The Stories Behind 8 Movie Studio Logos
By Rudie Obias
These logos play before your favorite films. Here's where they came from.
Movie studio publicist Howard Dietz designed the lion logo for Goldwyn Picture Corporation in 1917; he based it on the mascot of his alma mater, Columbia University. When Goldwyn Pictures merged with Metro Pictures Corporation and Louis B. Mayer Pictures in 1924, the movie studio kept the logo under its new name: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, or simply MGM.
Seven lions have been used for MGM's logo: Slats the Lion was used during Hollywood's silent era, while Jackie the Lion's mighty roar was the first to be heard during the sound era in MGM's first talkie White Shadows on the South Seas in 1928. Telly and Coffee were briefly used for the movie studio's Technicolor films. Tanner was used during Hollywood's Golden Age, appearing in front of movies like The Philadelphia Story, The Wizard of Oz, and Gone with the Wind. George the Lion was used from 1956 to 1958; a lion named Leo appears in the logo that's used today.
Above the lion's head is the motto "Ars Gratia Artis," which is Latin for "Art for Art's Sake."
2. Universal Pictures
Though Universal Pictures' studio logo has changed throughout its history, it has always featured a globe as its centerpiece. The first version of the logo played in front of the silent film By the Sun's Rays and featured Saturn-like rings surrounding the globe with the title "Universal Films—The Trans-Atlantic Film Co." in 1914.
The logo received a major overhaul in the '20s and '30s: An airplane, flying around the spinning globe, left behind a smoke trail that transformed into the movie studio's name. In the late-'30s/early '40s, the spinning globe added sparkling stars, while in the '60s, a colored version of the logo added translucent rings.
In 1997, composer Jerry Goldsmith created fanfare for the Universal Pictures logo. The new score first appeared in front of The Lost World: Jurassic Park, along with a modern logo that featured the spinning globe at sunrise. The movie studio updated the modern logo with a new arrangement of the Universal fanfare music from composer Brian Tyler for its 100th anniversary in 2012. Currently, the Universal Logo features a spinning globe at sunset instead of sunrise.
Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen founded DreamWorks Studios in 1994. Spielberg wanted a logo that was reminiscent of Hollywood's Golden Age, and he envisioned a man fishing from Moon. He brought the idea to artist Robert Hunt, who suggested that the man should be a boy instead; Spielberg agreed, and Hunt used his son William as the model. Kaleidoscope Films and Industrial Light & Magic created the logo and added the initials SKG, which stands for Spielberg, Katzenberg, and Geffen. Composer John Williams created the DreamWorks fanfare.
4. Warner Bros.
Warner Brothers Pictures, Incorporated was founded by Polish immigrant brothers Albert, Harry, Sam, and Jack Warner (born Wonskolaser) in 1923, five years after the release of their first film, My Four Years in Germany. The studio's very first logo was roughly the same shield we know today: On top was an image of the actual studio building in Burbank, California; on the bottom were the WB initials.
In 1929, to show that their movies had sound, Warner Bros. shared its logo with Vitaphone, and in 1934, a shield logo floating in a cloud-filled sky with the WB taking up the entire shield debuted. Jack Warner sold off control of Warner Bros to Seven Arts, Inc., and the studio was renamed to Warner Bros.-Seven Arts in 1967. The logo changed for a brief time with a W7 within the shield.
Between 1972 and 1984, the studio used a stylized logo, featuring a red or white W in a black circle, that was created by Legendary graphic designer Saul Bass. (It's currently the logo for Warner Music Group.) Today, Warner Bros. uses an image of their studios in Burbank dissolving into the shield logo to the melody of "As Time Goes By" from Casablanca, a Warner Bros. film.
5. Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures' logo has gone through a number of changes since the studio was established in 1924. The original iteration of the logo featured a female Roman soldier holding a shield in her left hand and a sheaf of wheat in her right. In 1928, Roman soldier was replaced by a woman, draped in the American Flag, holding up a torch. It's believed it was modeled after Evelyn Venable, the actress who would later voice the Blue Fairy in Walt Disney's Pinocchio. In the late '30s, the woman was placed on a pedestal and the American Flag was replaced with a simple blue drape, and in the '80s, the Torch Lady's body was tweaked to resemble the curves of a Coca-Cola bottle after the soft drink company purchased the movie studio in 1982.
In 1992, Columbia Pictures commissioned New Orleans artist Michael J. Deas to re-design its logo. He hired newspaper graphics artist Jenny Joseph to model as the Torch Lady and created an oil painting during her lunch break. “We just scooted over there come lunchtime and they wrapped a sheet around me and I held a regular little desk lamp, a side lamp and I just held that up and we did that with a light bulb," Joseph said.
Deas' original design was enhanced and tweaked over the years, but remains very similar to the Columbia Pictures logo we know today. "I never thought it would make it to the silver screen and I never thought it would still be up 20 years later," Deas told New Orleans' WWL-TV. "I certainly never thought it would be in a museum, so it’s kind of gratifying.”
6. Twentieth Century Fox
Special effects animator and matte painting artist Emil Kosa, Jr. designed the Art Deco logo for 20th Century Fox after Fox Film Corporation and Twentieth Century Pictures merged in 1935. Alfred Newman, the musical director for United Artists at the time, composed the iconic fanfare music in 1933, two years before the merger; Newman later became head of Twentieth Century-Fox's music department.
Fun fact: Emil Kosa, Jr. painted the Statue of Liberty ruin at the end of the original Planet of the Apes in 1968.
7. Walt Disney Pictures
Believe it or not, Walt Disney Pictures didn't use a traditional logo until 1985. Instead, various stylized versions of the words "Walt Disney Presents" were used at the beginning of all animated and live-action movies. (The studio used a "Neon Mickey" logo in front of their home video releases during the late '70s and early '80s.)
The "Magic Castle" logo—a white castle revealing itself on a blue backdrop while a variation of the tune "When You Wish Upon a Star" from Pinocchio played—was introduced in 1985. In 2006, a very detailed version of the castle and its background were introduced at the beginning of all Disney movies. The updated logo also featured "When You Wish Upon a Star," but added a traveling train, waving flags, exploding fireworks, and Tinkerbell creating a banner around Cinderella's Castle.
8. Paramount Pictures
Adolph Zukor, Jesse L. Lasky, and W. W. Hodkinson founded Paramount Pictures (originally called Famous Players Film Company) in 1912. Its logo, which is known as the "Majestic Mountain," is the oldest surviving movie studio logo in Hollywood. Legend has it that the mountain was conceived when Hodkinson drew a doodle of the Ben Lomond Mountain range in his native Utah during a meeting with Zukor. The original logo featured the mountain with 24 stars surrounding it. The stars represented the 24 movie stars under contract with Paramount Pictures at the time. Today, there are only 22 stars in the logo; Michael Giacchino composed Paramount's fanfare for the studio's 100th anniversary in 2012.