The poker face relies on inspirations, including that yellow font

Rian Johnson’s Peacock series is rife with allusions and allusions, including the instantly evocative yellow title font.

Rian Johnson’s mystery-of-the-week series ‘Poker Face’ has been a hit with audiences and critics alike, but the Peacock show’s stylish returning headliner has his own devoted fan base.

“People were saying, ‘I was happy when this yellow type and a copyright block came out,'” said Marke Johnson, founder and creative director of The Made Shop, a Denver-based design studio. “It’s funny that whether you know the type or not, it’s an alchemy of details. That yellow tint, that kind of shadow, that kind of optical effect, everything comes together, and it really paid off.”

Inspired by the TV mystery series “Columbo” and “Murder, She Wrote,” “Poker Face” follows human lie detector Charlie (Natasha Lyonne) as he travels the country, always stumbling upon murder. “Poker Face” isn’t Johnson’s first collaboration with the filmmaker, who also happens to be his cousin. The pair began discussing the project while working on The Glass Onion.

“Rian texted me and said, ‘You’re doing this first,'” Johnson recalled. “I hoped and waited. He always comes with a specific vision, but not necessarily all the details, so it’s a nice collaboration to get into the monkey typographic details that are my world.”

He added that the writer-director doesn’t know the names of the fonts, but he “instantly knows what each font evokes.” This was key for a limited series inspired by the detective series of the 70s and 80s. “Rian knew it was going to be a yellow sans serif with a black shadow, but the rest was up to me,” Marke explained, adding that “ultimately it was a tougher nut to crack than more creative, elaborate or designed titles. ” from the Knives Out movies.

SPIDER FACE -- “The barn" Episode 103 -- Pictured: (lr) -- (Photo: Peacock)

“Poker Face” credits


Calling the typefaces of the era “kind of grotesque and quite utilitarian,” the designer admitted that the chosen typeface “left me nowhere to hide,” because their simplicity made every decision more important.

“It wasn’t meant to be ultra-nostalgic or an homage to a specific show,” he said, adding that it “should have set an expectation, but it also had to be of the moment.” While they didn’t create a custom typeface, they created a mood board of inspirations including shows like “The Rockford Files,” “Dallas,” “M*A*S*H,” “Magnum, PI” and others.

“If you squint at them on the mood board, there’s continuity, but as you start to break down the details, there are these little differences,” Johnson explained. “Our approach was not to try to recreate a thing, but to take apart why they got there on the board. Instead of recreating what they did, it was about figuring out why they did what they did and then trying to achieve that with modern ingredients.”

Since the sequences of the original shows always started with a picture, they never knew what would be behind or under the caption. “It has a modern approach, the shadow cast, which is very malevolent,” described the creative director. “Instead of a drop shadow, they baked in this thick, inky black extrusion that was almost structural, so it’s like this three-dimensional object. You can put any image behind it.” This meant that Johnson “could put almost any image behind it and it would pop.”

The next significant consideration was the color of the caption, which was almost universally white or yellow depending on the type of performance. Rian wanted yellow from the start. Even though white is “more legible”, this was the odd man out. “Two times out of 10, you’d see it.”

After deciding on a color, the Johnsons had to find the right shade. After considering 20 shades, five were selected and presented to Rian for the final selection.

“He knew right away and said, ‘That’s it.’ I remember the hexadecimal color code, Johnson mused. “This is FFC640. When picked, Process Yellow is pure yellow; this is unmixed ink. It’s a shade lower, a little less punchy, and almost like something was physically printed.”

This textured look was what both Rian and Marke wanted to capture, so even though the titles were created digitally, they referenced the technique used to produce optical titles.

“The optical titles were painted on acetate and photographed with a camera,” explained the creative director. “They tolerated camera aberrations, so the focus wasn’t perfect, there was grain and slight distortion.” To get it right, the team worked with cinematographer Steve Yedlin to replicate the effect, right down to the text, which is “a little off-kilter with the image and the halation and all these super idiots. It made it feel right for the picture.”

One element of the titles was not included in Rian’s original request, but Marke was happy to have the copyright block on the title card.

“While we were taking it, I still felt ungrounded and it took me a minute to figure out why. Most of the shows of the era had the copyright block on top, and that drastically went out of style,” recalled the designer. “I pretty much just added it myself, with random Roman numerals, and accidentally showed it to Rian in the early versions.” However, in the final version, Marke shipped it without and Rian noticed and asked where they were.

What followed was “a back and forth between lawyers and legal representatives and even Natasha Lyonne getting involved and going to bat for it,” he said. “Everyone was fighting for this copyright block. It seemed like such a small thing, but in my mind, that’s what makes it.”

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