Movie Studio Logos: What Do They Mean?

They are logos you’ll have seen hundreds and hundreds of times in your life, so many times you probably learned to tune them out long ago. But movie studio idents can offer fascinating insights into the studios themselves, and are often laden with interesting trivia.

Some idents have evolved over 100 years into the all-singing, all-dancing variants you see before movies today, so next time you sit down to watch a film, do us the courtesy of really paying attention to the idents.

You might miss facts like these…

20th Century Fox

Logos don’t come much more iconic than this. The original Fox fanfare was recorded by Alfred Newman in 1933; it was so universally beloved, that when John Williams came to score ‘Star Wars’ in 1977, he composed the film’s main theme in B flat major to complement it.

There have been several versions of the monument over the years (including a comedy version for ‘The Simpsons Movie’, featuring Ralph Wiggum), but after Fox tried and failed to create a real-life 3D model of the logo in 1994, they created a CG version.

In that ident, long since retired, a virtual LA cityscape was created around the monument, with store-fronts bearing the names of various senior Fox executives (one shop sign read ‘Murdoch’s Department Store’).

Paramount Pictures

No one knows whether the infamous Paramount ident is based on a real mountain, but there is no shortage of theories: some say it’s supposed to be Ben Lomond in Utah, others claim it’s Mount Artesonraju in Peru.

The ident began life as a charcoal drawing back in 1911 at Paramount’s inception, eventually graduating from matte painting to a CG-animated rendition in 1986. Weirdly, the number of stars is now pretty meaningless: originally, the logo had 24 stars to represent every one of Paramount’s 24 contracted stars, but the number has ranged from 25 to its current number, 22.

For the 100th anniversary ident in 2012, Paramount hired composer Michael Giacchino to provide a mini-score.

Universal

The Universal logo has evolved in a major way since its debut in 1914, when the main text read ‘The Trans-Atlantic Film Co’. Since then, we’ve seen planes fly around the globe in the ’30s, cars drive around it for ‘Smokey And The Bandit’ in 1977 and an 8-bit version of that classic French horn theme tune for ‘Scott Pilgrim Vs The World’ in 2010.

The globe always rotates from left to right, except between 1936-46, when it wasn’t a globe at all but something approximating a glitterball. The 100th anniversary ident was debuted in 2012 on ‘Dr Seuss’ The Lorax’ and marked the first time the logo’s music, composed by Jerry Goldsmith but re-orchestrated by Brian Tyler, had ever changed key.

Walt Disney Pictures

It probably didn’t escape your attention, but just in case it did, the music that plays alongside the Walt Disney Pictures ident – displayed as just ‘Disney’ from 2011 – is ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’, which is of course from the studio’s own animation, ‘Pinocchio’.

The most recent version of the logo opens on said star and pans down to a river scene, thought to be reminiscent of the Lewiston/Clarkston snaking river where Walt Disney’s wife Lillian was from and where the pair were married. The steam train may well be a reference to ‘Dumbo’, while the pirate ship on the water is potentially a reference to ‘Peter Pan’. The building at the centre of the logo is the Sleeping Beauty Castle. But you knew that.

Warner Bros. Pictures

The most recent iteration of the Warner Bros. logo opens with a shimmering golden shot of the Warner Bros. studios in Burbank California, before revealing itself to be that infamous shield, known originally as the ‘Brain Shield’. The clouds in the background were originally added in 1935, then re-introduced in 1948, then again in 1984, where they’ve stayed ever since.

And the music? An eight-note piano piece from ‘As Time Goes By’ of ‘Casablanca’ fame, added in 1999; not only is it Warner’s most cherished library title, but it’s a neat bit of synergy – the studio have been a Time Warner subsidiary since 1989.

Columbia Pictures

The lady holding the torch in this popular ident is herself called Columbia, the female personification of the United States. The original model for the first Columbia ident was a Roman Soldier carrying a stick of wheat (us neither), but the current model, who has been used for over 20 years, is a real person.

Jenny Joseph, a graphics artist, was hired for a 1992 photoshoot by artist Michael Deas – she shot the pictures in her lunch break and stood on a stool, wrapped in a sheet, holding up a desk lamp. Columbia are quite lax with the rules for their ident, leading to many fun variants: she’s been played by Wilma Flintstone, Annette Bening and, er, the freaky long-haired ghost girl from ‘The Grudge 2’.

Pixar Animation Studios

We love lamp. The cheeky little balanced-arm desk light we’ve all come to adore from the Pixar ident is known as ‘Luxo Jr.’ and he was the star of his own, revolutionary short film in 1986. The two-minute short sees Luxo Jr. playing with a beach ball – itself an iconic Pixar easter egg – while Luxo Snr. looks on, shaking his head. It doesn’t sound like much by today’s standard, but it was the first CGI film to ever be nominated for an Academy Award.

Variations of the Pixar logo do exist: before ‘WALL-E’ in 2008, Luxo’s bulb burns out, so WALL-E himself trundles on screen to replace it, before knocking down the ‘R’ in ‘Pixar’, forcing him to assume the shape of the letter himself. It has never been explained why Luxo Jr. murders the ‘I’ in cold blood.

DreamWorks

This ident was the brainchild of Steven Spielberg, the company’s co-founder, who wanted the logo to be a small boy sitting in a crescent moon, fishing (for dreams or something, probably). He commissioned award-winning artist Robert Hunt to create it, with Hunt using his young son William as the model.

Spielberg’s chum John Williams composed the short piece of music that accompanies the logo ahead of live-action feature films, while the DreamWorks Animation logo is scored by Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell (it’s actually from the score for ‘Shrek’).

MGM

The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lion is one of the most famous movie studio mascots in the world, and that roar has introduced MGM’s movies since the early 20s. The current big cat, Leo, is the seventh lion used by the studio, and he’s been in the job since 1957, albeit with a 5.1 surround sound upgrade in 1995 and a stereoscopic 3D makeover in 2012.

The Latin inscription above Leo’s mane reads ‘Ars Gratia Artis’, which means ‘Art For Art’s Sake’. Several movies have opened with variations on Leo’s roar, most recently the ‘RoboCop’ remake, with ran the ident along with the sound of Samuel L Jackson’s vocal exercises.

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