Saturday, 27 August 2011

Opinions: Wes Anderson/Relationship with Futura.

As I have previously mentioned throughout this week, and study of Wes Anderson and his films, I have noted his use, and love of the Futura typeface- much like his predecessor director, Woody Allen found a voice through typography in his films. A consistent feature throughout his films, which, for a graphic designer like me, is sure to bring delight. Below are sourced examples I have found online which look into Wes Anderson's use of Futura, and it's history, in closer detail:

Futura and Wes Anderson

Every year around this time, my thoughts turn to Wes Anderson and Futura. As noted elsewhere, Mr. Anderson is consistent in his use of Futura (bold) in his films. The supporting materials for The Life Aquatic (which opens here in NYC on Dec 10) continue the Futura trend, with the font appearing in the trailers and on posters. (A little Helvetica -- or worse, Arial -- has somehow crept onto this new poster, probably slapped on there by some intern when Someone Important noticed that Bill Murray's name wasn't on there.) What I've never been able to find an answer to, Wes, is why the Futura? This Typophile thread (kind of) suggests that David Wasco, Anderson's production designer on Tenenbaums, may have had something to do with it. Or is it a shout-out to Stanley Kubrick, who was partial to Futura Extra Bold? Does anyone know?
By Jason Kottke    Nov 23, 2004 at 10:33 pm

There are 23 reader comments

Golightly    Nov 23 2004    11:18PM

almost on topic.

edemay    Nov 23 2004    11:30PM

The origin I don't know, but Bill MURRAY is in Helvetica Neue, not Arial. I So I guess it's not THAT bad.

dan    Nov 23 2004    11:58PM

I don't think it's connected to Wes Anderson, but the TV show "Lost" also uses Futura to good effect for its opening title and credits (I'm pretty sure). However, at the end of every episode they flash the title LOST on the screen, in what looks like Verdana. Damn those interns!

Brian P.    Nov 24 2004    12:00AM

Hey correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this website currently being viewed in Arial? Come on now, it's not gorgeous but it's not Chicago either.

Jessica    Nov 24 2004    12:09AM

it's because of old italian films. the credits were in futura and in different cases. so it would be like Firstname LASTNAME.
Anderson talks about it in the Rushmore commentary track.

giloco    Nov 24 2004    12:10AM

he tells you why he loves futura on the rushmore dvd commentary... I can't remember exactly, but i think it's because of some german/film noir?? films that he really loved in his youth. I think he uses it as a tribute to them.

Chris Vincent    Nov 24 2004    12:45AM

I'm not sure what Mr. Anderson's deal is, but I can relate. Futura is beautiful.

By the way, Brian P., it looks to me like this site is in Lucida Grande.

Ed Knittel    Nov 24 2004    12:51AM

Any updated links? Typophile thread is "Under Construction" and the poster has ceased to exist.

Michael    Nov 24 2004    1:47AM

Interesting to note, Stanley Kubrick's favorite typeface was Futura Extra Bold. One of the many nice facts from the great article, Citizen Kane.

Narcisse    Nov 24 2004    3:02AM

I can appreciate a sans-serif..always smooth, always dry...never lets you down...

Angus    Nov 24 2004    7:02AM

The Adobe Futura page manages to work a Mr Quick Brown Fox into Futura, so Wes may be able to do likewise with Fantastic Mr Fox?

BP    Nov 24 2004    7:45AM

Didn't Woody Allen use it?

ryan.    Nov 24 2004    9:45AM

Futura is a classic typeface, used consistently/repeatedly by designers worldwide for years. Wes Anderson also using it consistently/repeatedly in his films doesn't strike me as bizarre or even noteworthy. I like Wes Anderson plenty, but I doubt that his use of Futura signals some hidden conceptual agenda.

And throwing Helvetica in with Arial... !? That hurts.

Sam    Nov 24 2004    10:19AM

Woody Allen used Windsor. I haven't read the Typohile threads, but I'd gues that the inline type used for "The Life Aquatic" is Nobel, or Venus--the "C" isn't Futura. Sometimes a font is just a font.

Frank    Nov 24 2004    10:52AM

It's just branding. You know how Pepsi bottles look so they can tell you what's inside?

