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My aim throughout this project was to design a series of posters exploring the possibilities of film poster design through only one assignment. My assignment was to focus on a motion picture called Way Down East, filmed in 1920. The final results, or strong array of design is meant to both capture evident essences of the film and recognize poster design as not only being commercial, but a strong representation of visual art.
I felt that limiting my exploration to one film and designing several posters for it would help me create a focus for this broad subject. When finishing this exploration I came to realize that designing for one film was enough. If someone asked me if I feel overall satisfied with my final solutions to my degree project, my answer would be no. What I mainly learned throughout this process is process. This is not to say that my project is a failure, but an example of design being a timeless endeavor. With time, patience, and research, my conceptual skills on poster design have improved, and I accept the fact that I can have even better designs than what I have now.
I remember watching a documentary about Paul Rand. He observes his UPS logo and begins to account all the possible changes he would make to it. My first reaction was surprised. I then concluded that as we get older, we gain more knowledge, and with that knowledge acquire a broader understanding of finding solutions. I feel a successful designer is one who can accept this notion.
When looking chronologically at poster design, one can see the change it went through. I became inspired by looking at art movements and attempting to understand the style of the masters of poster art. A.M. Cassandre said that “the poster artist must not assert his personality, since the poster is only a means to an end, a communication between seller and public” (Boczar,10). I question this quote because to an extent, a poster has to be marketable, but its possible spontaneity, vitality, naivete, ambiguity, and free form is the voice of the artist who designed it. Polish designers such as Henryk Tomaszewski are perfect examples of designers who had a unique style combining both a personal response to their poster’s topic and leaving an acclaimed reaction from the public. Many of my posters attempt to create a revival of that style.
It is not easy, however, to balance leaving a personal reaction, or interpretation of the film, and have the audience’s embrace of your design as well. “In this mode, propaganda, advertising, and expression through consumption have become mingled in one of the more emblematic decorating obsessions of our times” (Boczar 35).
Throughout this exploration, I found it important to find a balance. If a poster becomes more abstract, it is converted, or identified as an art piece. If the poster follows the rules and is only straightforward, it becomes banal. An example of a boring film poster is one that has two elements: a still shot of the stars from the film, and then the type with the title. “Poster historians have generally agreed that while American artists succeeded in mobilizing the public, their work tended to be repetitive, wordy, and quite conventional in both conception and execution”(Harris, 21). This began during World War II in America. After the Sixities, however, there was a revival in poster art, and beautiful compositions are evident nowadays although the conventional has become a tradition. Independent filmmakers tend to publish poster designs that set the mood of their films.
While producing these posters for the movie Way Down East I became more aware of gearing myself away from designing in a more conventional form. I conclude a few highlights on how some of my designs are more successful than my other ones. First of all, I have always been reminded to make drawing layouts prior to working first on the computer. Drawing is a useful tool and many of the sketches in my notebook were used for several final posters. Secondly, researching Constructivism was beneficial for me to find hierarchy, space, and depth. Finding a horizon, or vanishing point helped me build up space, movement, and time. Thirdly, simplicity is always best. A constant struggle in design is sending a clear message, and this also has to be evident in a poster’s composition. One useful way of doing this approach is to seek symbols or elements in the film that “brands” it, or gives it an identity. Finally, bring out the form by indicating the evidence of both outline and negative space.
Boczar, Danuta A. ”The Polish Poster.” Art Journal, Vol. 44, No. 1, (Spring, 1984), pp. 16-27
Harris, Neil. “American Poster Collecting: A Fitful History.”American Art, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Spring, 1998), pp. 11-39