How to Design a Great Movie Poster


A question I asked myself a couple of weeks ago was how do you design a great movie poster? Recently you might of noticed from my posts that I have been involved in movie poster design. Below is one of my latest creative works which, albeit isn’t as detailed as some of my other designs. However, I thought I would take you through some tips of good poster design with the steps, inspiration, resources and techniques used to create this poster from scratch.

The Project Brief

I will post another few fictitious movies for some more examples but for this one I am simply using the PSDTUTs competition brief of which one of my previous designs placed 3rd. The Movie is to be called “New Dawn“, the strap line is “Extinction is not an option” and it is to be set in a post-apocalyptic cityscape (sketchy as to how the world actually looks and is left for you to decide – for most designs you would have a much tighter brief whether it had to be based on an actual devastated cityscape scene). The only other information is to include some mysterious force and it can be animated or live motion film.

The story for me was a simple one a little along the lines of ‘The Happening’. Insects disguising themselves in the sunlight have started to attack humans, not animals, and currently the population is at a dangerous level with most places deserted.

Getting Motivated

The next thing for me was to think about what the story was going to involve. For this example I choose to keep the mysterious force a mystery and not something obvious in the hope of adding intrigue to the poster. A great example of this was used for the Cloverfield movie posters. It simply showed a name, date, striking sentence (‘some thing has found us’) and the head of the Status of Liberty missing with smoking buildings of New York in the background.

These sorts of poster are without doubt the best for drawing in the crowds from the mystery and it is impressive what this kind of advertising can create. This is the sort of thing I have tried to recreate in a lot of my designs for this competition but in particular in this one it is probably the most subtle and simplistic of them all – with the balls of light coming out of the sun.

Movie Poster Essentials

I have already mentioned that I think intrigue is an important factor but there are also others factors particularly if the poster your designing isn’t something you can easily add intrigue to.

  • Memorable
    Like a good logo design a poster should be something that you remember.
  • Striking
    It often helps to add a key point that catches the viewers eye and pulls them in and it also helps that it is a unique design.
  • Concise
    The poster should communicate the message clearly with good typography.
  • Intrigue
    As mentioned previously this double take approach does wonders.
  • Informative
    It is important to get the key details across like the title, date and possibly the actors. Along with making sure this information is laid out ordered and logical.
  • Space
    There are a lot of action blockbusters which try to squeeze as much as possible into the design and for some this approach does work but requires more work to make it effective in order to focus your eyes correctly on what is being presented (usually done like Eagle Eye where the colours break up the 2 actions scenes and it still comes across as an effective message). Though, for the more artistic designs, a good amount of spacing works wonders.
  • Audience
    Make sure you think about your target audience when you are preparing your design.

Inspiration

The next thing to do now we know the basics is to get inspired. The best place to this do depends on you – you could look at some other movie posters designs, some typography posters, concept art, watch some films in the same genre or maybe just some colours will get you inspired.

I personally like to work from watching movies and other poster designs – taking elements from them that I like and that maybe could of been utilised better. The main inspiration for this poster came from the Daywatch film. This is a great illustration type poster but I fell it lacked a clean execution. I also got inspired from another couple of designs from the movies poster for Kabluey (with the desolate road with no ones else around) and Premonition (where the birds in the trees for me are quite errie and sinister).

Resources

Okay so at this point you know how best to layout the poster, you have been inspired by other designs etc and so you should have a good idea and you just need to find the appropriate photos or start drawing the scenes – if you are doing it illustrated rather than photographic. You might well been given appropriate images to use for your designs, if you are really lucky, but I am assuming for this you don’t.

Alternatively, since typically poster designs are usually blown up quite large, using your own camera (like a nice 12 mega pixel SLR) would mean you could possibly get the exact images you want and not have to worry about resolution.

