today marks the 100th anniversay of the birth of saul bass, whom in our book is one of the greatest graphic designers there’s been yet. to celebrate this day criterion collection—amongst other things—interviewed a few living title designers about the impact saul bass has had on their work. caspar was included in the selection and wrote about saul and his wife elaine’s work on the west side story title sequence. here is an excerpt from what caspar had to say:
“Around that time, I attended an exhibition of his work in London and heard a recording of Bass talking about an argument he’d had with Otto Preminger while creating the title sequence for The Man with the Golden Arm. It was from hearing about that particular fight that I started to learn about the nature of good collaboration in graphic design, and also about how much can be said with so little material.”
and here’s another:
“The part of this sequence that means the most to me is where Saul and Elaine wrote their initials into the graffiti on the background wall not once, not twice, but three times. At least one of those times, their initials are written inside a heart. For me, it’s this desire to include personal touches like this that often makes good work exceptional. Their joy and their care for what they did is present from start to finish, to the point where they’ve included a piece of their personal lives within it.
As a graphic designer and filmmaker, I’ve always had the goal to not only make everything I do by hand (even the typography) but to film live-action title sequences when possible. That requires immense trust from the directors and producers.”
the objectiv section of this website contains a scan of an email that my business partner giles once wrote to his father. his father hated the designs we’d created for our business cards back in 2003 (in retrospect, they were pretty bad) and giles, who often stood by his father’s point of view on our various new business concerns, did me proud in telling his pa to “back off” on this particular occasion. in fact i was so moved at this gesture and felt it such a call to arms to everything we were trying to do together, that i posted it on our new website as an indication of our company’s modus operandi. it’s been there now for 15 years and reading it still moves me. without giles’s understanding and counterpoint to my idealism i wouldn’t still be here doing this today.
we recently made the decision to shift our focus as a company to almost exclusively producing design and artwork for films. we felt that the considerable paycut would be worth it for the job satisfaction — or karma if you like — that came with creating artwork that extended, supported and promoted other artwork. films were after all my first great passion.
in the last year it’s my belief that we’ve really hit our stride, particularly with regards to the posters we’ve been producing. in doing so we’ve noticed various design fashions come and go and have strived where possible to avoid producing work that looks or feels like anyone else’s. this is easier said than done, but in certain cases i do think we’ve succeeded.
we’ve noticed in this process that there’s often a great divide between the quality of posters made for festivals and those made for a film’s theatrical release. it seems that the reasons for this are twofold:
sales, marketing and distribution types like to play it safe and rely upon the success of old marketing visual concepts in order to ensure their clients’ future success. there is of course no great logic to their point of view here, when what made the previous concepts successful was that they were once new. however they’d argue that it’s not always about talking about what’s new or different about a film so much as convincing audiences that they might enjoy this film as much as this or that great film from the past.
it’s common knowledge in the design community that the posters we are asked to make for film festivals are, more often than not, the posters that the filmmakers themselves would be framing and putting on their walls at home. this is because these posters were made fresh off the back of the film’s completion and in such close collaboration with the filmmakers that they became an expression of the film’s very DNA. these posters are often unique, experimental and highlight explicitly what sets one film apart from others.
this year alargenumberof ‘best film posters of 2018’ lists have appeared and it’s saddened us greatly to see, in certain cases, the inclusion of a lot of particularly basic, derivative and often downright tiresome designs. designs that in our opinion do nothing to make us want to see the film, let alone credit poster-making as an art form. these works make a sham of the profession as they further train the general public to rely upon such substandard methods of communication. it is then of course no great fault of those humans making these lists when this is what they have to choose from.
the decision to select posters from an exclusively theatrical pool works very well from the point of view of the platform publishing the list — you know, the playlists, indiewires, rotten tomatoes and little white lies of this world — because when these filmmakers are given a shout out of this kind they’re likely to repost this list for their audiences, and theatrical films often have much bigger audiences. these are also films that the general public have already seen or can hope to see soon, and so members of the public are also likely to repost these lists as they likely contain one or two of their favourite films.
jean-luc godard once said that “the best way to criticize a film is to make a film.” so allow us, if you will, to make a list in order to criticize some of these other lists. be they festival, theatrical or even unused byproducts of an otherwise doomed creative process, these are the posters from 2018 that we feel really count:
distant constellation i was once hired to create a poster for this film and failed, so it is with the utmost respect and admiration that i post this poster. it was created by shin-woo park for the jeonju film festival which takes special pride in commissioning its own set of posters for the films that it programs each year. shin-woo manages in ways i could not to touch on some of the complex ontological thoughts one has whilst watching this truly unique film.
