Editing silent films and typography

Open, general discussion of silent films, personalities and history.
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drednm

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Editing silent films and typography

PostSun Sep 17, 2017 2:14 pm

In filling in missing material, even a whole reel, I try to make it visually interesting while telling the story and sticking to the theme of the film. I'm not sure I've gotten any better at this, but I've gotten more adventurous.

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Last edited by drednm on Tue Sep 19, 2017 9:46 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Editing silent films

PostSun Sep 17, 2017 3:25 pm

HI Ed,

I like what you did with April Folly. Do you think it is more realistic to try and use any and all stills from a film (if available in public domain) with the method that you use OR does it matter?

I am working with UCLA film archives on The Microsope Mystery 1916 which is missing reel 4 out 5 and has a portion of reel 1 in a possibly deteriorating 1,000 foot reel that they have in their archive. Microscope Mystery has no stills other than the reels that survive so as you know it is important to convey plot and have a good epilogue to make it interesting for the audience with footage on hand.
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Re: Editing silent films

PostSun Sep 17, 2017 6:34 pm

I made my own version of that title, using a more contemporary font.

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Re: Editing silent films

PostSun Sep 17, 2017 6:50 pm

Very good Ed. I have had a go at doing this sort of thing too. Mainly though with some of my own pictures rather than mess around with the commercial product. I advanced it a little further by doing "art" titles - you know - the ones with the drawings on them. I faded them in and out and then faded the writing in and out on top of them. It's all relatively easy to do if you have a reasonable video editor and a graphics programme like Photoshop.

I am advancing myself even further. I have recently downloaded a programme called "Blender" and I shall be able to make animated logos akin to the current "20th Century Fox" one. Mind you, I am just at the bub's grade stage - so it may take about another 50 years for me to get the hang of it - but at least I'll have a go.... :D
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Re: Editing silent films

PostSun Sep 17, 2017 7:04 pm

radiotelefonia wrote:I made my own version of that title, using a more contemporary font.

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I tried to use a font that was close to the original, which I couldn't match....
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Re: Editing silent films

PostSun Sep 17, 2017 7:11 pm

Hamilton's Grandson wrote:HI Ed,

I like what you did with April Folly. Do you think it is more realistic to try and use any and all stills from a film (if available in public domain) with the method that you use OR does it matter?

I am working with UCLA film archives on The Microsope Mystery 1916 which is missing reel 4 out 5 and has a portion of reel 1 in a possibly deteriorating 1,000 foot reel that they have in their archive. Microscope Mystery has no stills other than the reels that survive so as you know it is important to convey plot and have a good epilogue to make it interesting for the audience with footage on hand.


I think you need to be creative. Sometimes you can use a screen cap or even a bit of film sequence. Other times there's nothing to do but use outside material. To me, I think there need to be graphics as opposed to just a series of cards telling the story. I try to mix it up.
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Re: Editing silent films

PostSun Sep 17, 2017 7:28 pm

A few weeks ago, I prepared for a request of a friend opening and end titles for DINTY. I made the titles in Spanish, though, but trying to follow what the originals actually looked since I hate most of the recreations I have seen lately, including many on TCM.

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Re: Editing silent films

PostSun Sep 17, 2017 7:34 pm

I agree. I try and make any titles I do, resemble as far as possible what the originals may have looked like. Of course one can't always get the correct font - but one should strive for something similar. I also don't make them in stark black and white - but sample the "colours" from original titles. It's a lot of fun when one is doing just a small number, but I think it would be an onerous task to do titles for an entire picture.
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Re: Editing silent films

PostSun Sep 17, 2017 7:46 pm

Donald Binks wrote:I agree. I try and make any titles I do, resemble as far as possible what the originals may have looked like. Of course one can't always get the correct font - but one should strive for something similar. I also don't make them in stark black and white - but sample the "colours" from original titles. It's a lot of fun when one is doing just a small number, but I think it would be an onerous task to do titles for an entire picture.


Re-constructing one reel isn't that bad. I've done full sets of new intertitles for translations of three silent features, and yes it's a long haul. And that's just doing the new cards and not even considering re-editing them back in the film.

It seems that during the silent era, fonts were created just for a film, so it's often really hard to find anything close to what was used.
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Re: Editing silent films

PostSun Sep 17, 2017 8:18 pm

When I have doubts about fonts (and I have thousands of them) I ask for suggestions to a friend who happens to be a printer. He has been very useful in order for me to reconstruct titles, recording labels, TV commercials and promos and also published ads.
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Re: Editing silent films

PostMon Sep 18, 2017 12:00 pm

I dunno . . . this is a silent movie, you need more melodrama. Something like:
As the curtain of night descended,
Pauline knew what she had to do . . .
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Re: Editing silent films

PostMon Sep 18, 2017 7:33 pm

My go-to font, especially for mid-to-late 1920s features, is Silentina.

There are two variants with different capitals.

And it's all of $8, $16 if you want both variations.