For me the first port of call is to find some stock images that fit exactly what I am looking for. In this poster design I used about 5 or 6 images all from flickr.com (make sure if it is going to be something commercial the photo has the corrects rights or you have contacted the photographer). I used an image for the main road, an image for the backdrop and 2 images for the birds in the trees. On top of this I used a special brush for the subtle “mysterious effect” over the sun. The title font is from dafont.com (Birth of a hero) and Gill Sans font for the rest of the typography sections.

Here are some other great resources which you should get some good pictures from which are royalty free:

  • iStockphotos
    This is one of my favourites and have a huge selections of both photos, illustrations, video and flash media.
  • Stockxpert
    2 million images and a lot of good quality.
  • Stock.xchang
    400,000 free stock images a mixed bag but you will always find some gems here.
  • Flickr
    Again get permission if using commercially but a huge selection if you have patience to search.
  • Google image search
    Ideal for getting some really high resolution images unfortunately most of the time keywords not always displaying what is relevant.

For more resources like photos, typography or just for some inspiration check out my Resources for Creative Design Inspiration post.

Tools of the Trade

For the most part you will probably only have one image that you are really 100% happy with and so you will more than likely need to go back on the last step to find the other elements as you build your idea up.

The best way to put them together is with Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. Both of these Adobe products are award winning and if you are a new designer and really want to further your career this is essential tool of the trade. You can visit the Adobe site today and download a 30 day trial to get you started.

The only other image program that I can recommend, from use, is Gimp. I use this as an executable portable application from a flash drive – if I am out and need to touch up an image at a friends for example this is perfect. It is free and if you can’t afford the Adobe route this will do tonnes of great stuff and works on a number of different operating systems (Windows, Mac OS X and Unix).

Techniques

Most of my designs end up using a lot of Photoshop layers and my first design tip for techniques is to label your layers – it can get quite messy if you have 50+ layers and none of the layers are labelled.

I’m not going to outline the exact techniques I have used here as that is for another post. I will however list some other sites with some key design techniques. (unfortunately these don’t apply to Gimp).

Also check out the tutorial poster design links listed at the end of this article.

Colours

Colours can really add to a design and really add that final touch. In this design it is very much a sci-fi theme and pretty much the norm for these recently, in terms of trends, is to use a gradient, normally from white to green (sometime tinted with a little blue). Take a look at my gallery and pick out the science fiction style movies and you will see a large proportion follow this trend (below are a few prime example).

For my design I used a similar technique to a previous design using 2 tones blended together with a gradient. I think this works really well at forcing the eyes to move from the bright to the dark – this is something that the Daywatch poster and the latest X-files movie poster have done very well.

Typography

This can sometimes be the most frustrating part. You have a final design for the graphic part but you need to marry up a typography for the title, strap line, actors and any other additional text you have.

First thing I do is to pick out about 6 fonts that I think match the style. I then create a layer for each type and simple try a number of different layer styles, blends, positions, spacing and sizes till I get something that I am happy with (from this I will typically have about 3 designs of which I pick the strongest one). This is a very important step and from looking at the entries for the latest competition this has been overlooked by a number of designers who having spent a while on the imagery only spent a fraction of the time adding the type.

Once I have a main layout I am happy with I will then think about whether I could find a similar font that would be better and add to the design or if it needs a manual element or alteration to the font that will make it a bit more unique?

Focus Points

One of the final phases is to step back and look at the design. I actually like to take this literally and walk back from my screen to look at it from a distance of, say, 5 metres. This usually flags up to me if something else needs to be added or if something should be placed somewhere else.

It is always good to think about where the viewer will focus and where their eyes would travel to make sure the composition fits and obviously all elements are aligned correctly and nothing has slipped.

The road shot which I cropped for this design was purposefully moved over more – so that the eye looks off down the road following to the blinding light and then moving up to the title then the birds – all after initially being attracted from the striking colours.

Superimpose it in an advertising hoarding for final tweaking

Conclusion

I hope this has given you some good tips and advice for designing your own movie posters. For the most part there is nothing particularly clever about designing posters than say designing a good magazine advert. It follows similar principles and should produce the same eye catching results.

Resources

Here are some more detailed tutorial resources that you may find useful: