold as possible attempting to grab a consumer’s attention in any way possible.
And in conclusion, I want to summarize everything described above with examples of the use of typography in branding famous films.
‘Aliens’ is a film from 1986, they used a sans serif typeface this gives the film a modern more futuristic look and by just reading the name of the film it would more than likely come under the science fiction genre which this sans serif typeface would display given its sleek, straight appearance. The large tracking of the word adds to the science fiction feel by literally and figuratively adding space between the letters it also gives more of an importance to each letter making the syllables more prevalent when reading the word aloud making it slightly more memorable. The physical relation to this type is tall and thin which often relates to beauty, but from the name alone this film is quite the contrast to beauty however the type does relate itself to a futuristic science driven film with it being slim and compact in appearance mirroring the evolution of technology. There is a glow that surrounds each single letterform which give the type a more mysterious feel as well as the letter ‘I’ being altered to make it look different to the other letterforms or to use another word alien referencing the use of extraterrestrials in the film.
‘Finding Nemo’ is a film from 2003, they used a mix of sans serif and a display typeface with sans serif giving it a simple look but with a touch of playfulness judging by the weight and construction of the letterforms. With the name ‘Nemo’ larger than anything else this puts emphasis on what the film is about and already who the main character is coupled with the heavy, condensed, square physical appearance of the typeface would insinuate that it would be a struggle to find Nemo in the film as everything is so tight and condensed that there no space and so many places to look. With the addition on the wave underneath all the type as well as the fish in the ‘O’ gives the impression that this film is set under water and that Nemo is in fact a fish with the image of a fish replacing the counter of the ‘O’ and that being the last letter from the title of the movie it would imply that Nemo does not get found until the end of the film with the logo giving a few clues about the film itself.
‘The Godfather’ is a film from 1972, they used a serif typeface which is often associated with trust and respectability and comparing this to the name of the film they go hand in hand as the name portrays a powerful figure by combining ‘god’ and ‘father’ together. Using a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters and measuring this up against the name of the film and that portraying a powerful figurehead this could imply a power structure in the film with the capitals representing the people at the top and lower case the people at the bottom which exactly references where uppercase and lowercase letters got their name from. The added illustration of a hand controlling the letters like puppets would give an indication that the godfather is controlling all the people working for him or under his power like puppets giving reference to film and the name directly also using the word ‘the’ implies there is only one and the reason being there is only one hand controlling all of those letters at the same time.
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