by Rafael Van Winkel, Art Director at Art Machine
Typography can present a challenge for graphic designers, especially in the context of movie poster design. In this realm, it can be difficult to break some common typography trends while still creating a successful, eye-catching poster design. As a result, there’s a debate between creatives and marketing over whether these common but repetitive movie poster design trends are good or a bad thing.
It’s clear that if you follow these “rules,” you have a good chance of reaching a film’s target audience, but from a creative perspective, you may feel like you’re designing something that has already been done over and over again. That’s definitely a turn-off for designers, who always want to create something fresh and new.
The challenge in movie poster design is to accomplish both: a title treatment that makes it easier for the public to understand what the movie is about without compromising your creativity.
Here are a few examples of some general typography trends in movie poster designs—and the ways graphic designers have taken them to the next level:
1. BIG, BOLD AND RED COMEDY TITLES
Arial, Helvetica, Gotham and Futura are commonly used for comedy title treatments. The title typically appears in red against a clean white background, a more simplistic approach that conveys it’s a comedy movie right away.
Here are couple of examples in which designers kept this simple typeface rule and made it awesome:
The challenge in this title treatment is to convey that the movie is a comedy and a horror story. The plain while-against-red and the use of a bold typeface can be read as comedy, but the sharp edges and distressed texture belies the horror side. The clever use of the zombie hand illustration instead of the bar on the letter “A” ties everything together very nicely.
For The Campaign, we have the simple white typeface as well, but the title treatment was placed in a lapel pin graphic that relates to the film. The designer also added some peeling spots and scratches, resulting in a friendly comic feel.
Looking to improve your type or lettering work? Check out 11 Resources for Typography & Lettering Lovers.
2. “IT’S NOT SCARY ENOUGH IF IT’S NOT TRAJAN”
When it comes to horror movies, I know what you’re thinking… Trajan! The sharp edges of thin serif typefaces convey that creepy feeling, specially when you make it bloody red and add some texture to it.
It’s challenging to break this rule since, from a marketing perspective, it tells the customer in a heartbeat that it’s a scary movie. Here are some alternative approaches that stand out from the crowd:
The original Saw title treatment was a hit already in my opinion. It has that rusty-chainsaw feel to it and each letter is inconsistently creepy. For Saw 2 they actually used two horrible chopped fingers as the “2” and that itself makes it an awesome piece—definitely one of my favorites.
I’m a big fan of custom type, and this movie poster design offers a perfect example. You usually see “You’re next” or something equally threatening written on walls and mirrors in horror films. This movie poster design brings us closer to the movie’s atmosphere by mirroring this horror trope with lettering scratched into a metal surface.
3. GLOWY SCI-FI
Bring on the flares! It’s easy to identify a sci-fi, futuristic or tech-related film when the title emits that disctinctive blue fluorescent glow. Sans-serif typefaces are common in this category because of sharp and perfect edges—reminiscent of lettering that a computer might render—while serifs bring more of a classic typewriter feel. We also see some cool metal-textured 3D typefaces in this genre as well.
Reflections can certainly make a title stand out and clearly demonstrate the film’s mood. Check out these examples where designers had the opportunity to go a bit further with the typography itself:
4. TOO SQUARE FOR ACTION?
Action movie posters tend to feature sans-serif, squarish typefaces with right angles. Eurostile and Bank Gothic are popular choices. Textures are also very common here, like metal, stone, fire, grunge, etc., depending on the film. It’s definitely a fun category to work with if you enjoy rendering different effects in Photoshop.
Creating all these effects can be a bit challenging and require some experience. You have to make sure all the shadows and highlights are in the right place, textures are not fighting with each other, don’t compromise the legibility, use of space, etc. Here are some great examples:
The teaser poster for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen featured a metallic shield surrounded by silver ornaments—a very creative approach. Too bad they had to drop it for the rest of the campaign, probably because the full title of the movie had to be largerr.
5. STRONG SUPERHERO TYPE
Superhero movie posters feature bold, thick typefaces that reflect the heroes’ strength. It’s interesting to see how designers create the title treatments, subtly or not, based on the superheroes’ abilities. 3D and metal textures are popular in this genre as well. Posters for classic well-known heroes such as Superman and Batman tend to stay away from this rule and go for something more simplistic and elegant other than bold and busy.
Sometimes we come across title treatments in which the designer incorporates the hero’s weapon, taking advantage of the similar shape to a letter or number. The results can be impressive and a hit with fans of the comics or the original story.
Here are a couple of notable examples:
It’s interesting that the sword is fused with the title treatment, and the a nice use of bevels and textures finishes the metallic look. This concept was also used back in 2005 for the movie Elektra, where the “E” was made out of the shape of one of the character’s famous sai blades.
Such a simple but really clever idea. As the third movie of the series, the title treatment had the famous metallic “X” with Wolverine’s claws on top to create the number 3 in roman numerals—another title treatment worthy of a full teaser poster.
Whether you decide to follow the “rules” or not, it’s important to make sure the title treatment complements your key art and the theme of the movie. You don’t want to confuse the audience by using recognizable trends from one genre in the title treatment for a completely different style of film. For example, if the audience is expecting an action or horror movie base on the poster, they may be disappointed to find themselves watching a comedy, or vice-versa. It’s important to be aware of these trends, since that’s usually how the public interprets them, though these trends slowly change over time. If you’re constantly analyzing the art that studios are releasing, you’ll automatically have a feel of what is typographically appropriate for each genre of movie. That knowledge will ease your creative process and give you more confidence to take things to the next level without missing the marketing aspect of movie poster design.
Rafael van Winkel is an acknowledged Art Director, currently working at Art Machine, A Trailer Park Co., in Los Angeles, CA. He designs movie advertising materials and packaging for the biggest film production companies like 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, Paramount and Universal.
Graphic designer and Academy Award-winning filmmaker Saul Bass (1920-1996) developed an iconic style evident throughout his expansive repertoire. His style, and especially his influence on the storytelling potential of opening credits, has influences numerous films and television series.
In Saul Bass: Anatomy of Film Design, author Jan-Christopher Horak examines the life, work, and creative process of this prominent designer. Discover the humble beginnings of Bass’s life, his collaborations with prominent directors like Robert Aldrich, Stanley Kubrick, and Martin Scorsese, and learn more about his personal style, like his appreciation of modern art and subsequent incorporation of it into his body of work. Get it here.