“A matter of time and rhythm, space and composition”: Quentin Coulombier on the art of designing film titles
The Paris-based graphic and type designer shares his wisdom on the importance of type in films, arguing that it should be considered, along with sound and image, as the third crucial element of cinema.
- Elfie Thomas
- 16 May 2022
True to his cinematic background, Quentin Coulombier likes to set the scene for a discussion about typography: “Sunday night – 21:23; you are looking for a good movie to watch, you are scrolling through streaming websites, pages full of posters. Some of them will catch your attention more than others.” In this situation, it is Quentin’s contention that the typography used on film posters is just as important, or almost as important as the imagery.
In fact Quentin would go as far as arguing that typography should be considered along with sound and image as the third crucial ingredient in the art of film-making. With his experience creating lettering for a wide range of cinematic projects (Larry Clark’s last film among them) he’s quite the expert on the matter. Practical experience aside, the type designer wrote his master's thesis on the myriad uses of type in films. He’s a font of font knowledge when it comes to cinema, so we decided to pick his brains on it.
The first thing he highlights the importance of, is the most easy-to-miss typography elements of a film – the sign on a shop front, graffiti on a wall, a train ticket or hand-written letter. “As a background entity, it can just be there, not essential to the understanding of the story,” says Quentin. Creating eye-catching type in this context is not necessarily the aim, instead it should blend into the background, adding the final veneer to the constructed fictional world within a movie. “They are necessary to the projection of the viewer into an everyday life atmosphere,” he adds. “Texts and typefaces are here to help invoke or revoke the notion of reality, to shape fiction.”
Then there’s the text that’s added to images, for example the opening sequences, “where titles, citations or summaries certainly help in laying the foundations of the storytelling”. This is Quentin’s speciality. When he designed the title for Larry Clarke’s last film A Day in a Life, he notes that while the “shapes of the letters” are the most obvious thing to consider, they were not necessarily the most important. When you design a title for a movie, it is also a matter of time and rhythm, space and composition,” he says. In this sense, it’s very different from working within the 2D bounds of a film poster, where composing an eye-catching yet static format is the main concern.
For A Day in a Life, Quentin decided to decompose the title into single words, rather than allowing the viewer to read it one go. Each word of the title (rendered in a Futura bold condensed red font) flashes separately on screen. For the close of the title sequence, Quentin superimposed the names of titles on the final word “Life”. This gesture was intended to highlight the fact that Larry Clark has dedicated his career to cinema which depicts “life”, with all its rough edges and gritty realities. The stark contrast set up between the pale blue lighting of the opening sequence with the bold red letters also reflects the director’s penchant for combining the often harsh and difficult life experiences of his characters with beautiful, thought-provoking filmography.
“People may not read between the lines but at least I know why I’m doing it,” says Quentin. “As an actor can inflect the sense of a dialogue by simulating emotions, the text to which we add formal attributes (shape, colour, composition) necessarily inflects the sense of the message itself. Characters and characters work together.”
In terms of his other film-related projects, Quentin recently worked on a poster for Municipale, a film directed by Thomas Paulot. He designed a lettering based on typical typefaces from western movies, which he’s currently developing into an entire font. He also designed three posters and the ending titles for Lettre en ton nom directed by Alexander Schild. “It was particularly interesting for me because it was not only about typography, I was also in charge of creating and directing the image of the poster thus I worked on the entire render and narration of what the movie reflects in its communication.” His most recent project has seen him channel his experience into editorial design. Along with friends Thomas Leprovost and Baptiste Leprovost, he’s currently designing a new formula for Acid Magazine, “which is, let’s say, a ‘side surf culture’ annual magazine”. Taking on the writing, content collecting, editing, and designing, the project looks like it will be the most discipline-crossing project Quentin is yet to do. We look forward to seeing the results.
GalleryCopyright © Quentin Coulombier, 2022
Copyright © Quentin Coulombier, 2022
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.