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Making the Cut

Making the Cut: Career Advice from Film Graphic Designer Annie Atkins
06 Nov 2014 :
Annie Atkins working on 'Titanic: Blood and Steel'.
Continuing the 'Making the Cut' series that sees IFTN talk to industry professionals ranging from floor runners to show runners, concept artists to set designers, this week we catch up with photographer, award-winning blogger and graphic designer Annie Atkins.

Specializing in design for filmmaking, Ms. Atkins produces period graphic props, set dressing and construction graphics, and has worked on various Irish production including 'The Tudors', 'Camelot', 'Titanic: Blood and Steel', and the upcoming Victorian horror series 'Penny Dreadful'. She also specializes in poster design, and is responsible for the poster for Wes Anderson's 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' that was so warmly received online.

Fresh from a year in Germany working with Mr. Anderson and Ms. Saoirse Ronan, who stars in the film, Ms. Atkins takes us through her working process, her inspirations, and her advice to aspiring graphic designers...

Basically, what I do as a graphic designer is… I design graphic props and set-pieces for filmmaking. Depending on the period, these can be telegrams, newspapers, love letters, shop signs, stained glass, posters, cigarette boxes, fake social media sites... Some of these pieces are really just facsimiles of historical documents — like the ticket for the Titanic, for example — and other times they have to be more inventive, like an identity for a business set 100 years in the future, or illustrated book covers for Wes Anderson.

Generally, working on my current project, my day usually begins with…reading the call sheet and making sure everything's in order for the day's shoot. Then I'll go down to the workshops to check that the signwriter has all the info and materials he needs, and I'll do a quick walk-around of the sets in construction to make sure any large-format graphics we're applying — like flooring and tiling — are working. Then I spend most of the day at my desk researching, designing, showing the Production Designer sketches, compiling cost estimates for the Art Director, and putting pressure on suppliers to deliver on time.

The most common misconception people have about working in graphic design for film is...that you can do it all on a computer. You really can't – not in period filmmaking. You have to consider how people produced graphics back in the day, whether that's calligraphy, letterpress printing, typewriting, woodcut illustration, or photography. The level of detail in this work is probably much higher than people expect – if something's supposed to look like it was made by hand, then make it by hand! Having said that, you also need to understand the technical side of large-format printing, as you'll most likely be asked to produce an awful lot of fake marble flooring at some point in your career.

The practical tips I would give to any young people who wish to get into graphic design for film and television are…study graphic design, work like a dog, get some technical design experience, then come in to the film industry knowing your trade. You can get an introduction to filmmaking through a short internship in an art department. It's hard work for no money, but it should be worth it in the long run.

The best thing about working in graphic design is...Movie poster design is my absolute favourite part of my work – it's never stopped being exciting to get a call about one. It always feels like such a privilege to be one of the first people to see the movie, and then be asked to encapsulate that entire film into one single frame.

People in the industry that I observe and look to for inspiration are…I was always a fan of Lenny Abrahamson's filmmaking, so it was great to see how he works with people. He's a genius, but also totally clear and down to earth and approachable. I also love working with Dearbhla Walsh, Joan Bergin, and Anna Pinnock. It's still a heavily male-dominated industry, but that's no odds to them – they're such brilliant creative forces, throwing themselves completely in to what they do.

Books/websites/other work you should look up for inspiration are... I think the most invaluable research out there is in the form of actual antique graphics from the past couple of hundred years. You can buy items at auction, or you could just go and raid your Granny's house for old train tickets, gin labels, deeds, postcards, newspaper clippings... that's where you learn the most about old-school typesetting and printing. It's great to be able to replicate the paper types and feel the scale of things in your hands, too. Not just for the final look of a film, but also for the actors to handle on set. Like I said, the level of detail in this work is probably much higher than you'd expect...

For more information on Ms. Atkins or to view her impressive online portfolio, visit her website here.

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