I have to analyze the problem. What is the movie about? What is the story about? What is it trying to say? Whatever is the style of the movie? What kind of audiences I want to appeal to -- so that they get some sort of inkling about what the film is gonna represent. We try not to dissuade them from the realism of what the story is, and yet, we don't want to tell them too much.
Usually, we started by getting people in the department to do some logos, designs of what the lettering should look like. I usually read the scripts or I'll go to see the footage of the movie. I'll try to decide what would be the most marketable thing to say about the movie, and how to project it into a piece of art. Most of these things we did by hand and do the lettering and positioning and pasted all together and if we had to make a change we had to reap it apart and start over, With a computer you just almost press button and move things into place.
Bill Gold, Art Director and Graphic Designer
Perhaps the very first movie poster was the one created by Jules Cheret, in 1890, for a short film called Projections Artistiques. The lithograph poster depicted a young girl holding a poster announcing the times of the show. Two years later, he created another poster for Emile Reynaud's Theatre Optique called Pantomines Lumineuses.
|Marcellin Auzolle, L'Arroseur Arrosé, 1895|
In 1903, Edwin S. Porter, created the first American motion picture The Great Train Robbery, which proved to be a big hit, and its popularity led to the establishment of "nickelodeons," the early movie theatres, the first of which was established in 1905 in Pittsburgh, and by 1907 their numbers surged to almost 5,000 throughout the United States. Perhaps the very first movie poster was the one created by Jules Cheret, in 1890, for a short film called Projections Artistiques. The lithograph poster depicted a young girl holding a poster announcing the times of the show. Two years later, he created another poster for Emile Reynaud's Theatre Optique called Pantomines Lumineuses. However, it is the poster for L'Arroseur Arrosé that is considered the first poster for a featured film. The poster was designed by Marcellin Auzolle, Shot in Lyon in the spring of 1895, the film portrays a simple practical joke in which a young boy steps on a gardener's hose while he watering his plants. When the gardener inspects the hose, the boy releases the water. The stunned gardener, whose hat is knocked off, chases the culprit, and after catching him administers a spanking.
By the end of the first decade in 20th century, there were many movie studios established in the US, and the most prominent among them were Biograph, Essanay, Kalem, Kleine, Lubin, Selig and Vitagraph. The movie posters were created by the studios art departments, whicg they shipped the original artwork to the lithographers, who handled the making of the printing plates. The lithographers, then sent their plates to the printers who used them to print the posters. Some of the major lithographers were: Donaldson Print Company which printed the American Entertainment Company stock poster of 1900, Miner Litho Company which was used by the United Artists. Thomas Edison who considered the motion picture one of his inventions, in an attempt to restrict his competition created the Motion Picture Patents Company, which was a cartel made up of the major film studios. One of the first acts of the newly-formed cartel was to set standards for advertising materials.
|A Good Little Devil, 1914, Edwin S. Porter. Unfortunately, Porter was not a great director, and his Good Little Devil was little more than a photographed stage play, something well reflected in this poster of the blind heroin.|
|The Dawn Maker, 1916, William S. Hart. A powerful poster depicting the main character Joe Elk, half-Indian, half-white, who attempts to secure for his tribe the benefits of schools and medicine such as he had seen on a trip to Montreal|
The early movie posters rarely, if at all, provided any information about the actors on the posters. This was due to the fact that the film producers were concerned that such publicity would contribute to the propagation of the stars fame, and would encourage them to demand higher wages. However, when Carl Laemmle, poached Florence Lawrence from Biograph studio, things began to change. Laemmle, the father of Universal Pictures, was reputedly the most good-natured and least neurotic of the studio bosses. Laemmle had established a film distribution business thatlater became one of the largest in America. In 1909, he produced his first picture, Hiawatha (1909), a 15-minute version of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's famous poem. By this time Laemmle had become a leader of the "Independents," producers and distributors who defied the would-be monopolists of Thomas Edison's Patents Company. As a publicity stunt Laemmle started a rumor that the lovely "Biograph Girl" was dead and then published a full page ad in a St. Louis newspaper stating that he had "nailed a lie" and would be presenting Florance Lawrence in St. Louis. This resulted in gathering of a huge crowd to see the "Biograph Girl" alive. The publicity made Lawrence famous and increased Leammle's profits and consequently, other companies followed suit. Lawrence left IMP and moved to Lubin Studios the following year. From then on studios understood the power of stars in making a film profitable. Since then the posters were designed to take the maximum advantage of the star power, and the typographic design and the size of the fonts began to reflect the relative significance of the 'leading lady" and "leading man." In return the stars agents demanded clauses in their contracts that would specify the size and placement of their client names on the movie posters.
