Monday, January 11, 2016

The fonts of 2010

With all cinematographic fare visual impact is key. In no other genre than science fiction can this be any more true. Avec serif or sans the same, typography is more than merely shapes of letters.

Stanley Kubrick's love for sans serifs is well known and thoroughly documented. His choices for 2001: A Space Odyssey include inserting one (1) title card with serifs, in order to immediately tell the viewers the event happened a long, long time ago. But how is the case with director Hyams, then? What were the typographical design choices in 2010?

The 2010 Logo

Of all the visual elements of the movie the one with the most immediate impact is the 2010 logo. Sure, the Monolith may be the most recognizable item of the Odyssey Sequence, but the element which people first see is the logo.

A lot of the official paraphernalia, such as books and programmes all carry the same logo.

The font used for the various publications is often not one specific font, but a mish-mash of two different ones. Kabel and Busorama, to be specific. Howbeit the movie logo itself is made up of one single font: Busorama. Many third party publications have opted to use Kabel instead of Busorama for reasons unknown. If the zeroes in "2010" have been replaced with the letter "O" - as was done in the titles for 2001: A Space Odyssey - it can be very difficult to see whether the font is Kabel or Busorama.

Kabel was designed by German designer and deeply religious man Rudolf Koch, and even though the name suggests the font would have been designed for a cable car - 'Kabel' being German for 'cable' - the font is a sans serif based on both his own previous font Koch Antiqua, released in 1922, and the Erbar font also from 1922, created by none other than Jakob Erbar. However, Kabel is not a fraktur but a geometric sanserif started at the Bauhaus in 1926; the font was designed for Klingspor in 1927. Koch later reused many of the concepts of Kabel in other fonts, perhaps most notably in his Zeppelin font.

Koch was one of the leading calligraphers of his time, who worked as a designer, typographer and type designer primarily from 1914 to 1934, mostly with the Klingspor foundry. His artistic estate is now housed in the Klingspor Museum, Offenbach.

Kabel in all it's glory.

As mentioned, the font used in official publications regarding 2010 is Busorama. In fact, the main logo - the number series 2-0-1-0 - is created using plain Busorama and nothing else.

Busorama in action.

The font in question was created in 1970 by Tom Carnase, and especially the number 2 clearly shows the influence of the early 20th century German fontographers. Carnase was, and is, a graphic designer  and typographer from the United States. All of Carnase's widely known fonts are sans serif fonts, and so is the Busorama, as well. The Busorama font is mostly distributed as 'ITC Busorama', where the 'ITC' letters stand for International Typeface Corporation, nowadays known as Monotype Imaging.

Busorama and Kabel compared.

The Busorama font has many similarities with the Kabel font, and it can be difficult for the untrained eye to see any differences between the number '2' in Kabel and the number '2' in Busorama.

Poster Font

"Avant Garde a clue." - George Harrison

The text on the movie poster itself is created with the plain Avant Garde font. Apart from the "2010" logo, the entire poster is created using plain Avant Garde. The Avant Garde is another one of Tom Carnase's fonts. The font is in fact an expansion on a magazine logo created by Herb Lubalin, the co-founder of the ITC corporation. While Carnase was working for ITC he was tasked with helping Lubalin to extend the Avant Garde logo into a complete font.


At the very start of the movie we see a quick synopsis of the events - essentially the third act of the previous movie 2001: A Space Odyssey - that led up to the situation the movie starts from. The synopsis is presented as a series of stills with very compressed text information.

Synopsis still.

One would expect the font to be one of either Microgramma or Eurostile in any of either's variations, since no other font says Science Fiction quite like the two. Here our expectations are ruthlessly thwarted, and we are not even 5 minutes into the movie yet. Director Peter Hyams deviates from Accepted Wisdom™ and bravely does the unthinkable. The font used is a common variation of Grotesque.

The Grotesque font doing what it does best.

The font can at a quick glance seem like it is a version of Futura, which would have created a nice bridge between the end titles of the previous movie and the opening titles of the sequel. However the letter M gives the game away immediately, and at a closer look the J letter is not the same, either. Grotesque it is.

The Grotesque font family consists of hundreds, if not thousands of variations. The word itself is from the italian word for 'cave-belonger', grottesco, and it was first used by George Thorowgood in the mid 19th century. After that event the word slowly entered the common vocabulary. (Do not confuse the name with George Thorogood, who is bad to the bone.)


