Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hollywood Movie Studios Strive For Most Inventive Logos

The logo for Skydance Entertainment. CreditSkydance Productions, LLC

Eat Your Heart Out, MGM Kitty
Movie Studios Strive for Ever More Inventive Logos

LOS ANGELES — In the beginning, the logos were little more than pencil sketches, bits of Hollywood heraldry that identify film companies.

A forebear of the MGM lion, sprawled in an old newspaper ad now deep in the archives of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, looks like a scruffy house cat. Modest letterheads from the old Fox Film Corporation have a couple of bushy palms stamped on top.

When Famous Players and the Jesse Lasky Feature Play Company merged with a Utah-based distributor in 1916, they adopted a not-so-imposing mountain from somewhere near Ogden, sometimes shown with an inviting lake and trees. It was the symbol of what became Paramount Pictures.

But the movie industry grew, and so did its self-image. By 1927, Cecil B. DeMille Pictures was represented by a helmeted warrior on a furiously stamping horse. With his pointed lance and flaming red banner, he frightens still, if only in the dusty clip file.

On screen, the major studios now open almost every film with a proud, graphic statement of identity. At 20th Century Fox, the motif involves searchlights and a bold fanfare. Universal circles the planet. Disney, in a logo that was clocked by Variety at a full 30 seconds, among the longest, pans a Magic Kingdom, with its fairy tale castle, misty hills, meandering river, fireworks, shooting star and puffing locomotive.

Not to be outdone, Hollywood’s more powerful production companies and financiers have increasingly followed suit with elaborate cinematic logos of their own.

For an independent film with multiple production companies, the identifiers may come in a parade, three, four, five at a time. With studio movies, by contrast, only the very biggest players are typically allowed a logo (and not always, since a filmmaker’s plans for a picture’s opening moments may actually trump branding and vanity).

Herewith, the story behind, and in, six logos seen on screens lately.


Jerry Bruckheimer, who has producer’s credits on about four dozen movies, said his company’s “lightning strikes” logo first appeared on a Disney action film, “Con Air,” in June 1997. But it had a predecessor: During Mr. Bruckheimer’s long partnership with Don Simpson, who died in 1996, the team used a logo that featured dual lightning strikes converging on a point, much as the two producers did.

The new logo opens on a lonely road (a favorite image among those who make movies). The sky is troubled. Lightning hits a barren tree, which suddenly sprouts foliage.

The bolt, Mr. Bruckheimer said, stands for the power of an idea: an apt image, as he is known for concept-driven films like “Top Gun.”

As for the tree, it is modeled on a real oak. “I have a property in Kentucky with three 300-year-old trees,” Mr. Bruckheimer explained. He photographed one of them and turned the work over to DreamQuest Images, which was then creating visual effects for “Con Air.”

The logo appears this month in the thriller “Deliver Us From Evil,” released this month by Sony’s Screen Gems unit.


This one is inspired by Google. Honest.

“They adapt their logo for Easter, Father’s Day, whatever, and we thought it would be cool if we did that,” said Evan Goldberg, who founded Point Grey with his creative partner, Seth Rogen.

But, Mr. Goldberg added, “instead of being sweet and kind, we do crazy, weird stuff.”

If things hold to plan, the flexible logo will always begin inside a school desk, with notebooks, pencils and other implements of creative destruction. As the desk closes, a little heart can be seen in the corner, with the carved initials “SR + EG.” (It all goes back to Point Grey Secondary School in Vancouver, B.C., where Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Rogen started working together.)

Then comes the weird stuff. For “This Is the End,” a creative director, Anthony Liu, and a team from Laundry Design spent four weeks on a mini-animation that finds a van careening through the smoking ruins of the Apocalypse.

For “The Interview,” set for release by Sony Pictures in October, the retailored logo will spill into an extended sequence that has something to do with Communist propaganda, Mr. Goldberg said.

“It costs us out of pocket every time,” he added of the flexible approach. “But we think it’s worth it.”


On close inspection, those mysterious bits of typography, rotating atop towers that revolve around a blazing sun, turn out to be an orrery: a mechanical model of the solar system, transformed into an advertisement for Skydance Entertainment.

