Opening credits in "Superman: The Movie"

Spire's picture

All the talk about Superman titles in the Typography in New Superman Movie thread has got my curiosity piqued: What was the typeface used for the titles in the original Superman: The Movie?

Here's a representative frame I grabbed from my DVD:

As Bobby Henderson has said in the other thread, it looks a little like Gill Sans.

The closest overall match I've been able to find is Granby (which according to this article was based in part on Gill Sans). But it's still significantly different from the original.

Here's a quick-and-dirty rendition I've thrown together using Granby EF Extra Bold:

If it looks a little odd, it's because I've fudged the spacing to match that of the original -- which doesn't really work, since the widths of many of the individual characters don't match. I've avoided the temptation to stretch or squoosh anything to make the spacing look better.

As you can see, some of the characters, such as P and R, are way off.

Can anyone find a closer match?

bowfinpw's picture

FWIW I think you have found the closest match. Gotham and Govan have rather similar letterforms, but are not as close as Granby (and too new to be used for the movie, which was made in 1978). Granby Medium has more open counters and the R leg farther from the stem, but other proportions and letters like the J and C seem less like the Extra Bold. It's probable that photolettering was used at that time, and tweaking widths might have been relatively easy, but the wide variety of Sans faces available to them may have included this exact typeface, but I was unable to locate the match in my Photolettering catalogs in a cursory scan. Perhaps more detailed hunt would locate it, but my point is that you have probably found the closest digital font match.

- Mike Yanega

bowfinpw's picture

I've done some more looking in the Photo-Lettering catalogs and found an outline typeface family called Bryant Open that has the same G, M and R shapes, and a very close S in one of the more compressed versions. The samples do not show the J, which would be the other clincher.

Since Photo-Lettering wasn't the only one making film types, this may not mean much in terms of my basic point -- that you have probably found the best available digital equivalent.

- Mike Yanega

dezcom's picture

Isn't there some distortion possible in production of wide-screen films? Are not DVDs often distorted in some way to "fit your TV screen"?

Look at the "C" in the original post first frame where the vertical segment of the curve seems thinner than what makes sense with the rest of the glyph.

ChrisL

Grot Esqué's picture

Yeah, the same with U, H, T, J, L…

But since this is a screen grab, it shouldn’t be distorted or you should be able to get right quite easily, right?

dezcom's picture

It is a screengrab of a DVD played onscreen. When they make DVDs for home consumption, they often reformat the typical Cinemascope move ratio to fit a TV proportion.

ChrisL

Spire's picture

Thanks for your responses, guys.

Chris: It's not a screen grab of a DVD played onscreen; it's a frame grab from the DVD MPEG2 video stream itself, which I have then manually cropped and stretched to the proper aspect ratio. (The DVD is encoded in anamorphic widescreen, so it is easy to figure out precisely how much to crop and stretch, by using simple arithmetic.) The resulting frame has an aspect ratio of 2.32:1, which is only around 1% off the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The tiny discrepancy can be accounted for by small roundoff errors introduced by encoding into the relatively low-resolution DVD frame. Whatever distortion is present should be visually negligible -- certainly not enough to account for the large differences seen in Granby EF Extra Bold. I suspect that the internal inconsistencies you've pointed out in C et al. were already present in the original film.

Mike: Thanks for taking the time to go through your catalogs. It's good to hear confirmation that I have likely already found the closest digital equivalent. I do have to admit that I'm curious about this Bryant Open family that you've managed to find. If it's not too much to ask, would it be possible for you to upload some scans if you have the time? I'm idly considering a personal project to render my own version of the Superman Returns main title sequence in a more faithful Superman: The Movie style. Access to clean facsimiles of the original letterforms would be a big time saver.

bowfinpw's picture

The problem is that no complete showings are presented in these catalogs. Volume 2, where I found these does include some very tiny samples in the back of the book that show other letters from each typeface, but even there the samples do not show the entire alphabet. I am not claiming that this is the exact typeface used, but it seems very close, and shows that there was a wider variety of film-typefaces than were ever converted to digital format.

