Tag Archives: Design

Essential 80s Cartoon Logos and Title Screens

Not only am I a professed lover of the 80s, and in particular 80s era cartoons and animation, but I’m also pretty damn interested in branding and design (I mean, I did kinda name my site after that.)  So when these paths cross I can get pretty nerdy.  I mean heck, I wrote an entire piece centered specifically on the logo design of the movie The Monster Squad a few years ago.  Recently I found myself with a lot of time on my hands while also being stuck in a situation where I was away from home caring for one of my elderly parents.  I was in the hospital with my father, waiting with him while he was having chemo treatments and he was lost in a movie on one of the complementary iPads the treatment center provided.  I really needed something that could distract me from reality, and the warm embrace of nostalgia is usually the thing that does the trick for me.

So I pulled up my Plex app on my phone so that I could scroll through my collection of cartoons from the 80s and I landed on an episode of Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors.  As the episode was starting, playing through the opening credits, I paused when the title screen came up to marvel at the design of the font and how much fun the logo was in general.  The mix of the fantasy banner lettering in “Jayce” and the totally 80s brushed metal of the “Wheeled Warriors”.  Two genres coming together perfectly in this one logo and cartoon.

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I got this inspiration all of a sudden.  What would it be like to compare and contrast all of the 80s era cartoon title screens and logos? Because we live in a world where we basically have Star Trek level technology in the palm of our hands, I had the ability to take screen shots of at least 90% of the cartoons that were released during that decade right from my phone. So I did just that, for the next three hours I systematically went through my library of cartoons and captured as many as I could.

So let’s have some fun and break these up by theme.  For instance, here are all of the video and arcade game based series. There were a couple more shows in this genre in the 80s like Pitfall and Frogger, but these are the series I have digitally…

Most of these tend to be character-centric logos, but I find it interesting that one of the best series has the most boring logo (Pole Position.)

Next up let’s take a look at some of the super hero, comic book cartoons…

A couple of these surprised me, in particular Plastic Man and the Hulk.  Plastic man was a little frustrating because it really doesn’t have a title/logo screen (there is just a comic cover that comes flying at the screen.) Then the Incredible Hulk had two separate screens.  Also, that X-Men screen is from Pryde of the X-Men, so before anyone starts screaming about it being a 90s cartoon

So let’s switch gears a bit and take a look at some foreign cartoons.  I was exposed to all of these on  Nickelodeon as a kid (either as a part of Pinwheel or just part of their programming.) For those not familiar, Chapi Chapo was a stop motion cartoon from France that aired in short five minute segments during Pinwheel back in the day. I have some others (Bunny in a Suitcase and Hatty Town), but they really don’t have title screens. Also, Mysterious Cities of Gold and The Little Prince were French/Canadian co-productions, so foreign-ish.

Let’s move on now to some of the heavy hitters of the 80s, some of the action cartoons that aired in weekday afternoon syndication…

I find it kind of interesting that the majority of these logos are pretty similar.  These are heavy on the metallic fonts, and are blocky (some of them like the Go-Bots and She-Ra are literally 3D) and sans serif for the most part.  I also find it interesting that a few of them are also “mirrored” and are reflecting a barren landscape (ThunderCats, Transformers, and Go Bots.)  Also glad to see that every show that featured some sort of faction logos, the designs are incorporated into the show logo (Ghostbusters, ThunderCats, Transformers, Silverhawks, the Filmation Ghostbusters, heck even the Galaxy Rangers and COPS.)

Next up, let’s take a gander at some of the series that were based on either movies or live action TV shows…

To be frank, the first this that this batch makes me think of is just how many movies and TV shows in the 80s WEREN’T adapted into animated series.  I’m thinking stuff like The Gremlins, Goonies, Knight Rider, The A-Team (and not just Mr. T with a bunch of gymnast kids), Airwolf, Webster or Small Wonder.  All of those seem ripe for animated counterparts.  Or hell, a Michael Jackson animated series (and yes, again, I know that there was a Jackson 5 show, but I’m thinking like an adult MJ who would solve crimes while moonwalking and stuff.)  Also, I know that the Gary Coleman might seem to be in left field in this category, but it was actually based on the movie The Kid With the Broken Halo.  Lastly, I’m throwing in both of the Rambo logos because even though the blue one with the eagle crest is the main title screen, I love the starker one with the flames inside the letters.  It better embodies the tone of the character for sure…

How about all those series that featured lovable little critters?

There is so much cuteness in that block that I don’t even know where to start!  All I can think of for certain is that there is an overwhelming number of title screens that feature the characters, enough that it makes the screens with just the logos look weird in comparison.

Next, let’s look at some of the series that were based on toy lines…

For the rest of these I think I’m just going to call them the leftovers…

It’s pretty damn overwhelming when you step back and take a look at all of these title screens.  And again, this isn’t even all of the series out in the 80s.  There are some shows that I don’t have on DVD or digital (like the Mork & Mindy, Laverne & Shirley, Gilligan’s Planet and some of the seasons of Scooby Doo from the 80s), and a couple that I haven’t been able to convert and didn’t have access to grabbing the screens (like Ulysses 31, the Ruby Spears Superman, My Little Pony and Galtar and the Golden Lance.)

