- Lesson details
In this unique course, Mark Westermoe, the creator of feature film posters for blockbusters like Braveheart, Total Recall, and Home Alone, teaches you how to design a movie poster. This course will teach you how to go from developing ideas for your poster with thumbnail sketches, through preliminary drawings, all the way through to a finished poster. Mark will cover the business side of designing movie posters, including how to get into this rewarding field of work. You will also learn the history of advertising illustration, and learn many insider tricks and finishing techniques.
In this lesson, you will practice developing concepts for movie posters. Mark will talk about borrowing ideas from old masters and developing your own style. You will also see an example of including a designed head in a thumbnail sketch.
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number three. Things get just as intricate as they've
been and a little more so in different ways. Tonight
we will take some of the designed heads for our actors
and we're going to
include them in the thumbnail sketches that we
designed or are designing. I would like those of you who
have the initiative to do 12 such
thumbnails. And that's gonna yield
12 comprehensive sketches and that is a good enough
number if there's a variety of treatments among them
for you to present, viably, to an
art director and they'll see that you understand the process. If you don't understand the process
or show that you do, I don't care how beautifully you draw, they're not
gonna hire you. I'll also show how I come up with concepts.
That would be called art directors concepts
for doing these comprehensive sketches
some of which we're gonna take toward the end of the term into very tight drawings.
In the meantime I'll show you a good style
that works and you'll develop your own
so you don't have to just take mine and
ingest that. You probably all have certain
characteristics to your design sense and your drawing style that can actually
make for really good drawings and maybe some that I rarely
even use myself. So don't feel that you have to just be a cookie cutter
type of a student and do everything exactly like I say but
the sequence itself would be a very good thing for you to learn.
Otherwise you're kinda out there stranded on
a desert island and your drawing skills will be
difficult to be useful to you in that case, whereas here
once more I'm gonna continue with a
set of solutions how to move through these.
Well, okay I hope you like doing this. We'll do something fun
tonight and it'll also be a challenge but
that's why I do these things. Okay, well
I hope the lesson helps you and we're gonna move to that right now.
how to take your key heads, there are three actors involved
and we've already covered how to design them. You can do it
freehand, you can do it on a light table,
you can do it on a lightbox or under tracing.
That's up to you. But that gives us several heads that we can
use for reference and for usage actually
during the process. Very importantly
we have here the format. This is a 6 by 9
rectangle. It's even a little out of queue, that's
okay, it's close enough. We're gonna be designing
to that format a two by
three rectangle, which in this case has been blown up to
6 by 9 and that's less than 8.5 by 11
so that makes it really comfortable to work with.
What I've done
is I've come up with some concepts and
Sean, my student, he too has come up with some concepts.
And they're formatted for 2 by 3
Some of them are verbal concepts, just ideas
that are built off of the plot for the film. Some of them
are visual. So we've gone over some paths,
illustrations, whether it's for book covers or whether it's just
photoshoots for product or whether it's
it's even old movie posters. And so we key off of
those and adapt them to what we are
working on. So let's just
go back and review the cover or the concept
rather of our movie poster.
He's come up with a suspense poster and
it involves a leading lady
after a lot of consideration he's finally settled down
to Emily Blunt and he's also
got a male lead, Morton - Robert Downy Jr., I keep
going back to the old TV talk show. Robert Downey Jr.
And then there's a character who
represents the apparition or the sensation.
that Emily can't seem to get out of her
head or her consciousness. Sometimes he's
manifested as a three dimensional
subject, other times he's just an
apparition. So we have those three characters
and she is troubled
by constant visions and just
of the clown because he represents - he's manifesting himself
as a clown. We don't really know, it's in
the plot but you don't have to write up the whole plot, what
it was that caused him to make his appearances
in such as way but that's how it is. And
so not only will we have - we've already designed one or two
of his heads but we will definitely have to
design a couple where he's got a silhouette with
clown hair and so on. So with those
three characters, we can come up with some concepts. Remember
I mentioned we want some concepts that are very simply
essentially a montage. You like
also to have some concepts
that are more complex
such as an action scene.
And you wanna have some that are just
montages with action or
characterizations of these actors within the whole
two by three format for the poster.
