One of the most distinguishable traits of humanity is the ability to create art. The creation of aesthetically pleasing visuals has the ability to bind humans together, by means of a few brushstrokes and a lot of creative imagination. Graphic design for filmmaking, however, is not exactly a replica of fine art, which is meant for a few of those people who have the eye for detail needed to understand paintings. Graphic design is driven by the idea of communicating to large audiences, so as to enhance the output of a scene or sequence. The elements of design help build a pedestal for a widely-acclaimed piece of design or film. In recent years, the role of graphic design in film has become more established, with more and more directors recognising the importance visual artists play in bringing their visions to life.
In its most basic form, the effect of graphic design on cinema is found in film titles or promotional material such as posters; however, this limits the effect of design on film to print or typographic sources only. The correlation between graphic design and film can be found in fundamental design elements such as composition, colour and forms of visual communication. These design standards serve as the foundation of any piece of artwork, still or moving. A background in the visual arts has an important relationship with cinema, particularly when strengthening the message and artistic quality of a film.
In film and television, graphic design extends to even the minutest details—like the newspaper an actor reads during a scene, and the packaging on merchandise in a store display—all of which must match the genre, theme and historical period in which the story is set.
The idea is to create a believable, authentic world. Design is an essential part of storytelling—aka moving the plot forward, and creating a compelling atmosphere through expertly designed visual elements.
THE FINER DETAILS
Annie Atkins, who has won awards for several of movie projects, like Titanic, Vikings, and two for The Grand Budapest Hotel, does most of her work by hand. Think: accurate passports, maps, postage stamps, telegrams and banknotes, which generally go unnoticed when in the backdrop of a movie scene. These are actually exemplary pieces of finesse and skill. The knowledge of historical periods helps a graphic designer track down minute details, which ensure that the final look and feel of a film is as authentic as can get. This works for the audience, of course, but also for actors, who need that environment to get into character. For movies based on mythology or other periods of past, extensive research is required so as to replicate and simulate the exact style and presentation of that particular era—sign posts, inaccurate fonts, vintage themes.
For anyone who has watched the 1960 blockbuster thriller, Psycho, you might remember the opening sequence of the movie. The minimal and typographic opening managed to create a feeling of contrast and tension, especially when paired with the opening score music by Bernard Herrmann. The effect of the lines cutting through the text is perfectly in tandem with the theme of this classic thriller.
GRAPHICS FOR POSTERS
Since the wee days of cinema, posters have played a pivotal role in presenting the public with new film releases, inspiring intrigue, and increasing box office revenues. Much like a book cover, a movie poster serves as the very first impression of the film, which can make or break the viewer’s desire to watch the movie. Creating a narrative through a mere image is difficult, especially when it has to evoke a sense of amusement, anticipation and curiosity in the mind of the viewer—sans giving out too much details so as to coerce the viewer to book the first day, first show at the theatre in a quest to know what happens in the movie. Capturing the essence of the movie in the poster is essential, and is the key component that dictates all of the design choices. This approach helps appeal to the target audience, as this is exactly what they are looking to experience when watching the movie.
A few key elements to keep in mind are text, typography and details. For instance, the aspects of text on a movie poster typically include the film title, tagline, language style and fonts. The title and the tagline usually should use a language, which reflects the overall genre and theme of the movie. This tagline should speak to the viewer, while leaving the viewer wondering, at the same time. Though posters are a primarily visual form of communication, the textual aspect brings it alive and allows it to connect with the viewers.
For example, the conflict between the good and evil—portrayed by Harry and Voldemort respectively—is the dominating theme of the movie, and this has been clearly depicted with head-to-head in the poster. The image captures the grim and dark essence of the movie—the characters are in a battle, bruised and bleeding, full of determination and animosity.
PRINCIPLES OF DESIGN
The composition of a scene has the ability to convey a message by placement of objects within the picture plane. Humans’ view of the world is based on the interaction of two spatial systems, according to Arnheim, noted art and film theorist. The picture plane—the overall frame of a piece—and the objects held within form the elements. Composition is of utmost importance to how a given movie sequence is perceived. An audience views an image differently if the subject of the piece is placed in the centre, rather than the side of the picture plane. Compositions can be created through several techniques. One of the most common terms within the realm of composition is balance, which includes symmetry, the rule of thirds, and hierarchy. Asymmetrical compositions allow for other elements within the frame to be shown and allot negative space for the eye to rest. Hierarchical structure within a composition is an important tool to clearly convey the meaning of the piece. Hierarchy with artistic elements is an artistic development pre-dating that of the ancient world. In filmmaking, use of hierarchy can be found in what is known as Hitchcock’s Rule. This occurs when a particular element is emphasised in the frame.
In order to understand the properties of colour, it is primary to comprehend the term hue. Hue is the basic form of the colour itself. For example, when one looks at the trees, it is first perceived as green. If a person looks at the sky, the colour that hits the mind is blue. In a colour spectrum, hue is where a particular colour is placed. The intensity of a colour can be used to depict emotion by means of relative brightness or dullness. A dull colour is used to depict drama while a bright colour carries energy. An example can be seen in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 movie, Schindler’s List. The only colour in the black and white movie is a child in a red coat, which is a great example of well-placed colours to evoke moods.
A grid is useful in design to unify elements as a whole. An ideal grid encourages the designer to vary the scale and placement of elements without relying wholly on arbitrary or whimsical judgments. The grid offers a rationale and starting point for each composition, converting a blank area into a structured field. It organises particular design elements within a large work. The first image is seen at the beginning of the film, Oldboy, is a painting that is hung in the room of the main character. Underneath the painting is the quote, ‘Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Weep, and you weep alone.’ By the end of the film, the main character recreates the ambiguous expression of the man in the painting on his face. The audience then connects both scenes visually and is left wondering whether there will be a happy or sad ending to Oldboy. As stated above, the use of Hitchcock’s Rule reveals an important symbol within the film that comes into play later in the narrative.
Sometimes, the work of a graphic designer isn’t given the value it deserves. Those hundreds of names you see in the closing credits are there for a reason—each has a unique skill and expertise. Without each of their contributions and talent, the film wouldn’t be half as good.
In graphic designing, things are mostly what they are: company logo, a billboard, a newspaper, a tube of toothpaste, etc. The knowledge of when a design will need to be the centre of attention or need to camouflage into the background, is of importance. Knowing what works and what doesn’t, depends on the set, installation and geographical location. In some cases, the graphics are applied straight during post-production. Remember the scene from Charlie Wilson’s War? How could you have Tom Hanks standing on the Capitol lobby floor without the physical tile floor, ceiling and wall graphics? Answer: graphics!