Wednesday, June 14, 2017


It has been quite some time since I posted some of my own work on this blog. But in the last few months, there have been a few illustration assignments that I really enjoyed doing.

Recently, a good friend commissioned a large format (digital) painting from one of his holiday photographs. At first, I was not sure if that was a good idea and if I was able to make it look good at a size of about 2.7m wide, but then I really enjoyed to slightly tweak the composition of the well-known Lofoten vista. Since I knew where it would eventually be displayed, I even managed to change the lighting situation so that now the light comes from where the window (and the lamp at night) is located in the room.
Lofoten in summer - Click on the image to see a slightly larger version.

Besides, I always like to paint mountains as can be seen in this color/lighting study below.

Mount Hahnen - Click on the image to see a slightly larger version.

I have also had the opportunity to illustrate Robert Jakob's well written children's book "Max, die Kletterschildkröte" about a Hermann's tortoise who travels to Kasachstan. It was probably the first children's book where I had complete freedom with the color scheme which meant that I could narrow it down to basically two colors (plus earthly grays and browns). The publisher's only input was that they did not want another green tortoise character (we agreed upon the warm orange skin tone shortly before I saw the first image of Michael Dudok de Wit's THE RED TURTLE).

Click on the image to see a slightly larger version.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Color Poster Triptych 07: Space Balls

For larger version click on the image.
Most of us have probably encountered that design a few years ago when Sam Rockwell made an unsettling discovery in MOON. Spheres against a dark background as symbols for planets, the moon or other objects in outer space are quite common, though. What strikes me about these three posters is how similar they are in the use of composition and especially the black and white illustration style not uncommon in Eastern European movie posters during the 1960s and 70s.

The initial enigma of MOON did in fact remind me of Tarkovsky's SOLYARIS (which I wasn't really able to appreciate at the time I saw it). But seeing the poster next to COLOSSUS: THE FORBIDDEN PROJECT, it is hard not to see that as a major influence on the graphic design even though that sci-fi-thriller does take place on earth.

The uniformly distributed white lines look like outward radiation in COLOSSUS, self-contained circles in MOON and combined like the grid on a spherical map in SOLYARIS. Apart from the faint blue in MOON, the only major color to balance the black and white is red. I could add one of the fan posters with the reddish eye of HAL from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (Kubrick, 1968) which probably served as an inspiration for the SOLYARIS poster. I do not believe, however, that there was a HAL's-eye poster during the initial theatrical release.

Note: the moiree effect is due to resizing the pixel images and did not appear in the original printed artwork.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Color Poster Triptychs 06: The Persona Image

for larger version click on the image.
The composition of a profile shot partly obscuring another character's near-frontal view is usually associated with Ingmar Bergman's black and white masterpiece PERSONA (1966). The iconic setup that was referenced or spoofed in countless films about split or merged personalities was not new and only one among many compositions built on half, overlapping and merging faces (now is as good a time to watch this groundbreaking film as any).
It also appears in Agnes Varda's LA POINTE-COURTE (1955) many years before, however, and Bergman also used it in earlier films.

Referenced famously in Woody Allen's LOVE AND DEATH (1975) and obviously in Kon's PERFECT BLUE (1997).
In the artworks above for three really great films, the black and white aspect is retained. While FRANTZ is, in fact, a black and white film with only a few hints of color, the sepia tone of the DEAD MAN WALKING poster not suggests skin tones but also matches the emotionally dreary tone of the movie. The stylized colorisation in the HABLE CON ELLA ("talk to her") poster combines the monochrome nature of the original image with the strong primary colors associated with the works of Spanish auteur Pablo Almodovar.

In contrast, the three posters below discard the monochrome aspect by keeping more or less natural skin tones. However, the overlapping aspect is much stronger here: unlike the characters that face the viewer in the posters above, one eye of those below is obscured. That way, we only see one half of each face.
for larger version click on the image.
Why are the men always in front of the women?
There is something in all six posters, though, that I was initially wondering about: why are the men (present in four of the six including the young Kevin in WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN) always the ones in front obscuring part of the women's faces? It certainly is more equally distributed in LA POINTE-COURTE.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that this is really a coincidence. First of all, a poster has to prime us for a story by telling us already part of that story. The setup in question basically tells us that character A is looking at (or at least in the direction of) character B who is staring into space and is not returning the look. So there is at least a visual disconnect between them. Because of the profile shot, we also do not have a direct visual connection between B and the viewer, we see him from outside, while we are looking directly into A's eyes. In the Almodovar example, character A (the blue woman) is unconscious for much of the film while other characters look at her, "talk to her" and even behave unethically towards her.

