A normally sleepy Sunday morning was alive and ready at antiSOCIAL to receive all the information they could about movie posters from Raj Khatri. Movies like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Madaari, Housefull 3, Kick, Bang Bang, Neerja and many more had their posters made by him.
History and Journey
First, he showed the audience a video that showcased his journey. As a child in boarding school, Raj used to collect audio cassette covers, toy packaging and read comic books. When he would go to the library, he would pick books from the Hardy Boys series which always had an action-packed scene on the cover of the book. Watching Hollywood action films like Broken Arrow, Independence Day, Mission Impossible and The Terminator inspired him to draw scenes with explosions in them. He even drew parliament blowing up with a reference taken from his Civics textbook. In college, he listened to rock music and this influenced him to do drawings of Eddie, Iron Maiden’s mascot and Kurt Cobain.
He explained that he developed a visual memory and this is because he believes that observation is necessary and one must have an eye for details. Every era has its own visual style. Till the 70’s, posters were hand painted so even a poster composed poorly would still look good. In the 80s, photographs of actors were used with hand painted backgrounds to make posters so that the actors looked the same in every poster. In the 90’s, Baazigar and Vijaypath were the first Bollywood posters made with computers. In the 2000’s, colour grading was introduced and digital cameras became popular. From 2010, the envelope was pushed resulting in conceptual and symbolic ideas show up in posters.
Every film genre has posters with its own elements of visual grammar. Every action/adventure film has a deep blue tone with a orange or similarly warm tone to contrast with it. Comedy and animated films tend to use bright colours because they cater to family audiences and children. Coming to dramas, Raj said this genre uses divisions in their posters to denote multiple stories with mostly warm tones and a line of dramatic text like, ‘How far will you go?’ Raj’s favourite genre is horror. This is a surreal space where designers can push the envelope and make it dark, interesting and symbolic. Thrillers tend to have a blue element or a blue theme going through them but can be as conceptual and symbolic as horror movie posters.
There are various ways to tell a story in one frame:
A.) Collage aka the ‘kitchen sink’ method which means throw everything you can into the frame. Star Wars, Harry Potter and Arrival are good examples of this style.
B.) Single character is where you use the frame to focus on a single character especially if the movie is about a single character and his or her journey.
C.) Scene derivation where you take an impactful scene of the movie and recreate it in the poster either by using a scene from the film or by using your own style to create something new that is as evocative of that scene.
D.) Typographical posters where words are used with various visual elements to create an arresting poster.
E.) Symbolic and Conceptual posters like The Devil Wears Prada which had a zoomed in shot of a shoe but at the end of the heel, it was a pitchfork and Identity which had a handprint but where the fingers are, you can see the outlines of 4 people denoting multiple personalities while a person is screaming in the palms (It’s Raj’s favourite style).
F.) Sheer Star Power which puts the actor front and centre in much of the frame.
The Poster Design Process
The 3 C Factors are Concept, Composition and Colour Grading. It’s imperative to figure these 3 factors out before you start creating. First, you need to take a book and scribble down an idea, nail down a concept and then move on. Compose your image and then use the genre of the movie to apply appropriate colours and shades.
The Poster Design Workflow
Brief – Understand what the client wants from you.
Concept – Come up with a concept based on your understanding of the brief.
Scribble – Take a sketchbook and scribble the idea.
Mockup –Imagine you sketched a man jumping off a building while shooting a gun, your rough book sketches won’t be good enough to make a director or producer understand what you want to create. Use the internet to find resources that allow you make most of the idea quickly.
Edits – After you give your poster to the client, changes are suggested so you go back and edit it.
Shoot – Once you have the mockup ready, it acts as a visual reference for a shoot with the actor in a controlled environment.
Shoot Image Compositions – After you’ve got all the shots, the image bank from the client and all your resources ready, it’s time to make the first poster that will go to the client.
Edits/Revisions – The client gives revisions and then you make those changes.
Final Approval – The client gives you the go ahead.
