Research

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

Original Entry 07.10.2019

Spinner

Category

Transportation, Vehicle

Scenario Date

Year 2019

The Spinner is a two-seat wheeled vehicle that is not only capable of driving on streets, but also flying and hovering via vertical take-off and landing. Spinners are used extensively by the LAPD, taking over the separate present-day roles of police cars and helicopters.

Identity Designed by

Tom Southwell

Source

  • Blade Runner (1982 film)

Overview: Spinner Logotype


Intro: The Spinner

Of all the vehicles that appear in the future depicted by the 1982 film Blade Runner, the Spinner is the most iconic. Being a flying car, it is very much the stuff of science fiction, and for the time being, something we’ve yet to see fully realized in our lived in present.

The car’s unique design was a product of renowned artist and visual futurist Syd Mead (Figure 1.1), who rendered over a half-dozen vehicles for the film, along with his involvement in the design of exterior and interior sets, and a number of the future’s artifacts.

In Blade Runner, Spinners are used extensively by the Los Angeles Police Department. Coupled with its street capability as a wheeled vehicle, it also had the ability to hover and fly, with flying being the LAPD’s primary mode of traversing the towering and sprawling Los Angeles of the future (Figure 1.2). Most large buildings have landing pads on the roof to accommodate flying vehicles, and it makes it easier for the police to patrol the overcrowded streets.

At several points in the film, we see the Spinner in the act of vertical take-off or landing, spiraling as it ascends or descends (Figure 1.3), which makes its name all the more fitting. Though, as of this writing, I can’t be totally certain where the name “Spinner” came from or what influenced the choice initially. I only know that this is specific to the film, and not used in Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which Blade Runner was loosely based upon.

<p><strong>Figure 1.1</strong> Original concept art for the Spinner by Syd Mead. Source: <em>Blade Runner: The Inside Story</em></p>

Figure 1.1 Original concept art for the Spinner by Syd Mead. Source: Blade Runner: The Inside Story

<p><strong>Figure 1.2</strong> Our first good look at a Spinner as it flies by one of the city’s massive video screens, after seeing them buzz by in the opening scene.</p>

Figure 1.2 Our first good look at a Spinner as it flies by one of the city’s massive video screens, after seeing them buzz by in the opening scene.

<p><strong>Figure 1.3</strong> As we see Gaff’s Spinner make its spiraling ascent from the city floor after picking up Deckard, the vehicle’s name starts to make sense.</p>

Figure 1.3 As we see Gaff’s Spinner make its spiraling ascent from the city floor after picking up Deckard, the vehicle’s name starts to make sense.


Analysis: The Spinner Emblem

The Spinner logotype was requested by director Ridley Scott as an emblem that would be affixed to the vehicle — a task that landed with production illustrator Tom Southwell, who designed all of the graphics that appeared on the car.

The logotype features a heavy line that forms a continuous perimeter as it spirals around four points, forming both the S and R letterforms in the process. The circuitous path pulls the eye around the mark, calling to mind tight turns and air maneuvers, or a race track. The overall shape is like that of a badge or shield, with the custom lettering conforming to its interior. This particular treatment isn’t something we see much of at present in the real-world, but it was not uncommon among vintage vehicle emblems (Figure 2.2).

Ridley being heavily inspired by Heavy Metal magazine as he worked on Blade Runner’s aesthetic, had actually asked Southwell to give the “Heavy Metal treatment” to the design, which Southwell delivered in a literal sense by drawing it with a dimensional appearance and the texture of cast lead. There looks to be some influence in the chiseled letterforms as well, echoing the Kabel type used in Heavy Metal’s logotype, with its slanted terminals (Figure 2.3). Another possible influence could come from logotypes used by heavy metal bands at the time. Iron Maiden’s is a strong possibility, when you compare the R and N letterforms, and consider the fact that their self-titled album came out in 1980, just prior to Blade Runner’s production.

