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Pentagram Puts Polish On The Spirit Awards' Indie Cred

"It looks like Saul Bass and Jean-Luc Godard had a baby," says Pentagram's Emily Oberman.

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For more than 30 years, the Film Independent Spirit Awards has been held a day or two before the Oscars to recognize the independent films and filmmakers all too often overlooked by the Academy Awards.

But this year's 31st Annual Spirit Awards will look a bit different, thanks to new identity courtesy of Pentagram. Overseen by Pentagram's Emily Oberman, the aim was to help the Spirit Awards shed the "grungy" reputation independent film is often saddled with, in favor of something bright, colorful, and more dynamic.

An identity almost two years in the making, Pentagram's team (Jonathan Correira, Todd Goldstein, and Franziska Stetter, overseen by Oberman) started by working on last year's Spirit Awards, throwing out the old Film Independent logo as they went. "It just wasn't conveying who Film Independent was in a dramatic way," Oberman says. "The logo was too long, and no one knew what the grease paint was about." Instead, they replaced it with a placeholder wordmark in plain, all-caps Helvetica, used in a series of colorful, typography-based animations for the various award category intros. The placeholder approach worked to give the design team some breathing room—a kind of blank canvas from which a fully redesigned identity could take shape.

What was useful about this exercise, says Oberman, was that it allowed Pentagram to do a dry-run with a lot of the concepts it would end up using in the 2016 Spirit Awards, now with a totally overhauled identity. After serving as Film Independent's placeholder font, Helvetica's now out. Replacing it in both the Film Independent logo and the larger Spirit Awards identity is a custom typeface called Font Independent.

As used by Film Independent, the new typeface is designed to look good when typeset in untraditional ways. For example, Oberman says that originally, Film Independent wondered if its name was too long, and asked Pentagram to investigate whether it should consider a new one. "What we discovered was their name wasn't too long, their logo was," Oberman laughs. Using the Font Independent typeface, the new logo is stacked to be broken up over several lines.

Created for Pentagram by Grilli Type, Oberman describes the new typeface as looking "like Saul Bass and Jean-Luc Godard had a baby." The all-caps geometry of the letters is all West Side Story ("You can't go wrong ripping off Saul Bass," Oberman jokes, referring to Bass's iconic work on the film); the lowercase 'i', meanwhile, apes the French director's famous typographical quirk as seen in his films Les Chinoise and Pierrot Le Fou ("It represents the common man," explains Oberman.). Font Independent was also designed to be dynamic and easy to animate. "When we used it in motion graphics, we wanted it to look like blocks of ice pushed across a frozen lake," Oberman says.

For this year's Spirit Awards, Pentagram created around 30 motion graphic sequences that will be used to introduce Spirit Award categories like Best Director, Best Actor, and so on. Each sequence makes a nod to the history of film: One might be animated so it looks like Darth Vader's Tie Fighter spinning off into space in Star Wars, while another sequence might be slanted so that it evokes the Hollywood sign at night. "Without there being a distinct plot, we wanted each sequence to have a sort of animator's logic," says Oberman. Pentagram also wanted its new on-air graphics to feel a little more cinematic, so it treated each segment with a different film-based technique: For example, by exposing them to light leaks, or playing with the camera's depth-of-field.

Although bits and pieces of Pentagram's work for Film Independent have rolled out over the course of the last year, this Saturday's Spirit Awards celebration will mark the first time all the elements come together into a single identity—and Oberman and her team have literal front row seats for its unveiling. As for whether she plans on dropping by the Oscars after? Not this year, Oberman says, but never say never: "I'd kill to work on the Academy Awards." Maybe next year?

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