Avatar (and Papyrus)

Posted by Alex

I saw Avatar last night (in full 3D IMAX glory) and really enjoyed it. It reminded me of how I used to feel when I would play video games as a kid — not so much because of the graphics or anything like that, more because of how in it I felt. I remember when I used to play Zelda for example, my imagination would just take over and for those couple hours I lived in that universe (I was a nerdy kid). Avatar is like this; it is very easy to forget you are watching a film and think you are actually physically along for the ride, as there are no visual limitations to give you any indication otherwise. There were moments when you could hear the whole theater let out audible gasps as something incredible came on the screen. The first time you see one of the giant mining machines is pretty amazing. Of course the plot follows an extremely predictable trajectory, but seriously who cares. When things look this cool I am willing to make concessions on freshness of plot.

I saw the film with a few friends, one of whom is an interaction designer. He was mesmerized by all the crazy user interfaces the characters were manipulating. The spherical and detachable computer screens were a favorite. Meanwhile I couldn’t get over the choice of typeface for the subtitles; Papyrus (or some variant, essentially the same thing). The rest of my friends thought I was a huge nerd when the first thing I said out of the theater was “What was with that subtitle font!?” It is crazy to think (in my opinion) that $280 million went into this movie and they chose the one font that is at the end of most typography jokes (save maybe for Comic Sans). I know it probably fit better than a super clean sans serif (and I can’t imagine there weren’t hours of discussion over this point), but seriously, Papyrus?

Further: Kottke describes another interesting issue, regarding the realism of the Na’vi’s technological development. I don’t necessarily agree with his point (I think they were as advanced as they wanted/needed to be given the physical and spiritual qualities of their world), but he makes an intriguing argument.

140 Comments Leave A Comment


James White says:

December 30, 2009 at 11:46 am

They used it for the subtitles too? I was hoping Papyrus was limited only to the title font. I wonder if anyone in the design department objected to that choice in typeface during film production.


shauna says:

December 30, 2009 at 11:46 am

Even the subtitles are in Papyrus? Ridiculous that a movie with an $800m budget would use such a tacky font. With that kind of budget I don’t understand why they just didn’t do something totally custom? Papyrus is definitely in the top 5 worst fonts of all time.


Jonathan says:

December 30, 2009 at 11:49 am

yeah. i too could not get over the Papyrus subtitles. it was painful to watch. i just kept asking myself did anyone really not tell james cameron how lame and cheap Papyrus looked.


mg33 says:

December 30, 2009 at 11:51 am

I saw it Saturday and loved it. Already want to see it again. I really didn’t mind the font at all to be honest.

One thing that stood out more than anything was the necktie worn by Giovanni Ribissi’s character. It’s the year 2154 for crying out loud, and we’re supposed to believe that people are still wearing neckties and Dockers and that fashion has not evolved at all? Hello!

I’m really curious about the DVD release in the future. Will there be a 2D version? A 3D version with glasses? Where will we buy extra glasses?


Matt says:

December 30, 2009 at 11:54 am

When I saw that Avatar used Papyrus, I rolled my eyes. Such a big budget for the film and nothing left over for the title font. It was even a big topic of discussion at the studio.

(Personally, I’d have used Hobo)


David says:

December 30, 2009 at 12:02 pm

I said the exact same thing when I saw the subtitles. I think the fact that Papyrus has been used for so many trashy massage parlors and lame newsletters is just inseparable for me.


Alexander says:

December 30, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Its like we’re the same person, I had the same thoughts exactly down to the zelda metaphor. My first thought when I saw the subtitles was “Papyrus, really!?”. Bothered me a lot. It didn’t look horrible, but it IS still [something like] papyrus and that’s unacceptable in such an awesome film.

They should allow you to change the font for the subtitles on the dvd.


Jason Lander says:

December 30, 2009 at 12:30 pm

I don’t think the credits looked bad in Papyrus. But yes, the subtitles were too much. Out of curiosity – what font(s) do people think they should have chosen for the credits/subtitles?


rent says:

December 30, 2009 at 12:40 pm

i’m pretty sure i laughed out loud in the theater when i saw the use of Papyrus for the subtitle font…what a joke. like you said alex, a $280 million movie and they use one of the most ridiculous fonts in existence.

as for the movie itself, i didn’t think it matched up to all the hype really. the cgi was definitely superbly done, but it seemed like a lot of other aspects were looked over thanks to this. for example, everything glowed or had lights on it, that seemed to a point distracting to me. yeah, glowing stuff looks cool, but it just turned into overkill. i also thought the animals, which were a huge part of the movie, could’ve been done a little bit better. truthfully, i came home and watched Planet Earth and was more blown away by real animals than i was with Avatar’s creatures. The story was also a reiteration of “The Last of the Mohicans”…but in space. To cap it off, the gundam robot had a knife…super lame.


Matt Davis says:

December 30, 2009 at 12:44 pm

I think design in the movie industry mirrors design in the music industry, dealing with big name artists and budgets only. Very few mainstream musicians will have an awesomely designed album cover. The majority have a standard enlarged self-portrait and their name. The movie industry is the same way. What, are like two or three major production companies that all movies go through? I would assume then they turn to the same designers or just go with the ‘industry standard’ and make ‘our new film look like this other one that just came out’.

You would think given the budgets of these blockbusters there would be some custom/interesting typeface decisions made. But maybe that would make a film look too indie; which is where most of the good design goes.


