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|
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.
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.
"When All Was Dark", 1910
"The eyes, so long blind, opened to the light. It was a grim joke that nature played on this man to whom the light had failed, that the first sight should reveal his wife in the arms of his "friend." And now the husband heard that so long as he remained blind, she would not desert him -- but should his sight be recovered she would then join her illicit love. "
|The Pasha's Daughter, 1911, directed by Francis Boggs |
Snare of Society, Lubin Studio, One Sheet, 1911.
The contribution of graphic design in transmission of information in this early 20th century movie poster is at minimum. The image is basically a classic representation of two characters in a balanced composition in which the enigmatic color pallet plays the most crucial role. The function of the simple black typeface at the top of the poster is just to provide a title for the film, and there is no attempt by the illustrator to integrate and engage the typography with the overall design. Nevertheless, the pure conventionality of the design renders it somewhat agreeable to a modern taste. The main character, Florence Lawrence, originally became known as the "Biograph Girl" and worked at that studio under the direction of D.W. Griffith. She left Biograph in 1909 to join Carl Laemmle, who had just started Independent Motion Picture Company, or IMP in New York. She and her husband, Harry Solter were IMP's first featured players.
|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. |
REVIEW, The New York Dramatic Mirror, May 20, 1914:
see ourselves as others see us is often-times for our own good. To see
others as the directors see them is often misleading. The worst that has
happened in this picture of life in Egypt is that the girl sells
apples, oranges, and pineapples in the marketplace. We doubt very much
whether in any season of the year this combination of fruit is sold in
Egypt. It may seem at first that this is overcaptious on our part, yet
where we saw the picture it excited considerable comment. The play is
the next in the Diplomatic Free Lance series. Acquaintance is necessary
with the characters as they have occurred in the previous installments.
Not only that, but there is a good deal of doubt as to the action as the
play proceeds. The faces of a good many are swarthy, and add to this
the further confusing fact that some Caucasians make themselves up as
Egyptians, and the very closest of attention is required. In the main,
the story runs along in an interesting vein, until finally the girl is
imprisoned in the rooms of the Sheik. Then the offering overflows with
excitement and holds it so until the end.
conspiracy consists of the fact that the Mohammedans have discovered a
deadly germ. Lord Trevor has been sent to Egypt by his government to
investigate the nature of the conspiracy which his government has heard
is being planned, but of which no details can be obtained. Months of
work have not forwarded his task much, and he is now at his wits' end,
for the natives by now know him and his mission. His intrepid ward
volunteers for the work, and, disguised, sells fruit at a stand in the
marketplace. The Sheik arouses her suspicions and she follows him to his
laboratory, where he instructs the faithful in the use of a new deadly
germ to be put in the water and food of the English. He suspects the
girl and attacks her after the meeting when the others have left. Selim [sic; other accounts say Abdul], the servant, comes to her rescue, and after killing the Sheik, helps her to destroy the fatal germs."
|The Champion, 1915, Charlie Chaplin. This simple poster represents one of Chaplin's finer early movies. It illustrates Charlie and his dog Spike. Apart from the tramp character and Spike, it is the sharp and clean typeface that is of notice in this poster. |
|The Dashing Druggist's Delima (Falstaff, April 29, 1916)|
|Willing Wendy to Willie (Falstaff, May 1, 1916)|
|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 |
York City - Batiste Madalena (American, b. Italy, 1902–1988) was hired
by George Eastman during the late period of silent cinema to design and
hand-paint film posters for his theater in Rochester, NY—at the time the
third-largest cinema in the U.S. His works were certainly the most
definitive set of original film posters in America. |
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.
Over the Top, 1918, Wilfrid North. The graphic design for the war movie poster, Over the Top, adapted from the best-selling novel by Arthur Guy Empey, is a powerful and well balanced composition, with innovative modern sans serif typeface that is designed to add to the drama of the scene.
|Convict Thirteen, 1920, Edward F. Cline & Buster Keaton. The poster depicts Keaton with four cops in an intriguing situation that conveys his bleak humor as we expect him to outmaneuver the police with his usual cunning and athleticism. The typography is very much conventional for the period. |
|The Illiterate Digest, Goldwyn, 1920, One Sheet. |
In this poster the graphic design and the typography are integrated fully. The signature of Will rogers and a colloquial quot "It's A Dog Gone Good Novelty. See It Every Week" adds a touch of intimacy. The character and his cowboy lasso are drawn extending beyond the black canvas at the center. Will Rogers began his entertainment career in vaudeville, charming audiences with his down home comedy and iconic American cowboy appeal. His popularity in the Ziegfeld variety review Midnight Frolic lead to his engagement with the more famous Ziegfeld Follies. By 1918, Hollywood and Goldwyn came knocking, allowing Rogers to branch out into silent films. Until his contract ended in 1921, Rogers completed twelve movies for Goldwyn, and during the same period he also made the Illiterate Digest film-strip series for the Gaumont Film Company. Although not this stage performers strongest medium, Rogers would go on to make 48 successful silent films, and with the arrival of sound in 1929, he would become a leading star in that medium.
