Research Point: Movie Posters

I have always loved movies and the posters have alway had an amazing allure to me, sometimes they even look better than the actual films. These days a lot of movie posters are quickly put together in photoshop and some are done with very little care, I will include some of the worst some of the best and even some that are specially made for the super fans of the films, and aim to summarise what makes a successful poster at the end.

When posters go wrong.

When I first saw this poster I was shocked at just how bad it was, this is heavily composited and I have no idea why, it would have been less effort to photograph anyone of similar build to Russell brand and add his screaming head on after, instead they have used one gesturing hand flipped it and added a ring on one of the fingers, the same ring is then added on to a different finger, as is a buckle to the right arm. Even the shirt seems to have been made from composited patterns, and they do not match up, the technical stuff aside the poster doesn’t tell me anything about the film, this is one of the lost arts in movie posters today, the loss of a narrative or something to get the potential viewer excited.

I think the most important thing for a movie poster is to generate some excitement, It has to demand some attention. If a poster hasn’t drawn me in and told me a little of what to expect then I’d class it as a dull poster, the films content might be very good, which is in its own way a tragedy. The poster cant tell you everything either, some of my favourites offer small references back to the film to notice once you have viewed them. The most common reoccurring theme for success is that they have hand drawn elements as opposed to photograph, it seem s odd that these seem to depict the film better than photographs can, they seem to have more life to them when done correctly. There are a few illustrators that dominated film posters, before the quick and easy trend of 3 or 5 characters next to each other with a title above or below took over. The work of John Alvin, Bob Peak, Bill Gold, Richard Amsel, Saul Bass, Tom Jung, Eric Pulford and the mighty Drew Struzan have all at somepoint filled my eyes with marvelment.

John Alvin
Bill Gold
Eric Pulford
Saul Bass
Bob Gold
Tom Jung
Richard Amsel

The techniques used for the posters range from oil and acrylic paintings to airbrushed pigment and coloured pencils. There is an illustrator workign in film posters that has based his style on the now retired Drew Struzan, his name is Kyle Lambert and he apes the airbrush, acrylic and pencil approach as an all digital workflow.

Another facet to film posters is the fan made or the re imagined, these are often successful because of a deep love and respect for the source, these artworks are often used for anniversary additions or limited edition art prints, companies like arrow video actually offer two covers the original and a re imagined, this boutique style approach is the back bone of their business or strategy, offering something new and unique, re mastered or reworked. They too seem to value the cover and the faithful representation of the film.


Below or some examples of posters that just don’t really do anything positive for the films they are representing, These seem to all be of a type, very formulaic and dull in appearance.


To summarise my findings to me a successful movie poster has to be;

  • Quick and Punchy
  • Exciting to look at
  • Offer a visual cue to some narrative, genre or quality of content
  • Interesting Layout with a definite structure
  • Quality Imagery and or content

Exercise: Poster & Flyer

This exercise asked me to design a poster and accompanying flyer, the exercise is about how to deal with different work spaces, the poster is large and one sided, the flyer is smaller and double sided. This is also to be photocopied so will be in black ink/toner on what ever paper they select when making copies.

It advised me to carefully consider the use of imagery as these wont reproduce very well, it also asked the question was anything missing from the brief. Once I read through the brief the only thing I was wondering was how did the client want the advert to look, was this a high end prestigious advert or a fun, cheap piece of marketing. As they was looking to reproduce this with a photocopier I imagined a conversation that would imply the latter, a fun cheap local singing course. Given my limitations it also gave me a low if kind of advert feel, the sort of thing you would find in a comic, almost like a coupon for x-ray specs. I wanted to add an image and this could be very simple, in fact it had to be, I kept thinking something fun was needed so started to work up some ideas around singing and sound waves.

these seemed too cartoony

this sound wave felt like it was too abstract and I was worried it would lose something in reproduction
Adding a mouth seemed to add to the problem

I liked this mouth but seemed to be in pain rather than singing
This felt like a good fit for what I had in mind, I used a halftone brush to add some rendering and give the mouth some form and style that would fit in with my vintage stye comic advert.

Once I settled on the image I started to add the copy, Starting with the poster first I chose a vintage pulp comic looking script typeface. The price seemed like it was very reasonable and decided this would be very high up in the information hierarchy, that along with the header seemed to play to each other’s strengths. After that it was quite wordy, I split the two messages into a bolder sub header and a lighter message that stated no experience was needed, the contact information and Timings being important had to stand out these I gave a bit more vertical space form the previous message hoping it would create two distinct groups. I added a rough distorted background, as no colours can be used this was a pure tonal exercise I tried to create strong contrasting areas without out looking dull and lifeless. Using the news print style halftone pattern added to the theme and also covered up any potential loss of quality when reproducing wit a photocopier.

The flyer being two sided allowed me to use one side as an attention grabber with the headline, Image contact details and price on the leading first side and then all the additional information on the reverse. I think it was important to keep these looking uniform, the flyer may be available where the poster was being displayed and it seems important that these are obviously the same local event. I also switched the header and sub header, I felt that the sub header was more descriptive and I wanted to separate them so I would lead with the sub heading message.