HAL all dressed up in Eurostile.
Good ol' HAL retains the font from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the usage of the font is quite consistent. It is indeed Eurostile Bold Extended all the way. Somewhat strangely, 2010: The Year We Make Contact is suspiciously devoid of both Eurostile and Microgramma, while being a Science Fiction Film. The exception might be the Cyrillic text, or "Russian Font".

The "Russian Fonts"

Video Image source used for Leonov monitors.
The Cyrillic fonts seen in the movie are two different fonts. One is seen on the various monitors that litter the Leonov, the other is seen on the walls, the equipment, the consoles, and so on.

The video monitor font is a sans serif font created by the video monitor production team. The video monitor feeds and readouts were not created on-the-fly, but were pre-rendered video feeds.

The production company Video Image produced an hour's worth of pre-rendered video, but these were created by an ordinary IBM PC 5150 from 1984. The limitations of the machine - 320 x 200 pixel resolution was only possible in black and white - meant that for rendering and creating the video loops in 4, 8, and 16 colours a Cubicomp PictureMaker frame buffer was used, creating 512 x 512 pixel images. All of these steps in creating the monitor images make the fonts themselves very low resolution.

Video image on board the Leonov in the movie.
This, then again, meant that the fonts seen on the Leonov displays can not be determined. The resolution of the video feed, not the resolution of the movie captures, sets a limit for legibility. Video Image video engineer Greg McMurry confirms that this was by design. "Peter [Hyams] wanted a low-resolution look to the graphics," he said, "which was fortunate because we wouldn't have been able to get anything else in volume in the amount of time we had."

The font can only be said to very remotely resemble Eurostile Bold, but it could in fact be almost any Grotesque variation. Especially curious is the fact that the letter E is not the same across all the video feeds. The video monitor fonts are most probably fonts set by the rendering and animation software, fonts with no actual name. However, none of the eight system fonts that were distributed with the Cubicomp - Stymie, Optima, Helv, Bauhaus, Typewr, Eras, Centur, and Times - is capable of producing the text on the Leonov monitors.

A 'cosmic rocket' on a Leonov display.
Unsurprisingly, the "Russian font" was not a pre-made font. It was in fact created by the Video Image engineers John Wash and Richard Hollander. "For the Russian graphics," said McMurry, "John and Richard had to create Russian fonts and then relabel the keys on their computers with Russian characters so they could write Russian." If it was based on any pre-existing font, is not known.

The other Cyrillic font, the one seen on the walls and the equipment on board the Leonov is based on a real font, and it is unremarkably a variation of Eurostile.

Cyrillic font as seen on the monitors of the Leonov.

The cyrillic computer font can be seen throughout the Leonov, and it is in fact the same across all screens we can see.

Mission Patches

The various patches on the environment suits of both the American and the Russian crew are somewhat mysterious. And anomalous.

Low-detailed replica of mission patch
without cosmonaut and astronaut names.

Contrary to what intuition might suggest, mission patches have a long history, with the tradition originating in the Confederate Army of the American Civil War(!) when soldiers were given military shoulder patches for differentiation purposes.

Ever since the first American space mission patches worn by the Gemini 5 crew of 1965 - the Gemini 4 'patch' was simply an American flag, the first of it's kind - the patches are without exception designed by the astronauts themselves. After the Apollo 1 tragedy all mission patches have been silk-screened on non-flammable Beta-silica fiber, so called "beta cloth". However the patches in both 2001 and 2010 are embroidered. The fonts are also somewhat mysterious, and the ones in 2010 do not seem to be the same as the ones in 2001.

Since the fonts are similar to any recognizable font, it can be assumed the font in question is merely a generic Helvetica font with Cyrillic characters used by the embroidery machine.

HAL Message Screen

The message screen
We will wrap this up with the "message screen" transmitted by HAL as its final farewell. The screen was again made by Video Image, and it - as all the other screens, too - suffers from the low resolution problem. The font on this final screen however is different from all the other screens produced by Video Image, and as such it warrants a closer look.

The font is obviously a sans serif, and it might be a variation of Helvetica Thin. Most probably, however, the font is merely the Helv system font of the Cubicomp PictureMaker system.

Please, please visit Dave Addey's typographical wonderland also known as TypesetInTheFuture, by clicking here.

Images copyright ©1984 MGM, ©1984 Video Image.

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