Sunday, February 7, 2010

Covers and posters - an analysis

So after my last post, Adam aka. NitWitt from AblinoBlackSheep and I got into a discussion about how different companies handle DVD covers and poster designs. It couldn't be helped with the three-in-a-row assault of bad DVD covers.

What follows is a case study of promotional cleverness vs. redardation.


What I like about this picture:

  • It has good composition. It is impossible for your eye to get lost, it can only travel in one direction.
  • There are no unnecessary characters. You have to squint to see the bird and we aren't treated to any of the unimportant characters.
  • It leads us to ask questions about the film. "Why is there a flying house, what's the deal with this old man and kid? I'm intrigued."
  • It's a candid snapshot. They are captured in a moment in time. They don't know you're there.

Wait, what is this movie about??

The characters haven't been photographed by an unseen photographer like in the Up poster. They were there for a photo shoot. A publicity photo shoot.
It's just a triangle of the main characters. And why is Scrat there?
On a slightly unrelated note, the concept design of that sloth or whatever the fuck he is should have probably gotten to a second or third draft before they settled on this.


Like many Pixar films, Australia saw the totally unremarkable videogame adaptation of this title arrive on our shores long before the actual movie. Thankfully I didn't play it, but the cover (which is the same picture they used for the film posters) made me want to see the film.

"Hm. That robot looks really lonely. Looks like he's the only robot left on the planet. But hey! There's a robot there in the background that he doesn't even seem to notice. What is that thing?"

It's a totally uncluttered design that drops in a few points of focus: Wall-E, the ship, and Eva. That's it.


So wait a minute, why is the corporate asshole bad guy standing next to all the goodies? Oh yeah. Because this is a publicity photo shoot that has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot of the movie.
It's sheerly and solely an attempt to sell the characters. To remind the kids which happy meal they are supposed to buy. Which is kind of ironic when you think about it, because these characters are ugly as sin.


The top two thirds of this picture are consumed by the two most important characters. The rest of the cast are delegated to where they belong. Woody looks both fearful and skeptical, and Buzz really believes he is a flying superhero. You've summed up everything you need to know in one clean snapshot.


Umm. Okay.

So, uh...

Well, at least they're not looking at the camera. But still, I guess it's about a bunch of... animals escaping in a minecart from. A pair of...

...ghost... cowboys??


Cluttered? Maybe. But you will note that our main characters are still immediately visible as the colourful dots in the middle. Good placement and colourscheme still give them the spotlight, despite their utterly insignificant size, which emphasises their vulnerability. Their vulnerability in an entire ocean full of snarling, dangerous creatures. Even when Pixar do it wrong, they do it right.


It's generally agreed that this movie is pure scum, and everything about it is a perfect example of what not to do in a movie. But this cover somehow manages to make it even worse.
It's another one of these dull, cluttered, busy, pointless photoshoots where they have tried to fill every ounce of space they can with a sellable character. They've even managed to squeeze in the rasta jellyfish on the side! They didn't even DO anything! And good god. Get a load of the Robert De Niro shark. There's a reason sharks don't flex their fin muscles, it's because it looks fucking wrong.

Hey, wait a minute.


Wow. WOW.

They must have been designed by the same guy on his lunch break. He must have REALLY been under the gun. I bet his initial design brief must have looked something like this.


  • Narratively charged props (the knives) also act to draw the viewer's eye.
  • Bad pun that still gets the point across perfectly.
  • We know what this film is about. But we don't know enough. Makes me want to see it.
There really is nothing wrong with this picture. It says everything.


So wait, are those things in the foreground the aliens? No wait, they must be monsters. I guess the aliens are the things in the weird ships.
So what's this movie about? It's just a bunch of monster things standing around looking at the viewer. Oh wait. I guess the movie is about monsters vs. aliens. Now there's a plot and a half.
And what is with that fishman on the right? Who died and made him the King of Cool? Maybe the Fonz. I dunno.

You get this face a lot, actually. I won't go into it but it's omnipresent, like a disease.

(The skunk annoys me the most, I think)

And while Ratatoille is still fresh on our minds, how many of you had difficulty pronouncing it the first time you saw it on a poster? I sure as hell know I did. Those wacky French. Oh, but wait! They've kindly guided us to the pronunciation underneath: "rat-a-too-ee". Oh wow, even a kid can manage that.

Obviously everyone must have had as much trouble pronouncing "Igor".

There are so many things wrong with this, I don't even know where to begin.
Apart from the film looking quite horrid in general (I have only seen the trailer, but this alone has alerted me to the terrifyingly bad animation and character design found within), have you ever met anyone retarded enough not to be able to pronounce Igor? Did they think everyone would be pronouncing it "Eye Gore"? The ultimate irony is that Igor is an Eastern European name that is actually pronounced Ih-Gor. Emphasis on the second syllable, not the first. Being a linguistics nerd helps sometimes.
Clearly, the only reason they snuck that bullshit in was because it would remind people of Ratatouille, a film actually worth seeing.

And this is kind of tangential, but why the fuck did they make him look so cute? It's a film about Igors, for fuck's sake. In Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, the Igor clan is described as a slobbering pack of ugly, demented hunchbacks that live in the mountains. Frankly, I've never seen or heard of a typical "Igor" being described or portrayed in any other way.

But I'm sure if he looked like this, he wouldn't have sold quite as many lunch boxes.

It would be too challenging for the scriptwriter to invite the children to sympathise with him. Because kids are stupid and writing a good story with sympathetic characters is apparently really, REALLY hard.

They could have made Igor look like this.

He's ugly, but he's also cute. There is something very appealing and functional about this design, it's funny and I'm sure the kids would lap it up. If you want to go all soccer mum focus group on us, maybe give him some pupils. But make sure they poke in different directions like the Igor from Young Frankenstein and we're set.


Okay, I'm not a fan of Alvin and the Chipmunks. I've outgrown the original cartoons, and modernising them is not only wrong in a disrespectful way, but it's also wrong in a very real "viewing experience" way.
I think if I had to babysit some kids I'd rather snap the disc in half and tell the parents the kids did it by accident than actually watch it with them. Even if they were really well behaved kids and asked nicely.
But this cover isn't all bad.

  • The guy from "My Name Is Earl" doesn't take up too much of the frame. All we see of him is that he is the literal doormat of the chipmunks, and that he is distressed and confused.
  • The location sets the scene. Oh, okay. So it's a film about the chipmunks wreaking havoc.
  • Alvin's pose is interesting. He's like, shouting triumphantly. He looks pumped.
  • Alvin's brothers suffer the Fonz ailment. I guess they're 2 kool 4 skool.
  • The angle is straight on. That's very lazy.
But what's this?? The Squeakquel poster looks suspicously familiar.

Copypasta, anyone? The one on the right is fucking identical, and the one on the left has only been tweaked enough for a corny otaku peace sign.
They also decided it would be 'cooler' not to give us any clue whatsoever what the film was about. Apparently the fact that it has the chipmunks looking smug in it is enough.

Somehow, they managed to actually remove everything that was good about the poster of the original.

Poster design 101, folks. I hope you learned something today.

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