The art directors in the movie studios conceptualized what a movie needed. The studios usually had some preconceived ideas about what they wanted in a poster before the sketching began. The goal was to market the movie to the audience, promising an interesting story without completely giving the story away. Most studios frowned upon the art directors who in their views were artificial or slick about the the way they worked. They wanted the director to concentrate on the story, and rarely wanted to know what an art director can show. Generally, the graphic designers were given a rough cut of the movie, and after watching it, they were asked to draw a few different designs based on their impressions of the film. The artists were encouraged to draw their interpretation of the movie and shy away from just recreating one of the frames. After the initial designs were done, they were edited from various marketing perspectives, often by different artists than the originals. Gradually a set of visual parameters were developed and these were etched into the collective consciousness of the industry, determining the "truth" of the movie and such criteria became part of the culture of the studios art departments. As Michael Bierut, a graphic design critic has argued; a static image, in theory, can’t possibly have the same power as a 90-minute film, yet a poster designer should somehow encapsulate the adventure a viewer going to see in 90 minutes. Thus, the designer needs to find a way to match the movie to the right style. “In a way, that is the opposite of what a film critic would call the auteur theory". A good poster designer should manage to be a complete chameleon so that it kind of obfuscates his own handwriting on the poster.
The original piece of artwork for posters, created by the graphic designers of the film studios who remained mostly anonymous in the early decades, was called "reflective" or "hard" art, the designers also created a a "mechanical" art, which depicted the location of titles and credit information on the posters. The early lithographers made their plates from limestone slabs, and thus their technique was called Stone Lithography. Soon they substituted zinc. They then sent these plates to printer, or if they has a printing press they themselves printed the posters. The printed posters then were sent to studio exchanges, independent poster exchanges, or later National Screen Service. According to Edison's standards, the size of a movie poster was set at 27"x 41". Each studio had its own stock poster borders printed in either two or three colors. A white panel at the center printed the title and a synopsis of the movie's plot, and often included a photograph from a scene in the movie.These posters were called the "one sheet," and were placed prominently in glass display cases inside and outside of movie theatres.
|Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, 1925, Fred Niblo. This highly mannerism style poster does do justice to this original Ben Hur movie, which was more artistically inspired that its spectacular remake by William Wyler in 1959.|
|The General, 1927, Buster Keaton. A magnificent poster for this masterpiece of dead-pan "Stone-Face" Keaton comedy, generally regarded as one of the greatest of all silent comedies and undoubtedly the best train film ever made.|
The introduction of the of new color offset lithography printing technique that was developed by Morgan Litho Company dramatically changed the artistic quality of posters, and shifted the emphasis from the illustration to photography. Lithography is based on the principal that oil and water do not mix. Thus lithographic plates undergo chemical treatment that render the image area of the plate oleophilic (oil-loving) and therefore ink-receptive. The non-image area are rendered hydrophilic (water-loving). During printing, dampening solution, which consists primarily of water with small quantities of isopropyl alcohol and other additives to lower surface tension and control pH, is first applied in a thin layer to the printing plate and migrates to the hydrophilic non-image areas of the printing plate. Ink is then applied to the plate and migrates to the oleophilic image areas. Since the ink and water essentially do not mix, the dampening solution prevents color to affect the non-image areas of the plate. In the offset printing technique ink is applied to the printing plate to form the "image" and then transferred or "offset" to a rubber blanket . The image on the blanket is then transferred to the paper to produce the printed product. While not as colorful as the stone lithography posters, the color offset process produced sharper images. Over the next twenty years, the two processes would continue to be used. However, by the 1940's, color offset would replace stone lithography for all poster printing.
|Modern Times, 1936, Charles Chaplin. This poster for the last Chaplin "silent" film, mocking the Machine Age, again focuses on Charlie's signature character. The typeface for his name is, in fact, four times larger than the title of the film.|
|Bachelor Mother,1939, Garson Kanin. Using multiple view points to represent another screwball comedy, this poster with its well-placed, and fine typography is an above average visual communication design.|
The 1930's era is dubbed the "Golden Age of Movies," as some of most memorable films in movie history in various genres, including musical , western , gangster and horror movies were released during this decade. As the production of films increased, some graphic designers were given the chance to experiment with various styles and various typographies.
