Many stories are told through typography in sci-fi movies

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Novel by Arthur C. Clarke based on the 2001: A Space Odyssey cinema (via Zac Zellers / Flickr)

In the cinema, there is a shortcut to the future, the Eurostile Bold Extended font. It appears on the interface screens of the time traveling Delorean in Back to the future(1985), and in the Lunar Industries logo at the lone lunar station in Moon(2009). It adorns the exterior of the USS Business vessel in the Star Trek franchise and the branding of the intergalactic mega-corporation of the federal colonies in Total recall (1990). It gives both the Battlestar Galactica series title and credits District 9 (2009) an ultramodern tone.

Cover of Composition in the future by Dave Addey (courtesy Abrams)

As blogger and designer Dave Addey explains in his new book Composition in the future, now from Abrams, he first noticed the ubiquity of the font in 2013. “No matter where I looked, or what I watched, there was Eurostile Bold Extended – the most science fiction of all fonts – staring at me He writes. “It has become an obsession. Soon he found the genesis: that of Stanley Kubrick 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), in which he makes frequent appearances, from the cockpit of the Orion spacecraft to the flat screens of HAL 9000.

In 2014, Addey started a blog – also called Composition in the future – to explain how typography and design contribute to the construction of future and extraterrestrial worlds in cinema. The book, based on material developed for the site, focuses on specific films to consider broader tropes, such as those found in the 1979 Star Trek: The Movie and Moon. AThese essays are accompanied by interviews with filmmakers and designers. For example, character designer Antonio Cavedoni, discussing Eurostile creator Aldo Novarese, notes that the now-synonymous sci-fi typeface was actually a reflection of the mid-century aesthetic. “This square out-of-rectangle shape was very much in the air at the time, especially in architecture and industrial design,” explains Cavedoni. “If you look at televisions from the fifties, they literally look like squared rectangles. “

All along Composition in the future, Addey shows how filmmakers have used innovative design of the present to give credibility to visions of the future. At 2001From Space Station 5 orbiting Earth, space travelers lounge in bright red Djinn armchairs designed by Olivier Mourgue around a Tulip table designed by Eero Saarinen. Sometimes these inclusions inadvertently date movies. This is especially true where pioneering technology has not taken off, such as the 1964 Picturephone for video calls that appears in 2001. (As it turned out, a lot of people didn’t want to be seen when making calls.)

Eurostile Bold Extended on a model of the Enterprise starship for Star Trek: The Movie (Going through Luis Daniel Carbia Cabeza / Flickr)

While Addy’s attention to these design touches reveals a lot about when and where the movies were shot, where Composition in the future really excels at meticulous research into typefaces. He spent hours browsing old design books to research sources of characters (sometimes finding that they were personalized for movies). One notable surprise described in Addey’s typographic excavation is that Eurostile is not used in Ridley Scott’s work. Blade runner (1982). Instead of its wide, square letters, there are old-fashioned serifs galore, contributing to a neo-noir vibe. Goudy Old Style is used on his opening crawl; Cheltenham Bold is used for missives on the four target replicants.

Bold font on the robot holder in WALL, meanwhile, is character creator Dan Zadorozny’s Gunship whom he calls “one of the unsung heroes of modern sci-fi character creation” for his Iconic fonts website that “features over six hundred free fonts, many of which have been used by sci-fi movies, TV shows, and book designers.” (Addey also points out that the punctuation in WALLE’s name is not a hyphen or bullet, but a deliberately selected midpoint, a vertically centered point that dates back to classical languages.) Buy n Large – the mega-corporation of the movie that helped drown Earth with trash – has the same typeface and colors as the real-world Costco.

Police car Blade runner (Going through Marcin Wichary / Flickr)

These kinds of details sometimes meander along subliminal lines, allowing our mental immersion in imaginary worlds. Other times, however, the typeface can be the heart of a movie’s set. Addey calls out Ridley Scott’s 1979 opening credits Extraterrestrial “Nothing short of a typographic masterpiece,” where the film’s short title is dramatically revealed in “Helvetica Black hyperspaced,” the letters parting to give a disturbing visual clue to the horror that will follow.

The Composition in the future the essays are listed in chronological order for each film, so it is possible to watch these films with the book in hand, stopping to appreciate the similarities of the Federation logos in Star Trek: The Movie to the United Nations flag, or the curious way in which the end credits 2001 mix an “M” from Gill Sans into the Futura. As Addey writes, “While filmmakers can experiment and push the boundaries, without having to make their designs work in reality, they are nonetheless guided by one overriding principle: it’s all about the story. “

Composition in the future by Dave Addey is now available at Abrams.

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