The (unabridged) Ecstasy poster story

Mark Blamire, one of the designers that designed the Trainspotting poster campaign 16 years ago, has designed the campaign for Irvine Welsh’s latest film adaptation, Ecstasy…

Visiting the promotional site of a new film adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel, Ecstasy, five months ago, Mark Blamire was disappointed to find “an ugly adaptation” of the Trainspotting film poster he co-designed at Stylorouge back in the mid 90s. He got in touch with the director to “have a word” and ended up redesigning the film’s poster campaign and more…

Creative Review: You haven’t taken on any commercial design projects for a few years – tell us how you got involved in this project.
Mark Blamire: DJ John Digweed has a cameo roll in the just-released Ecstasy film in one of the clubbing sequences. I follow him on Facebook and he posted a link to the film’s website about five months ago. As I created the poster campaigns for Irvine Welsh’s two previous films, Trainspotting and Acid House, I followed the link with interest, only to find that an ugly adaptation of the Trainspotting poster had been created to promote the film.

16 years ago, after we had delivered our original Trainspotting poster campaign to the client, the work was given to a third party to adapt and make ready for market. They did a great job of butchering all the best bits and undoing a lot of the details that had made us so proud of the original work. So when I saw that the poster for Ecstasy looked to follow this trend, it brought back the irritation I’ve always felt, that the Trainspotting campaign was never finished off properly.

CR: So you took matters into your own hands?
MB: Yes, I decided to contact the director and producer and say something along the lines of ‘Come on guys, show some imagination, you’re copying a campaign that was custom designed for another film entirely that was made 15 years ago.’ I’m not going to lie, it was a rant. Amazingly, the next day the film’s producer, Ashley Pover, rang me to say he’d spoken to the film’s director Rob Heydon and that they liked what I had to say and appreciated my honesty.

As it turned out, they weren’t entirely happy with what they’d come up with and were a bit stuck on how it should look. They had a small window of time to explore ideas with me, if I was interested in coming up with an alternative poster. Taking into account the history of it all, it was hard to say no so I agreed to have a look at it.

CR: Did you have a carte blanche, so to speak?
Er, yes and no. At first, I knew where I wanted to go with it so I sat down and wrote the brief of what the poster needed to do and to clearly define what I needed to deliver. I didn’t have a traditional brief to follow so it made sense for me to create some guidelines to work within. The initial direction was that it had to look like it was for the launch of a superclub like Ministry of Sound or the Hacienda rather than the launch of a film.

I discussed this with the client who was keen to illustrate the love story element which runs throughout the film. This was challenging as this is no Love Actually! The title of the film is Ecstasy, it’s written by Irvine Welsh and had been rated 18 for its strong use of violence, drug-taking and sex scenes, so we had some discussion about the love story direction. The result was the copyline ‘Perfect Chemistry’ which is the only nod to the relationship between the two main characters in the film.

CR: They’d previously attempted a Trainspotting pastiche of sorts – was such an approach still on the cards?
The Trainspotting campaign has been well received over the years and the initial Facebook poster campaign for Ecstasy had pastiched it as well as playing on the Irvine Welsh connection. So it made a lot of sense to follow the visual style of the original Trainspotting poster but to move it on 15 years. In other words we wanted to keep the DNA of the Trainspotting design but again try to create something new which was fresh and interesting.

We agreed to set sail along this course. The initial visuals received a tepid response.  I got the impression the client wasn’t jumping up and down so I kept chiseling away at ideas until we hit on the pill-packaging theme, which I think was the third idea we proposed. I sent over some sketches and Rob the Director responded saying ‘very cool’, the best response yet. I made the decision to take the bull by the horns and say this is the one we need to go for and why I thought it would work.

CR: How did the pill-packaging idea end up looking like it did?
Trainspotting had been heavily influenced by Modernism and also at the time I worked on it I was going clubbing regularly at places like the Ministry of Sound, Hacienda, and Cream. The way clubs marketed themselves to a youth audience was a more interesting way to market a film and it had a greater meaning to me so we kept these influences and these were the building blocks for the final ideas we presented.