For earlier films, Cheltenham is a font that stands up to rough treatment (like reversal out of an image, as in your sample), though the common ITC redraw takes some liberties with the historic feel of the original (larger x-height, for instance). But it will do fine for your average restoration.

You want to avoid fonts that have particularly thin parts of letters (like Times or Baskerville).

I find that many of the "errors" in reconstructed titles are more in sizing and margins than in fonts.
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Re: Editing silent films

PostMon Sep 18, 2017 7:40 pm

Rodney wrote:My go-to font, especially for mid-to-late 1920s features, is Silentina.

There are two variants with different capitals.

And it's all of $8, $16 if you want both variations.

For earlier films, Cheltenham is a font that stands up to rough treatment (like reversal out of an image, as in your sample), though the common ITC redraw takes some liberties with the historic feel of the original (larger x-height, for instance). But it will do fine for your average restoration.

You want to avoid fonts that have particularly thin parts of letters (like Times or Baskerville).

I find that many of the "errors" in reconstructed titles are more in sizing and margins than in fonts.


I've been playing around with "Photoplay" which is on the free list.
Another thing that is hard to do, is to get the spacing right. (Where all the lines are of the same length with the letter spacing altered to fit in). One can use the "centering" knob, but that doesn't always do the trick and one has to do a bit of manual maneuvering to try and get it right at times.
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Re: Editing silent films

PostMon Sep 18, 2017 7:48 pm

I really don't like Silentina, which can actually be located for free. In actual movies it looks fine, but in recreations it looks artificial.
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Re: Editing silent films

PostMon Sep 18, 2017 7:58 pm

I like the Deco style fonts but also use Papyrus and Maiandra. I used to use one with Willow in the name but forgot what its called and can't find it. It always reminded me of Griffith films.
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Re: Editing silent films

PostMon Sep 18, 2017 8:02 pm

A pet peeve of mine in writing for intertitles are the forced justified lines that require hyphenating words just to fit the line.

She was full of re-
morse at his death
when the full grav-
ity of it dawned on her.

... that sort of thing.
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Re: Editing silent films

PostMon Sep 18, 2017 8:15 pm

drednm wrote:A pet peeve of mine in writing for intertitles are the forced justified lines that require hyphenating words just to fit the line.

She was full of re-
morse at his death
when the full grav-
ity of it dawned on her.

... that sort of thing.


Quite! This is what I was going on about. The "automatic justification" does this hyphenating which is why one has to mess about and manually try to do something that gets the words in without causing all this nonsense. It can all be quite a headache at times and one feels like chucking the computer out the window. (Patience is not one of my virtues).
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Re: Editing silent films

PostMon Sep 18, 2017 9:14 pm

Here are two recreations using the two versions of Silentina, following CoffeDan's version of the text.

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Re: Editing silent films

PostTue Sep 19, 2017 5:07 am

Donald Binks wrote:
drednm wrote:A pet peeve of mine in writing for intertitles are the forced justified lines that require hyphenating words just to fit the line.

She was full of re-
morse at his death
when the full grav-
ity of it dawned on her.

... that sort of thing.


Quite! This is what I was going on about. The "automatic justification" does this hyphenating which is why one has to mess about and manually try to do something that gets the words in without causing all this nonsense. It can all be quite a headache at times and one feels like chucking the computer out the window. (Patience is not one of my virtues).


Unjustified is quite acceptable and it avoids all that hyphenation. When the viewer has about 10 seconds to read an intertitle, hyphens and odd spacing can make it difficult ... an least for me. Yet I've seen so many of these where the hyphenation is completely unnecessary. The font may be a matter of taste but the format should not impede a quick reading.
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Re: Editing silent films

PostTue Sep 19, 2017 6:31 am

drednm wrote:
She was full of re-
morse at his death
when the full grav-
ity of it dawned on her.


Unjustified is quite acceptable and it avoids all that hyphenation. When the viewer has about 10 seconds to read an intertitle, hyphens and odd spacing can make it difficult ... an least for me. Yet I've seen so many of these where the hyphenation is completely unnecessary. The font may be a matter of taste but the format should not impede a quick reading.


Your illustration above indeed shows the silliness of what can occur with auto justification and I agree that a title should be as easy as possible to read - which is why my flabber is gasted when I see the flowery fonts that were used in the past. Possibly fonts such as Ariel didn't exist back then? I do think it is nice though to try and get the even lines of a square - even if it means putting some wide spaces between some of the letters in order to do it - but not ridiculously wide.

I suppose too, we are lucky we can do titling so relatively easily today on a computer. Back then it was a team of sign-writers and/or calligraphers.
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Re: Editing silent films

PostTue Sep 19, 2017 6:44 am

Donald Binks wrote:
drednm wrote:
She was full of re-
morse at his death
when the full grav-
ity of it dawned on her.


Unjustified is quite acceptable and it avoids all that hyphenation. When the viewer has about 10 seconds to read an intertitle, hyphens and odd spacing can make it difficult ... an least for me. Yet I've seen so many of these where the hyphenation is completely unnecessary. The font may be a matter of taste but the format should not impede a quick reading.


