Research

Exploring the Frontiers of Visual Identity Design as Envisioned by Science Fiction

Original Entry 08.09.2019

Esper

Category

Computer Technology, Law Enforcement

Scenario Date

Year 2019

The Esper is a high-density computer with a very powerful three-dimensional resolution capacity and a cryogenic cooling system. The police cars and Deckard's apartment contain small models which can be channeled into the mainframe at police headquarters. Among many functions, the Esper can analyze and enhance photos, enabling investigators to search a room without being there.

Identity Designed by

Tom Southwell

Source

  • Blade Runner (1982 film)

Overview: Esper Logotype


Intro and Usage

The Esper is a super computer used by the police in Blade Runner. It is briefly described in the official Blade Runner Souvenir Magazine, but a 1982 presskit for the film provides the most detail:

“A high-density computer with a very powerful three-dimensional resolution capacity and a cryogenic cooling system. The police cars and Deckard's apartment contain small models which can be channeled into the large one at police headquarters. This big apparatus is a well-worn, retro-fitted part of the furniture. Among many functions, the Esper can analyze and enlarge photos, enabling investigators to search a room without being there. Bryant briefs Deckard with the help of an Esper and Deckard examines Leon's photos with one as well.”

So we actually see an Esper in multiple scenes (Figures 1.1 and 1.2) before we see one with a logo on it, in Deckard’s apartment when he analyzes Leon’s photos (Figure 1.3). There, the Esper logotype can be seen as an emblem attached to the machine, just below its main monitor screen.

<p><strong>Figure 1.1</strong> Police Spinners have small Esper computer terminals in them.</p>

Figure 1.1 Police Spinners have small Esper computer terminals in them.

<p><strong>Figure 1.2</strong> At the police headquarters, when Captain Bryant briefs Deckard on the Replicants, they are looking at the Esper computer.</p>

Figure 1.2 At the police headquarters, when Captain Bryant briefs Deckard on the Replicants, they are looking at the Esper computer.

<p><strong>Figure 1.3</strong> As Deckard inserts the photo into his home Esper terminal, the Esper logotype is seen below the monitor (highlighted).</p>

Figure 1.3 As Deckard inserts the photo into his home Esper terminal, the Esper logotype is seen below the monitor (highlighted).


Analysis: The Esper Logotype Design

The Esper logotype was designed by Blade Runner production illustrator, Tom Southwell. In the documentary, Signs of the Times, we see it multiple times, in various stages of completion (Figure 2.1) It’s worth noting that it was originally sketched with a mark next to the name, that was to be a black rectangle containing a thin, green-line face — the thinking was, there would be a “green neon line head that talks to Deck from within his ESPER machine.” In a Q&A, Southwell says he ended up adapting it to a prop magazine cover (Figure 2.3) when the Esper lost the function due to a lack of special effects funds.

Minus the head, the final Esper logo design remained very true to the sketch (Figure 2.2). The one-color logotype is custom lettering, set in all lowercase, which allows its letterforms to continuously flow from one to the next and curl in on themselves.

For me, this curling and connecting, and how tightly all the letters are bound together, calls to mind wrinkles in the human brain. This would be an interesting conceptual direction, with the Esper being a super computer. I am reminded of a late 1970s pharmaceutical ad by Argentinian graphic designer Eduardo A. Cánovas, for Tonibral, which was used to treat neuropsychological conditions (Figure 2.4). In that ad, Cánovas created type that was similarly styled, that was mirroring what he had done in the ad's stylized brain illustration.

I also found similar treatments in logos featuring the human brain. For example, we can look at how the Esper logotype compares to a 1980s logo for the Fidea Research Foundation (Figure 2.5), which did medical research in neuroscience fields. The Esper logotype would fit right in, within that head full of noodles.

It’s also possible the Esper logotype was inspired by real-world computer technology marks, contemporary to the film's production. In the early 1980s, there looks to have been a trend in this direction, using similar type treatments (Figure 2.6). Of course, the design may have predated it, and been predicting these kinds of marks in the near future. It would be interesting to learn Southwell’s actual process on this one, and where it lands in the scheme of things.

<p><strong>Figure 2.1</strong> In the documentary, <em>Signs of the Times</em>, we see the final Esper logotype on a wall with other work, and later, we see an early sketch where it was paired with a mark. Source: <em>Signs of the Times</em> (2007)</p>

Figure 2.1 In the documentary, Signs of the Times, we see the final Esper logotype on a wall with other work, and later, we see an early sketch where it was paired with a mark. Source: Signs of the Times (2007)

<p><strong>Figure 2.2</strong> A vector approximation of the final Esper logotype.</p>

Figure 2.2 A vector approximation of the final Esper logotype.

<p><strong>Figure 2.3</strong> The line art head that would have appeared on the Esper, that was repurposed on a prop magazine cover, when funds were insufficient to create the effect. Source: <em>Signs of the Time</em> (2007)</p>

Figure 2.3 The line art head that would have appeared on the Esper, that was repurposed on a prop magazine cover, when funds were insufficient to create the effect. Source: Signs of the Time (2007)

<p><strong>Figure 2.4</strong> A late 1970s pharmaceutical ad for Tonibral, which features a stylized brain and typographic treatment to match. Source: <em>i09 / Gizmodo</em></p>

Figure 2.4 A late 1970s pharmaceutical ad for Tonibral, which features a stylized brain and typographic treatment to match. Source: i09 / Gizmodo

<p><strong>Figure 2.5</strong> The Esper logotype compared to a logo from the 1980s that depicts the human brain in a similar fashion, for the Fidia Research Foundation. Source: <em>High Tech Trademarks Vol. 2</em></p>

Figure 2.5 The Esper logotype compared to a logo from the 1980s that depicts the human brain in a similar fashion, for the Fidia Research Foundation. Source: High Tech Trademarks Vol. 2

<p><strong>Figure 2.6</strong> The Esper logotype stacked up with real-world computer technology logotypes from the early- to mid-1980s. Source: <em>High Tech Trademarks Vol. 1 and 2</em></p>

Figure 2.6 The Esper logotype stacked up with real-world computer technology logotypes from the early- to mid-1980s. Source: High Tech Trademarks Vol. 1 and 2