Answer this question for me; What do you think is the most important skill you need to become a creative director? Creativity? Aesthetic Judgement? Hands-on expert level experience on Photoshop? Nope, Nope, and Nope!
Despite popular belief, creative direction is not a one-man art project. It involves an entire team of art directors, photographers, and even studio executives and film directors.
The mastermind behind the iconic designs for the movie classics ‘I am Legend’ and ‘Oblivion,’ Tomasz Opasinski, stated in an interview, “Poster-making is no longer one guy sitting in front of his computer at home. In fact, it’s an entire process involving revision after revision as each design goes through a lot of people for approval.”
So, you see, Movie Poster Design is not just about clicking through hundreds of layers on photoshop or adjusting the correct color palette.
While technical skills are important, that’s not all you need to become a Movie Poster Creative Director. You need to tap into human psychology, play with data sets, and explore your creativity to conjure up the ‘perfect’ movie poster to lure your audience and make the movie executives happy.
Sounds a little complicated? That’s because it probably is. But don’t worry! In this article, we will talk you through all the skills that you need to become a successful creative director in the film and TV industry. So, let’s start, shall we?
Learn to Communicate
If you really think about it, poster design is basically a technique for communicating with an audience through visual content. As a creative director, you need to learn how to communicate your ideas effectively through ideas and fast.
When the poster leaves the marketing agency to be hung on an alley wall or cinema, you usually get a 2-second window to communicate to your audience what the movie is about.
In addition to this, as a movie poster creative director, you have to constantly communicate ideas and concepts from film directors to executives and producers through the design process.
The better your ability to communicate, the better will be the final outlook for your product.
As Opasinski said, “Poster-making is no longer one guy sitting in front of his computer at his home.”
It involves an entire team and a wide network of creatives, from photographers to actors and film directors. During the process, your computer screen and photoshop is not the only thing you’re going to be interacting with.
In fact, creative directors need to speak directly with the client, organize in-house photo shoots, and work alongside photographers and the talent (actors, actresses, extra).
They are also responsible for directing art directors, designers, sketch artists, and illustrators in order to present the final pitch desk to the client.
Now, this pitch deck can contain anywhere from 15 to 50 poster design comps. So you understand how a creative director needs to understand project management to produce a successful movie poster.
Think like a ‘Designer’, rather than an ‘Artist’
Despite popular belief, Movie Poster Design is a work of a ‘Designer’, not an ‘Artist’.
If you don’t know the difference between the two, a ‘Designer’ is a problem-solver, while an ‘Artist’ is an expressionist. To learn more, you can check out our detailed article on Graphic Designer Vs. Graphic Artist: What Is The Difference?
To give you a better understanding, think of Movie Posters as sales tools, rather than fine art.
The purpose of a movie is to attract your audience, give them an insight into the movie, and leave them wanting more. Although it should be beautiful, artistic, and aesthetically pleasing, it’s not all a movie poster is about.
In the modern filming industry, poster design is driven by empirical data and research rather than the artistic intuition of the designer…generally speaking, of course.
There are certain fonts, color schemes, proportions that simply ‘speak’ to the audience better. We dive deeper on this topic with this popular article:
Understand Human Psychology
To neglect human psychology in design means eliminating ‘humanness’ from your poster, which is as absurd as it sounds. In poster design, everything you use will have a purpose and eventually link back to human psychology.
“In designing posters, every line has a meaning; it’s all about nuance.” says our beloved Tomasz. “There is a bit of sociology and psychology involved: your aim is to grab the audience’s attention subliminally and manipulate their emotions.”
You need to understand how certain keywords, color schemes, or lighting techniques can trigger specific emotions in the mind of the viewer.
The poster for Oblivion has Tom Cruise walking head down against a ruined bridge. The poster exhibits no particular details except the fact that something bad happened and he survived.
The entire composition automatically resonates with the viewers and he’s compelled to watch the movie.
Entertainment Marketing Creative Directors are working… ALWAYS.
Don’t believe us? Here’s what Tomasz says, “At the beginning of the day, you are starting one project, at lunch, you’re talking to another client while eating on your desk, and by the end of the day – around 8 or 9 pm – you’re scribbling designs on your notepad. It’s honestly a crazy schedule.”
Time management is one of the key skills of being a professional poster designer. This workload obviously increases with seniority, and as you climb the ladder in your career life.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter how many beautiful posters you can make; what matters is how many you can make in a day that can meet your client’s needs.
However, let it be known that quality always trumps quantity. As a creative director, you are expected to “kill” the bad ideas and designs regularly.
Be Prepared to Grind
Being a poster designer doesn’t mean you can paste some words on a single image, give it to a client, and they go, “Wow! That’s amazing. Here’s $500,000.” It doesn’t work like that. In fact, you have to go through a long and lengthy process.
Typically, the movie poster campaign starts roughly 18 to 6 months before the movie is actually released.
Depending on the movie budget, this campaign will be divided into a series of teasers, payoffs, and outdoor media and billboards.
For a big movie, marketing agencies are expected to deliver 50-150 designs. Interestingly, this process usually begins at the script approval stage, so there are no actual assets or photography from the film. As the creative director, you are responsible for handling numerous big-budget films at a time…so yeah, the grind is real.
So, to succeed in the movie poster world, you’ll need to prepare yourself for some daily grind. Nothing comes easy in this world, especially in a creative direction.
Technical Skills (Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.)
Last but not least, technical skills do matter. You are directing a team of art directors, and to be on the same page, you will need to be able to help and sometimes fix issues with their designs.
Plus, at times, you are essentially mentoring the younger and newer designers, so it’s important to be able to provide tips and tricks for them.
This means you need to acquire an expert level experience in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.
In fact, consider Photoshop your best friend, when it comes to poster design. In the final posters, you’ll probably be working with almost 25-75 individual layers or more.
You can use third-party tools, but it’s not going to be much help since you are not the only one designing the poster. That file will need to circulate between junior designers, art directors, and potentially to a finisher.
A finisher is a Photoshop expert that prepares the final file for print and circulation.
Photoshop is the universal software used throughout the entertainment marketing industry. Do you think you need to go to an expensive university to acquire these skills? Probably not, and we explain why in this article:
Where to Get These Skills?
I know what you’re thinking, “Easier said than done.” Well, I completely agree with you on that part.
Movie Poster Design is not a field for light-hearted; it’s for designers who aim to jump high and fly among the clouds (not exaggerating).
My suggestion is if you want to pursue poster design, then start with polishing your graphic design skills. This means typology, illustrations, sketching, and of course, graphic art.
You can view our “Poster Gallery” for some amazing inspiration and creativity boost.
Lucky for you guys, we are launching an amazing online course that will show you how to become a designer or art director within the field of entertainment marketing, aka TV and Movie Poster Design.
It will teach you how to develop all of the skills mentioned above to become a successful movie poster designer. Apart from that, we will also teach you step-by-step the actual field process for creating a compelling and awesome movie poster.
Let us assure you; our classes are taught by professional art directors, creative directors, designers, and illustrators working first-hand in the movie poster industry. We are not a bunch of art school professors that have never stepped foot in a design agency.
At the moment, our course is in development, so you can Sign Up for our Newsletter to receive a personalized notification when they launch!