The Poster Children of Poor Photoshop

Posted August 24, 2017, under Gee Whillickers!

We’ve talked about movie posters before. It’s almost become a summer tradition for the Lunch Meat. We just think they can be very instructive as examples of good design vs. bad design. Also why Photoshop is not the panacea that some folks seem to think it is.

Backstage Dealings

Although we are Hollywood-adjacent here in Pasadena, we can’t pretend to be privy to all of the inner workings of show business. But it’s fair to say that contracts may play a part in the design and arrangement of promotional materials. Big name has to have a big head (on the poster, we mean to say). We can easily imagine some poor graphic artist sitting at his or her desk, head in hands, because of the impossible demands of tinsel town contract riders.

We submit that none of that is a good excuse for this.

WHAT EVEN IS THIS

Overstuffing: Not Just for Pizza Crusts Anymore

First off: many of them are just crowded. Look at this Spider-Man: Homecoming poster.

Why is Stark’s bodyguard even there? Stark’s bodyguard wasn’t even on the Iron Man posters!

It is just weird. Why do we have to have Tony Stark and Iron Man? And Peter Parker and Spider-Man? AND Michael Keaton’s there twice, too. Also don’t forget this is in New York – except for the part with the Washington Monument that’s just kind of floating there.

Crowded posters aren’t a new problem with the Marvel superhero movie posters. After all, it’s not so long ago we were all subjected to these.

In fact, Marvel’s parent company, Disney, has shown similar flaws lately.

We’re not bringing it up because it’s new; we’re bringing it up because it seems like it’s getting worse, even as the movies themselves just keep getting better.

Where Is Everybody?

The cojoined twin of this character glut is the unfortunate truth that they’re not even hiding: None of the people on the poster are sharing the same time or space. The composition is 100% Photoshop. Sometimes this even applies to individual body parts. We’ve all been there, but for a movie that cost hundreds of millions of dollars? Yeah. No.

This can work (more on this later), and it’s clear to see the posters are trying to follow a “look.” Perhaps they’re going for something like the delightful feel of a Drew Struzan design. Except it doesn’t work. For one thing, Struzan understands composition in ways most mortals cannot approach. For another, when you’re making a painting, you can do something about those mismatched light sources and sight lines.

What we wonder is how do you have a whole cast working for you for months and not find time to take pictures of them all together. You know these folks are happy to mug for the camera. It’s literally in their job description.

When It Works, It Really Works

We’re not saying Photoshop is evil or something. It’s a tool, and like any tool, the results of its use depend on the user. Let’s look at some counter examples.

Both Baby Driver and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets both have multiple characters on their posters. But notice how these do not feel disjointed or crammed together like riders on a Japanese subway car.

These make excellent use of both composition and “white space” (which isn’t necessarily white and which we discuss in detail here). Instead of a Boschean tangle of limbs, we get clean eye trails and clear hierarchy of importance.

Better still are, by strange coincidence, the posters for two of the best female-lead films of the year to date and possibly the decade. Both of these movies have extraordinary, even bizarre concepts (they are about a superheroine in World War I and a woman with a connection to a giant monster, respectively), yet their posters are clean, clear, and elegant.

The Bottom Line

There seems to be a belief that posters don’t matter much anymore as advertising for movies. Perhaps this is why some studios apparently don’t put much effort into them. But we disagree. A good poster can, does, and should entice viewers into learning more, in the first place they’re likely to see them: The actual movie theater.

After all, what better venue for advertising than literally the place where people go specifically to consume products like what you’re selling. That poster is often the first exposure to the product, and you never get a second chance to make that first impression. If it’s terrible, that’s not a good message to the consumer.

That’s why you never want to go half-measures with your promotion. Whether you are a billion-dollar studio hyping a new movie, or a brand-new entrepreneurial concern just getting out of the gate, well-executed promotional materials are always worth the investment.


Rigney Graphics is a Pasadena graphic arts company that can help you create an impact with design and marketing solutions for print and web.