(Re)designing Film Posters

This semester I’ve been teaching a class called “Art & Film.” For their final projects, I allowed students to make an art work, or art works, in response to the course material. Each time I teach the class, a number of students–usually graphic design students–decide to design (or redesign) film posters. This semester’s class yielded a particularly rich crop, so I thought I’d share some of them here. I also require students to write an artist statement explaining their work, and I’ve prefaced each student’s work with a relevant excerpt from their statement. Please click on the images to take a closer look.

I usually show my students at least one full Hitchcock film (this time, it was Rear Window), and clips from several others. Student projects often have a Hitchcockian theme.

Kirby Davis: “In Film Studies, Ed Sikov states that before the auterists, Hitchcock’s films were not recognized for their value beyond superficial entertainment. The auterists realized that he was not only brilliant as a film artist, but also praiseworthy for his communication of his worldview and questions of morality in his films…. Since the films of Alfred Hitchcock are a powerful visual communication of his own ideas, I decided to condense the entire narrative of the films into a single moment: the cameo appearances of Hitchcock within the film. This represents the director as artist and demonstrates how essential his ideas are to the creation of the final product…. In The Birds, Hitchcock appears walking two white terriers. He walks by the window wearing a cowboy hat in Psycho, and is seen at the train station with a fiddle in Strangers on a Train.”

Kirby Davis


Kirby Davis


Kirby Davis


Clara Thames: “As I rewatched The Birds before making the poster, the scene where the birds gathered on the jungle gym outside the school house stuck out in my mind. I decided to rely on mark making to recreate the feeling of that scene. It was not a funny or romantic scene, instead it was eery. Therefore I did not want to draw a pretty picture with nice light weights and happy colors. Instead I chose to scribble scratchy lined birds on a skewed jungle gym. I decided my type needed to be scratchy too. The image could not reflect the scene without scratchy type to go with it.”

Clara Thames


Mark Whitmire: “Can one single frame become an icon, synonymous with an entire film? With Steve McQueen on a motorcycle, sailing over a barbed wire fence, I would say so…. Even though McQueen’s character eventually wrecks the motorcycle and is recaptured, the leap over the fence became the hallmark of the film. It is instantly recognizable. For my project, I wanted to take this singular image and simplify it to help capture the essence of the film. The determination of McQueen’s character to do anything to escape and reach freedom is what helps to make the image so compelling.”

Mark Whitmire


The ‘Eighties and After
Other students chose more recent films for their points of departure.

Claire Ferguson: “For my last project I chose to do a series of movie posters inspired by John Hughes movies, and incorporate minimalist design as well as inspiration from Saul Bass’s work. In Saul Bass’s designs his single image is always portrayed in a sophisticated way and delivers a powerful message in just a small amount of simple shapes. I chose to do a single image that represented the movie(s) that I had chosen. I tried to choose an iconic image that epitomized the movie. So, for Sixteen Candles I chose to do a birthday cake with, of course, sixteen candles in it. Although this scene is at the end of the movie it is one of the most iconic of the whole film. For Ferris Bueller’s Day Off I chose to do a simple image of the red Ferrari that is featured in the movie. I added tire tracks because in the movie Ferris likes to drive the car fast. Last but not least is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. There are many memorable scenes from this movie, but the one that stuck out to me the most was the squirrel inside the Christmas tree.”

Claire Ferguson


Claire Ferguson


Claire Ferguson


Alexa Werling: “I selected a movie I had not watched (Trainspotting), analyzed the artwork posted on Netflix, watched the movie, and created a new, more fitting poster. Judging only by the cover art provided on Netflix, Trainspotting is a candid film about five friends or acquaintances…. Upon actually watching the film, I found a number of discrepancies between the movie and the assumptions I had made from the artwork. My suspected main character (Sick Boy) was not the protagonist at all; Mark Renton, the leftmost figure, was the real central character. The ‘intelligent’ looking Spud was, in fact, enduringly dimwitted. Diane, the sole female, is a precocious teenager who, while not promiscuous, certainly pushes boundaries. Begbie, on the far left, was the only character I nailed, save for the hypothesis that he held ‘more responsibility’ than the others. Most of all, I missed on the subject of the movie itself–it was all about drugs! Rather than starting their lives, most of the characters were destroying their chances at life. Using this information, I created a more fitting poster, based on drug use and the chaos of the film.”

Alexa Werling


Hal Teasler: “My poster is a bit of a knock-off of Drew Struzan and Tyler Stouts’ styles…. The first step was to come up with a general layout of the poster with a list of all the actors that I wanted to use in the poster. The next step was to watch the movie and take pictures. If I saw a scene or a moment that I thought might be good in the poster, I would pause the movie and take a picture…. After I had all the pictures I would organize the photos, picking the best ones. I composited the pictures in photoshop. I lowered the opacity of the layout and  printed it out on drawing paper. I redrew the poster with pencil and ink. I then scanned the image in and colored it in Illustrator. I wanted to keep a minimal color palette. I made the image low contrast to give it a washed-out or vintage look because the movie takes place in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I chose to set the type in Helvetica because it’s used on many older movie posters.”

Hal Teasler

Bethany Johnson: “I began by brainstorming and researching the film, looking for one image in particular that could represent the entire film. I chose the tail/tie that the meanest farmer, Bean, shoots off Mr. Fox in the film. It has two meanings, the first being the scene it is from in the film. The second, however, is a much deeper meaning. The animals in the film appear to be classy, well-educated animals. They wear slick clothes and participate in human activities such as school and work. Only for brief moments do they reveal their wild roots to the viewer.”

Bethany Johnson


David Kyle Newton: “The Water for Elephants poster does not work for me. For my poster, I thought I would change it around a good bit. Rather than go and photoshop the ‘A Listers’ faces into a poster, I thought it would be more interesting and much more original to hand work the poster…. I chose to add Rosie, the elephant that would save the Benzini Brothers’ Circus. However, I did not want to add her entire body. The head would get my point across…. Rather than just having a straight trunk for her, I thought the subtle shape of a water drop would be nice. This may not be noticeable at first glance, but I feel it adds more to the poster. It also incorporates the movie title into the imagery. Lastly, something else was needed. If I were to leave it just with the title and the image of Rosie, it wouldn’t feel complete. Something else from the movie was needed. In my opinion, a circus tent was a little generic. After viewing the film, I felt that the train was much more suitable. More of the movie takes place on the train that in the circus tent. However, I did not just want a train. I wanted it to be more interesting with a bridge.”

David Kyle Newton


And a New Release!
Several students also decided to make their own films for their final project, and some went so far as to create DVD sleeves and promotional posters. Such was the case with Corey. You can view his film, C4, here. As his poster suggests, it’s about a deadly game of Connect Four.  

Corey Childers: “For my final research project in this class, I chose to do a short film–a mockumentary about a competitive Connect Four player who hopes to defeat the current, undefeated champion of the CFUC (Connect Four Underground Championship). I’m not really sure how the idea came to me; it just popped into my head toward the end of class one day. I titled the film C4 and made a poster before I actually ever started shooting (or even writing the script)…. I used the basic design theme from the original poster for the DVD packaging and the onscreen menu…. I was pleasantly surprised with how the entire project turned out, and how much fun it all was, despite being a good bit of work. I’ve definitely gained a new appreciation (and a new fascination) for film-making and how DVD and Blu-ray releases are created.”

Corey Childers