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A Typographic Journey Through “Alien”

A look down the nerdy rabbit hole of the classic sci-fi film’s design.

Dave Addey, a senior writer at Apple and a massive design nerd on the side, has a new post on his blog Typeset In The Future, in which he deconstructs the type and design of the movie Alien practically scene by scene. In the past, Addey has tackled 2001: A Space Odyssey and Moon, and takes every opportunity to compare the three throughout his exploration. The post is chock full of uber-geeky easter eggs, from the Semiotic Standard For All Commercial Trans-Stellar Utility Lifter And Heavy Element Transport Spacecraft icons used aboard the Nostromo spacecraft, created by cinematic designer Ron Cobb, to the potential connection between a pack of cigarettes shown in the film and the name of the Nigerian actor who played the alien.

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20th Century Fox/via Typeset In The Future

So, what kinds of type populate the world of Alien? There’s the gorgeous slow-reveal Futura of the title sequence, a lot of “fuzzy Helvetica” and, surprisingly, City Light, which Addey points out is a rare serif font in a sci-fi film.

As Addey points out, making a film look “futuristic in the future” is a remarkable challenge–and something at which Alien doesn’t excel. The biggest giveaways are the cathode ray TV screens they used for displays. This was actually a technological step up from the animation of 2001, which came out 11 years prior, but had the unintended effect of dating the film to the pre-LED era. Or consider the use of Pump Demi on the back of a space jacket bearing the name of the ship, another hopelessly dated design move. “Pump Demi was recently voted ‘Most ’70s Font Of All Time’ by the International Font Council,” he writes. “That’s not actually true, but it might as well be. It goes to show that it’s very hard to know which aspects of a design will still look futuristic in the future.”

[h/t Boing Boing]

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About the author

I'm a writer living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Interests include social justice, cats, and the future.

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