Are you interested in making movie posters? Want to know how long it takes to make an Independent Movie Poster? Perhaps you’re curious about how long those superhero movie posters take to complete? You know those crazy montages with 15 characters making heroic poses—posters like Avengers, Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy, Pacific Rim, and Power Rangers.
My name is Andy Storey, and I’m an art director in the world of movie poster design. In this post, I’ll drop some knowledge on how movie posters are made nowadays.
The cool thing is that I have worked on all types of movie posters, and hopefully, I can give you a basic understanding of the amount of work and time it takes.
Poster Idea, Photoshoot and Execution
Generally speaking, most big-budget studios like to go the route of exploring poster options with sketch ideas first. Then when a few different ideas are decided upon, the agency creating the poster usually sets up a photoshoot with a photographer and the actors and actresses that need to be featured in the idea/poster.
After the photoshoot, photography is sent to both the studio and agency doing the work. Sometimes multiple agencies will receive the photography as numerous agencies are usually hired for just one movie or TV show.
For simplicity purposes, I will not count this part of the movie poster-making process in our time frames. I want you to be aware of everything that goes on.
What’s an agency
When I say agency, I mean the entertainment marketing agency that has a team of designers, illustrators, art directors, creative directors, and copywriters. You know the creatives that make the posters from start to finish. There are many other positions within an agency that are not creatives, which will be another post.
Should you decide to want a career in the movie poster business, chances are you will start at an agency.
Types of posters
There are so many types of posters, genres, and needs in the film and TV industry. The companies that need the poster artwork each have different tastes, wants, and ideas of what is going to sell their product (movie). But to break this article down, I’m going to touch on the more generally understood types of movie posters:
- Photographic Image
- Type Solve
These are four generic creative styles of posters. There are actually types of posters that pertain to the marketing side. For example, you have payoffs, character series, and outdoor billboards, and bus stops. This is a whole other topic that is discussed in another post.
The montage poster is probably one of the most used and recognizable styles of movie posters. These posters can take the longest to create because there are so many components. Let’s say the most epic superhero movie is about to come out, and the studio want’s all the main characters featured.
Assuming the agency has all the needed photography, the art director or designer will have to go through the thousands of images and make selects. Selects are the best poses with the best light and what you will be using in your poster. This could take up to an hour or more, depending on the number of photos.
Mask out the images and create the poster composition. Masking images is when you drop photos into Photoshop and remove the background. This can take up 10 minutes per image, all depending on several things like background, hair, and lighting.
If you work for a large agency, they have a team dedicated to masking out images for their art directors. This saves a lot of tedious time.
Now you have your images ready to go, and you can start placing them in your design. You will also need to use stock photography for artistic components like light features, stars, sky, lasers, and other special effects. We usually pull stock images from either two companies:
Going through the stock and finding your special effects could take an additional 1/2 hour. Most art directors have a folder of ready-to-use effects, and this helps save time.
Treatment time! Now that you have your images placed in special effects rocking, you can play with the treatment. Treatment means the style and coloring that affect the overall tone of the poster. We are talking about coloring, color correction, hue and saturation, blur, sharpness, and textures. This process could take another 30 minutes to an hour.
Of course, it always depends.
What about the title logo?
Generally speaking, if you are working on a big-budget film, a title logo, otherwise known as title treatment, will be given to the art director. When this happens, you are saving about another 30-60 minutes. But then again, sometimes you can spend a few hours just on title logo treatments.
Montage rough time estimate
As you can see, a montage has many moving parts,, which is why this will be a very rough estimate. So, generally speaking, you are looking at 3-6 hours to make one montage design. Of course, I’ve seen art directors take shorter and longer on montages. Also, your skill level comes into play, and usually, the more experienced designers can knock them out a lot quicker.
Graphic posters are generally cool, more artistic, and thought-provoking. There are millions of different styles and ways to make a graphic poster. For instance, you can take photography and tweak it in photoshop, and you have a graphic solve. Other times you illustrate the idea with shapes and colors.
Movie studios generally like to see a variety of poster types to choose from when they want a poster to sell their movie or TV show, and a lot of times, graphic posters are perfect.
When it comes to graphic posters, the idea and execution are the most important. Sometimes stepping away from the computer screen and really thinking about the concept is the best thing to do. I’ve taken many hours out of my day to come up with a clever idea.
You will also find that sometimes a studio doesn’t have photography of their actors and actresses or anything from the movie or TV show. That’s when the art director’s natural creativity comes into play. When this happens, we usually have to resort to stock photography, and depending on what you are trying to accomplish, this could take 30-60 minutes.
Put it all together! You have your idea, and you have your graphic components. Now all you need too is make it look good with some style and treatment. After this, you will need to layout the typography and title.
Chances are you will also need to design a title, and once again, this could take 30 minutes or longer.
Graphic poster rough time estimate
The graphic poster is a fun poster to work on and can be done relatively quickly if need be. However, sometimes your design and vision will take some extra work, or you may want to provide some color alternatives. The rough time estimate for a graphic poster is going to be anywhere from 1 to 4 hours.
The photographic image poster is usually the easiest of the poster types to execute. It’s essentially when you have a bunch of unit photography (photos from the set during filming) and or photography from a photoshoot known as special shoot assets.
The time-consuming part of making this poster is going through all the photography. You will usually have thousands of images to go through and need to find the most compelling and thought-provoking image to use.
Chances are, you will need to mask out the image and add other components like background and possible items that were used in the movie or TV show. Plus, you will need to retouch the skin and hair of the actors and actresses.
Other things that are considered for this type of poster are the crop, the execution, treatment, and the typography layout. Don’t forget you will be spending about 30 minutes to over an hour on title logo treatment.
Photographic image rough time estimate
Outstanding art directors can knock out these types of posters in under 2 hours, but I’d say the average will be from 2-4 hours per poster. It all depends on the quality of the photography and assets that were given to you.
The “type solve” poster is a very type-heavy design featuring the title and typography. Sometimes you can just have some awesome and creative type filling the whole poster design. Other times, you will have a giant title logo and fill it with actors, flowers, animals, and anything creative that has to do with the movie or TV show you are trying to sell.
On type solves, the focus has to be on the typography. What that means is you need to dive deep into the typography pool and pick some fantastic type. Chances are you will also need to customize it, and the best place to do that is in illustrator. You could, in theory, spend hours making a superb type layout.
Also, if you are filling in the typography, you will need to set aside time to mask out the backgrounds of those images so that you only have the actors or items you want to show. This could take hours too.
Type solve time estimate
These types of posters are enjoyable to make, but they do require extra time for laying out your type and masking the images you want to use within. They look simple, but the execution is time-consuming.
Generally speaking, you are looking at 2-5 hours on type solve style posters. You will also most likely want to make color alternatives to present to your creative director.
Every agency within the poster design industry has different expectations. Some agencies want their art directors to crank out three posters per day while others focus on ideas and execution. Generally speaking, a sound art director should be making 2-3 posters per day.
Art directors usually work 10 hour days on average, so when you do the math, you can make one poster every 3 hours or so.
Truthfully speaking, it’s an exciting industry as you always have crazy deadlines, and as an art director, you want to increase your skillset and be able to work quickly. The better you get, the more often you will see your artwork in theaters and on billboards.
If this sounds like a career you would like to pursue, you may want to consider taking our classes specific to poster design and taught by real art directors in the business, not some professor who never stepped foot in a design agency.
Here’s the thing, our movie poster design course is in production, but what I recommend is signing up for our newsletter now, and when it becomes available, we will send out an email to notify you!