So we need some of each of those. We also wanna have some
poster ideas that are viewed from eccentric
angles. An upshot, a downshot,
the whole thing turned diagonally so that
it doesn't just parallel the frame of the poster.
So it might angle like this.
And some of the images that I flipped through along with Sean
to find those angles already
have that diagonal characteristic so the art director has tried
to be as non boring and repetitive as
possible. Okay, so most of these
will be done at what we call the first stage concept drawing.
Some of them will be done not just at that
but beefed up a little bit and carried further.
So let's take a look at some of the concepts that we
found and this is just from one book.
It's called Lifestyle Illustrations of the 60s. The
hairstyles, the clothing will all, for the most part,
be different from what we have today
in our fashions. That can be changed easily, we can
change the clothes, we can change the hairstyle. That's not an issue.
Let's find one and kind of think through.
Here's one idea, I found it interesting.
We have our actress and we have our
therapist who's trying to help her throughout the film.
He's not wearing this kind of headgear or that kind of a
vest but there's a third character in between
if you look carefully. And he's a dark character
and we see him almost only in silhouette. But we can
tell who he is for this story. He's got
the top hat and this kind of distinguished
almost Victorian thing happening. So we can
adapt this for a poster. What if we separated her
moved her to the right and had this character in between
who seems to separate the two of them, making their
task more difficult. And then we separate this,
Robert Downey, put him to the left.
Her expression can change slightly, what have you.
But that's a good concept visually. Does it tell
our story? Yes, I think it actually does start to do so.
So we've already blown that concept up to the
full size of 6 by 9, all that has to happen is
the heads have to be changed. She needs to be Emily Blunt,
he needs to be the silhouette of the clown,
and he needs to be the therapist. So
she somehow - he somehow stands in the way. Interesting.
little way of doing it. And an elegant subject.
Let's look at another one.
This one is a good visual, we need
to do some down shots anyway to create some interest. And so
here we have the therapist, probably without the cigarette,
and maybe he's tying his shoes, that doesn't hurt,
and this is his couch in the office
and she's there, this could be her back or it could be
a notebook. This is another good visual.
I love the angle on the therapist
and remember they become close, in fact
they become an item in the movie. So I'm not sure
exactly what we're gonna do with her but this is a start.
Let's see what else we have.
This one is probably just for her. She's in
her bed alone and we lower things
so that above her we can have an apparition
of John Malkovich as the clown. Here
I like this upshot, they're in front of
some horizontal blinds, could be his office, any number
of things. We don't have to have it quite so
romantic or we can.
What else do we have?
Now if you're an art director and you're coming
up with thumbnail concepts for the illustrator to execute
this is a quite routine approach.
Don't think that you're stealing or plagiarizing or
anything like that. T the contrary
I'm not sure
there's anything that can be done with this one. Let me get it out of the glare.
for you. But maybe there is.
By the way I've only flipped through about a third
or a quarter of this book so it's very productive. I really like
strong silhouettes and so do the art directors
So here the format is square which we'll have to adjust, no problem.
But this could be her in the foreground, in shadow.
We could do something
with either of the other two actors. But we have some promising
poses already. This is not one of
the ones I think would make a good composition for us
necessarily but notice it's run not
parallel to the frame but diagonal.
It's very nice. And this expression might be useful too.
This is just one
which shows her in bed
and somehow we incorporate maybe a small vision, what have you
of the apparition that she seems not to be able to get rid.
He has a temporary working title
because the clown is
the character is a clown so he's called it Big Top
but I'm not sure I'm real happy with that one.
Here is just a really good pose
if you can see that. And that would be for Emily Blunt.
So there are a number of these
that we've done just keen off of
visuals. And we can adapt them,
as I said, we can adapt them to any theme
or any poster. In this case, the clown
or the manifestation or her former friend
who channels through a clown
that would work. Here's another one where she's in the foreground.
And maybe she fantasizes that
the therapist is taking on
that which haunts her essentially.
These are hard things to just come up out of your imagination
but these approaches
help to prompt visual ideas
and that's not considered a negative at all, that's
Here's one of the
diagonal compositions I referred to. Now
if you were to crop it here and here and
get rid of the period costume, play with
the clothing and bring them up to date, you might have something
very interesting, you know, the two of them. If you wanna
include the clown he can be here or they could lower this
and he could be up above. So I'm trying to come up with concepts
that might work
because in our class you are not gonna get just a
photocopy of a art director's thumbnail, you are actually gonna
produce the thumbnails and then draw the comps.