Rob says:

December 30, 2009 at 12:55 pm

I noticed that as well, I was kinda shocked. I can’t believe they used a system font on a 300 Million dollar film. It kinda cheapened it.


marc says:

December 30, 2009 at 1:13 pm

Good design gets out of the way and just communicates. If Cameron used just about any other typeface no one would have said a thing. You consider a movie like slumdog millionaire with their subtitles which really great and not typical type at the bottom of the screen (they were place strategically into each shot), and most people probably never said a thing about them. They didn’t take away from the film or the viewing experience and probably added to it.

It’s tough to know what Cameron was thinking.

Papyrus really should never be used, but IF you had never seen papyrus on a massage parlor or asian food stale or mortgage broker’s signage would it work for Avatar? A scifi movie with Aboriginal blue people? Maybe.


Will says:

December 30, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Hey Alex,
I was just going through some of my fonts in Suitcase Fusion, and I came across Herculanum. The version James Cameron uses looks very similar to this font, almost like a cross between Papyrus & Herculanum, only dressed down a bit from the version on my machine. Anyone agree?


kevininCusco says:

December 30, 2009 at 1:37 pm

I also became immersed in the film in the first few minutes… I was also blown away by the escapist reality that the protagonist involved himself in.

I wish more people would have gasped at the film here in El Salvador, but most of them made snide jokes and giggled at the love scene – rather annoying.

Papyrus, aw shucks, but it’s a designer thing really, and it did speak to the bow and arrow mentality, and who knows maybe the only designer they wanted to work with tried to charge them more than they/it was worth.

And, people, we have to get out of the habit of assuming and speculating why and what happened. I also second the thought that the movie industry has had, for the most part, a sub par design approach – with all the advances in After Effects and the like we still see crappy titling, etc.

Please keep an open mind and remember, you don’t know everything about everything. And of course, nobody is as talented as you are. Riiiiight.

Peace and love from south of the border.


kevininCusco says:

December 30, 2009 at 1:42 pm

I’d just like to mention one last thought, being that I’m a chef as well as designer and musician, I entered a ‘cook off’ in Buenos Aires last summer, and I failed to make the top three because one of the judges didn’t like mustard seed. Is that fair?

Is it fair that because most designers laugh at Papyrus that it’s not a functional and legitimate font? Just wondering…

Don’t hate.


Op says:

December 30, 2009 at 2:08 pm

As a designer I agree (was once forced to use Papyrus for a logo!) but ask a ‘regular’ audience goer and they like as not will think it looks like something they can relate to in terms of being ‘fitting to the culture’.

It does highlight my main issue with the movie I had, overall I loved it, but it was marred by some very overused cliche, stereotypes etc. Didn’t ruin the film but there where quite a few moments of “I wish they hadn’t put that in” or “I wish they hadn’t said that”. Be interesting to see if the inevitable Directors cut DVD takes it more in the direction of dumb down cliche or more in the direction of what I loved about the movie.


d says:

December 30, 2009 at 3:00 pm

you should not have seen the movie in IMAX because you saw a pan-and-scan version cropped to 1.78:1, whereas the regular 3D version is presented in full 2.39:1


Brett says:

December 30, 2009 at 3:32 pm

Are You Kidding?!? Papyrus is quite possibly the most GLORIOUS font type ever designed! For all of you with Jailbroken iPhones, get an app called “FontSwap” and you can magically be surrounded by Papyrus, all throughout your phone… Sorry, that’s beside the point.

But I feel “marc” brings up a valid point. If we weren’t so numb to the excessive use of Papyrus, and the absurd places the typeface lands itself, does it not “fit” with the style/design of the Na’vi & their surroundings?… It is a quite earthy font, and I would say that for most people who have no experience with various fonts, etc (hardly anybody that would be reading this) that it would be a fitting font. Especially when viewed in 3D, besides the floating particles in the forest, I thought the subtitles had some of the most drastic-dimension effect in the entire movie, and I was more laughing at how they emerged from the screen, and not so much at the font itself (This was my first 3D film, I waited to see this purely because of the NEW technology he used in the process of making the film. I was planning on waiting all the way for Tron to see 3D, but that’s too far off and another story…) The interactivity the 3D version provided practically made me forget about the font entirely. I would loosely stare at the font, then look at the shadows the font provided, and then get lost in the other various layers of depth that were going on in the rest of the shot. After leaving the film, the font was one of the last things I thought about…

Here is something else to think about, Cameron is a geeknerd to the max, I just watched True Lies last night and it’s hard to watch that movie without laughing at least once every 5 minutes. I also think it’s safe to say that Cameron looks far enough ahead at his movies to make some interesting decisions. How do we know that he didn’t deliberately choose Papyrus?!? Geeked out enough to know that somewhere deep in Cyber-Discussion that this exact topic would be brought up on a Blog somewhere… Honestly, if I was a person in his position, why not have a little fun with all of the super-nerd movie fans, and toy with their emotions a little bit? Toss a little Papyrus in there, wait for the uproar?!? Why not…


Iain says:

December 30, 2009 at 4:43 pm

exactly the same thoughts on the subtitles. i couldn’t help but think someone had been told to go away and design a type, and forgot until the last minute


Savita says:

December 30, 2009 at 5:28 pm

Just found you/yourwork/your blog through grainedit. I love how the first post I read is about Avatar’s subtitle font. Hilarious. My friend once said, “If a client asks me to use Papyrus I’ll tell them I’m busy”.


Brian says:

December 30, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Amen brother…I haven’t seen the movie, but I thought the same thing just from seeing the previews.


Ian says:

December 30, 2009 at 8:00 pm

To be honest, I don’t think the “papyrus” issue, is a big thing. They used it for a purpose. If you don’t like the font, well, that’s a different thing. Papyrus (and Comic Sans) are not bad fonts, at all. The problem is that people used them in a wrong way. Because these fonts are default… and that’s where all begins.
I personally don’t care if the movie cost $300 millions or $200. Got nothing to do with the font.

