If there is one group of designers who have their fingers on the pulse of the latest visual trends, it’s the folks who design posters for movies and television. Movie posters are instant visual storytelling. When they work well they can be an education in the Elements and Principles of design. Plus they are easy to find on billboards, magazines and online.
Genre strongly influences the designs of movie posters and billboards. Action movies with special effects like to focus on heroic moments, or the spectacle. Horror and thrillers will often show abstracted, vague images that add to the mystery. Sci-fi will be blue and silver. Romances will depict the central relationship/s, while you know it’s a comedy when the colors are bright and people are posed in wacky ways. Family films will often show a cluster of the characters, mimicking a family portrait.
My personal preference is for simpler, graphic posters that encapsulate the story or theme immediately, rather than the kind that shows a busy collage of numerous stars and elements in varying scales – a popular, if old fashioned, method especially for dramas. One trend is to showing the ensemble – note how star hierarchy can still be preserved with a “pyramid” layout. I notice that one trend is to creating multiple visually related posters as part of the larger campaign. “Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows II” is a series that springs to mind immediately, as does the major campaign for “Iron Man III”.
Sometimes genre conventions mean similarities that can get in the way of branding. Recently the Museum of Natural History ran a billboard campaign for it’s new “Becoming L.A.” Los Angeles history exhibit. (Looking forward to getting to that one!). It was vintage sepia portraits of a historical family, on a dark background with the title.
Meanwhile further up the road the HBO hit series about gangsters, “Boardwalk Empire”, had a remarkably similar billboard series featuring sepia portraits of the cast on a dark background. Pretty heavy and dramatic.
I don’t say it is causation, but the new posters for the LA exhibit feature a cow on an orange ground, and a joke about cow poop. This humorous approach suggests lot more fun in the exhibit than the intimidating drama colors and layout.
Here are two great slideshows about movie posters through history, that highlight the genre conventions and also mention some of the famous graphic designers.
Using posters for inspiration
Scrapbookers and card makers looking for layout inspiration can adapt posters in different proportions for their sketches. Once you start noticing billboards and posters to “scraplift”, it’s tough to stop.
Here are some ideas from some current releases.