I was reading about Hermann’s many typographic accomplishments, including the design of around 200 typefaces — Palatino (1948) and Optima (1952) are perhaps the most well known, when I was directed to this fantastic short film created in 1967 and titled The Art of Hermann Zapf.

In Hermann’s self-penned lifestory, available to read on linotype.com, he shared these endearing words about the film.

“It was the idea of Hallmark to make an educational film to be lent to art schools and TV stations. The beginning of this interesting project was very difficult. I was not at all familiar with the Hollywood English of the movie people, so I had to learn that first. Our cameraman, Frank Robinson by name, came from Hawaii. He was used to big outdoor scenes with professional models. He spoke in his Polynesian accent only of shooting and takes in connection with my story board, of stills he wanted to include, etc., demonstrating his ideas with sweeping gestures.

“My God, very quickly I realized we had absolutely different conceptions about the film. I wanted no outdoor shootings at all, no expensive movie stars. I wanted to show only single letters, my paw manipulating a broad-edged pen, and for the letterforms, close-ups to explain the movement of the pen. In addition, I wanted special close-ups through a glass on which I would write. Turning the film during copying will make it look as though I was writing on air. At once my friends at Hallmark had a new term for this: frog views. How could I tell my thoughts to a wild man from the film business? But the frog view idea persuaded him and suddenly he said: Great, Hermann, let’s start tomorrow.

“I would like to add just one detail of the making of the film. After long discussions and the help of a lot of alcohol we started late in the night. I was sitting at a slanted glass table with a hot spotlight in my neck. Frank Robinson was lying on the floor with the camera ready for a frog view shot. My task was to write beautiful letters with ink which dried as soon the pen touched the slippery surface of an astralon sheet. Not an easy job at all with a nervous cameraman at your feet. But with whiskey and many words of praise at the end, we all finished the film. It was a painful experience and I swore never to burn my fingers as a pseudo Hollywood production manager, but to stay with my humble pen and design alphabets.”

The Art of Hermann Zapf

Read the full life story on linotype.com.

Visit the New York Times site for this: Hermann Zapf, 96, Dies: Designer Whose Letters Are Found Everywhere.

Rest in peace, Mr Zapf.

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June 10, 2015

Comments

I had never heard of Hermann Zapf before, but I am familiar with some of the typefaces he designed. Thanks for sharing his story.

I had the privilege of studying with Herr Zapf at RIT in 1980 and again in 1981. He was one of the most delightful people I’ve ever met – no false modesty but not at all arrogant or “puffed up.” Need I mention that he was a lettering genius. My goodness, the aesthetics and skill of that guy. No one like him before or since. So many stories….

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