August 2, 2017 | Awesome
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REACTOR Reactions: Design Matters – Even at the Movies

Theres something magical about seeing movies in the summertime. Maybe it’s because when temperatures reach 100 outside, sitting in an air conditioned theater sounds like heaven on earth. Whatever it may be that draws us to the theater in the summer, there's no denying the summer blockbuster as one of our greatest cultural accomplishments. We oftentimes forgive movies for their plot holes, bad acting, and Michael Bay affiliations for the sake of them looking cool. We love to go and see superheroes come to life, cars turn into alien robots, schools where they teach you magic or a bunch of talking toys get into trouble. We see these things because of one huge aspect: good design. It doesn’t matter if it’s the soundtrack, costumes, posters or cinematography, design is such an important aspect of the cinematic experience.

We love movies at REACTOR, and we also love things that look cool. We picked out some of our favorite summer blockbusters and talked about different aspects of the design of those films and what continues to draw us in.

Movie: Jurassic Park
Released: 1993   
Review by: Julie Walter 

I’ll watch anything with Chris Pratt. As a huge Parks & Recreation fan, I was pumped about Jurassic World and the opportunity to see Andy Dwyer in action as the Velociraptor Whisperer. Just as Pratt had to evolve from affable couch potato Andy to one of cinema’s hot new action stars, the Jurassic Park franchise “brand” had to evolve as well. (See what I did there? Clever, right? Anyway…)

The brand has its roots—like the movie itself—in Michael Crichton’s novel, Jurassic Park. In a quirky TED Talk which you can watch as soon as you’re done reading this, renowned graphic designer Chip Kidd talks about first impressions and his experience in designing the novel’s cover artwork. He shares his initial research process and reveals the dinosaur skeleton was heavily inspired (read: traced and tweaked) from a diagram in a book he purchased at the Museum of Natural History. He then “threw some typography on it” and there you have it!

Kidd’s dinosaur artwork was swiftly adapted (with necessary approvals) for the movie by the film’s concept artist, Sandy Collora. The famous mark has established itself as an important part of the successful franchise’s identity—serving as a recognizable logo and type treatment for sequels, video games, theme park rides and more. Despite years of brand refreshes that brought dimension and texture to the mark, I believe the original logo is the most iconic. Even today it has a timelessness to it thanks to its popularity and the nostalgia it evokes. 25 years later, the Jurassic Park brand is still alive and well. 

Movie: Guardians of the Galaxy
Released: 2014
Review by: Tyler Price

The movie soundtrack has experienced something of a resurgence lately. It seems every time I log into Twitter I see news of some film or TV show soundtrack getting a limited edition vinyl release with special artwork (shout out to Mondo) that will make you shell out $40 to own. Stranger Things, Master of None, and just about every Wes Anderson movie have put out really intriguing compilations with cool swag to go along with it. However, in my humble opinion, one reigns supreme.

When Guardians of the Galaxy came out in 2014 it was a surprise success. Not many saw the film about a relatively obscure Marvel series being as good as it was, even with a superstar cast. Then it opened and people loved it. Part of the draw of it was how much fun the audience had with the movie, due in large part to the mood set by the unique soundtrack. The soundtrack featured pop and rock songs of the 70s that wound up on a mixtape belonging to a young Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) as he was sucked into outer space. The result was captivating. The entire mood of the film was considerably more irreverent and humorous, than other movies in the MCU and the quirky soundtrack elevated that vibe. The soundtrack design here wasn’t just a fun addition to the movie, but a significant part of the film. One could make the case that the role the music played to the characters in the film made the soundtrack a de-facto character of the film itself.

The film came out in July and by the end of August the soundtrack topped the Billboard Top 200 chart, the first soundtrack comprised entirely of previously released music to do so. What followed was several limited edition releases of vinyl and cassette collectors items and a RIAA Platinum certification. The success of the films soundtrack paved the way for other films to re-release their own soundtracks as collectors items and gave Disney another merchandising avenue to profit from for the widely popular Marvel movies. 


Movie: Spider-Man Homecoming
Released: 2017
Review by: Tyler Price

I’m not going to pretend like I grew up reading comics all the time. Any 90s kid can attest to the fact that the TV took up most of the entertainment capital. Don’t get me wrong, I was a huge fan of cartoons featuring comic book characters like the X-Men, Batman, and of course Spider-Man. So as I’ve become an adult and comic book movies have become the cultural phenomenon they have I’ve dived in head first. I’m a kid with just enough expendable income to feed my ridiculous hobbies. Comics just so happens to be one of them. It goes without saying then that I am the undisputed authority on the design of comics and how they translate to the big screen.

