Main Title

There’s an old saying, “It’s easy to do good work if you have a good subject.” For us, this is true with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. We’ve worked with AMPAS for several years, from the identity to this year's 84th Annual Academy Awards tickets. I spent much of the winter working on the AMPAS Annual Report. To an outsider, this might seem like a simple task; use some photos of the Academy Awards and you’re done. The Academy, however, is a remarkable organization also involved in preservation, science and technology, cultural diplomacy, and celebration of excellence. There are events, exhibitions, and awards throughout the year. The issue, then, becomes an embarrassment of riches. There is simply too much to include in one publication. Like a good film, editing is a critical part of the project.

The design of the annual report moved away from a traditional corporate publication, and maintained an editorial structure. The larger ideas, such as collective history are presented. We treated each section as its own feature with its own typographic language.

I was griping to Noreen last week, “Why do we get discounted as being ‘Hollywood’? Entertainment is one of the nation’s largest exports. It’s as much a business as publishing or finance.” But, seriously, snap out of it. I can’t complain. We have the privilege of working with a client such as AMPAS, and making a centerfold with Sophia Loren.

Driving in Circles

One of our great mentors was Saul Bass. Saul was endlessly supportive and encouraging. Saul was the first phone call we received that first day at AdamsMorioka when the phones were turned on. Losing Saul was a huge loss that we still feel. After he passed away, The Academy held a memorial service at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater. Another memorial was held in New York. The New York memorial focused on Saul’s identity and graphic work. The Los Angeles memorial was about his title sequences. Seeing these on huge screen with incredible sound was life changing. I love showing my first term students some of Saul’s title sequences. They are inspired and awed, especially by the lack of CGI. It’s amazing what can be done with a few lines and some type.

One of the often-missed sequences is for Grand Prix. There is no flying type, no intense digital effects, and no techno music. Live action, some simple type, and genius editing make a dynamic introduction. The repeating images, repeated usage of circular forms, and sound of the race let us know the subject, tone, attitude, and pace of the film we are about to see. We’ve often said that our job is not to make lots of sweet frosting, but to make a solid cake. Grand Prix is this, the core of an idea expressed elegantly and minimally.

What a difference Doyald makes

AMPAS® By-law booklet

Last Monday a student at Art Center asked me, “Sean, how do I know if this is good?” Of course, as a teacher, I responded, “If I do.” But we all know how hard it is to judge our own work. For most of us, every project could have used another five months to refine the typography or images. When we were asked to design the identity system for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences®, we were thrilled. This was one of those projects that were a perfect fit for our experience, interests, and professional sphere. My philosophy around identity is easy: keep it simple, no Scotty dogs that are also coffee mugs, and make it a strong foundation. The obvious answer for the AMPAS® logo is the statuette. I’m a simple person and I like obvious. Why do something unrelated when there are decades of equity built into the statuette’s form?

We went through the long and intensive process that every designer has been through. In the end, I was pleased with the final result: an icon for the statue and a clear wordmark. Then I gave it to the master, Doyald Young. I expected Doyald to clean up the forms and give it some refinement. But I was shocked when he sent back his version. I thought mine wasn’t half bad, but Doyald’s version sings. He took my clumsy steroid filled icon and turned it into an elegant and gracious form. The letterforms received the same finesse. To this day, Doyald will tell me with benevolence and kindness, “I just fixed some curves.” But I’m sure he ran choking to the bathroom when he first opened my logo file.  Doyald defines “gentleman” and “master.”

AMPAS® logo: Sean's clumsy version

AMPAS® logo: Doyald's beautiful version

The Academy Awards®: Doyald's elegant version

AMPAS® membership certificate design

AMPAS® stationery

Doyald's books: buy them.