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How Woody Allen Inspired Saturday Night Live’s New Intro

Pentagram’s Emily Obermann explains why she’s uniquely qualified to design for SNL, and why the show’s intro never promises funny.

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Emily Oberman’s connection with the SNL ‘verse runs deep. Before the graphic design and branding pro joined Pentagram, she designed the logo for Saturday Night Live’s 25th and 35th anniversaries, as well the identities for Tina Fey’s 30 Rock and Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. But after Oberman went over to Pentagram, her status as Lorne Michael’s go-to design gal continued, as she was asked to rebrand The Tonight Show for the newly-annointed Jimmy Fallon.

“I’m very immersed in the lore of the show,” Oberman tells me. “I think I’ve seen every show ever; I remember tuning into the very first episode, which opened a door for comedy that has stayed open for me ever since. So this is one of the things in life that I feel like I’m uniquely qualified to do.”

For her third go-around at the Saturday Night Live logo, Oberman wanted something that was like a love letter to New York. The 40th anniversary identity is made up of two parts. First, there’s the new animated logo. Oberman hopes not only feels modern, but also evocative of New York’s flickering neon signage from the 1970s; the same New York from which Saturday Night Live originally sprung. Designed to be recognizable no matter what configuration the letters appear in (all in a straight line, jumbled up, diagonally, and so on), the new logo is set in a custom version of DRUK, a strong sans serif created and modified for Pentagram by Commercial Type.


“If you look at most of the logos Saturday Night Live has had over the last 15 years, they’re onomatopoeic. There’s no word spacing, so it looks like you’re shouting it,” says Oberman. “For the 40th Anniversary Logo, we wanted to do something different, taking our cue from the city itself.” The new logo is particularly well suited to animation, reconfiguring and rearranging itself with the spontaneity you expect from SNL, without ever losing its distinctiveness.


In addition to the new logo, Oberman and her team at Pentagram worked with Saturday Night Live to draft a new opening to the show, something that examined the city from a new angle. SNL‘s openings have always been shot on the ground, but for the 40th Anniversary intro, Oberman had this idea of coming in above the city at night in a helicopter, and looking down on the city in all its twinkling glory to give it this sort of classic feel, evocative of Woody Allen’s Manhattan.” To further accomplish this, the intro was originally meant to be shot in black-and-white, capturing a lyrical quality with occasional splashes of color. It was only after seeing the footage that director Rhys Thomas, Oberman and their teams decided that New York just looked too beautiful in full color to try to restrict the city’s natural palette.

The result is an intro that is very different in execution than previous SNL openings, but is right in line with them in tone. “The Saturday Night Live intro is solemn, and that’s very deliberate,” Oberman says. “The show is whatever the writers have made it that week. Sometimes it’s good, sometime it’s lesso so, but the intro isn’t pulling focus to itself. It’s just the overture, setting the stage for the show to follow: you’re in New York, it’s nighttime, and everything’s live. But we’re definitely not trying to tell you that the show you’re about to watch is going to be funny. It just is, and it’s going to be whatever it’s going to be.”

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You can read more about Pentagram’s work on the new Saturday Night Live identity over at Pentagram.

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