Sundance Film Festival identity | Communication Arts

Responses by PORTO ROCHA.

Background: In 2022, Sundance Institute approached us to create a flexible brand system for the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Channeled through design and voice, the 2023 identity needed to reflect the festival’s legacy as a space for and a champion of independent storytelling, as well as support its mission of bringing artists and audiences together to premiere groundbreaking work. With an expansive and increasingly global audience, the identity had to speak to the independent film community in the United States and beyond: filmmakers, industry folks and, of course, festivalgoers.

Design thinking: We developed a brand that put artists front and center. Building a system that would complement such a diverse range of work meant keeping the core elements intentionally neutral: we used a straightforward sans serif; created the tagline “All Eyes on Independents”; and crafted a deceptively simple logo with a film-inspired aspect ratio that can serve as a framing device overlaid on footage and stills, emphasizing moments in an extensive film catalog. For instances where artists’ content could not be used, we also developed a library of vibrant, dimensional gradients that convey the excitement and energy of Sundance’s experience.

Challenges: Working with one of the most well-known, respected institutions in independent film posed a unique challenge, one that we saw more as an opportunity. The brand we created had to represent a 40-year legacy as well as a forward-looking ethos: to respect the past, tap into the present and look toward the future all at once. To do this, we created an identity that—just like the festival—supports a multiplicity of stories and perspectives.

Favorite details: It was exciting to see how design enriched the experience at the event itself. Through signage and wayfinding, we made navigation more intuitive with a system that assigned each of the twelve venues across Salt Lake City its own color identity. On a smaller scale, we loved how the logo took on another dimension in print when it was embossed on the cover of the 2023 film catalog.

New lessons: We were surprised to learn of the staggering number of films submitted to the 2023 festival: 15,855, from which 101 feature-length films were selected. Thanks to the Sundance Institute archive team, we researched the festival’s impressive history of past premieres and directorial debuts. This knowledge reinforced our understanding of the festival as an important place in culture where independent voices and urgent new stories can be seen and heard for the first time.

Visual influences: Our design often took inspiration from the visual language of film and how we view it. This informed static compositions but also motion, which draws from moviemaking—e.g., the 16:9 aspect ratio and early animation mechanisms like zoetropes—to curate and present the festival’s catalog in new, engaging ways. The experience of watching films also informed the immersive three-dimensional gradients we created for the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, which almost act as portals into the stories in a more abstract yet equally visceral way.

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