the mountain sam smyth did good here. the suggestive quality of this photograph combined with the film’s name and the typographic treatment of it, give this poster a cold but curious mystique. i’ve never seen the film, i know little about it and yet i’m delightfully curious to see it simply because of the level of nuanced restraint in this design. furthermore i imagine that the poster will mean even more to me after seeing it than it did before.
phantom thread i have seen this film and enjoy this poster by brian vee not just because of its inventive delivery of the film’s narrative concepts, but also because making a poster with your own bare hands will always grant it a unique quality; a quality that computer software alone never will. adobe products tend to homogenize design aesthetics the world over, and the more we all learn to keep them at arm’s length, the better and more original our work will be.
cam the fact that this poster was used for both the festival and theatrical releases of this film is testament not just to the design, but to the quality of the sales and distribution folks behind the project. i am biased as i work regularly with the poster’s creator, charlotte gosch, and so got to see it at several stages of its production, but that’s the limit of my influence on its genesis. it’s a striking, stand-out and brutal piece of work for a film i have not seen, but very much want to now.
hereditary the lighting alone in this poster is unlike that in any film poster i’ve seen before. it’s reminiscent of the work of gregory crewdson. the predominance of shadows hint at the horrific quality of the film — which i have seen — whilst the glinting light emphasizes the facial structures of each of the characters. this second part is of particular importance given this film is about a family, one of whom is all the more striking in appearance than any of the others. the family’s arrangement in the frame echoes the small family tree motif which is further echoed in the film’s name and tagline. speculation as to the film’s nature and narrative fill the mind even before a screening, and afterwards you’re reminded of just how unique the film looked compared to other films (as much as you’re reminded of its dark, dark heart.)
john mcenroe — in the realm of perfection french design team checkmorris created this poster. the relatively conventional ‘tennis court-esque’ typesetting is offset by the delightfully effective rotation and cropping of the photo of mcenroe. i have not seen the film so i can’t comment on how much john’s plummeting fall from the top of the frame is an echo of the film’s narrative, but it does make me wonder.
notes on an appearance this poster is exceptionally interesting on a number of levels. first up the ‘spot the difference’ nature of its repeated imagery really grabs your attention. the moment i saw it i was left wondering what i was supposed to be looking for, which in turn made me keen to see the film. secondly, the poster was made by the film’s director ricky d’ambrose. this fact inherently makes me trust the work more; it’s a piece of direct communication from the film’s heart. whilst it’s not unusual for a director to design their own film poster, it is certainly not common for that poster to be quite this good.
shirkers this poster by tomer hanuka is remarkably pleasing to look at. it feels unique in the realm of film poster design, particularly theatrical film poster design. i know very little about the film but something tells me its not an animation. this in turn makes me appreciate it all the more as this kind of ambiguity is usually a ‘no go’ with sales and distribution figureheads. i cannot say the poster gives me any great clues as to what the film is about, but certain aspects — like the ‘untruth’ license plate and the silhouetted motorcycle driver — make me very curious. in fact i’m sure that once you’ve seen the film the poster will become all the more valuable as a result of these mysterious little details.
first reformed i suppose it’s no secret that this poster is a rip-off of the great italian poster for andrei tarkovsky’s film, stalker. that said my rule has always been that if you find yourself under the heavy influence of a previous work, then you simply must evolve it if you wish to preserve your integrity. in this case i think the conversion of the tarkovsky factory / war-scape into this more delicate fiery hellscape is not just welcome, but considerably more psychologically impactful. i have seen this film and what you see here in this poster is more of a feeling about the film’s narrative and its protagonist’s psychological condition than is necessarily depicted in the film. this in turn makes this work a respectful evolution of its predecessor.
phantom thread this is, i believe, an unused poster from the alphaville design archives. that said i think it’s the best poster for phantom thread out there. it not only harnesses what alphaville are good at, but it makes a beautiful commentary on the film’s narrative. every time i think about posters for this film, this is the first one that comes to mind. simple, elegant and clever. i imagine it would be particularly beautiful printed on a nice, large piece of old cartridge paper.
