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The Story Behind 6 Iconic Movie Logos

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Amazon

You don’t need a single word of copy to know that the Apple logo is indicative of the famous hardware company founded by Steve Jobs, or that the Golden Arches promise a very particular fast-food dining experience. Occasionally, that kind of silent recognition is present in feature films, where graphic designers have created iconic logos for movies that become synonymous with their titles. Take a look at the stories behind six of Hollywood’s most indelible movie trademarks.

1. GHOSTBUSTERS (1984)

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Appearing prominently on posters for three theatrical Ghostbusters films, the stylized, seemingly spooked ghost was actually designed before the 1984 original even had an official title. Designer Michael C. Gross had previously worked in print media before meeting director Ivan Reitman, who invited him to craft an image for his in-development paranormal comedy. The problem, Reitman explained, was that the studio hasn’t yet cleared Ghostbusters from Filmation, which had produced a 1975 kid series called The Ghost Busters—until the legal matter was resolved, the teaser poster would have to stand on its own. Gross took the description of the ghost logo from Dan Aykroyd’s script, which called for it to appear on the team’s car and uniforms, and drafted 30 or so variations before settling on the affable specter with a banned strike running through it.

Everyone loved it. Mostly. Harvey Comics, which published Casper the Friendly Ghost, believed Gross’s sprite looked too much like a supporting Casper character named Fatso and sued Columbia Pictures over it. The two parties settled. Gross was unmoved by the charge. “There are only so many ways you can draw a cartoon ghost,” he said.

2. JACKASS: THE MOVIE (2002)

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Originally seen in the 2000-2002 MTV series, the skull-and-crutches has come to represent the anarchic spirit of Johnny Knoxville and his troupe of stunt comedians. Director Jeff Tremaine had graphic designer and friend Andy Jenkins compose the logo: The two knew each other from the BMX and skateboarding scene of 1980s California.

Oddly, the logo has come to take on an entirely different meaning for the Mexican drug cartel. In 2009, three suspected assassins in Tijuana were detained after authorities noticed bullet holes along the side of their vehicle. Inside were 15 black uniforms adorned with the logo. In 2012, the San Diego Reader reported that the emblem was favored by notorious drug dealer Raydel “El Muletas” Lopez Uriarte to identity his drug shipments and employees.

3. BATMAN (1989)

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The comic book movie industry had not yet taken shape when Warner Bros. and director Tim Burton mounted their serious take on the Dark Knight: The last major live-action adaptation of the character had been the campy 1966 ABC series starring Adam West. To help distance themselves from that take, and to capitalize on the recognition Batman had with a mainstream audience, producer Jon Peters decided to enlist the film’s production designer, Anton Furst, to rethink the Bat-logo for teaser posters. Peters, Furst recalled, hated the early posters that looked like generic action movie ads and wanted Furst to “drop everything” else he was doing on the movie to revisit the logo.

Rather than use the bright yellow background of the emblem from the comics, Furst and ad agency B.D. Fox went with a stark gold with clean, sharp lines that was both familiar and different enough to make people walking by the poster do a double take. (Seen in silhouette, the Batwing vehicle in the film mimicked its shape.) The slightly abstract imagery was so successful that it was used throughout the film’s numerous merchandising lines and was reimagined in a snow drift for the 1992 sequel.

4. THE JAMES BOND SERIES (1962-PRESENT)

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Guns, gadgets, women: The 007 logo for the James Bond series makes promises to viewers with three simple numbers. Iconic now, it was originally intended to be used for nothing more than letterhead. Designer Joseph Caroff was commissioned by United Artists to create a Bond image the studio could use to help identify press releases for media members. Caroff decided to use Bond’s agent classification. In drawing it, he realized the “7” could be a piece of a gun and added an outline of a Beretta firearm that he had come across during a visit to the library. Caroff received $300 for the work.

5. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)

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There are multiple dimensions to the theatrical release poster design that helped moviegoers spot this Oscar-winning adaptation of author Thomas Harris’s novel about FBI agent Clarice Starling’s peculiar relationship with unofficial mentor—and serial killer—Hannibal Lecter. The moth depicted in the artwork is real: The death’s head, or doomsday, hawk moth is native to Europe and has what looks to be a skull on its back. But if you look extremely closely, you’ll see that the skull is actually paying homage to Salvador Dalí’s “In Voluptas Mors,” a 1951 photograph depicting seven naked women intertwined.

6. JURASSIC PARK (1993)

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The silhouette of a T. rex skeleton frozen in time while stalking its prey was courtesy of book jacket designer Chip Kidd, then an assistant for book publisher Alfred A. Knopf. Kidd's design for the original printing of Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel was later placed against a red backdrop and used in promotional materials for the 1993 film adaptation. Kidd said he went to the Museum of Natural History, found a book in the gift shop that featured a T. rex skeleton diagram, reconstituted it for accuracy, and then watched it become synonymous with both the film franchise and dinosaurs as a whole for the next quarter-century.

Kidd recalled that Universal’s marketing department called Knopf requesting permission for his image in case they “might” want to use it for the film’s advertising. Tom Martin, the film’s poster designer, used Kidd’s design, adding typeface and a small jungle landscape at the bottom to help give the dinosaur scale. For the sequel novel, The Lost World, Kidd simply turned the T. rex's face downward.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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May 23, 2017
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