Blog: Film studio logos and relief models

This blog post will blow your mind. Did you know that relief modeling was the inspiration for major film studio logos from the 1920s to today?

rkoradiopictures_relief-globe Title sequences in older films often have delightfully analog elements of design. The photo included at right is the production title for RKO Pictures’ The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). RKO, built from various studio mergers under David Sarnoff (television pioneer) and Joseph P. Kennedy, went on to produce the globally-released films such as King Kong and Citizen Kane, and had iconic stars such as Fred Astaire, John Wayne, Katharine Hepburn, and Alfred Hitchcock.


Universal Studios early logo with circling plane. Click the photo for a visual history of all relief globe logos for Universal:

RKO and Universal Studios used relief globes in their title sequences and logos. Each relief globe was surrounded by illogical fluffy clouds. Fluffy clouds juxtaposed with space became entrenched in the iconography. Clouds are used in the logos of Columbia Pictures (see a history of its logo here), Warner Brothers, Lionsgate, Pathe, DreamWorks. In Orion films, they used swirling stars in space, but no clouds or earth. All of these corporate logos, Universal as the best example, morphed over the last 90 years from the office relief globe to a brilliant computer graphic but retained the core symbolism of global, lofty visualization.


After a series of mergers and breaks which included Jospeh P. Kennedy, RKO Pathé pictures had this logo of the RKO globe with a rooster on the top. The rooster crows as the earth turns. The modern Pathé logo has turning letters without the rooster.

The early use of a relief globes in the title sequences for RKO and Universal are interesting for two reasons. First consider that in the late 1920s, relief modelling was still a valuable commercial visualization of the earth. In museums, schools, businesses, and transportation hubs a relief model was still popular and essential to understanding the relationship of tiny us to a vast planet. A relief globe was wonderful stuff back then! Air travel and aerial mapping were still in their infancy. We were struggling to piece together all the places seen from the air into one visual whole.

Second, a globe of any kind was a symbol for global power, for reach, for ease of conquest, for broad knowledge, for the unspoken ability to go to any of the places your finger might point to–if you were rich enough and powerful enough and casual about it. Here, too, the globe was the ambition of the new media casually exposed: the conquest, reach, and ability to put its ideas in your head wherever you were on the planet.

However interesting the formative usage of the relief globe may have been, none of this accounts for the rooster on the globe.

The RKO globe from the logo was an iconic signpost on the RKO Studios building in Hollywood (globe in center of Bing map aerial view below and link to more images at:



Spielberg’s studio logo with a boy fishing from the moon. It has the flavor of the relief globes so classically used by studios, the clouds of Columbia studios, the stars of Orion films…but adds something new. John Williams wrote the score of the DreamWorks logo sequence. SKG are Spielberg’s initials.



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