the favourite i’ve yet to see this film, but i remain a huge fan of yorgos lanthimos’ work and that of his poster designer, vasilis marmatakis. they, together, feel to me like one of the most vital forces in modern cinema. that said i’ve found most of the posters for this, his latest film, rather lackluster … until now. this poster below is lovely. everything from the typesetting that suggests ‘being separated out or split up or a-typical’, through to the small graphic picture frame that similarly splits the characters up, is great. on top of that you have a flat graphical element (the small frame) actually affecting a photographic element (olivia colman’s dress) to great optical effect. i’m sure this poster looks fantastic in the printed flesh, which is something i don’t necessarily feel with a lot of posters. these days whether film posters are actually going to be printed and how good they might look as a result, can often be a lowly afterthought.
the house that jack built this is one of my favourite films of the year. this poster is, believe it or not, a shot from the film. having grown up — as the son of two painters — regularly looking at the paintings of géricault and caravaggio, i find the fact that this is a film still particularly stimulating. lars von trier’s films are often a cause for concern with some people and this poster reminds those that have seen it of the more philosophical and logical side of the film. much like with his previous nymphomaniac films, it’s this psychologically investigative narrative through-line that grants lars the ability to reach deeper into the dark heart of humanity without losing touch with his audiences. this is particularly important in today’s increasingly divided, politically-correct world.
self destructive boys braulio amado is an excellent graphic designer. he doesn’t usually make film posters, but he seems to take to any new subject like a fish to water. i know nothing about this short film but the poster is both funny and mysterious. the day it came out i found myself sending it to other design friends, whilst at the same time i wrote to braulio himself to ask how he did that ever so beautiful blurring / disintegration of the text. the best work makes you want to be better at what you do.
suspiria there have been a wealth of promotional items produced for luca guadagnino’s suspiria remake. as a filmmaker i very much appreciate his work, however i’ve never seen him produce a good poster for his films until now. the poster below is part of a second or third wave of promotional materials for the film that caught me quite off guard. legendary title designer dan perri’s now famed suspira ‘S’, when coupled with these very simple, softly lit, full-frame images from the set of the film, carries more magic than it ever did before. i’ve yet to see the film but i’m certainly all the more curious because of the elegant and minimal constraint of these designs combined with all the lovely details in each photograph.
blackkklansman kenny gravillis triumphant poster for spike lee’s latest joint has been a great pleasure to see on the walls of new york city during this particularly dark political time. the work needs no real analysis of course, but to me it represents what they call ‘design for social change’ and in every way is good in my book. whether you see the film or not, hopefully the image sets your mind on fire, whether that be about the past, the present or the days to come.
suspiria last but not least i wanted to draw attention to this particularly beautiful, unused poster by my contemporary, midnight marauder. i remember the day he posted it on instagram and my jaw dropped a little. i then looked at it a little closer and my jaw dropped some more. just look at those confoundingly brilliant little red dots, let alone that utterly mysterious face. is it someone from the film? is it some strange amalgamation of dakota johnson and tilda swinton? i had not seen the film yet so i didn’t know, but good lord this image haunted me. as a friend once pointed out, the artworks that often most impress us are the ones we cannot deconstruct. the simple fact that i have no idea who this person is yet feel she is perfectly situated in the world of this film is a remarkable feat.
for the purposes of this article i did some research and discovered that the picture is actually of one helga testorf, who used to secretly model for her neighbour the artist andrew wyeth. in many ways i’m now sad to know this, as the mystery in that face was so perfectly aligned with this film i’d yet to see. this in turn is of course what makes the poster so unique to me. the free association of an entirely unrelated image to a film in this way is often what makes midnight marauder’s posters so strong.
it’s been a while since we updated this blog thing. it occurred to us that we really need to make a record of our gradual move into the world of film title sequences. unfortunately the way this website is constructed means that it’s hard to highlight this kind of work, and so we hope this article gives you an inkling of what we’ve done and hope yet to do in this field.
over the last few years we’ve been asked to do an increasing amount of motion graphics work for films, and whilst the work is often relatively rudimentary in terms of graphic design, the projects have certainly been respectable. in this regard it’s worth noting what kind of films we’ve worked on and observing the more subtle compliment a thing as simple as a typeface choice or type placement can offer a film. which isn’t to say we wouldn’t rather do something more explosive graphically, but more often than not a film doesn’t need that. not at all.
anyway, after a while in this business you realize that you need to just let the work speak for itself, rather than doing a whole lot of talking about your process or whatever. so here are a series of title cards and stills from various film productions, where you can see our motion graphic design work at play.
light up the night co-directed by matt sundin and caspar newbolt. featuring drawings by john delucca and animation by josiah newbolt.
entertainment directed by rick alverson.
dark night directed by tim sutton. featuring in-film poster design and ‘google maps sequence’ compositing.
take what you can carry directed by matthew porterfield.
live cargo directed by logan sandler.
memphis directed by tim sutton.
the convention directed by jessica dimmock.
pavilion directed by tim sutton.
muito romântico directed by distruktur.
stay tuned for more work from us for jonas carpignano’s a ciambra, matthew porterfield’s sollers point and ari gold’s the song of sway lake.
