Smallman Titles

Question, what do Trinidadian, J.K. Rawlins and architect Richard Neutra have in common?

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Last September, I had the grand opportunity to design the titles for documentary filmmaker, Mariel Brown's (Savant Ltd.) short film called Smallman — about Trinidadian toymaker Kenwyn Rawlins (aka J.K. Rawlins), as told by his son, Richard Mark Rawlins. The film debuted at the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival in The Little Carib Theatre on 20th September 2013.

Another standout for me was a short directed by Mariel Brown. In just about ten minutes, I was nearly reduced to a blubbering mass of sentimentality. Based on the e-book written by Richard Rawlins, Smallman, The World My Father Made was a delightful story told (not narrated) by Richard about his father Kenwyn Rawlins. — Paolo Kernahan (Trinidad Guardian)

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When Mariel sent me* the initial rough cut of the film, I immediately jumped at the chance to design the titles. Much of the film's cinematography, by DP Sean Edghill, involved super close-up shots (shallow depth of field) of J.K. Rawlins' hand-crafted toys collected in his basement workshop; along with warm dramatic lighting throughout each scene. These beautiful types of shots, lend themselves to an added bonus — an irresistible title treatment.

The negative/empty space found in these frames, retain a quietness — ideal for the placement of simple & beautiful text. The addition of titles activates the space, stirs the pot and leads an audience from one moment to the next, one frame to the other, setting the viewer up for what's to come, with no wasted frames. Title Designer, Kyle Cooper (Seven, Spider-Man, Mission: Impossible) on the importance of film titles:

It depends on the movie. They can make no difference whatsoever or they can make the film better. Some films are good enough without them. Some films need a first scene and the best titles become the first scene of the movie.  

Neutraface Display Light specimen.

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Smallman, The World My Father Made is a sweet & short film capturing an everyday hero — with titles represented most appropriately by the typeface, Neutraface (designed by the type foundry, House Industries and inspired by famed architect, Richard Neutra):

Neutraface Display Drafting specimen.

Richard Neutra's...attention to detail even extended to the selection of signage for his buildings. It is no wonder that Neutra specified lettering that was open and unobtrusive, the same characteristics which typified his progressive architecture. House Industries brings the same linear geometry to Neutraface without sacrificing an unmistakably warm and human feel. —House Industries

Neutraface is a builder's font. Very popular in the architecture world. A typeface built on a particular personality that holds in high regard: detail, structure and warmth. Very much like our film's subject, whose world of push toys, model battleships, miniature furniture and dolls’ houses are just that: detail, structure and warmth.

The film uses Neutraface Display Drafting specifically, in both the opening and closing titles. It's in keeping with the director's look & feel of craftsmanship for the film, but also hinting at the overarching vulnerability of our main character, who must settle for a life as an 'ordinary man' and not a military officer. Life in draft form.

A special note must go out to Chantal Esdelle (Moyenne), the score composer for this short film. Who I feel really 'nailed' what this film should sound like. She composed I think one of the most fitting piano pieces for this film and for that I'm grateful. As a title designer, a lot of visual decisions fall on the sound, due to the time-based nature of film as a medium. It's what I would say pulls the entire film together and makes it feel finished. That and good editing. Thank you Mariel for this opportunity, hope it was all that you envisioned.

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Answer: detail, structure and warmth.

*The collaboration stemmed from a mutual admiration for the work of designers Charles and Ray Eames.