What if they used helvetica? The most overused font in the world. It would be ok?

What if you make a comic and use Comic Sans for the dialogue? It would be terrible? mmm…

The problem, is not the font. It’s how you used it. And I don’t see anything bad with Avatar.


NIA says:

December 30, 2009 at 8:09 pm

I’m glad I’m not alone in noticing Papyrus. I was livid and confused. In undergrad I was taught that Papyrus ages your work (this was in 2006). I really loved the movie but the papyrus was a MAJOR FAIL!


J. Woodward says:

December 30, 2009 at 8:32 pm

That typeface is my bane. Living in a community on the west coast full of hippy types, I see it everywhere. If I could go back in time and eliminate it from existence I would.


GrandK says:

December 31, 2009 at 1:33 am

I know there was something not great with this movie. Thank you for show me the evidence! How can I be so blind?

Papyrus! I know why my eyes bled. :)


Timmy says:

December 31, 2009 at 3:13 am

I think Brett’s got it right. Initially when I first saw the post I had that gut reaction of “Wow, is that papyrus?” Turns out it’s not – it is custom, but it is so similar that it still tickles that nerve that designers like to have.

I’m quite sure the subtitles really were papyrus, which again got me at first, but yeah, why not? To me it almost makes more sense than something custom, which would have seemed dorky no matter how you swing it. Why not use something that people, whether they know it or not, are familiar with seeing and reading? Shauna says it’s one of the 5 worst typefaces ever, but I totally disagree. Again, it’s a matter of overuse.

By the end of the movie, I was cool with it. I even now think it was actually a good move. Yeah there’s a million designers out there rolling their eyes, but those types all saw the movie and thought it was rad anyway. The experience of the billion others that saw it was enhanced by this organic, feathery lettering in the movie.

Yeah? Maybe?


Phil says:

December 31, 2009 at 7:20 am

I complained about papyrus at first to all my friends, but I’ve just accepted it as James Cameron’s choice and moved on. Between that poster found by Ralph (above) and the official one, the papyrus-like font makes more sense than a highly ordered font. Still, they could have designed a better font that at least doesn’t resemble papyrus.

What I’m confused about more is how they were able to connect to the avatars? Wi-fi, or 3G (hehe…) I would have appreciated even an attempt at a single-sentence explanation.


Tardlovski says:

December 31, 2009 at 9:30 am

lol, i haven’t seen it yet, and i didn’t read all the comments, but it is pretty tragic that all that money went into something so hi-tech yet they didn’t budget anything for a custom letterset or even just a decent, somewhat original logotype.


Brennan says:

December 31, 2009 at 2:17 pm

I’m with Brett and Timmy:

Yeah, it looks an awful lot like the typeface we all love to hate, but really, it kind of makes sense.

I’m a crazed Swiss lover and Helvetica is beautiful, but in a movie about tribal aliens? Some clean, mathematically perfect sans would seem worse, even if I would love it in design.

So, yeah, most of us associate it with really bad design; I know I do. Used here, with actual context, I say it was a pretty decent choice.

* * *

Cornelius, stop trolling/flame baiting. Save that for youtube comments where you can argue with 13 year olds.


NAVIS says:

December 31, 2009 at 4:56 pm

Speaking of horrible font choices, have you seen Into the Wild? When the title of the movie spans horizontally across the screen in something like Impact and looks like Sean Penn made it in PowerPoint.


Matt Davis says:

January 1, 2010 at 7:06 am

I think people are focusing only on the main logo of the film, which is pretty silly yet still works. What doesn’t work are the papyrus subtitles throughout the movie. That’s a bad design choice.


1200 says:

January 1, 2010 at 8:42 am

lol @ Papyrus. God to think that horrific font will still be around when humans land on Pandora :shudder:. Anyway, thought this was a decent movie… the first time I saw it too… which was about 20 years ago when it was called “Dances With Wolves”. Just add stunning CGI and a few millenia, and viola!: AVATAR. Anyway, nice flick, but yeah, it’s a pretty blatant storyline rip of DWW (homage).


kevininCusco says:

January 1, 2010 at 9:01 am

Really people, really?

As soon as you design a font as ubiquitous and lucrative as Pap, call me, until then piss off.


Tardlovski says:

January 1, 2010 at 2:41 pm

well kevinincusco, if you are an actual full time designer, or if you have ever worked in a print shop, then you would appreciate the sentiment.
i’ve seen more papyrus than your mom’s old ass and it ain’t pretty!


kevininCusco says:

January 1, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Well tard, you caught me, I’ve never worked in a “print shop” however a design studio and advertising agency (see yes; with a bunch of feeble minded kids that never matured past “mom jokes” – you’d totally dig it.


James Sutton says:

January 2, 2010 at 3:50 am

I saw Avatar the other day in 3D and thought it was simply brilliant, exactly the sort of pioneering film I would like to be making if I was a part of the movie industry.

As for the story line, predictable yes, but definitely not an issue! From someone with a strong interest in rainforest conservation, I thought the film was spot on at delivering this critical message to the audience.

Quality work James Cameron!! :)


Adrian says:

January 2, 2010 at 7:42 am

There was one thing in the movie shocked me more than the Na‘vi subtitles font.

In one Scene the Scientist played by Sigourney Waver holds up a Science Book that she has written about the Na‘vi and the Headline, spanning the whole format in Tahoma looks like: N A‘ VI.

Anyway, i think you shoud watch avatar with the eyes of a child, not with the eyes of a typographer. It‘s about beeing totally in awe, not about spotting as many mistakes as possible.




