New York-based visual and conceptual creative studio Trollbäck + Company recently worked with veteran producer and first-time director Gary Hustwit on Helvetica, his in-depth look at the proliferation of the ubiquitous typeface, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. With company founder Jakob Trollbäck as associate producer, the feature-length documentary also benefits from titles, animations, and motion graphics from Trollbäck + Company.
“I called Gary and offered to help the very second I heard that he was working on a film about Helvetica,” says Trollbäck, who’s company publicly confessed its devotion to the typeface with www.HelveticaLove.com, a website initially set up as a typographic tongue-in-cheek contribution to the Sex issue of Print magazine. “To me, Helvetica is The Well-tempered Clavier of typefaces. Like all typefaces it can be misused—but there is no denying the effortless beauty of it. It is a brilliant topic for a documentary.”
More than a film about typography, Helvetica looks at the evolution of graphic design and, in turn, global visual culture. An exploration of how urban spaces are organized and identified through design and communication, the film also draws on renowned designers to consider their work, the creative process, and the choices and aesthetics behind their use of type. “This was an amazing project to work on,“ says Emre Veryeri, designer at Trollbäck. “It allowed us to work with design and material by iconic designers and artists, and ultimately it’s an honor that our work is integral to the presentation.”
“We were mainly focusing on titles at first,” says Veryeri. “Eventually, the internal graphics became increasingly vital to the project. We sought, through our animations and graphics, to support the dialogue and make visual connections between the designers’ work.”
The final editing of Helvetica, a production of Swiss Dots in association with Veer, took place at Trollbäck + Company’s studio. This simplified the process and made it very collaborative as Hustwit and editor Shelby Siegel were making their final editorial choices . “It was great working with everyone at Trollbäck + Company on this project,” says Hustwit. “Motion graphics sequences are like mini-narratives that tell a story using type, and the people at T + Co are master storytellers in that sense. They do such amazing work, and it was an honor to have them involved in the film.”
Shot entirely in HD, the film combines footage from the United States, England, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, France, and Belgium. The film premiered this month at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and will continue to screen at film festivals around the world. The sold-out AIGA-sponsored New York screening on Friday, April 6 at the Tishman Auditorium of The New School was followed by a panel with the director and special guests from the film, including associate producer Jakob Trollbäck. April 6 also marked the opening of “50 years of Helvetica”, the MoMa exhibition dedicated entirely to Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffman’s design classic.
“This film will be big for the design community,” says Veryeri. “It’s both thoughtful and thought-provoking and will therefore appeal to the general public as much as to typography and design geeks like us.”