What happens behind the making of a movie poster?

Movie posters have come a long way, starting with hand-drawn and hand-painted bills in the age of silence and now galloping into digital motion teasers. However, designers say the secret to a good poster is the concept first. They illustrate with examples.

Make it unique

One of India’s leading designers Jayaram Ramachandran says a poster should be unique, a concept taught in MBA classes with the story of a purple elephant. Jayaram learned the concept from the producer of the 2015 Malayalam film “Ennu Ninte Moideen”, for which he designed posters.

“The story is about a man who saw a lot of elephants in the jungle. When he got home, he remembered only one purple elephant from the herd. In the end, you have to stand out for people notice you,” Jayaram recalls, putting the purple elephant theory into practice with a poster of “Ennu Ninte Moideen,” a tragic romance based on a true story.

Using Photoshop, he juxtaposes a torn piece of paper on a photo from the film. The paper had a dialogue written on it. A torn paper effect would make people curious, he knew. Moreover, it alluded to the premise: the couple are forcibly separated by the parents.

Movie Snapshot

Gopi Prasanna, a well-known commercial designer in the Tamil film industry, says a poster should capture the soul of the film. He showed how it’s done with the poster for the cult Tamil romantic film ’96’ which was released in 2018.

In the film, the main couple reminisce about their childhood sweetheart days. “I created the logo with the elements of the 90s”, he underlines. It was a period marked by video games, Doordarshan, Coca-cola and Ilayaraja and the logo captured the 90s vibe well.

Set trends

Gopi turned heads with the posters for the 2010 Tamil neo-noir film ‘Aaranya Kandam’. They were fully illustrated in yellow and black, a first for the Tamil industry. “We went down an illustrated graphic novel route for the campaign and it worked well across all mediums,” he shares.

In 2014, he introduced the trend of first look posters in Tamil cinema with “Kaththi”, a social drama. Interestingly, Gopi did not use the photograph of the film’s protagonist, superstar Vijay, in the design. “I created a newspaper collage to look like Vijay’s face. The movie fraternity was skeptical of the idea, but it was a tremendous success,” he says.

Unconventional concepts

Going against the norm, Jayaram made Mammootty’s 2009 movie poster ‘Pazhassi Raja’ in black. “People made fun of the fact that you could only see the posters along the road when the headlights of a vehicle fell on them. It was high time we used the dark texture with confidence because the posters for ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Jurassic Park’ had proven their power,” he explains.

With the highly acclaimed movie poster “Super Deluxe” (2019), Gopi proved that hand-drawn posters are just as relevant today. The poster was recently included in the Oscar Library.

“The film has many layers. I recreated (the concept) on the poster by hand. When you touch the poster, you can feel the 12 layers of UV printed on it and every strand of hair. Some elements are shiny gold while others have a matte gold finish,” he says.

Software as good as an idea

Rapid advances in technology have pushed the boundaries of their craft. Tools, color palettes, and layouts have undergone a massive change, and experiences are on the rise.

“The Satyajit Ray movie posters had concept art. Today, we have innovated concept poster design with original thinking,” says Jayaram.

Technology is just a tool. How you use it matters, these designers say.

The basics of hedging

While the creativity of a designer is mainly linked to the concept of the film and the vision of the director, certain parameters are essential.

“A well-chosen color palette sets the mood of the film. The poster should be conceptualized around the central story or character. A well-planned photo shoot is important,” says a representative from Kaani Studios in Bangalore.

The studio’s design aesthetic for posters of pan-Indian hits like ‘KGF: Chapter 1’, ‘Avanne Srimannarayana’ and ‘Vikrant Rona’ were appreciated.

Hollywood versus Indian films

Hollywood film studios restrict the freedom of designers by asking them to follow specific models. Indian film industries offer plenty of room for experimentation, these designers say.

Tribute posters

“Jallikattu” (2019) was India’s official Oscar entry. Within 15 minutes of the release of the film’s trailer, Jayaram made a tribute poster. “The film had an overhead view of a crowd running with fire sticks. I took that and juxtaposed it over an image of a bull’s head,” says Jayaram. The poster was a huge success.

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