A movie’s logo is often one of the first things that fans see, whether it’s on posters or in a trailer, so it’s not uncommon for studios to spend large amounts of money creating them to build excitement. There’s a lot at stake, and there are entire agencies that specialize in logo creation, with logos passing through the hands of multiple stakeholders and going through several revisions before the public sees them.
That’s why I was so surprised when I discovered that the logo for the DC film Joker was created by one designer, Chad Danieley, with wood type letterpress. In a Reddit post, Danieley explained how going analog captured the film’s tone and feel better than a digitally created logo would have. I reached out to Danieley to learn more about the logo creation process, his influences, and personal projects.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
To kick things off, want to tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
I studied graphic design / motion graphics at ArtCenter [College of Design] in Pasadena. They had a great letterpress studio that was like my second home. In my final two terms at ArtCenter, I interned with [graphic designer] Pablo Ferro (The Thomas Crown Affair, Dr. Strangelove). I would scan his work into the computer for his archives, which would always include hours of stories about his process.
For his signature style in Dr. Strangelove, he would draw over fonts for the main title, which is a unique approach. I would try the same sample sheets, and they would look nothing like his. Same with letterpress. If another person used the same wood type, it would have a different feeling for someone else. The personality comes through in the beat-up / dented faces of the type as well as the inking style and how much packing the artist adds or takes away that makes it interesting. Ferro had a strong impact on my career and my process early on.
After graduation, I freelanced at a few motion studios for five years, then went to staff at NBC’s on-air department for eight years. For the last three years, I have returned to freelancing.
How did you join this project?
I was freelancing at Elastic on logos for the show See, and the Joker project came in, and they needed help with pitching logos for Joker. I spent two days on the computer making a bunch of logos in Illustrator, but in the end, it was the first one I did that is the “JOKER” logo as you see it today, “as is” with no changes asked, definitely a first for me.
Can you talk us through the creative process for this logo and letterpress in general?
Very little information was given for me to go off. All that was said is that it’s much darker and more visceral than the usual DC Jokers. “Think Taxi Driver.”
I have an HD full of letterpress-printed sample sheets, and within each print run, I’ll print several states. For this project, I did aggressive / transparency / scraping / noise of that one typeface, then scanned and cataloged each of them. I am not a “purist,” but I have always needed to bring my work outside of the computer by printing it out and adding some of myself into it. Physical objects, like wood type or Letraset, rub down type and help me perceive space in a different way. I don’t always need to work this way, but it does help.
It’s great to see that this was made using a letterpress. It might be all in my head, but something about it just feels textile and real as opposed to, say, a digitally created design. Was there any post-work done, or is this pretty accurate to the original?
Yes, even after the logo was selected, we tried to make a version that was done in Illustrator, but it just didn’t feel right. The wood type is structurally warped, and I think that’s what makes it what it is. Regarding post-work, not much was done to the original presented logo. WB added slight color to the logo for each poster. The original scan of the print I used was a little transparent, so I just bumped up the levels in Photoshop. But other than that, it’s very accurate to the original print.
What font did you use? I actually can’t make it out!
It’s an unnamed Gothic. I tend to gravitate toward Gothic digital fonts as well as Gothic wood type as workhorses. They don’t have a lot of style baggage attached to them, which allows me to prod and scrape at them to really turn them into what I’m looking for. When I start adding a lot of texture, I need the typeface to not have a loud voice. Gothic gives me that.
Are there any alts out there? Did it take some experimenting to land on one that felt right?
No wood type alternates, just the one. I did submit 16 logos that were done in Illustrator, though.
I really enjoy the collages you have on your Instagram. Are they primarily personal?
Thank you! Yes, the collages and letterpress are both me needing to do something for my own creative output, not just for jobs. Of course, I always bring those explorations into my day work, though.
What else are you working on right now? Anything coming up that you’re excited about?
I’m starting to digitize some of my wood type to make some fonts. I’m also doing some Joker-themed letterpress prints, and at Elastic, I’m still working on Joker graphics for WB!