2021 Film Independent Spirit Awards

Brand Identity, Film & Motion Graphics

Show packaging and motion graphics for the annual ceremony honoring the best in independent film.

Following the glitz and sparkle of its 35th anniversary in 2020, the Film Independent Spirit Awards had to recalibrate in 2021 for its first-ever completely virtual show experience, necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic. For the seventh year running, Pentagram designed the show packaging and motion graphics for the ceremony, building on the branding it created for Film Independent, the non-profit organization that produces the awards. For the first time, the 2021 graphics incorporate hand-drawn lettering—including a new version of the logo—for an intimate, personal feel that responds to the current moment, when we’re all stuck behind screens, craving real human connection.

The 2021 show was emceed by the actress and comedian Melissa Villaseñor, and the moving drama “Nomadland” won top honors with four awards, including Best Film and Best Director, for Chloé Zhaou. Everything was staged remotely, and the presenters, nominees and recipients Zoomed in from their living rooms at home. 

While the ceremony was on a smaller scale than the usual big bash in a tent on Santa Monica Beach, the Spirit Awards themselves had expanded: This year was the first to include new categories for TV, reflecting the shift in the industry. Best New Scripted Series went to Michaela Cole’s “I May Destroy You,” which also won Best Ensemble Cast.

Every year, the Pentagram designers welcome the opportunity to reinvent the Film Independent identity in new and surprising ways, through type, color and movement, with past years’ approaches including type that projects, stretches, flies, swirls and shimmers. Hand-drawn typography takes the branding in a fresh direction appropriate for the context.

An underlying goal over the years has been to elevate the look and feel of the Spirit Awards to bring them in line with other awards shows—but in a way that feels true to their indie, offbeat roots. Given that everyone was already feeling digital burnout from their screen-focused pandemic lives, Film Independent wanted the graphics for the virtual ceremony to be as tactile, warm and human as possible, to foster a sense of connection and capture the feeling of celebration and camaraderie of the usual in-person party.

The team developed a handwritten typeface based on Font Independent, the customized brand font—the first time an outside typeface has been used in the graphics. The letterforms of the identity and hand-drawn logo flip back and forth and merge in quicksilver motion that jumps and flickers. (The word “TV” is momentarily seen in place of “Film.”) 

The challenge for the designers was finding the sweet spot between looking organic and handmade, but not crafty, self-consciously grungy, or graffiti-like. The typography is first seen in cropped, close-up details before coming together to form names and titles. The type, colors and other elements like scratches and squiggles are layered for transparency and depth.

The lo-fi quality extends to the wash of colorful auras and textures that move through the backgrounds. The stippled gradients evoke the grain in film stock and appear in atmospheric abstract shapes that suggest the glow of lights in the dark. Inserts of film stills and actor portraits switch between full color and duotone treatments, and the textures are occasionally broken up by clean geometric checkerboard squares that immediately add a structure to the organic words and images. The designers carefully considered the color palette, choosing unusual combinations that are warm and modern.

The show packaging and graphics were integrated into every aspect of the virtual ceremony. The team created the hero logo animation, an opening sequence, all 23 categories (including the new set of TV categories), as well as a series of ambient loops, lower thirds, transitions, framing devices and a digital program book.

Previously: 2020 Film Independent Spirit Awards, 2019 Film Independent Spirit Awards, 2018 Film Independent Spirit Awards, 2017 Film Independent Spirit Awards, 2016 Film Independent Spirit Awards, 2015 Film Independent Spirit Awards.

New York
Emily Oberman
Project team
Laura Berglund
Jase Hueser
Matt Varner
Beatriz Congar
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