Spotlight on Oscar

In a new identity system by 180LA, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences puts its prime asset centre stage

It’s 34cm tall, weighs 3.8kg, and its designer art directed The Wizard Of Oz. Every spring, speeches both moving and cringe-worthy are made in its honour.

Yes, it’s the Oscar, the gold-plated crusader recognised in every country of the world. And March 2 is Oscars night, when, as well as the sincere words, corny sentiment and ill-concealed fury, there’ll be a worldwide premiere for the new Oscars logo.

It’s a fine, straightforward bit of all-caps Futura, but with something going on with the ‘A’. From a distance, it has the look of a pen nib or arrowhead. There’s a chance the cameras will be more interested in Leo or George or Jennifer than the typography, so I’ll fill you in. The ‘A’ is a solid golden triangle with a silhouetted statuette, spotlit from above.

A neat embellishment, and one that creates a substantive, ownable logo too, in contrast to the glitzy, glinting, 3D Oscars wordmarks of past years. But the golden ‘A’ is playing more than a bit part here. It’s the lead performer in the scheme to rebrand the organisation behind the awards, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS).

The Academy’s previous identifier also featured an Oscar statuette but spotlit within an oval (atop the name, in a 50s-ish stretched serif font and a weird range of sizes). The new mark, say designers 180LA, spotlights the figurine from above instead, “uniting the ‘A’ of the Academy with the iconic statuette”. It’s a clever adjustment. The spotlight triangle, or A-shape, is the cornerstone of a new branding campaign for AMPAS, in the lead-up to the opening of the new, Renzo Piano-designed Academy Museum. The intention is for it to be creatively interpreted in AMPAS communications and sub-brand identities.

With $100m in the bank towards the museum from corporate and individual donors, there’s still another $150m to raise. AMPAS needs to demonstrate an impact in areas other than the Oscars, such as education and outreach, and the rebrand has that objective in mind.

“This design gives the Academy a presence in its own logo for the first time,” says the Academy’s chief marketing officer, Christina Kounelias, “and underscores our efforts to support creative arts and sciences year-round.”

Organisations like AMPAS face a delicate balancing act when it comes to visual identity. Known by the public for something with a very clear and iconic symbology, how does it best promote its other activities? The most direct parallel is BAFTA, a charity that must show, year-to-year, that it does more than just awards, but for whom the BAFTA ‘mask’ is a must-have in all its visual communications. In the years I wrote the BAFTA annual review, the importance of emphasising education, events and outreach kept growing, in response to increased scrutiny from the Charities Commission.

Such a gift as the Oscar figure or BAFTA mask couldn’t possibly be passed up in the development of a visual identity. AMPAS seems to have got the balance right though. The famous statuette is still centre-stage but it has taken a step back, visually. As part of a device and system for fundraising and promoting the Academy’s other activities, it looks set to play a vital supporting role. 1

Michael Evamy is the author of LOGO and Logotype (Laurence King). See and @michaelevamy

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