That's not typically what happens, you usually just get the thumbnails and
from there you go into the comp drawings. But I like this
one, she's leaning over to put something in her
luggage and it could be something else. He
is above, looking down. If we
want to incorporate the clown we could put him ghosted behind him.
But I do like the down shot and the composition and I would even
turn it more diagonal so it has more interest.
So this is the way you think. Let's see if I got more.
I think that's pretty
good for where we stand. Oh I do have some more, just let me
touch on those. So Sean has taken these and blown them up
on a photocopier to match the size of
the format rectangle here.
folder he's made contained a number. So
he has three or four now and that's just what they're numbered. One, two,
three, and four. And into them go the sized heads
and any props or environments and any of these
concept compositions. Here
you could take this guy in the balcony, slide him over
here and she's here and we've got
an interesting thing going on in those quadrants. I don't know yet
how we'll work the clown into it or if we will but this
makes perfect poster format anyway. And its got an interesting
thing because it's like a box composition.
too racy. We're not gonna use that but I don't think it works
for this. We have
this down shot but I'm still wondering who this can be.
This can be Emily. It's a down
shot, we could use the shadow actually to look like
the silhouette of the clown.
this is a really good shot, an upshot of her -
he's in the background, possibly the apparition is here.
I really like this shape between the two characters.
Something separates them. And in this case it's a compass
we could put a statuette of the clowns.
Anything. But I love this, this is like a blot on a
Rorschach test. I love it.
That's a number of things we found just in one book
already. And if you don't have
a big library and try to find compositions you can
use. Then there are verbal compositions .
That is to say, those that I've just written down
as possibilities to be fleshed out as
Alright. Some of these
are a little campy. If you wanna sell the movie that way
that's sometimes an option for the movie studio.
So you might be asked to cover some of those.
And then they may whittle things down into no, no, this is gonna be
pure suspense. Nothing that's particularly
just camp. But let's go through a few of these.
an interesting one that I used once for a movie called Warlock
and he appears somehow magically from the 17th century
in Massachusetts to modern day Boston
and a crowded city street. So
if you can visualize it - and I'll maybe draw it up for
you later. Here's your thumbnail.
Just draw it up to match
2 by 3. And the crowd is so full
on the street down below and
you just have scores and scores of people.
Getting larger in the front of course and down shot.
If you can see that little character
as we go back in the distance.
Everyone's just, you know, on their commute or going shopping, what have you.
And everything is done in close values.
Maybe light gray to dark gray and white. But in
here we find our character, he's done
in full value all the way to back.
See, so for some reason he's
stands out. But he's the only one in the crowd who does. And this could be
In fact one of these two could be
Downey and Emily Blunt.
That's just gravy if you wanna use it or not. So that's one
concept that we come up with out of our imagination.
Another one. I dunno.
This might be pushing it for content but let's see.
Here we have...
By the way these are perfectly acceptable in
degree of finish for a clown.
He's just silhouetted in dark. Back lighted
And just have him look this way a little bit.
And on the other side we see this.
There's an opening in the
And we see lightly some, you know,
wire coming across like this.
And behind that wire in what is
obviously a confessional
Emily and she's gone
to her confessional.
she's surprised to see that even here of all most private places
she still can't get away from
the clown, who is actually her priest.
That gets us a little bit into
some of the
movies that have been put out like - oh god,
what's the one? The Exorcist.
So that can be kind of a
frightening concept depending on how you take it.
It's also mildly humorous, probably not if you're
very strong Catholic. So there's
another idea. It's just based on an idea that I came up with.
She can be lying in bed
we've seen a couple examples there and so
she's down here
but her arm across, cover is here.
But above her of course
is the never departing, never leaving, always
bothersome head of Malkovich as the clown
I'm trying to design hair for him
that will silhouette nicely in the poster.
Don't give him something too subtle or
anything. He's gotta really read like a clown. He can
even have a red nose. And then so here
she is the first read in our composition, that is
to say the focal point and then we see -
ghosted behind her we see the
apparition of the clown.
She could be here
in Vegas or Monte Carlo
or whatever and the hands of the
dealer up here.