I’m sure there are more shows I’m forgetting, let me know what I missed in the comments section below!

Alternative Movie Posters bringing the Art back to Design

I’ll be the first person to admit that I have my gaze set firmly in the past when thinking about pop culture art and design.   The packaging, ad campaigns and poster designs, all of the branding that I love to examine, catalog and collect.  I know a big part of this is because of my nostalgia, looking back to my childhood to what I consider the heyday of innovative and interesting artwork and design.  And I know that this can become a trap, where I’m blinded to great modern work because it’s doing something different than what I might prefer.  In my defense though, there are what seem like unending trends in graphic design these days that have made the landscape truly mind numbing and boring. In particular I’ve noticed this with a lot of modern poster design for films and DVDs, which I’ve mentioned before bugs me to no end.  I mean seriously, is it just me or do the following posters all blend into one giant mess of bland, sad, white noise?

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I would certainly not lay this at the feet of the films themselves as there are some really great movies in this bunch (as well as some truly horrible films.)  All I know is that if I walked into a theater with a wall of these posters all lined up and had to pick a movie based only on this imagery I’d be confounded as to which one to pick.  They’re all the same.  Even when the campaigns are a little more successful in terms of good design, you quickly see so many other designers jump on the bandwagon, diluting interesting concepts and bringing it all back down into the pool of white noise, boring static…

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Obviously this isn’t always the case.  There is still some great poster design out there in the mainstream, for instance the campaign that was recently run for the 2013 release of The Wolverine

the wolverine poster good

Simple, beautiful and tied into the story of the film (what little coherent story there was in that very horrible movie), the artwork in the above poster is a breath of fresh air even though it was the cream in an ad campaign that was rife with other horrible designs like this argument for banning the “brightness/contrast” function in Photoshop…

the wolverine sucks

So, does this mean that the art of design died sometime in the late 80s?  Of course not, it’s all about trust for creative vision and the lack of which exists in the large movie studio system.  These companies have millions of dollars riding on marketing and design campaigns and when attempting to sell their product to as large an audience as possible they can so very easily lose sight of the merits true art, favoring instead to stay the course of design by committee honed by market research and focus groups.

But there is a fascinating response to this bland design in film art, and in his new book Matthew Chojnacki explores this phenomena.  Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground dives into the limited run screen prints, glycees and digital prints created for revival and festival screenings of movies that have been cropping up over the last decade.  There’s been a movement to bring the intimacy and limited edition of band gig posters to the film world where thousands of artists celebrate screenings with interesting conceptual designs.

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For those of us that don’t want to do battle with the shopping cart at Mondo (trying to land a copy of their popular, insanely fast selling screen prints), or who can’t afford to keep up with all of the amazing artwork with these alternative posters, Chojnacki’s book is a great archive highlighting the work of over a hundred different artists from all over the world.  Much like he did with his previous book, Put the Needle on the Record, he really does an amazing job curating this collection of independent artwork.  Whether it’s double page spreads highlighting a specific artist or using these opposing pages to compare and contrast between artists, focusing on a particular style, medium, or similar concepts, there was a lot of care put in the arrangement of the designs.

Goonies Gremlins

There are over 200 posters spanning the gamut of the past 80 years of film, from stark expressionistic takes on M through to unbelievably creative spatial collages for The Dark Knight Rises.  For lovers of film and design Chojnacki’s Alternative Movie Posters is a welcome raft in the sea of uninspired corporate design.  Not every piece of artwork in the book will win you over, but all of them go a long way to recapturing a time when studios actually seemed to care about producing and commissioning true works of film inspired art.

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Each work is accompanied by artist commentary including poster specific inspiration, the art, films and other artists that influence their work, as well as what they use to create and their thoughts on film.  The book also annotates each piece with biographical info and how to contact the artists to find further work or commission some of your own.  Though the book doesn’t focus on any specific genre or era of film, for children of the 80s there is a lot of work focusing on the films we grew up loving.  Tron, Robocop, The Dark Crystal, Gremlins, Goonies, Labyrinth, The Burbs, The Lost Boys, Ghostbusters, Beetlejuice, Big and a ton more…

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I also love that Chojnacki didn’t limit himself to work being released in America, the roster of artists is truly international and an interesting mix of well known and up and coming designers.  I was just as excited to spot artwork from folks I recognize like Joe Simko, Tim Doyle and  Jason Edmiston, as I was to be introduced to folks like Gary Pullin (contributing outstanding Teen Wolf and Street Trash posters), Laurie Shipley (with a great Revenge of the Cheerleaders piece), Rocco Malatesta (with a great eye for minimalism and spacial conceptualization in his Raging Bull piece) , and Ryan Luckoo (who did a phenomenal job with the Dark Knight Rises.)

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If you have a film buff, artist, or designer on your Christmas list this year, do yourself a favor and pick up Matthew Chojnacki’s Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art From the Underground (and while you’re at it, pick up a copy of Put the Needle on the Record too.)  You won’t be sorry you did!