Above and below: examples of Geigy pharmaceutical package designs

We had also played around with chemical warning labels on the Trainspotting campaign using the copy line ‘Danger – keep out of reach of children’ which the film company discarded so these got picked up from the cutting room floor and recylced for this poster. I went back and looked at my modernist book collection for inspiration and tried to find a similar spark so the influences for the poster came from a piece that Helmut Schmid pharmaceutical packaging for Otsuka, plus Damien Hirst Medicine Cabinets artworks also the Geigy Packaging also played a huge influence into the approach – and finally back to the theme of clubbing where we borrowed the colour scheme from the branding of the Hacienda, or specifically from the Hacienda 15th Birthday poster by Mark Farrow.

Above: An example of Helmut Schmid’s pharmaceutical packaging for Otsuka

8vo’s Haçienda 7th anniversary poster

Mark Farrow’s 15th birthday poster for Manchester’s legendary Haçienda nightclub

It was also when the poster design came about it dawned on us that pharmaceutical packaging had been used extremely well for Spiritualized’s Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space album – again by Mark Farrow. This became my biggest problem with the final campaign: I had to send the visuals to Mark and discuss it with him as I didnt want it to be an issue with him so whilst he hadn’t been the starting point for the idea and inspiration, we had to reference the piece to avoid any visual similarities. The outcome did look different and took a different approach. It still didn’t sit comfortably with me so I made sure he was OK before showing it to the client and happily he was totally cool about it all.

Farrow’s pill-packaging design of Spiritualized’s 1997 album, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space

CR: But your pill packet design approach nearly fell at the final hurdle, right? What happened?
During the latter stages of the process, the marketing person wasn’t happy with the overall approach of the pill packet. ‘It could be a pizza box’ was one of the more baffling comments I had to contend with. He hadn’t been present for the first part of the journey but has a vast experience of how to market a film campaign so I was worried that it would be turned back into a traditional safe looking poster that risked not matching the edginess of the film.

At this point, I was asked to scrap the four months of work we had spent on getting it to a stage where Rob, Ashley and myself were really happy. I had to do a full U-turn and come up with an alternative design. I wasn’t happy about starting again [as in my mind we had nailed it]. After considering my options, I realised I could maybe edit the artwork taking on board the  the reservations about the pill packet device. We were also getting really close to the release of the film and walking away would have been unprofessional so I had to get on with it despite disagreeing with some of the changes.

Reluctantly, I set about simplifying the poster to remove the chemical packaging references. I re-submitted the poster (above) and they were happier with this toned down version. I still wasn’t sure about this direction so it was at this stage that I showed the finished version to several trusted friends and colleagues working within both the film and design industry [and a few mums and dads from my sons school for a bit of balance] and the response was everybody preferred the pill packet approach by a ratio of 5-1, I had asked about 20 people in all, they had all given me useful input and feedback which I passed on to the client to use as extra leverage to argue my case of why it was a better option to go with and at the 11th hour they thankfully agreed and it was re-instated.

CR: Is it true that the posters have been screenprinted for use in cinemas. Can people buy them as well?
The screenprinting came about because the colour scheme was influenced by the Hacienda nightclub’s branding as this was the probably the number one clubber’s paradise at the time the book Ecstasy is set. It was a nice reference for us to doff our cap towards the Hacienda 7 poster by 8vo and also the final poster the club ever printed, Hacienda 15 designed by Mark Farrow. Both of those posters were screenprinted because of the nature of the inks they used for their final designs. So it was something I was fighting for from day one with the Ecstacy poster.

We made some sample t-shirts using special inks and I also sent the client some other screenprinted posters I own to better explain why it could be really nice to go that extra mile on the production. It went from him looking at a PDF on a screen for approval to ‘Wow, this looks amazing.’

We used two metallic inks and one fluro for the yellow. Actually, because there were only three colours and because of the size of the print run we needed, screenprinting was cheaper than lithoprinting the posters. They cost less and looked better!

Yes, we printed an additional 50 which are available to buy on my site

Here’s how the posters looked adapted for use in 60 London Underground station sites – we decided that the simpler version without the pill packaging graphic actually worked better as tube posters:

And here’s how the soundtrack CD cover looks:

And Welsh’s Ecstasy novel has a new cover design courtesy of Blamire and the film poster campaign:

Ecstasy opened in cinemas last weekend.



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