In a 2013 Q&A that Southwell participated in on The Art of Blade Runner forum, he talks about the mark and notes that the design was something he worked on for about a week. It became his favorite of all the work he did on the film. You can visit that same forum to see the refined rendering, that was presented to Ridley Scott for approval.

In the documentary Dangerous Days, we get a close look at the production emblem that was used on the cars (Figure 2.4). Like many of the artifacts that were produced for the film, the quality is rough, with a well-worn and aged appearance.

Like the car it appeared on, the Spinner logotype is memorable and iconic. But as we can see from our analysis, while the Spinner vehicle is something out of the future, its symbol is a thing that reaches into the past — just one of many instances to be found in the film, that gives Blade Runner a look and feel that still sets it apart from so many other depictions of the future.

<p><strong>Figure 2.1</strong> An early rough sketch of the Spinner logotype, by Tom Southwell. Source: <em>Dangerous Days: The Making of Blade Runner</em></p>

Figure 2.1 An early rough sketch of the Spinner logotype, by Tom Southwell. Source: Dangerous Days: The Making of Blade Runner

<p><strong>Figure 2.2</strong> The shield or badge shape we see in the Spinner emblem, with lettering conforming to its interior, is a treatment we can find in vintage vehicle emblem designs in the US and abroad.</p>

Figure 2.2 The shield or badge shape we see in the Spinner emblem, with lettering conforming to its interior, is a treatment we can find in vintage vehicle emblem designs in the US and abroad.

<p><strong>Figure 2.3</strong> The Spinner logotype was partially inspired by the <em>Heavy Metal</em> magazine logotype. The letterforms also bear some resemblance to those found in logotypes representing heavy metal bands, particularly Iron Maiden, whose self-titled album came out in 1980.</p>

Figure 2.3 The Spinner logotype was partially inspired by the Heavy Metal magazine logotype. The letterforms also bear some resemblance to those found in logotypes representing heavy metal bands, particularly Iron Maiden, whose self-titled album came out in 1980.

<p><strong>Figure 2.4</strong> The production emblem that appeared on the vehicles. Source: <em>Dangerous Days: The Making of Blade Runner</em></p>

Figure 2.4 The production emblem that appeared on the vehicles. Source: Dangerous Days: The Making of Blade Runner


Usage in Blade Runner

Surveying the film, we find the emblem in three places on the Spinner vehicles. The scenes where Gaff first takes Deckard in to meet Captain Bryant gives us our best glimpses of it. As they approach the vehicle, it appears as a metallic emblem on the side of the car, on the forward area of its scissor door, right next to a decal featuring the number 995 (Figure 3.1).

In addition to appearing on both sides of the Spinner, the emblem is also found in a third location, on the back of the vehicle. If you look carefully, it can be seen as Gaff and Bryant drive off in the Spinner (Figure 3.2), leaving Deckard with the news that Rachel is now among those remaining replicants he is assigned with retiring. To be certain of what we are seeing, we can refer to the documentary Dangerous Days: The Making of Blade Runner, where a photo of the Spinner’s rear is shared, in the chapter devoted to the design process (Figure 3.3).

<p><strong>Figure 3.1</strong> As Deckard and Gaff depart to meet Captain Bryant, we can see the metallic Spinner decal on the side of the vehicle.</p>

Figure 3.1 As Deckard and Gaff depart to meet Captain Bryant, we can see the metallic Spinner decal on the side of the vehicle.

<p><strong>Figure 3.2</strong> It goes by fast, but we can just make out the Spinner emblem on the back of Gaff’s vehicle here, as he and Bryant leave Deckard at the scene of Zhora’s killing.</p>

Figure 3.2 It goes by fast, but we can just make out the Spinner emblem on the back of Gaff’s vehicle here, as he and Bryant leave Deckard at the scene of Zhora’s killing.

<p><strong>Figure 3.3</strong> In the documentary <em>Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner</em>, we can more clearly see the emblem affixed to the back of the Spinner.</p>

Figure 3.3 In the documentary Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner, we can more clearly see the emblem affixed to the back of the Spinner.