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Three print design lessons from Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick is rightly known as one of the most masterful directors of the 20th century. His filmography needs no introduction: Spartacus, Lolita, Dr Strangelove, 2001, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut all rank among the greatest works ever committed to film. A peculiar man, Kubrick was known as an obsessive filmmaker, a hoarder and a perfectionist – but he was also an inspiration for those of us who work with print. Here’s how Kubrick’s legacy extends beyond the world of Hollywood cinema and into the arena of print design.

Fall in love with ink and paper

Stationery was one of Stanley Kubrick’s great loves. When The Guardian’s Jon Ronson visited the Kubrick estate following the director’s death, a conversation with Kubrick’s brother-in-law revealed the great man’s love of ink and paper. “His great hobby was stationery. One time a package arrived with 100 bottles of brown ink. I said to Stanley, ‘What are you going to do with all that ink?’ He said, ‘I was told they were going to discontinue the line, so I bought all the remaining bottles in existence.’” Successful print designers must have this passion for their craft. A love of the materials and processes involved help to make the finished product that much more effective.

 

Know your typefaces

Kubrick was as passionate about typefaces as he was about stationery. Fans of the director’s work may or may not know that he favoured Futura above all other typefaces – it was the chosen font for Eyes Wide Shut and 2001: A Space Odyssey, and crops up again and agin in other films, too. A conversation between Ronson and Kubrick’s assistant, Tony Frewin, gives an insight into the depths of the director’s preoccupation with typography:

 

I notice something pinned to his letterbox. “POSTMAN,” it reads. “Please put all mail in the white box under the colonnade across the courtyard to your right.”

It is not a remarkable note except for one thing. The typeface Tony used to print it is exactly the same typeface Kubrick used for the posters and title sequences of Eyes Wide Shut and 2001. “It’s Futura Extra Bold,” explains Tony. “It was Stanley’s favourite typeface. It’s sans serif. He liked Helvetica and Univers, too. Clean and elegant.”

“Is this the kind of thing you and Kubrick used to discuss?” I ask.

“God, yes,” says Tony. “Sometimes late into the night. I was always trying to persuade him to turn away from them. But he was wedded to his sans serifs.”

 

This passion for typography may seem extreme, but Kubrick’s title sequences are striking, memorable and timeless. Had he selected Times New Roman or (God forbid) Comic Sans instead of Futura, they would not have had such an impact on his audience.

 

Become a master of composition

Film and print aren’t mediums that share too many similarities, but one common thread does run strong in both: composition. Some of Kubrick’s shots have become part of our collective cultural mythology – the famous match cut between the bone club and the space station in 2001, for instance, or The Shining’s top-down opening sequence. Kubrick knew that the way an image was composed was crucial not only in terms of aesthetics, but also in the message that image would convey. Filming the Torrance’s car in a wide-angle shot from above, for example, makes them seem insignificant, vulnerable and dwarfed by the landscape of the Colorado Rockies. Could the same effect have been achieved with another shot?

Composition is equally as important in still images – if not more important. Learn from Kubrick’s obsessive attention to detail and mastery of his craft when composing your own print marketing images.

 

Few people will ever master their prospective crafts as Kubrick mastered the art of filmmaking. However, here at PMG we take inspiration wherever we can find it – and that includes in the works of this visionary director. Our design studio is home to print design experts dedicated to helping you get the most from print, so contact us today to find out more about how we can help.