I recently completed the SkillShare class, Demystifying Graphic Design: How Posters Work taught by Ellen Lupton, a curator at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. At first, I was mostly interested in hearing Ellen speak about the history & core principles of poster design utilizing the impressive collection of Cooper Hewitt posters. But I wound up finding the entire class to be extremely enlightening & fun. The charge at the end of the class was to design a movie poster with a simple object in the title. Awesome! I've been looking for a new personal poster project for a while now and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Plus, if it turned out well, I could add it to my Society6 print collection. Win win.
Picking a movie was the easy part. For some reason, The Man Who Wasn't There popped into my brain almost immediately. Probably because I've been kicking around another Coen Brothers project for a while now, so it was on my mind. Not to mention, this film deserves the attention, I've always felt it was criminally underrated.
For those of you who haven't seen the 2001 film neo-noir, I highly recommend it. The crime drama centers on a chain-smoking barber (Billy Bob Thorton) who blackmails his wife's boss (James Gandolfini) and lover (Frances McDormand) for money to invest in dry cleaning, but his plan goes terribly wrong. That's the basic IMDB plot, but it is so much more. Not to mention, it's shot in beautiful black & white by master cinematographer and long-time Coen collaborator Roger Deakins. (For which he picked up his 5th Oscar nod. As of 2015, he's up to 12 nominations without a win...but that's a rant for another time.)
I digress...back to the design project. Sure maybe THE MAN WHO WAN'T THERE isn't the simplest movie title, but nevertheless I had a nice idea nugget, so I was off and running. First up, a quick verbal brainstorm of nouns and verbs that would become the launching point for the design. Early on, I had a vision of a silhouetted man who's top half was blending into the background and his bottom half was formed with a pair of barber scissors. After a quick thumbnail sketch I realized the poster would work much better if the man & scissors were formed using negative space and the title treatment was die cut into his body. Like the title itself was taking pieces away from him. I then moved onto a more formal pencil drawing so I could really work out the layout, shadows and tone. I really liked the feel of the pencil drawing, so I decided to incorporate some pencil gradient into the background of the piece.
Being the film is a moody, black & white noir, I wanted to make sure those elements were incorporated in the design. Working in black and white was the first step, but I then decided to include some art deco style lines within the background. Those lines created some cool shafts of light, which really helps draw the eye down to the centerpiece of the art. It was also a nice homage to the lighting style of classic film noir.
Creating the man and his scissors was pretty straight-forward. Just some basic work in Illustrator. The most challenging aspect was to find a font that not only worked for the time period, but would also be thick/fat enough to cut out a large chunk of the man. Originally, I wanted to use a condensed sans-serif, but ultimately settled on Proxima Nova. (I did wind up using a condensed version of the font for the director and actor billing.) Once I had the figure, scissors and lettering in place, I worked on the shadowing details inside and around the figure. I wanted THE MAN to look as though he was disappearing into the shadows behind him, so I played around with his opacity.
The blood spray was the last piece of the puzzle. This wasn't actually a part of my initial concept, but after completing a full pass of the design, I felt like it was lacking something. I was hoping the sharp angles of the scissors would evoke the "murder" and "criminal" side of the story, but it wasn't enough. A dash of blood red would do the trick! A few paint splatters later and the design was complete.
This print is available for purchase at my Society6 store. Gallery quality Giclée print on natural white, matte, ultra smooth, 100% cotton rag, acid and lignin free archival paper using Epson K3 archival inks. Custom trimmed with 1" border for framing.
Like this post? Subscribe to our feed.