This is the card dealer
at a casino. And
here he's laying out the
cards, laying out the hand.
And you got your Jack of Spades
and you've got your
King of Spades here.
And you've got the two of hearts and you've got the two of hearts
it's upside down.
And one of these is actually the
clown of diamonds.
And that's where we see
Her head could be looking over if we wanted to.
Alright so there's another - that's kinda a campy one too.
else can we do? Well,
She could have just received mail
and the stamp
is Malkovich the clown
and she's holding it here.
this becomes the movie poster here
There are all kinds of other ideas down those
line, there's a rearview mirror, you know, she's driving along.
She's in her car
there's the steering wheel
and in the rearview mirror
we see the clown again
just all kinds of apparitions, ways that she just
can't get away from this clown.
So I wrote down a few others, let's just read them off rather than
draw them and then let's take a look at some of the things Sean has done.
Alright. We have a down shot
of her on the street or the clown.
She could be at the grocery store and she's paying
at the counter and the dollar bill instead of
George Washington it has the clown's head. Again, it might be too funny.
She could be running
three quarters toward us and tilted, angled, from
a large head manifestation of the clown.
She could just have a three shot of a montage
of three heads.
Yeah it could be like that. Lots of different
ways of arranging it. And
if she has a place of work or something
then, you know, it could be
in the foreground here. Just a strip background
we call them.
One can overlap
one of the heads. And this can be dark
and that's where your title treatment could go.
What else have we
Well this is a nice one. I work on
this one on bright lights and big city with Phoebe Cates.
I believe that was the actress.
And she's walking here
just with her arm bag
and her dress and just like
this. And then there's a big facade here
of a department store window
or an office building, it could be either
or something else.
She's right next to it but the
reflection that's cast is actually in perspective
It's Malkovich's head
He could have on a neck tie on, whatever. He's not really a circus clown.
He's kind of a hybrid so we can
treat him with, like I say, city street clothes.
What else did I have?
It's just a pandora's box concept and
we can load it with all kinds of individuals as they ooze
out of it. This one is a little crazy.
She's seen back view
in shadow and she's
at the circus, probably with her new friend
the psychiatrist, therapist.
And so this is a downshot, we see them here.
We'll have to make it clear that it's them somehow, we'll put some detail
into the shadow and we have more people and more people and
more people and the grandstand and they're all, you know, pretty
much in darkness.
But here's the catch,
her friend who's accompanying her is
not the therapist at all, it's the back view
of the clown with his hair, so we all know who it is.
Something has gone a little bit terribly
wrong here. And then
on the stage, under the big top
there's a clown on a unicycle. But
the clown is
Remember they're gonna give you all
kinds of wild ideas and they get to build - Paramount or whoever -
for these ideas so
it's fun to come up with these concepts on your own.
What else? We could have...
Well alright, here's a good one. We could have
your movie poster format and
a book case or a nice little table like this
in somebody's sitting room.
And on that, probably make it higher but
we have family photos.
I should make this larger. That's easy, just bring this down
and bring this down. Family
photos. Here's grandma, you know,
here's one grandson
here's another grandson,
This one we'll make into
the clown. So he's now
a part of the pantheon of the family photos.
You know, here
What have you. So
some plates probably on the shelf on the
wall. And so this
becomes your movie poster.
So you're gonna have to come up with a
lot of ideas but it's not that hard to do.
Well that's pretty good, so we already have three, six,
ten and on top of that we have
another half dozen or eight that we just took
as visuals from one book and one book only.
And I'm asking you guys to come up with 12.
12 concepts, draw them up in this kind of a format,
kinda loose, you know some of them don't quite conform
to the two by three format, this is too square, that's alright
we'll make them do so. Now how do you build
these illustrations? Because that's what I refer to it as. Building
an illustration. Well you take these
elements and on a copier you blow them up
so that they're as close as possible
to this format. And then that gives you 12 of them.
And you number each one. Number seven,
number eight, whatever, and you put it in that envelope or that folder.
so you don't lose track. And when you reach the number that you're
happy with, well good. Here's just another one which
is very simple but could work. It's just a candle.
And it's lit up but as
it goes up, you know, the warmth of the
candle, everything else about it, rises.
And out of these shapes you fashion
the head of the troublesome clown.
