Monday, January 11, 2010

Avatar - Did You Notice the Papyrus Typeface?

There is a lot to look at in the hugely successful film "Avatar" by James Cameron. You might be surprised that one of the most recently controversial designs in the movie is the choice of typeface for the subtitles (when characters are speaking "Navi").

The subtitles are set in some version of a typeface called "papyrus" (right) (although even that is debated). The complaint is that, on a big budget film like "Avatar", more attention should have been paid to creating an appropriate typeface rather than using an overused typeface that appears on menus and signs all over the place. Papyrus is considered to be an over-used, and often inappropriately used, typeface that is appropriate as a display typeface (large headings) and not appropriate for text (the subtitles).

The feeling among some designers is that Cameron cared enough to create an entire language for the Navi and should have taken the same care in having an appropriate typeface designed for the subtitles rather than using an "off-the-shelf" over-used font. The choice of typefaces is as important in the design of a movie as any other aspect and shouldn't be treated like a couple trying to save money by designing their own wedding announcements.

For educational purposes, this controversy surfaces many of the attitudes that need to be addressed in design education classes. Comments that can spark some spirited discussion indicate that some people think:
People who worry about typefaces are nerds.
Type designers can be elitist snobs.
Choices of typefaces don't really influence people and aren't important.
Some typefaces, like Comic Sans and Papyrus, should be avoided by serious designers because they are too common.
People are starting to notice typefaces now and even know the names of some typefaces.

Click on the heading above to get a sense of the controversy and read the varied (and heated) discussion.

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