Tardlovski says:

January 2, 2010 at 8:18 am

aw, come on kev, lighten up! the mom was..a….joke.
“bddo” eh? wow. *mightily impressed*


Molly says:

January 2, 2010 at 11:36 am

Alex, beautifully said. I love your description of the movie, and agree wholeheartedly.

Papyrus bothered me throughout the entire movie, especially since its 3D nature made the subtitles jump out at me. But I had to learn to ignore it, just as my husband, who is a pilot in the Air Force, had to ignore the nasty light the movie was shedding on the military (intentional or otherwise).

Once all that was aside, what a wonderful movie!


Op says:

January 2, 2010 at 3:38 pm

If you think the use of Papyrus for subtitles was bad….. I just saw AN ENTIRE BOOK USING PAPYRUS!! Now that is a prime example of inappropriate usage, I’m amazed if anyone can actually read more than a page without getting a headache/crosseyes :P


Russ says:

January 3, 2010 at 9:52 am

I wholeheartedly agree. Avatar was intense, immersing, and though I still think the blue aliens a bit cheesy, incredibly enjoyable.

Mostly, I echo all of your thoughts here. It baffled me when I saw what I was sure wasn’t straight-up Papyrus, but at least similar enough, in a movie of such high caliber. The 3D was the best I have ever seen, providing the absolute perfect amount of depth in the video, but seriously… I mock signs, billboards, etc. when I see that they use Papyrus… So why? Why?

Well, hey… I guess there’s nothing that can be done about it. It was still incredibly enjoyable.


Ariel says:

January 3, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Saw the movie. Twice.

The visuals were so superb I was a bit let down in the subtitles. Not because it simply looked like Papyrus, but more because they seemed a bit jarring visually on screen. Someone mentioned Slumdog Millionaire doing it right and I couldnt agree more. As designers the bottom line is to communicate.

Ask a leyperson and 99% of them won’t find any issue with the choice of a Papyrus (or similar) typeface. My wife laughed at me like she tends to do when I pointed out I even knew the name of the font. She calls that my “inner design geek.” As designers, sometimes we need to simply get out of our own ways.


Sergio says:

January 3, 2010 at 11:19 pm

When i saw the film i thought exactly the same!!! and i told to my friends the same, “i don´t understand the choice of the type papyrus” (they thought i was a nerd too).


Daniel Carvalho says:

January 5, 2010 at 2:50 am

Yeah, I really enjoyed Avatar in 3D. And, exactly as you’ve explained your experience watching the film, it was the same for me. It felt like I was the main character and I got completely absorbed into the movie. It was incredibly immersive.

It also reminded me of a certain video game from my youth, except for me it was Final Fantasy VIII.


kevininCusco says:

January 6, 2010 at 6:35 am

Ryan, the fact that you called BBDO a dot com speaks mountains of your lack of experience in the media/design/advertising industry.

The fact that you use ‘gay’ as an insult speaks only to your insecurities, low brow sense of humor and complacent role in mediocre America.

Maybe you and Tard should start up a “print shop”, or better yet, a big toy store for little boys – then you can feel at home making gay mom jokes and playing with your joystick all day.


Chris says:

January 6, 2010 at 8:16 am

So happy that Papyrus was an issue for others! Once I forced myself to get over it, I enjoyed the film very much!


B says:

January 6, 2010 at 11:20 am

Some guy just doesn’t seem to realize that he put instead of in the first place (if the latter is what he meant)

So he worked there but didn’t actually know what the place is called? Is it BBDO? Oh, no, it’s BDDO. Or is it BBDO? Err… Wait, I don’t know!

Why don’t you pull yourself together first, and then you can act cocky. Seriously, it’s only an advertising agency, it cannot save the world.

Avatar’s a great movie, BTW, regardless of the typeface :D


KevinSanSalvador says:

January 6, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Thanks for the check up B – is the agency I worked for several years after I graduated.

I think you should read all the comments before that, and then maybe you can understand the context. Until then, I’ll be “pulling myself together” if not just for you, for the entire planet that you have taken a personal crusade in trying to save.


Ryan says:

January 6, 2010 at 1:22 pm



“the fact that you called BBDO a dot com speaks mountains of your lack of experience in the media/design/advertising industry.”

This typo attempting to direct me to YOUR OWN PLACE OF EMPLOYMENT speaks mountains about the quality of work they must produce. After all, a design agency that employs nimrods that can’t even produce a correct working link to their business……

Anyhoo….keep on usin’ papyrus, kevin. It’s ‘designers’ like you who we laugh at when we see it used.


KevinSanSalvador says:

January 6, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Well Ryan you’re right…because I live and die for what people think of me on ISO50. I really should have ‘pulled myself together’ in order to make a deep impact to the hearts and minds of followers of this blog.

Really Ryan, just…stop.

All the love in the world,

PS – Thanks for understanding I made a typo! Next time I’m ready to send a thread I’ll think of you and your opinion of work produced at BBDO Worldwide in order to ensure my thread tops your elitist expectations.


Ryan says:

January 6, 2010 at 3:01 pm

No problem Kev.

It’s always hilarious to correspond with someone as pretentious as you who still defends papyrus.

And don’t tell me to ‘just…stop’ when you’re the one here that has 7+ whiny threads.


KevinSanSalvador says:

January 6, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Ah I see you hate me because I said something along the lines of Papyrus being a font that none of us can measure to – regarding it’s ubiquity.

