As the panic of Coronavirus has worn down into the doldrums of low-grade anxiety, I’ve found that my energy levels and productivity have taken a hit, despite the increase in free time. But, in that initial adrenaline flurry of quarantine (an odd mixture of existential panic and a freedom not entirely unlike being on summer vacation), I briefly made use of my ample free time to pursue a new hobby: digital painting to create movie posters. In my professional life I make use of graphic design, so I wasn’t coming at this endeavor as a total newcomer, but my formal illustrative skills are absolutely zilch. Anyway, the crew here at The Twin Geeks found enough merit in what I had made to warrant a sort of digital art gallery where I could explain the artistic intent behind my brief flurry of amateur creative activity. Rest your weary eyes traveler, and welcome to the gallery.
The Conversation (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
The first attempt. I began with a somewhat impressionistic style for this one because I felt it both complimented the themes of the film, a rough collection of impressions that come together to form a disquieting whole, and because it could better hide my inability to capture realistic human features. (But we’re not going to dwell on that are we?) The image of Gene Hackman hunched over his saxophone is an iconic one, but I toyed with constructing the image out of the negative space of the shadows, to show how much Hackman’s character is actually in the dark.
The Night of the Hunter (dir. Charles Laughton, 1955)
This poster concept is more of a rough draft that I never fully completed. I failed to adequately capture the likeness of Mitchum’s terrifying preacher, but the concept of him poised in the darkness with his hands splayed out like a predatory spider captured the horrific side of this Southern Gothic fairy tale. The blending and proportions weren’t up to my standards, and at this point I wasn’t quite confident enough to push through and correct them, but if you stand far enough away and squint you can almost see what I was going for!
The American Friend (dir. Wim Wenders, 1977)
In my third attempt I kept a sort of sketchy impressionistic style, but challenged myself to capture a bit more of the likeness of the actors. I don’t think I did a very good job with Dennis Hopper, but Bruno Ganz comes through for me. This poster design works better for me conceptually than artistically. I tried to create a composition that looked like a heart, to capture the off-kilter toxic bromance between the two characters, and then bathed them in the sickly green neon that permeates the film at times.
My Fair Lady (dir. George Cukor, 1964)
After working on several dark films I wanted to attempt something a bit lighter. This poster didn’t challenge me illustratively, but again I tried to capture the thematic essence of the film. Since the movie is about “building” Eliza into the perfect proper lady, and because fashion is such a large part of it, I wanted to make this poster appear to be a fashion design sketch, complete with visible pencil marks. I’m happy with the rough quality to it, and the strokes of color add a bit of texture and coherence to the thing just enough so it doesn’t appear accidentally unfinished.
Apocalypse Now (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
It was challenging to come up with a design for this film that adequately captured the scope of themes and aesthetics of this film. I wanted to do justice to the madness, decay, chaos, and, of course, Kurtz’s looming presence. I don’t know if I fully succeeded, but there are visual elements I employed to at least try to depict each of those themes. The colored smoke represents madness, the skull represents decay, the blood-like texture represents the chaos of the war, and Kurtz’s hollowed out visage represents, well, Kurtz. And for the title font I of course couldn’t have done anything better than what was already on just about every official poster for the film, so I had to use that to tie it all together.
High and Low (dir. Akira Kurosawa, 1963)
The design for this poster really just came from the title itself. I knew I wanted to work in a vertical composition, and use black and white to contrast the “high” and “low” areas of the poster. (I tried to work in pink as well, to represent the smoke scene, but it always came away looking too forced and distracting.) At the top of the poster you have Kingo Gondo’s mansion up on the hill, and then the composition draws your eyes down to the profile of Gondo’s face, and down further to the mysterious figure in the depths. I hope that the way the images flow together implies a connection beyond just carrying your eye along the title. Including the Japanese kanji from the original poster (which translates to Heaven and Hell) was a no brainer as well because those characters work so well in vertical space.
Stalker (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)
Because texture and color is so important to Tarkovsky’s atmospheric sci-fi masterpiece, I wanted to try to capture those elements as best I could. This involved much arduous painting and repainting of areas to best capture the earthy hues and dilapidated, waterlogged environment. The hardest thing about this painting turned out to be making the water actually look like water, and I spent an inordinate amount of time painting over and over until I finally got something I was halfway satisfied with. I used the image of the trio in front of the fabled “room”, because it’s both a crucial and striking scene in the film, and its natural framing lends itself well to poster design.
Rear Window (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)
I finally decided to try to capture realistic likenesses of the actors in an attempt to make a poster inspired by pulp crime novels of the time. Because my drawing skills are fairly limited, I had to work extremely closely with the reference stills of Jimmy Stewart and Raymond Burr, tracing their basic features and then returning to them often to make sure I was getting the right details and color tones. This poster probably took me as long as all the others combined (which each took probably an hour or two), with most of that time spent getting the color blending to look natural. I’m particularly happy with how Burr’s character turned out, lurking dangerously in the shadows and the blue of the title reflecting off his hair like a neon light. This was more of a technically satisfying project than a creatively satisfying one, though, as it was mostly as a test to see if I could properly blend colors into realistic tones that have depth, contours, and shadows.
Citizen Kane (dir. Orson Welles, 1941)
The last poster I made is fittingly for a film about finality. The style of this poster was heavily inspired by the beautiful Criterion artwork that Eric Skillman created for The Magnificent Ambersons. Obviously my work doesn’t come anywhere close, but the nostalgically hued, deconstructed artstyle felt like it would lend itself well to Citizen Kane as well, where the memory of this man is already fading even as his own death looms large before him (just as his death looms over the film as whole). The image of a man who wishes to be a giant, himself dwarfed by the giant fireplace of the monument-cum-mausoleum he constructed to himself, was a thematically poignant one to construct the poster around. For the title treatment I wanted to create the impression of Kane-the-idea as a sort of ghost haunting Kane-the-man. No matter how much he had, everything he wanted always seemed to haunt him.