Suzy Rice, the woman who designed Star Wars logo - An Autobiography
As one of the two Art Directors at Seiniger Advertising (so named at that time), I provided creative design services for the development and application of many feature film advertising campaigns, and among one of the first films I was assigned was "Star Wars,” which, also at that time, was still in post-production. None of the effects were available to view -- there were production stills but those didn’t include the later filmed effects seen in the published film(s) and were mere glimpses to limited still camera views from a few scenes -- so, the design work on the print advertising for this film was done based upon concepts and ideas as described to me during a few meetings with George Lucas and information conveyed through Charles/Charlie Lippincott, who was handling the publicity for the film at that time. I designed the logo for the film, “Star Wars” with a minimalist directive from George Lucas: that he wanted “something very fascist” as to the film's logo. The film later became known as “Star Wars, Episode IV, A New Hope,” but my work was for and about the main title, “Star Wars” (upon which the rest of the titling later has been constructed and which appears in the main titles of each Episode beginning with that first Episode IV release in 1977).
I'd been reading a book about German type design the night before my first meeting with George Lucas, a book that provided historical information about a few popular typefaces used today, how they developed into what we see and use in the present. And so, when George described what he wanted, I returned to the office and used what I reckoned to be the most “fascist” typeface I could think of as reference: Helvetica (Helvetika) Black. Helvetica is the contemporary family name of the typeface, and “Black” is a secondary font within that font family -- a modified, emboldened weight of the original, as is, similarly, an italicized version of Helvetica, “Helvetica Italic” and several others within the font family of Helvetica.
Helvetica is a relatively contemporary typeface, protected by Trademark owned by Linotype, that was designed in 1957 by Max Miedinger for the Haas Type Foundry in Switzerland. However, there existed an earlier typeface that was designed and put into use by Joseph Goebbels for the German Socialist Party and it is Goebbels' type design that is regarded as being the forerunner of what was later the derivative typeface (re)designed by Miedinger and named as Helvetica.
There have been a few books written about Helvetica recently from contemporary perspectives and although well written, they revise the history involved. Reading a few, I see an effort to both apologize for a past creative work effort and to deny that it occured and for contemporary, political reasons. However, in Literary Theory, there is an understanding of arts apart from troublesome political pasts, creative works as now having been "cleansed" in the conceptual and theoretical and thereby considered on their creative merits without association with offensive political characteristics. Helvetica is a work of art that has been "cleansed" in this regard and it is a disservice to try to rewrite the history of the art involved out of fear for the climate in which the art was created; and, using the art or making reference to it does not thereby imply nor make reference to the now-removed, offensive originating circumstances -- not in the case of this typeface nor in the case of other, similarly considered creative works.
The word, “Helvetica” (“Helvetika” is the German spelling) is an adaptation of the word, “Helvetia,” which is the Latin word for “Switzerland.” The official name of the typeface, as it was credited to Miedinger, is “Confoederatio Helvetica,” which in Latin means “Swiss Confederation."
But, the forerunner typeface version, Helvetika, was designed for use in culture-wide signage -- road signs, license plates, “official” statements -- to implement a standard of appearance by a fascist government for purposes of both organizing and monopolizing culture through a uniform statement (uniformity of expression and style). Repetition in usage expresses an absence of difference, a lack of variation, an insistence or demand of the similar (not inherently a negative thing). And, the later modernization and redesign of Helvetica/Helvetika into acceptable use suggested a solution to my sense of things as to how to fulfill the request by George Lucas for a “very fascist” logo for his film. There seemed a parallel sentiment there from a perspective of drama.
Which isn't to say or suggest that I was assuming similarities between past history and the politics of fascism with the project before me at that time, but that I associated the editorial and theatrical statements of fascist imposition by design with a request for a fascist dramatic statement. The history of the typeface to include the origin and later permutation brought about “balance to the force,” for lack of a better way to express things here. Good out of evil. I wanted to make the same statement, for the same reasons, and found the design history of that particular typeface, Helvetika in it’s origin into the later appearing, now acceptable Helvetica to be altogether fascinating design history.
And, so, I drew, by hand on vellum paper with a .05 lead pencil the original logo on page size 18 x 24”, the words, “Star Wars” in outlined letter characters, using the typeface, Helvetica/Helvetika Black as a reference, but hand rendered each letter character of the title to create a unique form, breaking the two words in the one title into two lines, stacked and squared. My involvement at that point with the film was for purposes of designing a print project called an Exhibitor’s Bid Brochure, a marketing item that was to be mailed to exhibitors to encourage theater commitment to the title prior to release (a speculative, necessary process), and the Brochure was designed to an 11 x 14” horizontal read format, so the front cover area of that Brochure project was instrumental in how and where I was focused when considering the logo design. The Bid Brochure format reminded me of a screen and so the logo oversized and emboldened on that cover in the dimensions and layout brought to mind a “big screen” display during that design process.
In the process of drawing the logo, I requested a few photostats of my hand-drawn logo and liked a reverse version -- white outline against black background (the original drawn in pencil outline against a white sheet of vellum) -- which emphasized even more so the forceful characteristic of the title statement (and also encouraged the severity, the force, as to impact of the logo). It was that first hand drawn vellum copy of the logo and a reverse stat of it for purposes of illustrating the cover for the Bid Brochure that I showed to George Lucas, who liked what he saw but remarked that it read like “Tar Wars” and asked me to modify the leading and concluding “S”s of the two-word, two-line title, to make them more immediately readable. So, returning to my office, I did that, modifying the two “S”s in the title -- one at the beginning, one at the end -- by foreshortening the two ligatures on those two “S”s. I showed that second, revised version to George, he liked it, and the logo went to finish without any further modifications.