Jessica/giloco -- you're right. You can see Futura credits throughout mid-century European cinema. Anderson's strongest nod was in his short version of Bottle Rocket that played at Sundance and got him the deal to do the feature. It's very French.

klaus vonblowhole    Nov 24 2004    11:55AM

no no no... woody alen uses a serifed font. All the fonts in discussion are sans-serif. ...but you're thinking along the right lines. Every Woody Allen film has the same credits: white Windsor type on a black bg.

Roger Wong    Nov 24 2004    12:16PM

Not to get too off-topic here, but does anyone else think that in the opening "Lost" titles the word "LOST" is poorly rendered? It starts off blurry (intentional) and becomes more in focus as it gets closer to the camera. But in the last second before it cuts to black (and then commercial) you can see the individual polygons forming the curves of the O and S.

Eh, maybe I'm just picky.

But that's why I'm a graphic designer... commenting on a blog post about a typeface in a movies. :)

Jeff Harrell    Nov 24 2004    6:41PM

I'd love to hear some comments on the typography featured in the new FOX show "House." I don't have a particularly strong opinion about the show one way or the other, but I found the typography in the titles and on set to be really surprisingly distinctive.

Essive    Nov 24 2004    8:27PM

The type used in Dogma is also very interesting. It has the alchemy style which delivers a mystical feeling.

Maartn    Nov 24 2004    8:40PM

Thoroughly enjoyed that Kubrick article, Mr Kottke. Another fine link.

Matt    Nov 25 2004    1:21AM

I've been pointing out the Anderson/Kubrick typeface obsessions for some time now. Just not online.

[In other words, I have no proof.]

Matt Florence    Nov 25 2004    1:34PM

I was trained a bit in design by a graphic design friend. He turned me on to Futura Extra Bold and Palatino (or Garamond). It's an absolutely beautiful combination. I've used it consistently for years. I didn't know others had such an obsession with it, too. Thanks for lettimg me know. This durn Web thang, you just don't know what you'll find out from it, do you?

Mark    Nov 26 2004    8:59AM

It's funny - I've been around and around and AROUND with experimental fonts for various blogs and photography portals in recent years, and always seem to come slinking back to Verdana (which incidentally, Brian P, is what this blog is currently displayed in, not arial - although as with most sites utilising the former, the latter is likely to be listed in the css as a 'backup' option).

Whilst it's a tad boring continually returning to Verdana, I think it serves blogs very well, because most blogs try to be at least slightly amusing - and for my money, Verdana has a certain buffoonery to it, a kind of slightly tongue-in-cheek campness that makes a written paragraph look as if the author was grinning wryly at the time.

I once made a beautiful-looking website on a Mac, using OSX, on which the main body font was either Georgia or Geneva (I can't quite remember now) - it looked absolutely stunning at 10px on the Mac running a Safari browser. Howeverm it looked bloody rubbish in IE - all jerky and scratchy, as if it wasn't anti-aliased - and so I scrapped it and reverted to...well, you all know the rest. Bloody IE! ARGH! ;-)

Royal Tenenbaum's World of Futura

Quite a few people wrote me to ask about the type in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). The type isn’t anachronistic so much as idiosyncratic. Director Wes Anderson seems to have a thing, bordering on obsession, for Futura. The credits are set in Futura Bold—nothing strange about that. But it doesn’t stop there. The Tenenbaums seem to exist in a world dominated by Futura (mainly Futura Bold):
On buses:

At the hospital:
More buses (slanted this time):
For a cruise line (notice it’s called Royal Arctic):
At the museum (Medium weight instead of Bold):
On posters (Margot Tenenbaum seems to favor Medium):
Yet, as much as Futura is used in the movie, a few other typefaces make their appearances. Interestingly, it is usually in connection to someone or something outside the Tenenbaum family and is usually Helvetica:
On Raleigh St. Clair’s books:
On Henry Sherman’s book:
A curious (and possibly significant) exception to this pattern is on the cover of a book supposedly written in the 1970s by Royal Tenenbaum’s wife, Etheline. The typeface is Milano, a quintessentially 1970s choice:
I give The Royal Tenenbaums five out of five stars for its use of type, not because it’s perfectly chosen for the period it depicts (though, as far as that goes, it is), but because Anderson has used type in such an integral way in the film. (I also happen to like Wes Anderson films a lot.)