If it makes you feel better, I’ve never used it, even when it was popular – probably before you even had a computer.


alex r. says:

January 6, 2010 at 5:18 pm

I totally agree.
I have no clue why they chose Papyrus , that’s a really odd choice , i think they chose it randomly :))
If it was a mummy movie or something like that ,i would have totally understood cause Papyrus is a ancient Egypt cliche of a font , i wouldn’t have chosen it for a futuristic film , not in a million years


Bryan says:

January 6, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Seems the angle that everyone missed is that this was done purposely by the person in charge of design to create more buzz, albeit limited to design fanatics like seen here. Not being one myself these comments mystified me until I thought of it that way.


alex r. says:

January 7, 2010 at 3:17 am

I agree the font was chosen on purpose , but i don’t think it was chosen to create some buzz because the only people that will waste time talking about this tiny detail will be designers and that’s a tiny percentage from all the avatar viewers , i think they chose the font cause they simply like it


Ian Conrad says:

January 7, 2010 at 12:47 pm

I can’t see how it would be created purposely, or why Avatar would need to create any more buzz, especially negative buzz. But i also can’t see how any designer on this project would use Papyrus, or how it could slip by. Perhaps Cameron is a huge fan? Needless to say it has created quite a buzz indeed
Papyrus Watch

Pr*tty Sh*tty Designs


Chris says:

January 8, 2010 at 3:29 am

It makes me want to seriously hate the movie. The use of that typeface (which I consider to be much more offensive than comic sans) has sullied my entire view of the film.

That said, I actually think the film may be a bit overrated. It has some great superficial aesthetics, but nothing in the film (including the overall look) feels truly filled with depth. From plot holes and ridiculous science (fire on a planet without oxygen?) to the weak character designs all the way to the predictable plot, the entire movie seems to be a bit too focused on the technical side of things.

Then again, it could just be my perspective after that horrible type choice.


KevinSanSalvador says:

January 8, 2010 at 10:00 am

Ok, ok, ok… To “seriously hate” a movie because of a font choice…now that’s bordering on mental health issues, “god” knows I have mine also, but geez this is getting to the Tipping Point of crazy.

Please do not mistake my thoughts as a supporter of Papyrus as some of you have thought prior in this thread, but do take the time to consider your own hatred… is it justified?

Do you hate it because of it’s ubiquity?

Do you hate Helvetica and Impact for the same reason?

Do you hate all System Fonts? If so, what do you suggest as a solution?

Do you understand that 90% of “design” using System Fonts is probably assembled by a marketing manager or self-proprietor?

Do you realize if the typeface wasn’t effective it never would have been included in the System library?

Do you understand that this movie was developed over 12 years ago and can explain a reason why they used Papyrus?

Do you realize that speculating about why they used Papyrus isn’t productive?

What other things of ubiquity do you accept? Do you eat McDonalds? Do you own an iPhone? Do you wear tight girlish jeans? Are you under the age of 30 and have become a throwback of 80s garb? Do you eat your boogers?

Do you realize that practically none of you said anything MORE about Avatar than what you disliked?

Do you find it easier to hate, than to seek understanding?

Do you think that hating something like Papyrus makes you sound like a better designer? Justify yourself, what exactly is ‘wrong’ with the font other than it’s popularity?

For me…the last three years have been traveling around Central and South America, so I’m not bombarded by Papyrus hence it’s very easy for me to look this over. Down here, Chalet and Bauhaus are used from Car Sales, to Laundry Services to Bike Shops. At least Papyrus is kept to religious design, earth-friendly businesses, and Ethnic food restaurants, all of which appear to be laid out by a non-educated designer.

I don’t know…maybe it’s me, but I just assumed that hating on a typeface as simple as Papyrus at ISO50 is like calling the kettle black, and Possibly Maybe (plug for Bjork) we could try to come to terms with reality…

1. None of us have designed something so ubiquitous.
2. There is a reason they used Papyrus and without knowing the details, we’re just blowing smoke and chest beating. (It’s like showing up at a birthday party to find your friend negative and pessimistic, then turning around and calling him a downer, only to find out later that he lost his dream job and his girlfriend broke up with him.)
3. Out of all the fonts out there, Papyrus is far not the worst. It may not fit into your idea of cool, but then again, what is cool? Hating a movie because of it’s subtitles?
4. Realize that I’m just as crazy, for example, I just returned from Grosse Pointe, MI – one of the flattest cities in the state where there isn’t any threatening weather, and everyone was wearing North Face… and seeing that I’ve spent the last 6 months trekking and living in Cusco, Peru, I got a little miffed, so I slapped their logo over a photo of a strip mall, and of course I included their tagline “NEVER STOP EXPLORING”. It would be like using an image of a nuclear bomb with Papyrus reading, “World Peace”. So any hitters? Anyone want to challenge the irony of Papyrus? C’mon let’s have a little bit of fun, by all means, AVATAR was a fun and fantastical movie.


Jason says:

January 10, 2010 at 9:25 pm

Kevin, I think you’re over thinking things.

Obviously the use of Papyrus is no reason to hate a good movie, but its inclusion was also a very poor design choice. While production of this film did begin many years ago, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a continuous process, or that it wouldn’t have been possible to change the subtitle font late in production.

And while Papyrus is certainly a widely used font, that is the exact reason why a different choice should have been made. For such a big budget film to use an easily recognized system font is like a media firm making an advertisement featuring a picture with a simple and common Photoshop filter like “Glowing Lines” applied.

For the record though, I don’t see why people are attacking you just because your view on this is different.


TransitBroadcast says:

January 12, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Those clowns at failblog don’t even know what a plot is:

Plot is often designed with a narrative structure, storyline or story arc, that includes exposition, conflict, rising action and climax, followed by a falling action and resolution.

Do you know how many movies with grammy winning actors and directors have made a motion picture rendition of books, ideas, fantasies, fables, scripture and the like…

Like Kevin said, justify your hate you troll.