MUBI and slate have put together a list of their best film posters of 2014. we’re honoured to say that our poster for memphis came in 7th place, and must again thank adrian curry who put the list together for the recognition. it goes without saying that such an accolade would have been impossible without the belief and support of tim sutton and the rest of the film’s crew. it’s not often that a relationship of this kind allows such a level of artistic freedom, and furthermore that this is one particular collaboration that’s only just getting started.
after a brief hiatus, singapore’s underscore magazine has relaunched with its ‘arrival’ issue. included amongst its pages are two essays of note; one by 65daysofstatic guitarist joe shrewsbury — a piece which in fact opens the magazine; the other i wrote to accompany some photographs i took of a post-hurricane sandy manhattan 2 years ago.
here’s an excerpt from the latter:
as i walked around captivated by the things i saw, i stopped occasionally to send messages to the internet using my phone. observations, sensations and imagery as i best i could translate into words, shivering slightly with excitement in this unkempt, eerily unfamiliar, home city of mine.
“brooklyn reaches out its sparkling arm of a bridge tonight, cars dripping down it. the inky towers of manhattan stare quietly back.”
“a family quietly opens a hydrant with all their tupperware waiting thirstily in the trunk of a car.”
“the occasional cab down a street reveals people on benches, talking together in the dark. shivering cigarette tips like fireflies.”
“expensive apartment blocks dead monoliths bathed in moonlight. candlelit windows flicker here and there, like everyone’s watching TV in sepia.”
and so on.
you can read the rest of the essay here, and you can see the original set of photographs i took here.
of course nothing compares to owning an original copy of underscore. the latest issues is hardbound with canvas and sports a handwritten cover. if you have the means, do grab yourself a copy.
the video above is for ‘thanks for calling,’ the new single by our friend and long-standing collaborator, alessandro cortini. a man of many side projects, we have been fortunate to be most closely involved with sonoio, arguably his most lyrical outlet to date. it’s no secret that the dialogue between us is a constant thing, but it was around the time memphis was being shot that our discussions regarding a video for the song really started to bear fruit. the treatment matt sundin and i put together was a personal one that we felt tied strongly to the lyrical themes of the record and also harked back to the european filmmakers that had featured so heavily in all of our upbringings, for one reason or another.
that summer we found ourselves on the ground in los angeles. our producer,?friend and hero?katharine o’brien had already introduced us to the fantastic director of photography, monika lenczewska, and we were scouting locations, machetes in hand, in the creeks of the santa monica mountains. monika’s enthusiasm and humour as we hacked through the undergrowth planning each shot breathed new life into the project, to say the least.
soon enough emails were flying back and forth with various crew members and our crazed psycho-drama was beginning to look like a reality.
casting, always the rogue element in any film, certainly took us to the brink. we’d crawl out of building sets deep in the forest and find ourselves sitting in a coffee shop or in front of a computer picking gunk from beneath our fingernails, looking at actors and actresses. the trick of course with this film was that we had to find someone willing to play not just the swanky LA party goer, but also the sunbaked, blood-soaked, creek fiend.
with an entire nation of poison oak cleared away, half the garbage in the surrounding 2 mile radius dragged into one spot and a crew of 20-30 people making a home somewhere long a trail through the forest, we hit the first day and watched marshall allman awake from his fall; delirious, smashed and looking for little more than a sip of water.
naturally things got out of control and as marshall was dragged away by some curious ‘locals,’ we got into our fair share of technical scraps too. as he pretended to piece together the reasons for why his world had been turned upside down, we?hauled machinery around rocks, through undergrowth and in and out of ponds.
as the day went on we threw everything we had at marshall to try to keep him down. including a spectre of his wife, played by a rather radical looking daveigh chase. pretty soon he was telling us exactly how he planned to kill everyone in sight.
