Creating Covers Part 1

…specifically, Bluray/DVD covers (I’ll do book covers in another post)

Over the last few years I've been lucky enough to create many covers for Arrow Video. It currently stands at 76 pieces of art (including booklet covers, box-set individual covers and outer box art) and counting.

Creating cover art for films is probably my favourite thing to do. Distilling a film into a single image, capturing the mood, genre, atmosphere, choosing or designing the right typography is very challenging, but in the best possible way. 

So I thought I’d make a little post about it, starting with how I got started…

I’ve mentioned before (in my 10 Year Anniversary post) that I got a private commission to create some alternative film posters. I’ve always loved films, but I had no idea that the alternative poster scene was so huge (now I’m very happily part of that great community). I caught the bug. So, for fun, I made posters for my favourite films - The Shining and Pan’s Labyrinth.

Now, here my memory is a little murky, because I can’t remember if I had done the Back to the Future poster with Under the Floorboards at this point. But, I do know it was Mike Wood of UTF who told me about Arrow… So, I sent in my work and asked (politely) if they’d keep me in mind for any cover commissions. Thankfully, they came straight back and said they’d keep me on file. And very quickly, they gave me my first commission - Roger Corman’s The Haunted Palace.

I think this might still be my favourite cover I’ve done for them. I wonder if it’s because I was so eager to impress, I gave my heart and soul to it. But then that would imply I haven’t done that for every cover since, which is untrue. But somehow I think I just got this one right.

Also worth pointing out here, at this stage I already loved doing my own type. I had done this big job for Whelans where I could make any sort of gig poster I liked and I had cut my teeth playing with typography and title design on that job. So on Haunted Palace I designed the title. And my love for combining illustration and typography, and matching both to the subject, has lead to all my cover and poster work in film & publishing (so if it’s a field you’d like to get into, try to push your skills in both letters and images.. it’s not essential, but definitely desirable).

To my relief, the cover went down well with both client and collectors. And so they came back with another one - a real cult favourite… Buckaroo Banzai.

This was my first taste of mixed reaction (in covers.. plenty of my stuff previous had mixed reactions!). Some people loved it, some people hated it. I certainly see lots of room for improvement but thats the case with all old work (you get better as you go, so you are more critical of past creations because now you can do much better - it’s why we tend to hate our older stuff). In any case, it didn’t put Arrow off…

Next came Zardoz* and what I think is my favourite title design I’ve done…


*or it could have been the Bob Hoskins double Mona Lisa/Long Good Friday.. That used stills and the existing title designs so I don’t tend to include it, although the backgrounds and over all design is all me…

On to how I make them…

I'll watch the film a couple of times, first to get the mood, then to collect stills I think might inspire an idea or be useful in the composition. While I'm doing this, I'm scribbling terrible thumbnails in a sketchbook as the ideas come. When I've decided on the best options, I'll send the roughs off to Arrow for approval, and then the final art is made.

As mentioned, I prefer to make my own titles where possible. But sometimes a typeface just does the job better. Either way, it’s all about matching the type to the mood of the film.

So that’s a quick version of my road to Bluray covers. I’m still making more (there’s a few that haven’t been announced, and a few in the pipeline) not just in covers but in posters, concept art and more.. And all because I made some fan art, and sent it off in the hope the right people would like it.

Next post will be book covers.. But for now, here’s a selection of my personal favourites from the DVD library (including one from my Ignatius Fitzpatrick portfolio, The Apartment).

And in the meantime, please feel free to comment - ask questions etc. Happy to give tips or answer anything really (within reason)… :)