Movies to inspire designers: Dusted wisdom

Designers don’t get enough representation in movies. If this were a blog about hackers we could be here all day laughing at how ‘futuristic’ the tech in Jurassic Park was at the time, how NCIS thought that two people typing at the same keyboard somehow improved one’s hacking speed or at how the film Hackers was terrible in every facet. But designers rarely get focus on the big screen (not counting fashion designers – movies and TV need to SHUT UP about fashion designers, amirite?).

But that’s OK because movies still have loads to offer designers. Whether it’s visual inspiration, a technique adaptation, or even a colour palette, films present plenty of potential inspiration for designers. I decided to bully and harass my totally willing coworkers until they gave me their opinions on the best movies to inspire designers. Roll up folks: opinions straight from the professionals.

Fin – MICMACS

I’ll go first, then; let’s get this ball rolling. Micmacs is a somehow lesser-known Jean-Pierre Jeunet film (Amélie, Delicatessen) with perhaps the most incredible variety of set designs you can imagine. Why yes, I am choosing a foreign film because I’m that hoity-toity, nice of you to notice.

What really strikes me about Micmacs is the visual awkwardness of it all. It’s full of strange characters dressed in peculiar fashion, several claustrophobic scenes, and cinematography featuring either cluttered frames or awkward camera angles. All of this comes together to produce a charming quirkiness that is contrary to what the individual effects accomplish on their own. From this, I imagine designers can take inspiration, such as how established emotive responses to particular visual effects can make a whole new effect as part of a composition.

Paul – SEVEN

Our creative director, Paul, has been analysing and taking inspiration from alternative media for – and I’m estimating here – one million years. Naturally, asking him about films puts him right in his comfort zone, like asking Apple about tax avoidance.

“The title sequence to Seven: super cool, very dark and just as scary as the film. It has a very disturbing use of broken typography and close-up, desaturated moving shots. The movie came out around the time when this style was very popular in youth culture, music, magazine design and the like. A trendy studio at the time, Tomato, were producing a lot of work in this style. Some of the designers at Tomato were also in the band, Underworld, which featured in the movie Trainspotting.”

Nice segway there. Paul managed to slip in another must-see for designers, Trainspotting. The poster for the film broke all the movie poster traditions, most of which featured layered, slightly transparent pictures of the stars against a solid colour, or occasionally the main characters staring gormlessly at the camera.

“Both the film and the posters for Trainspotting were so on trend within the design industry but very different than anything else in the mainstream. Great use of bold and graphic typefaces and colours, with it all featured around the central characters.”

Matt – MINORITY REPORT

“Certainly not my favourite film ever,” Matt said, getting his excuses in early, “but Minority Report is up there somewhere in my sci-fi shortlist. What was interesting about this film was the influence it had on real-world user interface design. Not many people had heard of gesture interfaces before this movie and this sudden mainstreaming of the technology (albeit in a fictional setting) had a real effect on the development of actual tools as well as faux-gestural interfaces influenced by the movie.”

Also, a fun fact: much of 2000’s mobile phone design was influenced by the original Star Trek TV series. However, since this TV series was actually quite unpopular and only ran for three seasons (the third with a dramatic drop in budget), the show didn’t become mainstream until some time later, thanks to syndication. Had it not been for reruns, Star Trek would never have become a phenomenon, and the famous Star Trek communicator would never have inspired the Nokia 8110 from The Matrix. I’m sorry, what were you saying, Matt?

“Oddly, the reality of such a physical gestural interface system has pretty much been slammed (it’d be an exhausting day at work if we had to be throwing our arms around as much as Tom does in the movie), but you have to wonder if we’d have the same type of touch gestures on smartphones (swipe to open, for example) if Minority Report hadn’t happened in 2002.”

Dave – VARIOUS (he cheated)

“Annoyingly, I’m yet to see a film where the branding – like the poster, type, and imagery – matches that of the opening credits. It’s a real pet hate of mine, but while we’re on the subject, I think we need to mention Saul Bass and the opening credits of Vertigo – not because it’s particularly spectacular, but because it’s clearly been an influence on “designed” film sequences since. A modern favourite of mine is Catch Me If You Can and, let’s face it, pretty much every Bond film since Dr. No – especially with the recent Casino Royale.”

Thanks, Dave! I mean, I asked for one specific film so I could put your name in the title next to a film, but that’s cool too. Following Dave’s logic, it’s also interesting to see live action/stop-motion versions of animated opening credits, such as in the intro of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. Speaking of…

Rose – WES ANDERSON MOVIES

Do you see what you started, Dave? Do you see? People are ignoring the specific movie rule willy nilly. Rose went for the entirety of the Wes Anderson filmography but, to be fair, she makes a good point.

“In terms of visual artistry for me, no one is more design-conscious than Wes Anderson. Though his movie subject matter changes dramatically from film to film, his attention to detail remains intact. From saturated colour palettes to the use of symmetry and even hand crafted typography, he leaves no stone unturned when it comes to the final look and feel. His style is very distinguishable and his movies always stick in your mind afterwards (however bonkers).”

Anderson’s ability to insert his identity – his brand – into all his movies without jeopardising the content is exactly what designers should be aspiring to. I asked Rose for her favourite Anderson movie: “The Darjeeling Limited or anything with Bill Murray looking vacant.”

Ollie – BLADE RUNNER

“I’ve always thought Blade Runner was a visually stunning film: the future noir set design, lighting, and direction give it the look of a graphic novel. The fact Ridley Scott credits Edward Hopper’s painting, ‘Nighthawks’, as a stylistic mood source for the film is a testament to its design.”

Another fun fact: Ridley Scott didn’t even read the book Blade Runner is based on (Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – they stole the name Blade Runner from an entirely unrelated book). But what can designers learn from this movie, Ollie?

“From a graphic design point of view, I’ve always liked the typography and design used on objects throughout the film. Although these are very ‘of the time’ (early 80s), there is a deliberate consistency to them, adding to the overall feeling of the film. Finally, on an aside, Vangelis’s soundtrack is a stone cold movie classic!”

 

Got any films that were a great inspiration for design? Let us know on Twitter! I might be able to persuade the boss to let me watch them during office hours because it counts as ‘research’. Probably not.