Interested in designing a movie poster? Looking to get your movie poster portfolio to stand out? Want to get your foot in the door with an amazing entertainment marketing agency? Then you are going to need to know what makes a movie poster effective.
Not all movie posters are created equal, and some flat out suck. You don’t want to fall into that category, so pay attention and take a look at what sets up winning designs from losing pieces of cringe trash.
Sounds harsh but it’s a rough design world we live in.
By far, in my opinion, the most important aspect of poster design is the idea. Original and compelling ideas are hard to come by and require genuine thought.
In fact, it has been recommended by a few of my creative directors to take a step away from the computer and walk around the block and really think about the movie or TV show and what it’s trying to communicate.
The idea can’t be overly abstract; it has to be smart and easy to understand. People have short attention spans, and if it requires too much thought, you may lose them.
Another challenge is sticking to the client’s brief. The client has their idea of what this poster should look like, and if your idea is too far in left-field, it won’t fly. So, you have to deal with these parameters.
That’s why a good idea is difficult to come by and not as easy as it sounds.
But don’t get it twisted. You will have projects that only entail treating photography, adding a background, maybe making a montage, or just doing something that requires minimal thought. These posters are not what I consider “great” but rather a part of the business.
And while you are coming up with your idea, you need to keep typography in the back of your mind along with where you are going to place it.
Type is so key to good design. As a designer or art director, there are four areas where you are required to use your typography skills.
- Title treatments
Typography is its own set of languages, and you need to know what font works for each type of film or TV show you are working on. It’s important for you to study type and see what works for each genre of entertainment.
For example, you are probably not going to use a loose romantic cursive script on an action movie.
Remember, fonts are all different and communicate different feelings.
Good typography is also modified heavily, especially when dealing with title treatments. The title essentially becomes the film’s logo, and generally speaking, you will see some heavily customized pieces and sometimes added texture and distress.
Each project generally has a creative round where you need to come up with title treatments. Usually, you would need to have 5-10 designs that you can present to your creative director, and from there, they keep and present them or straight up kill them.
Now you have your typography picked and title treatment created. Where are you going to place them all? Does it make sense to justify the type to the left? Maybe the right? What size should it be? Is the title easy to read?
There are so many factors and combinations that you can play with. Some things work and others don’t.
Balancing typography is a true art and over time you will get better and faster at it.
Colors matter. Color is psychological and will bring out different emotions and feelings. Each genre of entertainment requires it’s own tone and color scheme.
Generally speaking, you will see that action movies have lots of reds and oranges, and dramas use blues and greens. Makes sense, right?
Once again, these are things that need to be taken into account. If your colors don’t make sense, then you’re not going to make your creative director or client happy.
One of the most used tools in Photoshop to help with movie poster color is the “color balance” tool. So, become friends with it.
What’s the style of your poster idea? Is it illustrative? Is it going to graphic? Are you throwing in some collage? What about photo-real with high saturation and contrast? Maybe a crunchy black and white treatment will work?
These are all ways in which you can “treat” your idea but again, it needs to make sense. Plus, you need to execute your treatment, meaning if you want a funky illustrated poster, you need to be able to do that and within the deadline.
Now, some agencies have illustrators in-house that may be able to do certain things for your idea, but that’s not always the case.
Starting as a junior designer, you probably are not going to be able to execute treatments or styles as well as seasoned veterans. Don’t trip though, as that’s just a part of the learning process.
Does your poster read? Will the viewer understand what’s going on?
Remember when I was talking about attention span. If your design takes too long to get what’s going on, then you have failed. You were unable to pique interest and perhaps turned off the viewer from wanting to see the movie.
Sometimes you will see flawed posters that are too muddy, too dark, too busy, or contain too many characters. There are plenty of examples in the real world of poorly designed and executed posters.
The crazy thing is it’s not always the designer’s fault as there are plenty of decision-makers in the marketing department for the entertainment industry that pick horrible posters to represent their film or show. Sometimes the clients are to blame.
For example, they want the entire cast in the poster, or they have a pedigree that is a paragraph long, or they just don’t have any artistic mojo whatsoever and pick a dud to go to “finish.” (Go to finish is an industry term that means a particular design is selected as the winner and now the file needs to be enhanced and organized by a “finisher.”)
Retouching, for the most part, only applies to posters with photography. When working with photography, which you will usually receive from the movie studies, will need to be retouched.
But don’t mess it up because a lot of people do.
Retouching is a skill set all on its own. Most of the time, newer designers are a little heavy-handed when it comes to retouching, and it shows. Having overly retouched photography can look cringy.
The art of retouching is an art which should not be overlooked.
Composition is another key aspect of a good poster design. Where are your characters paced? Are you working with an iconic idea that needs to be centered? How are you going to place all your elements? Are you going for a cool crop?
Some key concepts to be conscious of that can make or break your design:
- Hierarchy of design elements
- Hierarchy of characters
- Alignment of both type and elements
- Negative Space
These are all things that need to be thought out, and there are even chapters in design books dedicated to composition and have theories regarding the “rule of thirds” or “rule of odds” and how to work within a grid. Over time composition can be mastered.
This one piggybacks on the “the good idea,” but not all good ideas are always original. Original is some art or style you have never seen before.
In today’s age, stuff gets recycled and built upon, and it’s less common to see some stunning poster artwork in the real world that’s light out crazy, and original.
But when you do you have that little voice in your head say, “that’s a banger.”
What makes a bad poster
Basically, if you disregard any of the before-mentioned items, you will have a bad poster. What this means is you need to get good at all of the above.
How to not suck at poster design? Well, I would highly advise you to sign up for our classes! However, they are currently in production, so until they are ready to go ahead and check out these websites daily and sign up for our newsletter so that you will be notified:
Art and design is a craft in which you can learn and get better each day. If you are truly interested in becoming a professional designer or art director, it’s a perfect idea to start practicing and building up your portfolio.
Pick your favorite movies and start making fan art. Download high-end photography and work on your retouching skills. Practice drawing and illustration both in real life and within Photoshop. And when it comes to a portfolio, get one started and start showcasing your work. I use Squarespace, and some of my other friends use Wix…they are both priced similarly and do the same thing.
(If you use the links we get a small commission for referring you.)
Practice typography and get accustomed to different styles. Each day try to learn something new, and over time you will become a great poster designer. Remember, it takes patience and desire, and in time, you will be able to create effective movie posters. You got this!