|Saboteur, 1942, Alfred Hitchcock. The poster for this, the first of Alfred Hitchcock's wartime propaganda films is intriguing and well executed with a very smart use of typography.|
|Gilda, 1946, Charles Vidor. The graphic artist how designed this elegant poster has taken the full advantage of the stunning beauty of Rita Hayworth in her signature role as the ultimate femme fatale. The beautiful typography by its red accented special font of Gilda, emphasizes this point in the script which is aesthetically a superb complement to the image.|
|Gentleman's Agreement, 1947, Elia Kazan, The poster powerfully depicts the moral indignation of Phil Green a journalist who decides, for the purpose of writing a magazine reportage, to pretend that he is a Jew and who cruelly becomes the subject of harsh and painful discriminations and social snobberies. The subtle red partition, separating the spaces between the characters, which the central character is trying to cross by overstepping the barrier, and the elegant typography makes this poster a fine communication design.|
|Born to Kill, 1947, Robert Wise. Based on the book "Deadlier Than Male", which Wise stumbled upon in the RKO story files, the story of a twisted woman's attraction for a psychopathic murderer provoked the criticism from the Production Code that said this is "the kind of story which ought not to be made because it is a story of gross lust and shocking brutality, and ruthlessness." The poster however tries to remain within the conventional parameters a film noir.|
|The Lady from Shanghai, 1948, Orson Welles. The poster designer again relies on Rita Hayworth enigmatic beauty to represent a deceptive, seductive femme fatale to represent a sophisticated film noir that studies the malicious relationships among a group of people inflicted by corruption, selfishness and violence, intermingled with haunting wisps of pathos. |
|An American in Paris, 1951, Vincente Minnelli. A quasi-Dadaist poster, with a salad-bar typography for all sorts of announcements, such as " What a joy to see M.G.M's Technicolor musical!", or "Adventures of an Ex-GI in the city of romance. Art Student's Ball biggest, most daring ever made. Screen's most spectacular musical!"|
|All About Eve, 1951, Joseph L. Mankiewicz. A synthesis of De Stijl, Viennese method, and Swiss Grid styles, this stylish poster represent one of the best movies of the twentieth century. Joseph Mankiewicz received an Oscar for his film script that had the famous line: 'Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night.' which in sense is what poster also suggests.|
|A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951, Elia Kazan. This powerfully executed poster provides a glimpse into Brando's raw nakedness, who in the words of Roger Ebert; "held nothing back, and within a few years his was the style that dominated Hollywood movie acting. This movie led directly to work by Brando's heirs such as Montgomery Clift, James Dean, Jack Nicholson and Sean Penn.|
|Singin' In the Rain, 1952, Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly. The poster really captures the spirit of this colorful, and witty "MGM's Technicolor Musical Treasure." The wavy typography over the umbrellas, What a Glorious Feeling, is an apt description for this delightful and unpretentious artistic design.|
|Dial M for Murder, 1954, Alfred Hitchcock. This incredibly powerful poster by Bill Gold depicts the coffin-like setting of the original play's singular location, the living room of Tony and Margot Wendice, in Frederick Knott's popular stage play of the same name. The polished typography with a boxed red colored M is the integral part of the design.|
|On the Waterfront, 1954, Elia Kazan. To maximize the star power of Marlon Brando, the only freedom left for the graphic designer was to divide the poster into couple of blocks, and even then one of those blocks was reserved to place the main artist's credit.|
|Rear Window, 1954, Alfred Hitchcock. The voyeurism theme of this poster masterfully represents Hitchcock's classic that is considered by many as his best feature film. The blue repetitive and monotonous typography conveys the feeling of the trapped and impotent L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart), who in a leg cast is confined for six weeks in his Manhattan apartment "with nothing to do but look at the neighbors."|
|Rebel Without a Cause, 1955, Nicholas Ray. Warner Bros. released the film on October 27, 1955, less than one month after Dean's fatal car crash. The poster also unabashedly capitalizes on the celebrity status of James Dean|
|The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1956, Alfred Hitchcock. This poster looks rather mediocre, and even inferior to the poster for the earlier version of the film, released in 1934. It seems Hitchcock himself was unhappy with the earlier version but, debate still rages as to whether the remake made any sense since the original film was far superior; tight, gripping and unpredictable.|
|Giant, 1956, George Stevens. A powerful poster depicting Edna Ferber's Texan love triangle among rancher Jordan "Bick" Benedict (Rock Hudson), Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor), and the laconic ranch hand Jett Rink (James Dean). In a layout design form for a magazine-reportage, the poster depicts the almost documentary style of the film, showing how oil exaggerated and confused the virtually feudalistic ways of living of the old Texas landowners and cattlemen.|