In order to "go to finish," the original logo -- my hand-drawn artwork on vellum paper in pencil -- had to be inked (traced over by an inking artist onto more permanent material). That is,an inking artist is studio talent capable in the drafting process referred to as inking: copying (tracing) without any variation, an original artwork onto translucent acetate and/or vellum paper (or similar clear film substances). An inking artist is relied upon not to make any content variations or changes to an original artwork, but to literally transfer an original artwork by tracing it in ink, onto a film or more substantial paper or plastic overlay. An inking artist doesn't author an artwork but traces an original artwork as a technical step that progresses an original artwork from original drawing “to finish.” At least, that was the technical process available at that time, when computerized renditions, revisions and finishes weren't technically available: everything was done by hand, one stage, one process at a time. Walt Disney used this process in his garage when he put his first staff (and family) to work, inking his penciled drawings of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Mickey Mouse and, later, Donald Duck, but the finished work was and remained the creative, conceptual work of Walt Disney, not of the various persons who inked his drawings after they were drawn or, later, copied.
So, about the Star Wars logo: from that inked, traced copy, the finished logo (or any work completed in the same process, as with the drawings done by Disney and other artists) could be reproduced in film and then, also, reproduced in various printing processes. An inked version of an original art work creates a reproducible version and it also enables greater longevity, especially when an artwork is intended for filmed or lithographed reproduction and replication. Again, such were the technical processes available during the 1970's, although they are still used by some animators today. I heard years later that there was talk that the inking artist -- person who “inked” my original logo drawn by me on vellum paper in pencil -- that the inking artist had been suggested as the author of the logo design.
And, more confusing in the colloquial, there were other versions of logos that were created by other persons for the film but which were also not used or else used once or briefly while the film was becoming known, along with one by Dan Perri that was used on an earlier (than mine) poster version that was intended, as I understood it, for use in the film's main title treatment but replaced by my logo after the title treatment was underway. I was hired and then assigned this film project, STAR WARS, for purposes of completing print advertising materials for the film after these previous logos were done and put aside and was not aware of these earlier visuals during my work on the print materials (for which my logo work was intended and soon finished). Staff-wise, at Seiniger Advertising, the person employed as the inking artist at that time, who was assigned the task of inking the logo I'd drawn, also drew one of the earlier, unused logo versions. However, no one else, nor any previous nor even parallel rendition of the logotype for the film, was involved in the logo that I drew and that was used -- and still is in use, as a Trademark image by Lucasfilm with the exception of a redraw of the logo by Lucasfilm a long while ago -- for to represent the film. I shared a design office with another Art Director at Seiniger Advertising -- Barry Shereshevsky -- who was present as and when I drew the logo during the course of both of our work.
Materials Used For the Star Wars Logo Design
Some people find these details interesting: the materials I used to draw the “Star Wars” logo (as I have also used on many other logos and concept projects):
- - a .05 pencil (KOH-I-NOOR Rapidomatic Fine Line);
- - a SANFORD Magic Rub eraser;
- - a ruler (this one);
- - a triangle, for to set a right angle;
- - a T-Square (this one), for to set parallel horizontal lines -- in combination with the triangle, makes alignment of just about everything possible on a drawing table surface as long as you have a reliable straight edge to your table;
- - an 18 x 24” pad of vellum drawing paper; and,
- - a few enlarged photocopies of the typefaces, Helvetica/Helvetika and Helvetica Black on my drawing table for reference.
And, some hours later, during the course of one day with other film projects underway at the same time,I had the first version of the hand-drawn logo.
So, as described here, the only influences on what I drew were the book about early Twentieth Century type design that I'd read the night before the meeting with George Lucas and the brief but incredibly succinct directive and one revision request by George at that meeting. There was no plan or procedure involved in the references I used in this project -- the book with it’s information about Helvetika, when I’d read the book followed by a next day meeting with Lucas, were entirely coincidental events. Later, I received a call at work from the film's producer, Gary Kurtz, a while after George made this final acceptance of the logo I'd drawn, telling me that the logo version that they'd planned on using for the main titles of the film “(didn't) pan well,” and “(didn’t) read well” and that my logo “read better” in the animation they had planned for the film's main titles, and because of this, they'd decided to use my logo design in the film's main titles (my version had been designed for the Exhibitor’s Bid Brochure as an aspect of the print advertising for the film as earlier described here).
The bottom of the “W” of the second line of the logo, “Wars”, was flattened at that time to enable an improved read of the words during the animation of the logo on screen, and as appeared in that first release, “Star Wars, Episode IV” and has been used in the same design on the following Editions, in the main titles, in all the manufacturing, everywhere the film's title appears ever since.
Producer Gary Kurtz explained that the ending credits for the film were finished by that time of his call so that they could not include name credit for me for the design of the original logo used in the main titles, but I did receive an invite to the cast and crew screening of the film. And, further, about the possessory nature of the logo, I provided the design work and talent while employed by Seiniger Advertising, who was contracted to provide print advertising creative services for the film (along with me as the staff Art Director assigned to the film project), and so, because of that, the logo was and is the property of Lucasfilm, Ltd., protected by Trademark. About which I can only add, they have used it wisely.