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Review of “Making Faces: Metal Type in the 21st Century”

In Rich Kegler’s documentary, Jim Rimmer tells how he designs and manufacturers metal typefaces.

“I know this may look insane, but it works for me.”

Jim Rimmer’s clear, soothing voice guides us through his process of making a metal typeface, from the first sketches to the final type, ready for the letterpress. He is a very charming subject who can explain his practice in a way that anyone can understand it, while throwing in delightful little quips to keep your interest piqued. Even a total typographic novice would enjoy the film. Jim looks like he was a good hugger, and that after a day’s filming, they went somewhere to eat freshly baked oatmeal cookies. Sadly, Jim passed away in 2010, and after watching this film, I truly get the sense that I missed out by never having met him. It makes one wonder if there was more that director Richard Kegler had planned for the film, but either way, he makes great use of the footage he has.

Photo by Anna Prior

Rich has a good sense of what needs to be shown to both educate and hold interest. The film has a nice rhythm, and good visual sense. You feel as if you’re right there, and at the same time, really wish you were, in fact, right there.

A well-made documentation of almost any creative process is rare, and that itself is notable. But it is equally important to see that typefaces are made by human beings. Laymen often take it for granted that letters have always been made by humans, usually painstakingly, whether metal or digital.

A true typophile would buy this in a heartbeat. Graphic designers and students should see it if given the chance.

There is quite a lot of information in the movie, even just at 45 minutes. For total newcomers to typomania, it will probably require a re-watch or two to absorb it all. And for long established enthusiasts, there are extras that dive deeper into the of the intricacies of the process, including “The Creation of a Printing Type from the Design to the Print by Frederic W. Goudy.” While clips of the Goudy film are used in the Rimmer documentary, it is a wonderful addition to be able to see the whole thing. Cinematic techniques have changed, but making a metal typeface seems to remain the same.

As a fellow typeface designer I really enjoyed this. It was nice to know that as complicated as making a digital typeface can get, making a well-designed typeface has always been a complicated process. And especially nice to see a process so focused on the hand, not the computer.

One thing I completely geeked out over was getting to see Ikarus. I’d heard about it before, but never seen it in action. Essentially, Ikarus involves a hand-held, mouse-like device that the designer uses to input data about a hand-drawn glyph into the computer.

Having watched it, I feel more privileged to have the piece of metal type that was included in the DVD, cast from the “k” matrix featured so prominently in the film. A real connection.

It must have given Rich a great sense of accomplishment to make something with so much meaning. Sure, it could be argued by pedants that typefaces have meaning, but let’s admit it—we’re not saving lives here. And Making Faces isn’t saving lives either, but it is sharing something deeper, and something with broader educational value than a piece of software. This film is a truly meaningful contribution to the crafts of printing and typography, and preserving the memory of an inspiring man.