Walisse says:

January 13, 2010 at 12:04 am

Sorry for my english…
I totally agree! I really enjoyed the movie too but papyrus? WTF?
I thought the same thing during the show.
By the way, great blog!


Chris says:

January 14, 2010 at 9:10 am

There is more to hate about papyrus than it’s ubiquity. Helvetica is ubiquitous and it’s one hell of a typeface.

Fake texture applied universally across a typeface is one major problem.

Secondly, the weird x-height of the typeface makes it difficult to read, compounded by the fact that it has a faux-texture applied to it.

Within the confines of the movie, the texture makes even less sense. It’s not as if they subtitles are written on paper with peaks and valleys. And if they were, every ‘e'(or whatever letter you choose) would not react the same way to said texture.

Finally, that horrendous end title speaks volumes about what kind of care was put into the graphic design aspect of this film.

Way to make one assumption and then expand on it for an entire rant, kevo.


Johan Ström says:

January 16, 2010 at 3:40 am

I think they picked Papyrus (instead of a custom type) just because it’s a system font in 95% of all computers (where the last 5% belong to designers who have to delete the font to be able to breathe).

When a font is in 95% of all computers you have made it easier for translations of subtitles, ad-creations, 3rd party ads, and such on the international market and still keep the design/look throughout.

It’s actually quite smart for a 300 million dollar project.


kimoniak says:

January 21, 2010 at 1:33 pm

I think we’ve all got preconceptions about something like papyrus, I agree it’s become a joke amongst designers and I was a little disappointed to see it being used.

However, I believe something like this provokes much more ire from the design community than is really deserved, simply because its a font that’s been misused and abused before, and we’ve witnessed it.
Would we make such a fuss if Papyrus wasn’t a standard font on personal computers? If it hadn’t been used for tacky shop signage and trashy massage parlours?


mikeW says:

January 23, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Avatar was a renaissance movement for the re-branding and re-launch of an exciting “new product”, too bad it was Papyrus.


BriansDome says:

January 26, 2010 at 12:42 am

maybe they were just thinking it was tribal enough. good point though, it never crossed my mind. what crossed my mind was when did michelle rodriguez have time to paint her chopper with the navi theme?


André Costello says:

January 26, 2010 at 10:21 am

It is far too closed minded to ever say you can “never do this” or “never do that” in design. I believe there are always going to be exceptions for everything. I mean, the type is somewhat appropriate; to the non-designers, it resonates.

You know what? Come to think of it, I would like to see more suggestions and/or ideas of what font should have been used.


Stop reading at comment 9 says:

January 27, 2010 at 9:19 pm

I am not sure if anyone has already said this, but neither the TITLE or the SUBTITLES were Papyrus.

It is something LIKE papyrus, probably custom made. Still it resembles Papyrus and not in only keeping some good elements. Nearly identical A (a nice letter in Papyrus imo) with a slight gap at the right side of the horizontal stroke without the overwriting at the left side. Actually really different, for font standards.

Anyway imagine i’ve seen this with double subtitles (not an english native-speaker here) where the English to Greek and the Alien to Greek were different fonds, different colors ! A mess :P


nelson says:

February 2, 2010 at 7:34 am

gotta agree with most comments here. with that kind of budget you’d expect attention to every detail, especially one as important as the title treatment. then again, after years of working on this film, cameron could only think of “unobtainium” for the very “un-obtainable” material found on the planet. seriously james? so i guess i wasn’t too surprised to see papyrus as a final choice – not much thought there either.


Chris McCall says:

February 2, 2010 at 10:31 am

Either all of that… or perhaps Papyrus has finally found a home. All that you know about Papyrus and all the negative associations you have with it (while valid) cloud your ability to see that it actually works for this. If you had never seen Papyrus in your life, you’d have nothing bad to say about it here… you’d just call it “The Avatar Typeface”.


Kevin McCall says:

February 2, 2010 at 1:58 pm

I too bellyrolled at the use of Papyrus…and for certain, I’d hope by the year 2154 or whatever that it would disappear, but more alarming was the pilfering of Roger Dean’s visions of future landscapes in the production design. Although it was amazing to see and feel some of his worlds come to life, I was shocked to hear that he wasn’t involved or even acknowledged. Several of the major sets were direct lifts, as were the winged Dragons etc. Shameful!


KevinCostaRica says:

February 2, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Kevin, papyrus was used to represent a script for a Druid-like society. So the date 2154 doesn’t really matter…

And if you’re a fan of the techno design movement, and you find this to be appropriate for contemporary society or even futuristic societies, well you may want to do a little research as this movement borrowed type treatments dating back to the 20s with the Dutch design movement known as De Stijl.


Fraser says:

February 2, 2010 at 8:23 pm

I have a friend (another designer!… a 3d one at that!) that refuses to see this movie because of the use of Papyrus. He may be the only person left in the world not to see it yet (besides me). its not the first time he’s made this stand either… he’s a passionate man, with strong (and admirable) ideals in relation to design.


KevinCostaRica says:

February 2, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Not going to see a movie because of the sub title font is like not dining at a restaurant because you don’t like the menu layout.


Bryan says:

February 2, 2010 at 10:02 pm

I think he’s trying to say politely that, when it comes to this subject, your friend sucks at life.

Here, I’ll try – not going to see a movie because of the sub title font is like not going skiing because you don’t prefer the seat cushion fabric on the gondola.


Anthony Mark says:

February 3, 2010 at 7:50 am

As much as I loved the movie I was horrified when the Papyrus subtitles flashed on the screen.

Then again, as much as I liked the movie, there is an overall tackiness to it that is undeniable, especially in the design of the aliens, which actually come off better in the final film that in the concept art.

