24 June 2008

[type_design] Indiana Jones and the Anachronistic Fonts


(Title uppdated @2222 PDT. I seem to be having a great deal of difficluty with mai sepilling today)

(Via Mark Simonson Studios) This one from the newsfeeds:

Whenever Indy is traveling great distances, which happens in all the films, there is a montage of the airplane or boat superimposed over an animated map showing the route. It’s an old-fashioned convention, an homage to the movies of the Thirties and Forties. Unfortunately, the typefaces would be more at home a few decades later.

Long Story Short:

  • Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981): Set in 1938, used ITC Serif Gothic, which was created in 1972.

  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984): Set in 1935, used Helvetica, for gosh sake ... which didn't exist until 1957.

  • Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (1989): Set in 1938, used ITC Serif Gothic again.

  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of The Crystal Skull (2008): Set in 1957, used Century Gothic, which didn't happen until 1989.

In case it seems nitpicky to obsess on a font this way, consider: first, the production design of all the Indy films, outside of this little thing, is immaculate. We have no complaints about it. Moreover, all the type in all the other scenes we can think of are, as to period ... well, letter-perfect. Secondly, and more importantly, type – just like any other art or artifice – is a product of its times.

Or, maybe, Times. Anyway.

Here's an example. Look at ITC Serif Gothic there. Doesn't that remind you more of Disco than Glenn Miller? And Helvetica, that ubiquitous, adored, hated font, hit it big during the glory days of the so-called "Swiss School" of design ... a school of thought that adored simplicity and cleanliness in design almost to a fetishistic degree.

These are all strong signatures of certain periods that stand tall and uniquely apart from the days of the Indy films. Ironically, if they would have went with Helvetica in Kingdom, that actually would have been historically appropriate.

And so it goes. I'll be FontStructing if anyone needs me.

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Kevin Allman said...

Oh, a post I can relate to! "Wrong" newspaper fonts in movies take me straight out of the action, particularly when they're computer-generated and the movie takes place in the hot-type age.

With all the attention prop designers lavish on every detail, it's weird when they don't even try to make headlines fit, to make photos flow with the text around them, or when the body of the story isn't correctly lined up. Scroll down the page to see an example from "Ed Wood," and some really painful ones from "L.A. Confidential":


The one that gets me right now is the credit sequence for "Mad Men," which is one of my favorite shows. Every single detail of the 1960 milieu is reproduced faithfully, but the credit sequence is a computer animation, and it's just awful. They try to reproduce the great cut-paper title sequences from the late 1950s, but the whole thing looks like a Powerbook screensaver. Yuck.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

You take the point exactly. Exactly. You're spot on there, Kevin

I'm convinced that everyone notices design on at least a subliminal level. You might need design training to design, but you don't need design training to know when everything clicks together the way it should. I'll bet that everyone who watches those will feel like something is a little off ... but just can't put their finger on it. And this is exactly what it is.

The irritating thing is that in every part of the picture no expense was spared, but since the maps were in a slight obscura and only briefly glimpsed, they didn't bother.

Since type like this is grounded in a common experience, in a commonly-felt grammar as to what should be right for a given period, then you use the wrong type and it hits a sour note.

Now, as far as Mad Men goes, I don't have pay TV, but thank God for YouTube, where people obsessed with opening titles (the making of which is an art in and of itself) tend to post them. I saw the Mad Men opening title and, in light of your comments, I'd say you're spot on there as well. They're too clean and polished and 2008-modern. They do look like a PB screensaver.

Which just goes to show you if you're going to do a period piece, pay attention to the type in your titles ... and to the style as well.

That link you mentioned I'd recommend. It's just as insightful as Mark's post about the Indy films.