Wes Anderson’s Futura

Wes Anderson’s Futura
I recently saw The Darjeeling Limited, Wes Anderson’s new film. I’m a big Wes Anderson fan, from both a film and graphic design perspective. From his unique cinematic “dollhouse” style to working with the same cast and crew, he has a way of visually branding his films so the are unmistakably his. Typographically, he uses Futura (and altered versions of Futura) as his house font. Though it’s not as omnipresent in Darjeeling as it has been in many of his past films (Rushmore, The Royal Tennenbaums, The Life Acquatic), it does appear on some key elements such as the luggage insignia and many of the train amenitites. The Futura montage above is from a combination of his films.

Unlike the ubiquitous and easily adaptable Helvetica, Futura can often be challenging to use. It was one of the first sans-serif fonts developed, and it was a radical departure from typography’s past. Developed by Paul Renner in 1928, Futura was a study in geometry. The characters are based on perfectly proportioned squares, triangles and circles, and the stroke is almost perfectly even throughout. These geometric shapes, however, coupled with exaggerated ascenders and descenders often create awkward spaces and can be problematic from a readability standpoint.

As a display typeface, though, Futura evokes the modern and often goofy spirit of the ’60s. It seems the perfect companion to the endearing characters in Anderson’s films who take themselves a tad too seriously. The idiosyncrasies that the typeface makes when the nearly perfect characters combine to form words and sentences somehow matches that of the characters and experience of a Wes Anderson film. Simultaneously perfect and imperfect.

  • Category: Award Winning Art & Design


    I love when directors find a “voice” through a certain font. Woody Allen has used the same font (Windsor set in white on a black background with dixieland jazz as the music), in just about every film he’s ever made.
    By Marc on 10/15/2007 | 9:13 am
    Wes does have an instantly recognizable style, thanks in part to Futura. I love his movies too, but with his high-profile image I feel like Futura is ruined now! If I use it it feels like a rip-off.
    New term for the 21st century: font-biter.
    By Matt on 10/16/2007 | 10:12 am
    Hey Matt,
    Font-biter… I love it. I totally know what you mean, though. In fact, I have a hard time using Futura now without it feeling toungue-in-cheek.
    If it’s any consolation, Wes is a bit of a font-biter himself. Stanley Kubrick is the Futura-Film originator.
    By ellen on 10/16/2007 | 10:52 am
    Ah, yes, Futura –I used it a lot in designing work at CBS television in those goofy 60′s days. My tastes leaned toward Fut Bold & Extra Bold Cond. Which were perfect for movie ads and news programing–so it seemed then. It won a lot of type and art directors awards for us in any case.
    These days I’m more into goofy types such as the main title corny gravestones in the New DVD print of “Ed Wood ” which I watched last night.
    If you all want a pre- Halloween treat –see more of these madcape type and ghoul faces on the website— A riot, at least to these eyes.
    We have recently gotten this channel on our HDTV and all of this stations graphics are extremely witty and with it for the retro horror movies they show all “day and all nightmare”as they say.
    By Herb on 10/17/2007 | 4:57 pm
    [...] have called Futura “theirs” (including Volkswagen, Absolut Vodka… even filmmaker Wes Anderson calls Futura his), there was something particulary fitting about Ikea and [...]
    By reactions » Blog Archive » Ikea Fontroversy: Brand Identity Threatened by Seeminly Poor Decision for Change on 9/09/2009 | 8:15 pm
    Does anyone know what version of Futura Anderson uses for the main titles of his movies. it is often used on the posters like this one

    what is it Futura called when it is “hollowed-out” like that?
    By Gabriel on 7/05/2011 | 4:08 pm
    I’m not sure of the specific in-line version, but the weight used is Futura Book.
    By Marc on 7/06/2011 | 9:47 am
    * WHAT I HAVE LEARNT: From these articles, I feel that I have learnt a considerable deal more about Wes Anderson, and his usage of Futura, and, of course, the typeface itself. An interesting point, and one that I had not realised before (presumably because I was less design-savvy ~back in the day~) but I never noticed a Futura consistency within Kubrick's films...which Anderson may or may not have been conciously inspired by- definately need to give his films a second-round marathon now... Also, that Futura was commonly used in the 60's, was one of the earliest san serif typefaces created, and that it is commonly used in German/French/Noir films. As previously stated, perhaps through watching films it has simple gone unnoticed with my untrained eye...I'll definately be looking out for it now.
    To me, Wes is on par with Woody Allen with his consistency of type, if not above- making a distinctive niche for their films- giving them character and a voice, which may otherwise been lost in the background. All hail Futura (BOLD, naturally).

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