And the use of Papyrus only confirmed my suspicion that Cameron is not one with the most sophisticated of tastes.


Anthony Mark says:

February 3, 2010 at 8:10 am

Listen KevinCostaRica. I had to do those for people in the real estate business and in no time. Plus they were pretty clear on what they wanted.

I’m perfectly capable of creating sophisticated work when the job calls for it.

And where’s your link, anyway?


KevinCostaRica says:

February 3, 2010 at 8:24 am

I knew you’d say that even though in plain sight I never said I was sophisticated. You played that card.

Regardless, even your personal logo and website, is that sophisticated, I don’t even see a rollover state for your links???

Here’s a look at my old portfolio –

Rip it apart.


tycho supporter says:

February 3, 2010 at 8:57 am

the wife and I went to see Avatar and we both felt that we were seeing a live action version of Ferngully with a bit of Dances With Wolves and Powwow Highway thrown in.

As great as the movie it was it was completely unoriginal, James Cameron should own up to this.


Anthony Mark says:

February 3, 2010 at 9:05 am

They should have hired a firm like Imaginary Forces, who could have created some beautiful work for the film.

Even Sphere and the dreadful remake of Island of Dr. Moreau, had incredible opening titles. All created by IF.

But Cameron started out as an Art Director and Production Designer and with his ego I don’t think it would have ever occurred to him to hire someone else to design any aspect of the film.

My other problem with the film is some of the Na’vi music. It was too African. This was an alien tribe and though they did have an African aspect to them, the music should have been a little less familiar, more alien.


KevinCostaRica says:

February 3, 2010 at 10:11 am

Anthony Mark makes a personal dig on Cameron again…

First of all, this movie is being marketed at McDonalds, it’s NOT SUPPOSED to be anything but appealing to the masses. Fucking duh! This is Cameron’s shot at STAR WARS status! Hello?

Regarding the music, I think it did a great job of representing the kind of suffering, oppression and spirituality that countries like South Africa have experienced. And what does “alien” choir music sound like anyways?

I’d like to see the smirk on Cameron’s face while you try to pitch him on his lack of sophistication and his conceptual thievery – those hologram interfaces rocked, your interface is average at best, and in all reality people render ideas and stories from all points of inspiration. Kinda like you Anthony Mark, after looking at your promos, you too have stolen aesthetic direction by none other than the person who manages this website! Do you even think about your past actions before you blast away at what other people do?

And Mr Sophisticato, because my commercial work is in comparison lacking so much dynamic and progressive energy as yours I just can’t seem to grasp what the fuck is Paraffin-Based Graphic Design??? Is that even a coherent concept? You know the old saying, if your audience has to think longer than two seconds to figure out what is going on then your piece has failed.

Just like you failed to insult my work – simple and reductive is what I strive for in commercial design.

AVATAR is a commercial movie, targeted at kids and mainstream audiences… it wasn’t created to appease elitist wanna-be’s like yourself…


Anthony Mark says:

February 3, 2010 at 10:23 am

I suppose in your world pasting a few words of text on a photograph is cosidered graphic design.

And the ghetto graffiti type art has been done to death.

Stop being such a little biatch.


KevinCostaRica says:

February 3, 2010 at 10:53 am

Anthony, anyone who goes to my links and has at least one functioning eye can see what you’ve said above is rubbish.

Graffiti type, hmmm, I don’t know many people who include serifs in their graffiti… Are you talking about Transit Broadcast type treatment… hmm that was inspired by a Modernism piece from the Netherlands, it has nothing to do with spray paint, break dancing and ghetto blasters.

Nice try.

And let’s take a walk back down memory lane.. you were the first one to start complaining (a habit of the archetypical bitch) about “sophistication” and now you call me a “bitch”? Your use of big words and intellectual arguments are blowing my mind…

Especially your plagiarism argument link that ends with,

“I did not accuse the creators of the film ‘Avatar’ of plagiarism,” Strugatsky wrote on his website…”

But then again what would anyone expect from such an enlightened forerunner of media, design and cinematography like yourself.

So how about you, and your entourage of pseudo intellects go down to your hipster cafe, talk about how much you hate Papyrus, and have yourself an incest-ful little circle jerk.

I still can’t believe that after Scott posted one line about Papyrus that 95% of the people focused all their negative and hate on that one thing… it’s actually pretty sad for such a great blog.


Anthony Mark says:

February 3, 2010 at 11:28 am

As much as I dislike the Papyrus font, the “Sarafina in Space” music and the overall design of the alien creatures (A little on the skinny side), this is one of those cases where the Whole is greater than its parts.

And speaking of the aliens, would nature really have created a chroma key blue being? Would it not have given it a color scheme that would help camouflage it from predators?

The Neytiri Na’vi was the best of the aliens. She had a wonderfully expressive face and you truly believe she is alive rather than being a CG puppet.

But I wonder how much of this facial expressiveness truly is Cameron’s facial capture technology and how much was the result of hand animation by the digital animators. All the talk about revolutionary technology makes great press, but it is usually not accurate. There is an incredible amount of hand work involved.


ivy says:

February 3, 2010 at 6:09 pm

yes, the use of papyrus was instantly horrifically shocking to me. WTF. there’s absolutely no excuse for a film of this budget to stoop to that level. it’s the bastard child’s font. no one should go there. yet dozens of companies (on a seemingly daily basis) choose to use this font; not only in promotional materials, but as their goddamn logo. it’s true.


