Since 2001, Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima have been immersed in a fantasy world – designing props, merchandise and memorabilia for the film adaptations of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter novels.
This month, their work is on display at Soho’s Coningsby Gallery and offers a fascinating insight into graphic and set design for films.
The exhibition includes hundreds of seen and unseen props from the Harry Potter series, including packaging for potions and poisons, newspapers, magazines, adverts, posters and letters.
The range of design styles on display is impressive and captures the films’ combination of humour, horror and fantasy.
On one wall, packaging and adverts for products in a shop owned by the Weasley family combine early 20th century print advertising with humerous taglines and garish colours, while posters promoting the fictional game of Quidditch (below) reference 1950s Olympics adverts.
Official notices and letters use hand written fonts, and pamphlets demonising ‘mudbloods’ – a wizard born to non-wizard parents – are inspired by Soviet progaganda (top).
“One of the best things about working on the Harry Potter films was being able to try out so many different styles, from Victorian letterpress to modern design,” says Lima.
“The Daily Prophet was designed to look very Gothic, as did the architecture of Hogwarts [the boarding school for wizards where the film is set]. When an organisation called the Ministry of Magic takes control in later films, the school becomes a kind of totalitarian state, so we started looking to Russian constructivist design to reflect that,” says Mina.
When designing products for a shop owned by key characters, The Weasleys, Mina and Lima’s original designs had to be re-done because they were “too pretty.”
“We were asked to make them more vulgar, so we offset colours and used bad printing techniques. It was strange – like drawing with your left hand if you’re trained to use the right,” she adds.
A Central Saint Martins graduate, Mina studied theatre design before moving into film and has worked on all eight Harry Potter adaptations. Lima joined during the making of the Chamber of Secrets one year later, after training and working as a graphic designer in Brazil.
After the Harry Potter series came to an end, Mina and Lima set up their own design studio, MinaLima. Since late 2012, they’ve been selling limited edition prints of their designs through their website, The Printorium, in response to demand from designers and fans.
Both are hoping to take on new projects, but the Harry Potter franchise is still keeping Mina and Lima busy. They’ve designed graphics for London’s Harry Potter theme park as well as DVD cases, book covers and merchandise; and are delivering talks at this year’s LeakyCon Harry Potter convention in Portland, Oregon.
“People often ask if we’re tired of it but whenever we get a call about Harry Potter, it’s a new challenge. We had never designed theme park signage or DVDs before, so we’re still learning and trying out new skills,” says Lima.
“I feel like we’ve grown as designers throughout the series, and we’ve been able to experiment with new techniques as well as revisit and refine old designs,” adds Mina.
In 2007, Mina and Lima hired Nottingham Trent Graphic design graduate and Harry Potter fan Lauren Wakefield, who now works full time at MinaLima, to help on set. Working with the film’s set decorator, Stephanie McMillan and production designer Stuart Craig, Mina, Lima and Wakefield were responsible for producing hero props and inventing unscripted extras to embellish the set.
While hero props had to be signed off by the film’s set designer, director and producers – one billboard took eight months to complete – Mina and Lima say they were largely free to experiment and use their imagination.
Typefaces are mostly taken from old books, newspapers and pamphlets, as both designers prefer using scanned images over digital type. In one corner of the exhibition, they’ve put together a small collection of work that inspired their designs, from boy scout membership cards to F Scott Fitzgerald book covers.
“In the Weasley shop, there were only five products in the script so we thought up everything else. It was a designer’s dream, being given a shop to fill with whatever you like,” says Lima.
“One of the most enjoyable aspects of working on the films was being given the freedom to add your own little touches. On wanted posters, for example, we’d ask for information to be delivered ‘by owl’; and we’d often pay homage to colleagues and family – my mum’s a writer for the Daily Prophet,” he adds.
Mina and Lima’s passion for what they do is obvious in the attention to detail in each of their creations: potion labels feature serial numbers, ingredients lists and splatters of liquid, while covers for fictional books by key characters include spoof reviews from Which Wizard? And Spella Weekly.
After a decade of working together, the pair insist that they have never had an argument and still enjoy being partners in design. And while they’re excited to be starting new projects, they’re in no rush to leave the world of Harry Potter behind.
“People think the Harry Potter films are very serious but there’s a lot of humour in them. We were lucky to be given such rich visuals in Rowling’s novels and the film scripts, and having the opportunity to help bring those stories to life has been amazing,” she says.
The Graphic Art of Harry Potter is open until June 28 at the Coningsby Galley, 30 Tottenham Street, London, W1T 4RJ. For more information visit coningsbygallery.com
Pink Floyd fans may recognise the cover of our June issue. It’s the original marked-up artwork for Dark Side of the Moon: one of a number of treasures from the archive of design studio Hipgnosis featured in the issue, along with an interview with Aubrey Powell, co-founder of Hipgnosis with the late, great Storm Thorgerson. Elsewhere in the issue we take a first look at The Purple Book: Symbolism and Sensuality in Contemporary Illustration, hear from the curators of a fascinating new V&A show conceived as a ‘walk-in book’ plus we have all the regular debate and analysis on the world of visual communications.
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