Artwork – Doing the entire poster in a high resolution. As a designer, Raj designs in low resolution first.
After this, his artwork goes to a studio where it will undergo more minor changes to make it perfect for the material it will be printed on. Raj showed the audiences a few of his scribbles and the mock-up next to it and the final poster made next to that. His final poster in every example was always at least 70% similar the mockup.
Constructing A Visual
His advice is to break down key pointers of the movie and stitch them together to make visual triggers in your memory. Imagine this: 2 people + A diary that tells a story + opposite sides of the law. How would you make it? This is what Raj did:
Raj took people through how he designs posters. He showed the stock images he had along with images from a shoot. Then he took the audience down a magical journey of seeing these images come together and be altered stage-by-stage until it creates a memorable poster. He also showed the audience how some film posters can be made by altering a single image. The films he did this for were Anjaana Anjaani, Bang Bang, Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Cocktail, Kai Po Che, Udaan.
Pet Projects and Personal Works
Normally, Raj gives clients what they want even if that is a messed up idea because they are paying for it. But no artist needs to let go of his or her creative energy. Raj bought a Wacom tablet for this purpose because it simulated doing work with your hands. In 2010, he made a poster for the TV show Dexter and when he showed it to his friends, they thought he had edited an image very nicely but actually he had digitally painted it. The fact that it looked like a manipulated image rather than a painting was disheartening to him because it didn’t look like original art to people. This made him learn about how strokes of paint appear and how different wet mediums and dry mediums are utilised. This allowed him to create his own personal poster art series.
His first example was a ‘Tyler Durden’ poster. Tyler is a character from the movie, ‘Fight Club’ and (spoiler alert) he is the alter ego of the narrator. Because Tyler only exists in the narrator’s head, Raj made a poster using the face of the narrator as a brush and painted with it. When he was done, it looked like this:
His next example was Kishore Kumar. This time, he wanted to do a vector based image that looked like a painting. Here’s his work:
Iron Maiden was an influence for him and after paying tribute to a musician from the East, he paid tribute to them for their influence in his college days. Can you see the nod to the UK flag in his work below?
He learnt about Alternate Movie Posters, a movement happening with artists from around the world who made their own poster art for movies. Raj has created posters like this one below:
These got him noticed by a curator in Los Angeles, California who liked what he saw. They got in touch and Raj sent his work to be exhibited. The first time it was out there, it was so well received that they wanted more. This landed him his second exhibition in LA. And the icing on the cake, his work was seen by all the artists he admired. He’s living proof that doing something creative and doing it well can get you 2 exhibitions in the city that houses Hollywood.
Later on, he wanted to do a series of posters that would be in his own style. He created Minimalist Posters, they were made with as few colours as possible painted in strokes that moved in as few directions as possible. These went viral and got featured on a number of art and design pages on social media and in blogs. He then did a second series of these which were featured on Behance and tweeted about by Adobe.
Find your motivation. Raj keeps two folders on his computer that are synchronised with his home computer, they are ‘World Arts’ and ‘World Posters’ He’s been updating this for the last 8 years which is where he goes to find motivation and inspiration
Any artist needs to understand the difference between good work and bad work. Simply adding HDR treatment to an image doesn’t make it a poster. It doesn’t work.
Observation is the key. Develop a visual memory so that finding references to create mock-up posters will be easier.
Use visual grammar and genre. Every genre has a style of posters that are made with certain visual elements. Use that to inform the audience about what kind of movie the poster denotes.
Use key pointers and stitch them together to make a visual trigger that reminds you of the movie. Keep the 3 C factors in mind when making a poster: your concept, your composition and colour grading to be applied.
Follow the poster design flow chart i.e. Brief > Concept > Scribble > Mockup > Edits > Shoot > Shoot Image Composition > Edits/Revisions > Final Approval > Create The Final Artwork.
Have a pet project. Don’t worry about the time it will take to get it done. Freelance work is a waste of time and energy for not much money.
If you want to reach Raj Khatri or just see his work, use the links below
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