|The Haunted House, 1921, Buster Keaton. This early poster again depicts a scene from the movie in which Keaton as a bank teller gets into trouble when he accidentally spills glue on some money which gets stuck everywhere. One wonders was it the poster that publicized the film, or was it the comedian that publicized the poster? |
|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 Big Parade, 1925, King Vidor, The Big Parade was one of the greatest hits of the 1920s, boosting Gilbert's career, and making Adorée a major star. The film was groundbreaking for not glorifying the war or its human costs, exemplified by the lead character's loss of a leg from battle wounds. In an Art Nouveau style, the artist subtle reference to boy's leg is of note in this poster. |
This expressionist poster by Heinz Schulz-Neudamm for Metropolis (1926) has became rather famous after the Reel Poster Gallery brokered the sale of a copy of it for a staggering $690,000, in 2005. The high price has led some to believe that it was a testament to its artistic merits! In 2012, the poster was repurchased by a New Jersey film memorabilia collector, Ralph DeLuca, as part of a lot in a Los Angeles bankruptcy court for $1.2 million.
Made in Germany during the Weimar Period, Metropolis is set in the year 2026 in a dystopian society in which a wealthy elite rules from vast tower complexes, oppressing the workers who live in the depths below. Schulz-Neudamm's illustrates the female Robot of the story, created by a mad scientist to seduce workers in the futuristic urban city. The silent film was written by Fritz Lang and his wife Thea Von Harbou, and starred Brigitte Helm, Gustav Fröhlich, Alfred Abel and Rudolf Klein-Rogge. Fritz Lang used the evil protagonist character in Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922), to express his view about the phenomenon at the time. “Expressionism ” Dr. Mabuse scoffs is “ just a game. Everything is a game nowadays.” This cynicism is part of the Expressionist design of Schulz-Neudamm for this poster.
|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.
|The Divorcée , 1930, Robert Z. Leonard. Though everything about this film from the direction to the production design was terribly mediocre and conventional, its' poster was innovative and groundbreaking with a bold typography. Filmed before the Production Code, this film about a dysfunctional marriage under the taint of infidelity is represented by the above poster which provides a subtle hint of Norma Shearer's liberal attitude. Once the Hayes Code was enacted, movies stopped dealing with adultery and suggestive sexual contact until the 1970s.|
|All Quiet on the Western Front,1930, Lewis Milestone. This American epic, based on the book by Erich Maria Remarque is based on a tragic and harrowing memoir of a young soldier in World War I. Sombre, contemplative, and minimalist, this poster invites the viewer to participate in the mental reconstruction of the horrors of the war. |
|Gold Diggers of 1933, 1933, Mervyn LeRoy.The choreographer Busby Berkeley and Director Le Roy innovations in this musical was truly groundbreaking. They used the "stage musical" as a vast arena for their artistic self-expression using camera work and cinematography which played a key role in the dance sequences. The camera itself danced among the bevy of girls in their scanty costumes, giving the viewers a point of view it had never seen before. By creating the image of two overlapping posters, the graphic designer of this poster appears to transfer the scene from th musical into the world of the viewer. |
|Devil Dogs of the Air, 1935, Lloyd Bacon. This Warner Bros propaganda film was released to help with the war preparations. This poster, with its dynamic emphasis on speed and action together with its diagonally oriented typography, is influenced by the Italian Futurist style of the early 20th century.|
|Secret Agent, 1936, Alfred Hitchcock. This is a Hitchcock's early poster during his British phase, it reveals his distinctive taste that was later transpired into his American film posters. Note how typography is well integrated into the elegant composition |
|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. |
Thanks for posting this. I didn't read anything you wrote because the images were just so amazingly captivating. Also, the book cover for "Johnny Got His Gun" by Dalton Trumbo needs to be in here somewhere. I am not sure about the two words in the middle, but there's a "Johnny" and a "Gun" somewhere in the title.ReplyDelete
If you know anyone who makes plays, tell them to read that book and make a play about it. The world needs to hear the story again.
Thank you, I included that poster.ReplyDelete
... and definetely thank you for posting this!ReplyDelete