Audiences can safely bet that Spider-Man Homecoming is sure to be one of the biggest movies of Summer 2017. One of the strongest aspects of the film is how they translate the design and pace of reading a comic book into a movie experience. A comic reader loves the quick transitions of the book, and often feels like the action is happening in front of their eyes.  They’re aided by vibrant colors and images drawn in perspective to give the reader a sense of place in each frame. This film performs this part of the comic book experience masterfully. In many of the action sequences in the film shots of Spider-Man moving around are pieced together with shots of his environment and those around him. This achieves a feeling of the panel organization of a comic book as well. Take a look at the panel here from a Spider-Man comic compared to the still from the film. They similarly utilize perspective to make the audience feel the pace of flying with Spider-Man.

Movie: Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Released: 1997
Review by: Megan McClure

You know the look: the blue leisure suit, Seinfeld-esque puffy shirt, thick black glasses and unsavory toothy grin. Most likely, this person is accompanied by someone in a drab gray Dr. Evil frock or even a metallic, plastic getup fit for a Fembot. What’s not to love about Mike Myers as Austin Powers in this unique and edgy trilogy – and the infamous costumes that have come from it? I mean, honestly. You have Myers playing multiple roles, hundreds of quotable moments, incredible cameos and witty references. But arguably the most shagadelic thing about the original Austin Powers (and the two sequels) is the accurate and sometimes over-the-top homage to 60s British fashion. The movie, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer, was inspired by a bit Mike Myers did on SNL remembering his father and a little Peter Sellers/Michael Caine aesthetic sprinkled in. And it definitely shows.

What’s amazing about the movie (and its sequels) is how they combine iconic 90s fashion of what’s supposed to be ‘modern’ times with threads of the disco yesteryear. As Austin Powers continues to understand this new world he’s in, we see the groovy clothing continue to follow suit (pun obviously intended) that feels both vintage and fresh. Everyone from Austin to Vanessa to the more novelty characters like Dr. Evil and Number Two have their own unique styles that carry on throughout the movies and have remained legendary ever since.

Whether it’s the quirky British slang you’re after or the amazing wardrobe choices, it’s definitely time to revisit the world of Austin Powers. And don’t be surprised if you’re saying ‘Yeah, baby, yeah!’ in Austin’s voice for weeks to come. 

Movie: The Lion King
Released: 1994
Review by: Lauren Muth

Good ol’ Disney. It’s funny to think some of my favorite classics were released before I was even born, making them appeal to me that much more. I decided to take a look at The Lion King, as I find myself humming to the music almost weekly, if not daily. Not only is The Lion King one of the most profitable Disney films, but one of the most successful films ever made. 

The movie takes on the style of beautiful and mystical open landscapes and centers around the use of personable characters, catchy tunes and soft melodies, great doses of humor and, of course, universal themes to build on. The movie fills the screen with tremendous amounts of color and contrast in that of varied orange or green shades as the scenes shift in the storyline. This art direction very closely matches the emotion that each of the characters portray on the screen, as well as the setting in which it takes place. In addition, the producers created universal harmony through its soundtrack via choir vocals and the voice of Elton John, which ultimately brings the audience deeper into the story.

Given that over one million drawings were created for the animated film, it’s no surprise that careful consideration and staging was used in the creation of its parallel Broadway production, as well. The musical gained as proud of an acclaim as the original film, but nonetheless carried a strong African theme, which served as an unspoken, but growing character, to the costume design as much as was imagined in the Disney classic itself. 

Movie: Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban
Released: 2004
Review by: Travis Stewart

Let’s talk about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The movie, that is. Not only is it a great adaptation of the third novel in the series, but in my view completely shifted the direction of the Harry Potter movie series to something beautiful, imaginative and altogether it’s own. Sure, the first two movies introduce us to Hogwarts, the characters, and took us on some fun adventures. But overall, much like the first two books, they feel like they exist in a bubble. They’re bright and saturated, lighthearted (you could say even say “cute”) and the peril doesn’t really feel that perilous. It’s not until the third movie that things start to feel real, and we realize this magical world is much bigger than our heroic trio of kids. Of course, this is also true for the third book and partly because JK Rowling introduces us to a lot more of the wizarding world (like the government and magical prison).

But I think what really sets the third movie apart is that it incorporates so much “style” both in the art direction and the film-making. The art direction comes through in a ton of ways from letting the actors dress themselves rather than all wear monotonous school robes, to the use of several scenes to give us an actual layout of Hogwarts rather than the ambiguous castle sets of the last two films, to the overall grimier, lived in look of the scenes, sets and details. It all gives us a sense of place in the movie. The film-making adds to the style and also adds to the story, because it tells it in a way only film can. The director, Alfonso Cuaron, uses several visual themes much like an author would use themes of prose and language. Most notably are his use of the camera moving through glass (and the impossible mirror shot in the boggart scene) as well as isolating Harry in the frame to symbolize his growing isolation. Doing so connects moments and builds themes in ways a book can’t. It allows the movie to build a world we believe the characters inhabit and uses the film medium to enhance the story and not just tell it like it is.

And I couldn’t finish this without mentioning on of my favorite things this film introduces: the beautifully designed Marauder’s Map. It’s intricately impossible folding and footprint and handwritten artwork is one of the best examples of a truly magical design.