So now you have a
he has a loose plot, it's based on
He has some thumbnails, like I just drew for you, which are made up
out of imagination, and then he has
other thumbnails which he's blown up into poster size.
Not poster size but six by nine I should say.
In this case, this is the format,
turn it around - and
here, this is the placement of the
figures. And if we slide it over, you'll see
it allows for figures to move to the
left, opening up the necessary space here. It could also
be moved a little more here to the right, depending on how much you wanna have
her hand in the composition. You also
have space as she can just fade off
so can he.
So can he.
And your format looks like this.
I'll get some tape in a moment and just tape it onto
the background which is the rectangle. And that allows me
enough room here to put the name of the actors
the title of the movie.
Very clean, very nice, very nicely designed.
And this is idea two, I'm not
sure. But you make a folder for that and you size her head
and you size the clown's head that you designed, which you can
do free hand and then you design here the therapist's head
in three quarters, looking back. It's a guaranteed winner.
It doesn't mean they'll accept it and make it into the poster,
one in a thousand gets that distinction but they're guaranteed
to love it. If you want, like they've
done here, you can use some of this negative space to show
whatever city they're in. Maybe they've
gone off and they wanna get away from it all so they're in Istanbul.
Whatever it is.
Just to give it a little something.
Okay so that now is a 12th
he has already sized the characters.
We don't know quite what we'll do with the clown
but he might be looking in through the window.
And then he fades away
and maybe he's got a hand
pressed here against the window.
But we can only see his fingertips or part of the second phalanx of
So now you've got another idea.
And it's set at a diagonal, which we like.
And we bring it down to here and there's
plenty of room for your billing
right here and you have room too for your title treatment.
A few places that could go, that could run
here, it could even run up here and the billing
could go elsewhere. So this now becomes
idea number two.
Or three or whatever number we're at.
Let's call it number four. And that goes in your number four folder
along with a show of Downey looking
down, a shot of her looking very
preoccupied and pensive, and a shot of the
clown, you know, don't make him like a clown with
a butcher knife or something like a horror movie, this is a
suspense movie so he might have nothing at all except
the hand and maybe we see even another hand here.
it's definitely a scary movie but it's not
a cut him up Freddy Krueger kind of a movie either.
If you want to you can make a movie like that.
I wouldn't recommend it because it's pretty much overdone.
It's better to show a little sophistication in what you're doing.
So there are two right there
and all you have to do is size up a head of Emily, size up
a head of Robert, and size up a head
Two more ideas. On top of
I think that's 11. Three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine,
you've already got 13 ideas.
And all I'm asking for is 12 which is
gonna tax people a little bit but I'm explaining how you can get past that.
Imaginative people at that still have a hard time
coming up with ideas.
Now here's a shot that he found on the internet.
She's in the shower and there's blood. Do away with the
blood. She's in the shower and she's
sopping wet, she's in the shower. But somehow we need to work
behind her perhaps, you know, something going on with that
clown. So the very simple solution
Put her on the format
perhaps down here and then
Malkovich can be here, off center.
And then running across here
is your title treatment and then here
is your copy line, like how would anyone
know - how would you know if you
stole - if someone stole your mind? Well that's a different movie with a different concept.
But come up with a few concept lines and you're in business.
Okay now you have
and none of them look trashy or just thrown together.
Now it's possibly true that she and her agent
when they look at this because they're gonna see it too, they might say
no, no, no we don't wanna portray her this way, you know, she just did
a horror movie and okay that's fine
the design studio just - they get their payment either way and
you get yours. And they move on to different concepts.
So now what is that, one, two, three,
14. Let's just call this number
Getting there quickly.
If you can draw, you can
start to make sense out of these ideas.
That's why your life drawing classes, head drawing,
so important to you.
Okay, I'm gonna go over one
of these thumbnails that I
dashed out earlier.
I'm gonna first put the
paper over the template, six by nine rectangle,
like that, and I'm gonna set it at an angle so that
it's not perfectly up straight and down.
Try and make it more interesting. So you'll
recall I drew a bunch of almost literally thumbnails
One, two, three, four, on and on. And let's take
this one, which is the candle with the head of the clown
coming out of the fire.
Just pick that one. Alright so let's first start off
with some basics.
slightly but it will be diagonal.
So it actually should go more like that.