technically speaking one of the highlights of the shoot was hugh bell bringing a prototype of his incredible MOVI rig to the set. when the ground is basically all big rocks, this thing kept the shots looking and feeling like we were floating like a feather across the landscape. naturally it also allowed us a few evil dead style movements through the forest, which was cool. having hugh on set meant he could take apart the rig in a split-second to make any necessary adjustments as we moved forward and tried new shots — an advantage we never took for granted.
all the while we just tried to keep track of things.
the next day and night we were in a convoy of cars racing around corners on one-way roads throughout the forest canyons. first we did a few runs with monika and hugh sitting in the back seat of the mustang, then, with an enormous camera strapped to the back of another truck like the outboard motor on a boat, we set them off by themselves. we then coaxed marshall and daveigh deeper and deeper into a screaming match via a walkie-talkie hidden in their car, as we swept back and forth across dark canyon roads — our lights out, unaware what might come from the mist at us with each new bend.
it was a two and a half?day shoot that ended by the side of the road early on a saturday morning. all of us, exhausted but content, stared down into a fog filled canyon stretching out toward the ocean. as our 1965 mustang’s headlights cast our shadows into the early morning mist, we wondered equally if we’d got every shot we needed and how good bed would no doubt feel when you’d driven yourself into the ground in this way.
editing the film was a tough process, as is always the case. there are many ways to skin a cat as they say, and this one was often screeching as we did it. we ended up with not just 3-4 different edits of the video, but also two entirely different mixes for the song itself. in the end alessandro made the call as to which combination should be the ‘official’ cut. however we also agreed that one of the other cuts made a good accompanying piece in terms of the different interpretations of the narrative. edit-wise it doesn’t vary hugely, but the colour grade, sound design and song mix set it apart in ways that are worth experiencing — the song mix in particular couples well with the new sound design and puts a different emphasis on the percussive elements of the outro.
giles was interviewed for huffington post a couple of weeks ago. the piece, which sits?in their small business section,?is important to us as it expresses concisely how far we’ve come as a company and where we stand ideologically to this day. it’s not often?you get?an exact thing you can point at whenever people ask you where you’re at, but now we have one. a huge thanks?to brian kil for granting?us this opportunity to be this outspoken, and on such a high platform.
65daysofstatic, no strangers to touring japan, asked us to put together a small promo clip for their forthcoming japanese tour. using footage we shot the last time they toured out there, this piece gives you a little taste of what it’s like to be right there with them on the road to such places.
in the last days of 2013 whilst on a longish trip back to england, i sat down with my brother to watch a film called call girl. we didn’t know anything about it – in fact i’d picked it up because i liked the typography used for the film’s logo. it was close to midnight, we filled our whiskey glasses and slung the disc into the playstation. i said one word during the entire viewing. in fact i said that one word twice. the word was ‘fuck.’
call girl came out in 2012. it’s basically unheard of here in the US, and even harder to get a physical copy of. heck it was tough enough to find a pressing of the soundtrack that anyone would ship to england, let alone new york. whether this is to do with the controversy that surrounds the film, or simply because for some reason it failed to pickup a good distribution deal, is unclear.
call girl documents a political catastrophe in the 1970s that is still such a sore matter for those involved in sweden, that the film had to be heavily edited after it’s festival screenings in order for it to make the public domain. without going into the story, i’ll add that it’s one of the most beautifully written, shot, edited, scored, acted and packaged films i’ve seen in a long time. after watching it i immediately picked up a copy for a friend in england, and have since screened my copy for as many friends as i can in new york.
soon after returning from england i began to steal an hour here or there amongst my regular projects, to piece together notes, take screen snapshots and cut together various layouts. a day or so ago a much larger film related project landed – one that would truly require every second i had left in each day – and i had to save the files, export them and put this particular aside to rest.
there’s no real need to go into why the posters turned out the way they did, but they certainly follow my long-running ethos that the artwork supporting a film or record should in every capacity echo the tone, message and overall aesthetic value of that work. i hope you enjoy each of the 10 editions i’ve put together in different ways, and ultimately take the time to see the film (and buy the soundtrack) as soon as you can.
my gratitude to daniel carlsten who’s typographic work on the film drew me to it. my congratulations to mikael marcimain for such masterful directing, to hoyte van hoytema (let the right one in) for a level of cinematography the likes of which i wish every film could be blessed with, and lastly to mattias bärjed for an incendiary soundtrack. one i am still trying to get on vinyl.