The horrors of war are rarely confined to the battlefield. The physical and mental toll of battle drags on long after tours are completed and resolutions are reached. Many veterans suffer from PTSD, returning from deployment with lingering emotional and psychological issues. This disease can strain relationships, stunt reintegration, compromise lives, and lead to deadly consequences for themselves and their loved ones.
Fire Exiting is an independent documentary about one such solider, Daniel Somers, who tragically committed suicide in 2013, nearly six years after he returned from his second tour in Iraq. What makes his story important is exactly what makes it so mundane. Daniel's time in the Middle East and at home is much like those of other solders. Through the experiences of Daniel, his friends, and family, Fire Exiting intends to shed light on a growing problem that servicemen and women face every day returning from war.
In the early stages of the project, the documentary's producers approached me to design a logo that could be used for various marketing materials and fundraising campaigns.
After consulting with the producers, I knew that this project would require a great deal of care and consideration. Not only is the subject matter incredibly delicate, but we wanted to make sure that we properly honored not only Daniel's memory but also the continued efforts for awareness and support that his friends, family, and other advocacy groups make on his behalf. We wanted the branding to be accessible without being cliche. As a designer, it's a delicate line to walk especially given that the military's visual vocabulary is so recognizable.
I started by writing, distilling out key ideas and outlining a few design concepts.
For me, the title “Fire Exiting” has a lot of meaning. Given the subject matter of your documentary, it mostly readily refers to a nearly uncontrollable element that has the potential to consume and destroy any fuel until there is nothing left. Fire has a vitality, one which will eventually burns itself out. Fire is tangible and ephemeral at the same time. It has the ability to sustain life but also to inflict harm. You can clearly see and feel it, but you cannot touch or grab it.
Fire also leaves something behind; it creates ash, embers, and charcoal. These things can certainly have a use, which is important to remember. More importantly, they speak to the transformative power fire has. The idea of fire exiting or leaving somewhere conjures up these remainder images. All of the things fire leaves behind are brittle and fragile. There is a hollowness to the world after a fire has died. It’s a black, burnt, smoldering wasteland.
I want to focus on the kinds of things fire leaves behind. I want to focus on the hollowness. I want to create an identity and visual which speaks not only to the invasive and destructive experiences which cause PTSD, but also the invasive and destructive aftermath of PTSD induced suicides. But, I think there somehow needs to be a bit of an optimism to it. I don’t want to shy away from the very real and very traumatic subject matter you are dealing with, but I think there needs to be some way to draw your audience in with a hope for the future. Ultimately, you are presenting this story not as a condemnation of the military or our treatment of veterans, but as a means to show the real impact of war on the people who fight it, highlight a problem, and show the kinds of things being done to alleviate it.
Concept 1: Handprint
The first cave paintings ever made were outlines of hands, done by blowing pigments onto hands that had been pressed against the cave wall. The meaning behind these basic rudiemtary symbols is not clearly known, but many anthropolgists believe they simply served as a means to assert ones identity. The hand was the first tool. By recreating it as a non-essential mark, this literal and figurative extension of the body became a message or signifier meaning “I was here”, or, more accurately, “I am here”. There is something very powerful in this basic symbol., especially in how it is created from what is missing.
Concept 2: Burnt Wood/Charcoal
I think this image will be the most immediately recognizable and will clearly communicate the kind of themes I am going for. Obviously, I’m not just going to give you a picture of a bunt log; I think there are a lot of elements I can draw from. Burnt logs have a very distinctive color and texture. There’s a certain brightness and darkness to them. I’m not sure if this would be a background image that was treated somehow or a texture within the title treatment, or just an idea to give me some inspiration.
Concept 3: Ash
Ash is the final stage of the fire. There are obviously different kinds of ash and different ways it could be used. It’s close to dust and dirt, but it is light and easily disturbed. It has a uniqueness that is inescapable. I think would be easiest to use as a texture, but I’m worried it will just look like generic powder. I think there’s something in the way ash smudges and streaks that could be very powerful. Maybe it could be combined with another texture or element to create a more compelling visual.
The film's branding needed to be original. However, there were some existing design assets available for inspiration. Daniel's family had a few t-shirts printed for benefit concerts they organized shortly following his passing.
Armed with a wealth of research and intellectual development, I began with digital sketches to further refine some of my concepts. I knew that the logo would have to have a rawness and a grit, so I focused primarily on creating different textures that I could use to give some more depth to the design. I also looked at a few type treatments for the title. I knew this would be a particularly challenging aspect of the final design.
The perfect image for this subject is an empty soldier's boot. It's part of the iconic soldier memorial of boots, a rifle, and a helmet. Boots are left by the front door when soldiers return home. They are often the first thing they put on when getting ready in the field. In addition to a rifle and a helmet, they are a necessary part of the solider's life. The image of a pair of empty, warn boots suggest a soldier who is gone, either far removed from duty or deceased. I used this basic shape with some of the textures I came up while developing my concept to create images of boots that are more akin to paintings. There are boots being torn apart to reveal torment inside, boots being eaten from the edges and disappearing, boots shattering into or outlining the ghostly silhouette of a soldier.
I thought that the hand-drawn type concepts I used looked too fabricated. During further refinement of the concepts, I worked on creating my own type to capture a more tangible personality and realism.