Good. I often
just put an X in the corner
of my composition. So if I lift it up to include
other elements I know what my parameters are.
Good. Now we wanna
have the head coming out at us. A couple
ways we can do this. It's too small
to use this big head but
the one we designed last session,
it's a good size for this.
where we wanna put the head.
That's all I need.
Now I'll just
keep this on the side.
And let's draw John Malkovich, very simple.
Let's just go ahead - remember we're gonna weave Malkovich's
head into the flame of the
We do have a dark and light pattern
on the head that we designed, it doesn't matter.
Easy enough to
weave that into the overall plane.
Just looking for the big rhythms that I can create.
It's all imagination.
You know in a suspense film like this
we can still manage to find
ways most people seem to have
an enormous desire to
fantasy type work so we can
find some of that in a film like this too.
Look for rhythms you've already established and
try to weave the flame into
He's not just on fire, he is the
essence of that fire.
Alright if this were a
tight, late stage comp
then I'd spend even more time designing this.
But for now
this will probably be more than
Okay now what about if we did this.
then we size a head of her
and put it on this picture frame on this coffee table.
I think it's better to use
a kneaded eraser but this plastic eraser will do.
Trying to be careful not to tear
the paper. The paper is done on
tracing paper because if there are changes to be made
it's very easy to make them on
nonabsorbent tracing paper versus
bond printer paper let's say.
Alright so we had this. We had a head
that we designed. It happened to fit the format
already so we didn't even have to resize it but I'm gonna take all of these
designed heads and resize them to each one
of the thumbnail comps that are blown up to the
poster format. So I'll bring those
in and we can go to work with that.
But it's very simple if you need a straight edge
don't push hard, just simple.
And you just draw, without putting much pressure
you draw your
after you put her head into the picture frame
you photocopy the whole thing
and then you fax it or email it or whatever you plan
to do, get it across, get it over to the studio so the art director
can look at it. And then he or she
can dictate, suggest,
make changes, what have you.
Let's see here.
And then you know
just pull up an image of a nice candle holder
internet and then here's a reflection
And then a reflection of this.
She goes here
I don't know, that's sort of a title treatment. It could go
here, it could go here, it could go here,
A lot of ways of doing it. And that's why they may say
oh well let's make the candle holder smaller. See.
Well why render the whole thing in detail if they're gonna tell you that at the end
anyway. So this is what you send off to your art
director. So we see how we adapted
the design that we made here
of his head and this, by the way, just as
a last note tonight, this closely followed
Frank Reilly's abstraction of the head, which I've demonstrated several times
in these classes and also in my recording on the head.
So that's a good thing to
nail down in your understanding. All of the details,
nice little good things that we can put into this. We save those
until the art director has approved the layout.
And we do this for all twelve of out concepts.
Great, okay, so I think that's good
for tonight. Thanks for paying attention, there's a lot of detail and a lot of
little things that during this progression it's easy to forget.
So if you take written notes that will also help too.
That's part of the process. I only did
one that I took to a point where I would submit
it to the art director for further direction
but we came up with over 12 concepts.
Probably 14 or 15 and that was easy.
And the concept is a little bit
complicated in a way and yet we want to have
simple solutions in our graphic work, in other words the
poster, the key art. So we're gonna carry the
thumbnails further and we're gonna have them all sized
to the nine by six format and we're also gonna
start having reduced and enlarged
necessarily the heads that we've
designed for our actors. We're also gonna start developing the figures
that go into the concepts and attaching
the heads of the actors where necessary. It's not always
necessary but when it's done, it's a little tricky
and you don't want a head turned toward us with a back view
figure. You can do that actually but it
it takes a little bit of practice. And I hope
after that then we'll have twelve, maybe less
that's alright, but 12 is the ideal number, we will have 12
of these drawings, not filled in with tones but
ready so we can read the compositions and we can submit them
to the art director for approval to carry on and complete them.
Okay, that's gonna be a lot of fun but like everything in the class
it'll be a challenge. Thanks for sticking with it and I'll see you
who have the initiative to do 12
such thumbnails. Draw them up in this kind of a format,
kinda loose. You know some of them don't quite
conform to the two by three format, this is too square, that's
alright. We'll make them do so. Well you take
these elements and on a copier you blow them up
so that they're as close as possible
to this format. And then that gives you 12 of