The typography of Water for Elephants

A fascinating example of how graphic design plays a vital role in movie production, yet goes virtually unnoticed amidst the drama!

My wife finally dragged me kicking and screaming to sit down and watch Water for Elephants with her on DVD. A tearjerking romantic drama was not at the top of my list of fun ways to spend a Saturday night, but I must admit it wasn’t that bad.

Throughout the film I was impressed by the attention to detail in the set design. It was clear that a lot of work went into the graphic design and the vintage circus typography.

Realising that I am probably not the only one whose attention was caught, I Googled the subject to see what others have said. I instantly hit gold – a write-up from Karen TenEyck, the graphic designer responsible! I recommend reading the article as it contains a lot of fascinating behind-the-scenes insight. Download it here a a PDF:

ADG Perspective Magazine Jun/Jul 2011, pages 34 – 41 (1.6MB).

Working with production designer Jack Fisk, art director David Crank and set decorator Jim Erickson, Karen produced a mammoth collection of posters, banners, signs, branding and packaging used to give the film that convincing 1930s atmosphere.

Another challenge for period films is that fonts made for the computer do not do justice to the hand-crafted look of the time, even if they are based on old styles. They are simply too perfect. Yet with the current trend of less and less prep time, I needed to find ways to shortcut the process and get the same effects. One of the ways I have been able to do this is by creating my own fonts based on the fifty-plus period lettering and advertising books I own. I am able to give these fonts the imperfect look of hand-drawn letters done with a lettering brush. Because they are turned into fonts that I can type with, it speeds up the process considerably down the line as decisions are made closer to filming. – Karen TenEyck

Take a look at some of Karen’s work in action:

Water for Elephants graphic design by Karen TenEyck

Water for Elephants graphic design by Karen TenEyck

Water for Elephants graphic design by Karen TenEyck

Water for Elephants graphic design by Karen TenEyck

Water for Elephants graphic design by Karen TenEyck

Finally, the film also has a very nice end title screen which was not designed by Karen, but by a Los Angeles studio called River Road Creative:

Water for Elephants end title