The first day of Dublin creative conference Offset featured an inspiring insight into graphic design for filmmaking from Annie Atkins, plus talks from Hey Studio, Barber & Osgberby’s Edward Barber, Ian Anderson and Rory Hamilton, creative director at Dublin agency Boys And Girls.
While best known for her work on The Grand Budapest Hotel (you can read our interview with Atkins about her designs for the film here), Atkins has also worked on graphics, signage and props for Sky series Penny Dreadful, BBC period drama The Tudors and animated film The Boxtrolls, which featured a series of characters made out of cardboard boxes (Atkins was asked to design graphics and lettering for the characters’ costumes, inspired by Victorian-era packaging from around Europe):
“People assume I do movie posters and typesetting for credits, but I couldn’t make a living doing that…my day job is making the graphics that actors engage with,” she said.
A visual communications graduate, Atkins worked in advertising for four years before moving to Dublin to study filmmaking at the city’s University College. She quickly realised she didn’t enjoy directing, but said she became fascinated with production design.
Working on The Tudors, Atkins studied the work of traditional craftspeople such as glaziers and calligraphers – the graphic designers of the time, she said – to create court documents and graphic props such as death warrants by hand while on Penny Dreadful, she created Victorian signage and letterpress posters (for images, see Atkins’ website).
“The golden rule of graphic design for filmmaking is, ‘if it was made by hand at the time, make it by hand’,” she said. While she underlined the importance of authenticity and using traditional techniques, however, Atkins said large props often have to be constructed using cheap, lightweight materials instead of those traditionally used at the time, then aged to look convincing – signage in Penny Dreadful, for example, was created using Perspex and MDF then treated to create a stained glass effect.
Speaking about her work for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Atkins said she and the art department occupied the first floor of the building in which the film’s hotel interior scenes were shot, giving her a view over the performance as she worked.
Showing extracts from the script, Atkins demonstrated how nearly every scene of the film featured an original graphic prop – “on your first day, you sit down with a script and a highlighter, marking anything that might be your responsibility. You might have two pieces per page, or sometimes nothing at all – but on Grand Budapest, there were highlighter marks all over the place,” she said. “I knew there was going to be a high volume of work, because of how particular [Anderson] is – if a handkerchief [in a scene] is going to have a pattern, it’s not just going to be any old pattern. If there’s a bottle of champagne, it will be one designed in the style of that period,” she said.
One of the biggest challenges in designing for the film was juggling the production schedule, said Atkins – which is usually determined based on locations and the availability of actors, meaning props have to be designed out of sequence.
With this in mind, Atkins said it was important to think about continuity – “when you’re working on a film, it’s the most boring, tedious part of making it but once it comes out, it’s the most fascinating, because people notice if you get it wrong,” she said. With graphic props so fragile, Atkins said she had to create several versions of each one – usually six – and dozens for those which would be handled by an actor.
“If you’re making something that’s going to be ‘destroyed’ in shot [for example, a letter that will be opened by a character], you need to make 12 or 15 copies, and if it’s for Wes Anderson, you’ll make 30 or 40 copies because he might do 30 or 40 takes,” she said, citing examples of a bloodstained telegram she made by hand (pictured), ensuring bloodstain patterns were the same on each.
As demonstrated in our feature on Atkins, the attention to detail in her work for The Grand Budapest Hotel is astonishing – in one scene, where a character presents a ‘crudely drawn’ prison map on a piece of cardboard packaging, Atkins’ graphics team not only drew the map, but created stamps for the fictional empire of Zubrowka featuring original illustrations of a fictional emperor as well as a handwritten address and postage marks, all for a split second of viewing time.
Atkins also discussed Anderson’s painstaking attention to detail when making the film – he wrote all of the articles featured in the film’s newspapers in full – researching Himmler, Hitler and Eva Braun’s calling cards to create a business card for one of the film’s key characters – and the challenges of ensuring accuracy without copywriters or editors to check spelling and grammar.
While graphics played a starring role in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Atkins said even props which go largely un-noticed by audiences can play an important role in the making of a film or TV show.
“We’re not always designing for cinema audiences – sometimes, its purely for the director and actors,” she explained. “Film sets don’t look like they do in the cinema – they’re full of lights and cables and people standing around in North Face jackets. Its not the most authentic world…so we do everything we can to make it more authentic…it takes so many people to make a film, and the graphic department is such a small part of that, but it all goes some small way to helping create that bigger picture,” she said.