So let us look closer at those four posters that place men closer to us than the women: Three of the four men are slightly out of focus and thus draw our attention to the woman's face. But in GIFTED and FRANTZ the women's gazes only lead us back to the male face, whereas in all the other images everyone is staring into the distance.

In the case of DEAD MAN WALKING the male profile makes sense to me: Sister Helen is by nature a much more open and well-rounded character (hence we see her face more fully) than the arrogant murderer she visits. Actually, the same is true for FRANTZ: protagonist Anna is trying to discover the truth about the mysterious Adrien, who is depicted with closed eyes so that we subconsciously accept Anna as the active, more important character.

In WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, the boy does actively ignore and metaphorically obscure his mother who increasingly seems to lose focus and the connection to her son. Kevin is indeed dominant and manipulative. I haven't seen GIFTED yet, so I can't say anything about that.

There is, in fact, a contemporary poster (left) that shows the man in the back and blurred even though he is much more well-known than the woman. Considering RETURN TO MONTAUK is based on the semi-autobiographical novel "Montauk" by famous Swiss author Max Frisch, this is even more interesting. I am probably going to use this later in a "beach scene with heads in the clouds" triptych.

Note: I do not think the artwork for THE TOURIST (below) falls into this category, by the way, because both characters look actively away from each other.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Color Poster Triptych 05: Warriors

Click on the image for a larger version.

It has become a bit of a cliché to stage nonhierarchical groups flatly walking towards the viewer. As can be seen above, the lack of a strong focal point is often compensated for by a washed out, receding or even non-existent white background. Considering the equality concept, this staging makes perfect sense in the case of the two 1970s stories DIE GÖTTLICHE ORDNUNG ("the divine order" about the fight for women's vote in Switzerland) and KOLLEKTIVET ("the commune" about a married couple inviting their "friends" to live with them). That also dictates the muddy costume colors.

In contrast to the Swiss poster, the others two look much more color coordinated and restricted to two or three basic colors (this is even more obvious in the original Danish version of the poster in the middle). In my opinion, the blandest one also primes us for the blandest concept which seems to be GOING IN STYLE. Like seemingly 40% of all movie poster (even beyond Hollywood), it entirely draws on the old blue v yellow contrast.

When I see a poster like this, especially the one about fighting for equality, I am usually reminded of THE WARRIORS. As you can see below, this has a lot more going for, in fact: a more interesting angle, the blue background, the reflections and a less in your face attitude. Besides the typeface is much more interesting.
Click on the image for a larger version.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Color Poster Triptychs 04: Sunset

The release of the latest BLADE RUNNER 2049 teaser artwork reminded me that I have to dig deeper into the "giant broken statue head alludes to ancient culture" trope one of these days. That aside, it also triggered the following three sunset themed poster triptychs, one with lone women, one with lone men and one with couples:

click on the image for a larger version.
All of these posters are mainly conveying a certain mood. In THE LADY and WONDER WOMAN, the radiant orange associate these women with warmth but also power. On the other hand, the desaturated colors in the SUNSET SONG poster feel much more receding (the contrast on the character is definitely lower than in the one on the right), although the camera angle is much lower (compare the horizons). Needless to say, this is a low-budget realistically filmed literary adaptation rather than a catchpenny mainstream film. Stylistically, both the left and the middle poster capture the tone of the respective films quite well, even though the colors are more unified and stylized than in the actual films. Regarding the WONDER WOMAN poster, however, I have my doubts if DC is really going to give us a film that does not revel in the desaturated bluish gray dreary look with occasional red spots.

click on the image for a larger version.
In contrast to the inert women above, all three posters depict determined men that are actively walking towards us. I assume that a poster like the one from WHAT DREAMS MAY COME would probably look quite different if it were remade today. Probably, Robin Williams' color would reflect more of the orange surroundings. Since the middle and left one are staged against the sun/reflection, we only see them as dark and mysterious silhouettes. Again, the one in the middle is from a British arthouse film. In the case MR. TURNER about the later years of atmospheric landscape painter William Turner, the choice of a late-in-the-day mood poster is obvious. The sparse LOGAN poster, on the other hand, implicates  a tired old western outlaw coming back from the sunset without his horse, which is basically what happens in the film.

click on the image for a larger version.
Finally, here we have three unexpected pairings in more or less fantastical settings. Granted, WAR HORSE takes place during the Great War and A UNITED KINGDOM is based on the true-life romance of the royal couple of Botswana, but the films themselves feel more like fairy tales (if not as openly fantastical as THE SHACK) which is picked up by the soft background clouds and sky stylings. All of these characters are looking at something outside of the frame while their heads visually overlap. What I especially like about these three posters is the clearly stereotyped serif typeface for these kinds of stories. Just compare them to the simpler, plainer fonts used for the comic adaptations LOGAN and WONDER WOMAN above.