Why do movie posters always look hand-drawn? And how do they do it?
April 25, 2007 6:07 AM   Subscribe

Movie posters normally carry images that look hand-drawn. Even 'real' landscapes, or people, are frequently represented in this style. Why do studios do this? And are these images really drawn by hand, or are they just photoshopped photos?

This is clearly something that you see much more often with blockbusters than art-house movies. I'm curious to understand the marketing logic behind representing photographs in this way. I'd also like to learn how designers of movie posters go about achieving this hand-drawn look.
posted by scrm to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Highly photoshopped photos. Done to make actors look better.
posted by fire&wings at 6:21 AM on April 25, 2007

To print posters cheaply, you need to design it with halftoning in mind. You'd want to reduce the number of inks used and make sure that detail isn't lost due to the low dot density this printing involves.

I'm thinking that most done today are done in photoshop or illustrator and aren't hand-redrawn. Photos weren't as easy to montage before digital publishing programs like this, so were just drawn.

Here's a photoshop tutorial on making a comic book look, which is very similar to the printing look of movie posters (cheap, fast).
posted by cowbellemoo at 6:22 AM on April 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

All movies are fantasies. And you want your fantasies to look good, yes?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:22 AM on April 25, 2007

While the care that goes into photo manipulation for ads is obviously obsessive, I'm always astounded how badly executed it often winds up being. I can't tell you how often I see big subway ads for whatever new TV show or film and can tell instinctively when heads don't match their bodies or bodies themselves have been reshaped. Or the perspective on some objects is distractingly dead-wrong.

This is especially interesting to me considering the recent pop-culture rapture over all things "design" related. Half of these posters are for reality shows about some kind of designer, and the design of the ad itself is total weaksauce.

It's probably just part of the trap of advertising: they take something or someone familiar and manipulate the image into a new, unfamiliar configuration. Whether on the merit of its artfulness of its unfamiliarity or "wrongness", you stop to look so that your brain can appraise the new configuration.
posted by hermitosis at 7:40 AM on April 25, 2007

Although most movie poster artists these days are much more digital-oriented, I imagine the purpose remains the same: to help brand the movie as fantasy and "bigger than life," as Brandon Blatcher mentioned above.

In the traditional sense, however, hand painted movie posters were just that: hand painted. So from an art history perspective, I imagine most of the contemporary (i.e. 21st century) pieces have been heavily influenced by those that came before them. The other thing to keep in mind is that designing movie posters is a pretty niche industry where there are clear l33t leaders -- A-listers, if you will -- that are regarded as masters of their craft. Any time you have clearly defined "masters" like that, you'll have people trying to imitate them, which might explain a lot of similar elements.

Probably the most famous movie poster painter is Drew Struzan (wikipedia). Another was Bob Peak. John Stolie also has a signature style. And... it's not the greatest site, but you can search around LearnAboutMoviePosters.com to find out some other big names.

FWIW, I think the dudes over at Mostasa used to design posters in-house at a major studio before breaking out on their own to build interactive work. I imagine they might have some insight if you are interested in learning more. There was also a recent post called Why Does DVD Cover Art Suck So Much that you might enjoy reading.
posted by Hankins at 8:45 AM on April 25, 2007 [4 favorites]

they're all photoshopped, and I'm having difficulty seeing what about them looks hand drawn to you. to my eye, they all have things like smudges and blurring done around the edges to help the photos blend into their graphic or 3d rendered backgrounds, if that's what you're talking about.
posted by shmegegge at 9:20 AM on April 25, 2007

What shmegegge said.

If you're interested in the how's and why's of movie posters, read the Posterwire blog.
posted by junesix at 9:31 AM on April 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

They're not hand drawn but you're not crazy. There is a long tradition of painted movie posters and while not all modern posters attempt to imitate them, it is an classic look.

While we're on hand-painted movie posters, can I please draw attention to Tsuyoshi Nagano .
posted by Juliet Banana at 5:30 PM on April 25, 2007

I used to work for one of the big entertaiment advertising design firms -- the companies that create key art for films. I have a bit an anti-studio bias that I'm going to edit out for the sake of brevity. And so I can get work in the future.

scrm, the answer comes down to the economics of film marketing. There's nothing that art directors love more than a strong iconic image, but a picture of an iceberg isn't going to get audiences to see Titanic. Studios want one-sheets (posters) to do everything: tell the story, remind you how much you love the lead actor, showcase the ingenue's cleavage, etc. In the old days, before 1989, that meant using illustations to wrangle all those elements into one cohesive design. Then along came Photoshop, putting a lot of illustrators out of work. Now everyone gets retouched to perfection.

hermatosis, with all due respect, the art finishers I've worked with are among the best on the planet. When I hear someone say, "they obviously cut-and-pasted Julia Roberts' head onto another body," the truth is usually more like, "this image of Julia Roberts was frankensteined from twenty different photos."
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:30 PM on April 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

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