“The types of stories we like telling take you into the unknown,” explained David Ellison, the proprietor of Skydance, whose credits include “World War Z” and “Star Trek Into Darkness.”

The spinning letters in the logo eventually align against the backdrop of what might be an infinity of stars. That final shot, Mr. Ellison said, was inspired by transmissions from the Hubble Space Telescope. In those, what appear to be stars turn out to be whole galaxies — a metaphor for Mr. Ellison’s open-ended ap-proach to the movies.

The orrery concept, he said, was chosen from several designs proposed by the Picture Mill company. (The logo’s next appearance will be in “Terminator: Genesis,” set for release by Paramount next July.)

As for the Skydance name, it was an obvious choice, given Mr. Ellison’s history as a competitive aerobatic pilot, from the age of 13. “It’s often referred to as ‘skydancing,’ ” he said.


“X-Men: Days of Future Past,” released by Fox in May, brought the return of a logo that links classic Greek literature with the struggles of those who make film-finance deals at TSG Entertainment.

In a nine-second vignette, a seated lady looks on as a gilded archer bends his bow, then shoots an arrow through keyholes in a dozen aligned ax heads. The archer is Odysseus. The lady is Penelope. The story is told, at considerably more length, in Homer’s “Odyssey,” when Penelope challenges her suitors to string Odysseus’ bow and shoot an arrow through 12 axes, and Odysseus, her husband, finally back from the wars, performs the feat. (Odysseus used the axes to vanquish his competitors; whether the meta-phor extends quite that far for the financiers is not known.)

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“It was a joint effort,” Robert Seelig, a partner in TSG Entertainment, said of the inspiration behind the graphic. After “completing a deal in a market that was very difficult, we thought, ‘That should be in the logo.'”

Fox, where TSG has a standing arrangement to finance films, pointed the company toward a designer, Richie Adams, who has often worked with the studio. Mr. Adams and others came up with the imposing sound and look, Mr. Seelig said.

“We’re financial guys, not creative guys,” he added. “But from our standpoint, we like it.”


Who are those kids writing “Good Universe” in the night sky with sparklers at the start of “Neighbors”?

Not surprisingly, they are the sons and daughters (ages 6 through 11 when depicted), of the company’s founders, Joe Drake and Nathan Kahane.

Less expected are the roots of the Good Universe name. Mr. Drake said a screenwriter once told him of a line in a poem that goes, “There’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go.” That would be from “pity this busy monster, manunkind” by E..E. Cummings, though Mr. Drake was a little unsure of the exact source when he described his logo’s origin last month.

Still, he was certain of the intended sentiment. “There’s buoyancy,” he said. “This is a good place, some place you want to be.”

Mr. Drake and Mr. Kahane’s previous company, Mandate Pictures, drew a deeply split response to an idiosyncratic logo that involved a series of figures rushing forward and ended with a girl slowly banging a drum.

The idea, which not everyone got, Mr. Drake said, was to counsel independence: March to your own drummer. “It was one of the weirdest logos ever,” he said.


In 1996, Sheila C. Johnson, an entrepreneur bought an estate in Virginia horse country and learned that it had once been called Salamander Farm. Yet the name had little to do with amphibians: “Salamander” was a code designation for Bruce Sundlun, a prior owner who crashed in Nazi-occupied Belgium during World War II and stayed in Europe to fight with the resistance.

A persistent type, Ms. Johnson tracked down Mr. Sundlun and got his permission not only to restore the name but also to use it on a series of businesses, including her Salamander Hotels & Resorts.

“It’s the whole premise I live by,” Ms. Johnson said, repeating what Mr. Sundlun had told her about the salamander’s powers: “It’s the only animal that can walk through fire and come out alive.”

The salamander on Ms. Johnson’s film logo does a quick flaming turn, circling back on its own tail. That display of resilience, she said, seemed particularly well matched for a film on which it appeared last year, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” about a black White House butler’s persistence through the 20th century.

No, Ms. Johnson added, she has not seen salamanders on her Virginia farm. “But there are lots of them at my resort in Florida,” she said. “They’re all over the place.” — Michael Cieply | The New York Times

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