As for making a scan, I'd be happy to do it, but I can't upload it to this thread, because this new 'improved' Typophile only allows that with newer operating systems than mine. I will have to set up a web page for it, and maybe someone can copy and post it.

I will give you a page location in a few minutes.

- Mike Yanega

bowfinpw's picture

You can see the scan here.

- Mike Yanega

dezcom's picture

Here is Mike's scan from above post:

ChrisL

wesmo's picture

the text in the film is semi-loosely set before it grows/animates to the foreground, but all the while beforehand another layer of the text is under the words before it extends--- I think this is what you're seeing here with any curve/glyph issues.

And Mike, I think thats an awesome idea to get a font going on this classic film!

bowfinpw's picture

"And Mike, I think thats an awesome idea to get a font going on this classic film!"

Sorry. I am not creating a font, if that's what you thought I said. These samples are from an old type catalog -- not work of mine.

Nice project for someone though.

- Mike Yanega

Bobby Henderson's picture

I think the typeface used in the 1978 film's opening titles may be a custom typeface drawn similar to that of the arcing "Superman" letters on the comic book.

wesmo's picture

Sorry Mike- I was reading Spire's message and typing with the other brain.

Spire-
the idea of the Superman font is awesome, I say go for it. I for one would be pumped to have it.

Spire's picture

This thread sort of fell of my radar, and I never thanked Mike for scanning that in. Thank you, Mike! I appreciate it very much.

Wes, the end-result of the project I was talking about was not the font itself but rather a full replacement main title sequence for Superman Returns in the style of the original Superman: The Movie.

Considering that I'd pretty much have to make the font in order to be able to do that, it would be a shame if I kept the font to myself. Unfortunately, I didn't design Bryant Open, so I think the legality of releasing a digital version of the font might be dubious. (And if I also used Granby as a basis for the missing letters... well, I didn't design that either.)

Am I correct in my thinking? Thoughts, anyone?

bowfinpw's picture

Since Bryant Open was in the Photo-Lettering collection, which is now owned by House Industries, I think you might have to let that one go, but then Bryant Open was only similar to the lettering in those movie credits. If you digitized something that was as close to the credits as possible, it would probably be your own digitization. If I understand our copyright laws in the US, only the names are copyrightable anyway, which seems dumb. I think this is the reason so many re-named versions of things are allowed to exist, but I may be wrong about that.

- Mike Yanega

paul d hunt's picture

only the names are copyrightable

the digital data is copyrightable as well.

bowfinpw's picture

Thanks for the clarification Paul. I admit I am not an expert about font copyrights.

Does that mean that a new digitization, which presumably has different curves, outline points, etc. is not an infrigement of the copyright, if the name is different?

- Mike Yanega

Spire's picture

That's my understanding -- at least within the US.

However, legality aside, is it right? I don't know. My feeling is that this is a gray area. It seems that as long as a type design is sufficiently old (e.g., Garamond), no one has a problem with it being digitized and sold for profit by a multitude of independent outfits. When a design is relatively new (e.g., Palatino), redigitizations are heavily looked down upon -- even if they share no curves or points, and have a completely different name.

Where exactly does one draw the line? I don't know.

bowfinpw's picture

Well, I share your view. I think that's the high road. Especially if a digitization exists. For something that existed only as metal or film type, it's not quite as clear to me. People do 'revivals' of old designs.

What is the dividing line, or other criteria, that makes a revival OK?

- Mike Yanega

dezcom's picture

If what you want is already available in digital form, it is easier and cheaper to buy it. But, if what you want does not exist then it seems designing it is fair game. The trouble comes if it is a derivative work of something out there. Where this line falls would best be answered by Mr. Martinez, THE lawyer for type design issues (he recently spoke at TypeCon--photo by Eben Sorkin).

Legal issues aside, ethically, I think you would have to get permission from the originator of the work you wish to emulate.

ChrisL

Kal-El's picture

So has anyone had any luck finding a matching font? or did Spire create a custom font??

Kal-El's picture

Oh forgot to mention that the closest I have found is a font called "Up Up And Away" by Comic Craft. Though it's solid and not outlined.

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