Breaking down the process of creating artwork for the Belin Film Festival.
Last Fall, I had the wonderful opportunity to design a poster for the Belin Film Festival (Recently renamed to the NEPA Film Festival), a brand new film festival based in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The experience presented a whole host of new challenges, and employed some design techniques I’d never attempted before. I was lucky to have some incredible collaborators in my corner, and being it was such a fun and unique process, I thought it would be worthwhile to breakdown how the poster went from concept to print.
Flashback to September 2016 - I found myself traveling the early morning road through the beautiful mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania out to State College to attend NittanyCon. That’s when the thought of “something beautiful is on the horizon” first popped into my head. From there, the rising sun and mountainous landscape transformed into an abstract film sculpture, inspired by the beautiful looped curvatures found inside film cameras and projectors. Being this was the first year for the festival, I felt it was important that the poster not only spotlight the N.E.P.A. region, but also celebrate this new artist event coming to life.
I had a little time after getting settled into my NittanyCon booth, so I quickly sketched out a rough concept. From there, in order to refine and pre-visualize the artwork, I created a digital version of the film sculpture in Illustrator. To say this poster was ambitious would be an understatement, but I've never been one to backdown from a challenge so I decided this would be the concept I would move forward with. I then put the finishing touches on the pre-visualization and mood board to show Alex and she was sold.
From there, I knew I needed to get my hands on film stock, but because it would eventually get painted, I didn’t want to pay top dollar. After browsing eBay for a bit, I discovered you could buy old movie trailers for an extremely low price. I wound up buying American Pie, Street Kings and The Muppet's Take Manhattan. (Side Note: Once I got eyes on The Muppet's Take Manhattan trailer, I decided it was too cool to paint and destroy, so now my little Kermit is holding onto that in my office.
Once I had the film sculpture size figured out, I printed out the guide in sections and transferred everything onto foamcore via carbon paper. I then carved out the pattern with an X-Acto knife and began threading the film through the grooves. This process allowed me to work with the stock and make sure I could achieve clean lines and loops. After some tests, I realized the 35 millimeter film was going to be too tall. Once it got set into the groove of the pattern it was there was too much bending happening and I wasn't getting the kind of lines I wanted. Instead of spending additional money on 16mm, I cut the 35 in half and that did the trick. Having it half as tall eliminated the bending and beveling and I was able to create some pretty clean lines in the grooves.
I also knew the painted film would need to gradate from the orange sun to a light green hill, so this process not only helped determine how much film needed to get painted, but also where to mark for the color transitions. The biggest challenge during the painting process was to apply a light coat of paint so the celluloid would retain a degree of translucency. I felt it was crucial that light would be able to pass through the film when being photographed. I had also picked up a 35mm film reel, and painted that red to match the one used in the logo. After a few hours in the backyard, everything was sprayed and the film was ready to be set. Because I had mapped everything out ahead of time, rethreading the fully painted film sculpture through the grooves was a straight shot.
For the bottom half of the poster, I wanted to utilize the festival’s logo (Which they already had in place), but I wanted to recreate it in three-dimensions to fit the tone and look of the rest of the design. So I reached out to 3D designer Cole Hastings to see if he’d be up for the task. Cole was a great collaborator, and because I had never worked with 3D printed materials before, he was instrumental in choosing the colors, materials and depths to use. In a matter of days, he came back with some 3D printed samples. One letter at three different depths, in order to choose the height that would look the best when photographed from above. A week later, he delivered the finished 3D printed Belin Film Festival logotype, which looked absolutely incredible!
Now that all the assets had been created, the next step was to photograph everything separately in order to composite digitally. The biggest hurdle was to ensure the perspective and the angles would line up when compositing. I also played around with a few different lighting scenarios and ultimately landed on using a two strobe set up. One directly underneath the foamcore as my key light and another off to the side to create an edge light. The key light beaming through the orange film really gave it a warm kick and sold the illusion of a blazing sun.
Once all the individual assets were photographed, everything was brought into Photoshop for compositing. I also did a bit of retouching on the film sculpture and the 3D printed logotype and film reel.
Ultimately, I am thrilled by how the project came together, and I’m truly humbled at the response. It’s refreshing to have an initial big idea make it all the way to the finished product, and I owe a lot to Cole’s collaboration and the festival’s unwavering support.