Ryan says:

February 5, 2010 at 10:13 pm

gosh darn it KevinCostaRica…are you KevinSanSalvador? I thought so. I could tell by the tone of your threads. BUT… i will give credit where credit is due. your portfolio is very nice. and i mean this. but why are you such a confrontational scug? Im not going to spray some retarded analogy or simple metaphor comparing papyrus to a horrible car wreck (although it deserves it) but get it through your head, designers bitch about it because they are just sick of it. Graphic Designers feel that by seeing it used over and over and that the more it’s seen and accepted, the more it’ll stick around. and that’s not good for design. Helvetica is nice but played. Papyrus is acceptable, but played. Etc. Etc.
Plus, i saw a very good piece you did but immediately judged it because of your type choice: COMIC SANS. Dont let your arrogance be your downfall.


Ryan says:

February 6, 2010 at 12:39 am

i tell you what KevInSanSalvador. Lets do it. you had better drink cheap domestic american beer you well cultured fuck. Natural Light. Or worse. Since your such a world traveler meet me where i reside in dirt ass Kansas. That way you can blast my taste in everything. hit me up:

Peace to you, my arch nemesis.


Kevin says:

February 9, 2010 at 9:07 am

I cringe when I see papyrus. For some reason, businesses that don’t consult any sort of ad agency (or if they do, their “ad agency” has no right to call themselves such) end up using and abusing this horrendous typeface, everywhere from print to their outdoor signage.

My girlfriend, also a design geek, laughs whenever I abruptly point and yell with disgust.


Ryan says:

February 18, 2010 at 4:53 am

I’m grossly late to this, but whatever. Just read the Kottke article. His whole point fell apart for me when he claimed the “Stone Age” race was “stuck” there.

That implies that the human technology is somehow clearly making life better. Perhaps they realize that it isn’t?


moron says:

February 18, 2010 at 4:59 am

I think Avatar did the world a favor. They knew that whatever jungle theme font they decided to use would get destroyed with overuse on every toddler-jungle-gym-themed-take-out-menu-pizza-box-head-shop-smoke-shop-natural-foods-shop-shoe-box-grocery-bag-church-bulletin on our sadly Unobtainium free planet.

So let the already ostracized Papyrus take the fall. :( Rest further in peace, good and faithful system font.


Michael says:

February 22, 2010 at 8:59 am

I agree about the use of Papyrus for subtitles… I’m not a big fan whatsoever. Maybe Cameron or whoever runs the show over there felt like it could evoke “action toy” fever and market it as much. If I was 10 again and watched this movie I probably would have swooned over the ill-begotten typeface. Certain decorative fonts have that effect (rambo anyone?)


suntzu says:

March 12, 2010 at 7:58 am

i have nothing against mainstream marketing of a movie, and nothing against making a honest buck, also nothing against inspiration. still, when you start stealing and pretend you’re inventing just to get your profit….

in my opinion the title font is one thing that only adds up to the lack of attention put into the craft movie. to support this: the movie copies whole concepts and art direction from such a popular game like world of warcraft. the bio luminescent forest is almost exactly as the zangarmarsh region, the flying mountains are just like the nagrand region, and i haven’t even started to speak about the mounts, be they flying dragons or tigers….
and all animals on the planet have only one evolutionary path? they all have 6 legs just like the crocolisks from world of warcraft too.
in my opinion at least the animals copuld have looked different, there’s plenty of great sci-fi to get their inspiration from. i haven’t seen any adaptation to a lower gravity (like covering ground fast, by high jumps for example). oh and i haven’t seen any demo of what reinforced bones with carbon fiber of the na’vi are capable of…
total fail! i wanted my money back at the end


KevInSanSalvador says:

March 12, 2010 at 9:21 am

Ironically Sun Tzu was all about knowing everything he could about his enemy before attacking… you are doing him a disservice by thinking that fantasy starts and stops with WoW.

“I wanted my money back at the end.” What kind of person says that shit? Is that what you say after your date FAILS?

Gosh I want to smack half the people in this thread.


suntzu says:

March 13, 2010 at 2:15 am

kevinsalvador, about smacking people.. it’s what sorry simpletons do or feel like doing when not able to impose opinions and accepting others opinions. get a life and don’t get that serious about some comments on a blog


Hale Relic says:

June 3, 2010 at 5:25 pm

I can’t speak for Roger Dean but I was very disappointed when, after seeing AVATAR and every scene that came up was a direct copy of Roger Deans artwork, organic architectural landscapes, his textures, his color palettes, his beautifully mutated animal life, his floating boulders with trees and waterfalls, his rock arch complexes, his flying dragons, the entire Tales from Topographical Oceans set that Yes toured with complete with the coral rock shapes that lit up from inside, the concept of the spirit tree from Olias of Sunhillo, in other words his entire artistic and intellectual portfolio, but there was not one credit, not one mention, not even a hint of appreciation towards Roger Dean. Cameron owes Roger Dean big time and anyone who is familiar with Yes Album Art and Roger Dean’s other works can see that this is blatant plagiarism, thievery and the largest boldfaced rip-off I’ve ever witnessed.


gundam unicorn says:

August 29, 2010 at 7:52 am

This gundam serie is the best. I cannot neglect my very first time watching Gundam Wing then know about japan mobile gundam. Hope to own much more great gundam serie within the future


DifferentFraser says:

August 30, 2010 at 1:57 am

I thought it was pretty out of context.
anyway, by the way, Jhon, I’d had never heard of this website till you showed me.


glee music says:

December 5, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Perfect article! I am only beginning out in advertising and marketing and attempting to understand to perform it nicely – assets just like this write-up are very useful. As our company is based in america, it’s all a little new to us.


Jim's Golf Iron Blog says:

December 11, 2010 at 8:46 am

Hi! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any trouble with hackers? My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing many months of hard work due to no data backup. Do you have any solutions to stop hackers?