|The Ten Commandments, 1956,Cecil B. DeMille. Among many publicity posters for this film, perhaps this came closest to a fine poster. The typography of the poster appears to suggest a religious theme, but the placement of the name of director immediately above the film title, with a font of almost the same size, is a nuisance|
|The Prince and the Showgirl,1957, Laurence Olivier. A remarkable poster for this Anglo-American movie depicting the simple American actress,Elsie Marina, played by Marilyn Monroe, and the Regent of Carpathia, Laurence Olivier. The graphic designer complements the composition with a beautiful arrangement of a simple typeface.|
|Gigi, 1958, Vincente Minnelli. A delightful, imaginative and daring use of typography in a poster.|
|Some Like it Hot, 1959, Billy Wilder. A terribly bad executed poster, of a beautiful concept. Could it be that the designer aimed at a Dadaist poster?|
|North by Northwest, 1959, Alfred Hitchcock. This is beautifully executed Dadaist style collage poster, with appropriate melange of italic typeface. It incorporates the inspiration for film described by Hitchcock himself to the script writer Ernest Lehman that he’d always wanted to make a movie involving a chase scene across the Presidential faces on Mt. Rushmore. It depicts the visual tour de force of the film's powerful airplane chase, with the iconic photomontage of Hitchcock himself in the lower right hand corner carrying a cardboard cutout of a pointing hand under his arms.|
|The Apartment, 1960, Billy Wilder. Designing a well balanced typography poster is a demanding task, and requires an artistic creativity. While this poster focuses on typography as its main element, the artist has enhanced its humanity by strategically placing simple black & white photographs of the main couple, and their key to stress the sweet interplay between them in the development of their relationship.|
|Psycho, 1960, Alfred Hitchcock. The graphic designer for this chilling poster has understood the Hitchcockian setup of the story of Marion Crane, and the schizophrenic Motel owner Norman Bates. By choosing a pallet of black, blue and yellow he has expressed the anxiety of Marion, sitting in her bed while two men are suspiciously staring into the dark and empty space, and the broken typeface of Psycho provides a hint of the split personality -- or as some may call it; Dissociative Identity Disorder.|
|The Misfits, 1961, John Huston. This exquisite black and white poster, depicts the main idea of The Misfits, the final film for both Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, which tells the story of three misfits lusting after Roslyn Tabor a dancer who descends upon Reno to be divorced. In a series of misfitted rectangular images that even dislocate the typography of the film, the poster depicts various scenes from the movie that has its origins in a short story that Arthur Miller had written for Esquire magazine.|
|Lawrence of Arabia, 1962, David Lean. A minimalist and powerful depiction of this enigmatic personality who was incomprehensible even to those who knew him personally. Lawrence's keen intelligence, charisma and barely concealed madness is decipherable against the backdrop of a majestic Arabian desert that in the film is both unforgiving and romantic.|
|Pink Panther, 1963, Blake Edwards. The pink panther, and his pink typface are very much at home among all the good and messy characters in this beautifully organized poster.|
|Irma La Douce, 1963, Billy Wilder. This sprightly poster depicting the comedy about a Parisian policeman who becomes the lover, and unwilling pimp of a carefree street-walker, uses a creative geometric constructivist approach, with a Dadaist salad bar of typefaces. The result is a strikingly well-crafted piece of art.|
|A Man For All Seasons, 1966, : Fred Zinnemann. The poster depicts the character of Thomas More from the behind in silhouette, and it is left to the viewer to imagine the character of this pious Catholic, who could not in good conscience serve as the Lord Chancellor of England for King Henry VIII after the King announced his plan to end his marriage to Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn, and thus gave up his high office and eventually his life. The outstanding typography in yellow against the black background create a superb focus for this delicately balanced composition.|
|The Fox, 1967, Mark Rydell. This charmingly rendered art nouveau style poster depicts all of the main elements in D.H. Lawrence’s 1923 story of a complicated love between two females, living in a farm, and a unyielding man. the “fox in the henhouse”.|
|Barbarella, 1968, Roger Vadim. A splendid photomontage in the Swiss Grid style, depicting the adventures of a 41st-century woman, Barbarella. This exquisite poster, using a swanky typography in its upper and lower margins, while reserving the main body to depict the adventures of Barbarella, in her role as the interstellar representative of the united Earth government, who is dispatched to save humanity by locating scientist Durand Durand.|
|The Godfather, 1972, Francis Ford Coppola. A minimalist poster with the iconic image of Don Vito Corleone.|
|Star Wars, 1977, George Lucas, The poster is illustrated by Drew Struzan, depicting Luke Skywalker who leaves his home planet, teams up with other rebels, and tries to save Princess Leia from the evil clutches of Darth Vader. The poster gives the impression of old sci-fi comics. The couple posing for the artist's reference were none other than graphic artist Steven Chorney and wife Catherine.|
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