Fontsmith commissioned us to create four short movies as part of their campaign to launch their new typeface family, FS Silas. These were released over a period of four days to build anticipation in the lead up to the launch.
Each video was designed to feel like an intercepted message, revealing an element of the overall story. In the first movie you get ‘Fontsmith’, in the second, ‘FS Silas’. The third reveals the launch date, ‘10th June 2015’, and in the final movie you get all these messages together.
Design agency Believe In had developed a beautiful print campaign for the launch using the visual and verbal language of espionage as a metaphor for the hidden qualities of the font. They also sent us a document with enough spy lingo to write a couple of full length Bond movies! This provided us with a really inspiring starting point, setting the tone for some interesting exploration.
The hack day
FS Silas is a large font family with many weights and subtle details in both slab and sans-serif versions. Our first task was to find ways of showing all of this in four 15 second movies. We played with scale, different font weights, grids, numbers, symbols, punctuation and sections of body copy.
Steve wrote lots of code in Adobe Flash Builder to generate short sequences – everything from morse code to grids reminiscent of a train departure board in 1940s Berlin. Some were interactive – we could press keys to zoom in and move around, as if examining microfiche, revealing some of the details in the characters.
Animator Lee Ellis worked in After Effects with some of Steve’s elements, and also generated a number of other approaches – “walkie talkie garble” being one of our favourites, based on a transcript of the radio communications following the Kennedy assassination.
By the end of the day we had our “rushes” – a rich stash of typographic treats destined for Matt’s cutting table.
The challenge now was to bring all of these disparate elements into the four 15‑second movies. Matt chose to edit all of the generated elements into one single master sequence which would then be cut into four parts. He cut to a beat as we were convinced that a rhythmic soundtrack would be a fundamental part of the final output.
Because the parts were so varied in style, Matt felt that some visual device was needed to provide the glue that would bring them together into an intriguing and coherent whole. He developed a chevron motif, applying some lighting and grain effects to make it feel suitably analogue. Another element was a recurring yellow block, referencing inserts in the original print specimens.
Fontsmith founder Jason Smith had suggested the possibility of using some shortwave number stations recordings, and gave us a link to The Conet Project. This was a rich seam – everything from Tyrolean music stations to digits read out in German, morse code and various other audio treasures.
Steve brought out his vintage Roland SH-101 synthesiser and created some rhythmic grooves using nothing more than white noise. By combining these elements and augmenting with a few other elements (synths, effects and various beeps / pings of one kind or another) we were able to create a soundtrack that brought a unique personality to each of the sections, and a build of energy throughout the series.
The final cut
The movies were released daily at 5pm from 2nd – 5th June 2015, leading to the launch on 10th June. Reaction on social media was exactly what Fontsmith had hoped for – intrigue, excitement, anticipation. The final movie drew some good praise from many quarters, including Wolff Olins, who called it a “gripping teaser film”.
It was quite a challenge, but tremendously fun. Now we know what the space between a new typeface and a vintage synth looks like.