Offset also featured a talk from Ricardo Jorge and Veronica Fuerte of Barcelona studio Hey, who discussed some of the studio’s recent graphic design and illustration commissions as well as their personal projects and exhibitions. While the studio started out focusing on graphic design, the pair said 50 percent of their commercial work is now illustration.
Speaking about their love of colour and tactile processes – and proving that beautiful work can be produced on a small budget – Jorge and Fuerte presented identities for Art Fad, an annual contemporary art and craft fair, for which they hand made covers featuring the letter ‘A’ using colourful silk ribbon, Maxon comic patterns and triangles of coloured card (above and below):
A low-cost packaging and identity solution for Jammy Yummy, a business set up by a friend of Fuerte’s selling homemade savoury jams, which was created using a hole punch, and an identity for glass artist Jeremy Maxwell Wintrebert (pictured below). The studio created business cards and catalogues by laser burning wood, inspired by the process of heating glass. “We wanted to represent fire, but it’s difficult to do in graphics,” said Fuerte. The process means no two business cards are the same, while coloured ribbons added to catalogues echo the colours used in Wintrebert’s work.
They also discussed creating large-scale illustrations for Three’s Dublin offices, a charming animation for CBS Outdoor on consumer behaviour and their Oh My God exhibition at London’s Kemistry Gallery, as well as the studio’s Instagram project, every_hey, for which they created a new character each day, based on news, popular culture and film and TV characters.
Edward Barber of Barber & Osgerby discussed some of the studio’s recent projects, from the Science Museum’s Information Age exhibition to Design Museum show In the Making, which offered a look at how everyday objects from pencils to dining chairs are produced. He also spoke about the studio’s love of model making, his fascination with manufacturing techniques and traditional craftsmanship – and the process of designing the 2012 Olympic Torch.
The studio was given just 10 days to create a prototype for the torch, said Barber, deciding which materials to use and how the flame itself would look when lit. To test the heat reistance of various materials, they constructed a model using an Ikea utensil holder and a table tennis table, before making life sized models from gold card and foam.
When developing a concept for the torch, Barber said the triangular design was inspired by the Olympic Games’ three-word motto – faster, higher, stronger – and the fact that London has held the Olympic games three times. Its 8000 perforations represent each of the relay runners who were given a torch, but was also used to reduce materials costs.
Rory Hamilton, creative director of Dublin ad agency Boys And Girls, gave an entertaining insight into the making of spots for Guinness while he was at BBDO, including Dot, inspired by a talk by Javier Mariscal on colour, and the restrictions of advertising for drinks brands. “You think it’s the promised land, but it’s so carefully regulated, it can be very restrictive…you end up with three men at a bar,” he said.
With Dot, the company travelled to Vancouver to shoot a scene that would start with a close-up of a man’s pupil before zooming out to a street in the city, but was forced to abandon the shoot because of strong winds. The ad had to be constructed in 3D by Psyop instead, and took two years to make. He also discussed the making of an ad starring Emperor penguins for Guinness, which was shot in the Arctic and Antarctic and took 18 months to make.
Hamilton set up Boys And Girls five years ago – the company has since created print ads for whiskey brands, Digicell and John West – but budgets and deadlines are much tighter. Its Christmas spot for Three, for example, had to be shot in just six weeks.
Ian Anderson gave an A-Z of The Designers Republic, presenting a whistlestop tour of 29 years of projects from Autreche artwork to packaging for Coca Cola, while graphic designer and artist Peter Maybury discussed audio visual experiments, using typography to visually represent sound for seven-volume Sub Rosa box set, An Anthology of Noise and Electronic Music and a beautifully produced publication for artist Shaziah Sikander (more pics here):
And Neils Shoe Muelman gave a brief insight into his Calligraffiti – large-scale calligraphic illustrations – and the thinking behind group project Abstract Vandalism, a show featuring large-scale graffiti and street art.
Tomorrow’s line-up features Tomi Ungerer, photographer Aisha Zeijpveld, Veronica Ditting, Snask and Forsman & Bodenfors. For details, see iloveoffset.com or follow @weloveoffset on Twitter.