Your illustration above indeed shows the silliness of what can occur with auto justification and I agree that a title should be as easy as possible to read - which is why my flabber is gasted when I see the flowery fonts that were used in the past. Possibly fonts such as Ariel didn't exist back then? I do think it is nice though to try and get the even lines of a square - even if it means putting some wide spaces between some of the letters in order to do it - but not ridiculously wide.

I suppose too, we are lucky we can do titling so relatively easily today on a computer. Back then it was a team of sign-writers and/or calligraphers.


When I worked in a print shop 150 years ago, the established fonts were rather limited. As you say, and Italic form was specifically designed, not just tilted. I have no problem with "arty" titles, as long as they can be read rather than deciphered.
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Re: Editing silent films

PostTue Sep 19, 2017 6:49 am

drednm wrote:
When I worked in a print shop 150 years ago, the established fonts were rather limited. As you say, and Italic form was specifically designed, not just tilted. I have no problem with "arty" titles, as long as they can be read rather than deciphered.


I have noticed that titling on some German films (the ones that don't go in for Gothicshrift), the titling is very moderne and easy to read.
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Re: Editing silent films

PostTue Sep 19, 2017 7:01 am

Donald Binks wrote:
drednm wrote:
When I worked in a print shop 150 years ago, the established fonts were rather limited. As you say, and Italic form was specifically designed, not just tilted. I have no problem with "arty" titles, as long as they can be read rather than deciphered.


I have noticed that titling on some German films (the ones that don't go in for Gothicshrift), the titling is very moderne and easy to read.


Several of the old seraph fonts did not have Italics because the tilting muddled the look of the font. Of course these old fonts were designed for hand typesetting (or linotype machines) based on slugs of lead.
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Re: Editing silent films

PostTue Sep 19, 2017 8:23 am

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Re: Editing silent films

PostTue Sep 19, 2017 9:32 am

Hmm... did they centre text back then? From memory, I can only recall title cards to be aligned left. Oh wait, if I google it then it looks like there are some.


Perhaps this time do not use only google translate if it's a foreign language.
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Re: Editing silent films

PostTue Sep 19, 2017 12:02 pm

drednm wrote:A pet peeve of mine in writing for intertitles are the forced justified lines that require hyphenating words just to fit the line.

She was full of re-
morse at his death
when the full grav-
ity of it dawned on her.

... that sort of thing.


Just make sure you always hyphenate "to-day."
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Re: Editing silent films

PostWed Sep 20, 2017 8:14 am

Donald Binks wrote:
Your illustration above indeed shows the silliness of what can occur with auto justification and I agree that a title should be as easy as possible to read - which is why my flabber is gasted when I see the flowery fonts that were used in the past. Possibly fonts such as Ariel didn't exist back then? I do think it is nice though to try and get the even lines of a square - even if it means putting some wide spaces between some of the letters in order to do it - but not ridiculously wide.

I suppose too, we are lucky we can do titling so relatively easily today on a computer. Back then it was a team of sign-writers and/or calligraphers.


Ariel was commissioned by Microsoft in the 1990s to avoid paying licenses to Linotype for Helvetica. Nothing like it was in common use in the silent era, which is not to say I haven't seen it in amateur silent film translations. It screams "late 20th century cheap design."

If you really want a sans serif font (these were more common in German films than in America, likely as a counter-reaction to the Fraktur fonts used in films like Faust) you'll want an early design like Franklin Gothic.

Hyphenation is extremely common in silent film title cards, and of course it was not "auto hyphenation" but completely intentional. It should be used to make the overall block of text look elegant.

Most of the examples above betray that they are not authentic by going too close to the edge of the frame, and using fonts that are too light in weight. If you are interested in recreating the feel of an original intertitle, it helps to study examples of the originals (which are easy enough to find) and compare them to your work.
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Re: Editing silent films and typography

PostWed Sep 20, 2017 11:50 am

Parsons is a good font used for many silents in the late teens and 20s. For a good clean-looking sans-serif, Futura was introduced in 1927 but seems to have been used mostly for English translations of foreign silents in the 1930s (especially by MOMA) and later, as well as a generic replacement when original title cards were missing. As noted above, thin fonts should be avoided. Letters should be thick enough to read easily and quickly but not so thick/bold that parts of letters start blending together.

Too many silent film recreations and/or restorations do not leave enough margin at the sides and at either the top or bottom or both. (That goes for amateur poster and flyer design as well.)
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Re: Editing silent films and typography

PostWed Sep 20, 2017 1:12 pm

One thing I feel it is a good rule is to try follow the fonts used in the original advertisement elements for opening titles or intertitles when prints are not in English, if they are available. You can try to follow the style of the non English elements as well.

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Re: Editing silent films and typography

PostThu Sep 21, 2017 10:27 am

When work was being done on Douglas Fairbanks' The Good Bad Man by Film Preservation Society, they had a font created which is available. It's not free, but very nice. It's called Good Bad Man, http://chank.com/font-GoodBadMan

Here is the MyFonts link https://www.myfonts.com/fonts/chank/good-bad-man/
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