Handcrafting Fictional Universes for Film with @annieatkins

For more behind-the-scenes photos from life on set, follow @annieatkins. For more Golden Globes-nominated films and the talent behind them, follow @goldenglobes on Instagram and explore the #goldenglobes hashtag.

Graphic designer Annie Atkins (@annieatkins) helps turn fantastical, imaginary settings into intricate realities on screen. Most recently, as the lead graphic designer on the 2014 film The Grand Budapest Hotel, she was involved in creating almost every object in director Wes Anderson’s stylized world. The story takes place in a fictional Eastern European country, set between the First and Second World Wars.

“We looked at all kinds of references from 1930s Eastern Europe: telegrams, notebooks, antique newspapers,” she says. “I combed thrift stores and flea markets looking for old packaging and love letters, so I could get the style of everything from the handwriting to the postage stamps right.”

Originally from a tiny village in North Wales, Annie now lives in Dublin, but her film work draws her to diverse locations—and historical periods.

“I’ve never actually worked on a film or TV show set in the present,” she says. “The graphics I make for film are all for different times in history. I could be making calligraphic scrolls for medieval times or on-screen digital data for a spaceship 2000 light years away.”

Annie also worked on her first animated feature earlier this year, The Boxtrolls, where she texturized a world of misunderstood creatures who live underground and wear cardboard packaging for clothes.

“It was fun designing the graphics for their outfits. We had to create the entire town,” she says. “It’s fun working within a world where absolutely everything has to be invented from scratch.”


Annie Atkins created the graphics Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.

“Last year I spent a very snowy winter on the German-Polish border, as the lead graphic designer on Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. Working with Wes and his production designer Adam Stockhausen, we created all the graphic props and set-pieces for the State of Zubrowka – a fictitious European country set between the Wars. After we finished shooting I came back to Dublin and worked remotely with Wes on the poster and the titles.”

I use traditional methods in graphic prop-making wherever possible: a real 1930s typewriter for typewritten documents; a dipping pen and ink and for any handwriting. Pieces have to be aged, too, as nothing should look like it was made in an art department five minutes ago. Madame D’s last will and testament took a lot of aging, for example, as it contained over 600 pieces that were scripted as being some 46 years old. I have some tricks of the trade that I’ve learnt over the years… mostly involving a big vat of tea and a hair dryer.


The beautiful thing about period filmmaking is that you’re creating graphic design for a time before graphic designers existed.

—  Wonderful interview with Annie Atkins, the design genius behind Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. 

Graphic designer Annie Atkins from Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel on the many signs in the lobby of the of contemporary, communist-era form of the 1960s hotel:

“Wes and Adam (Stockhausen, the production designer) had seen so many examples of quite officious signage in what had been communist East Germany - don’t do this, don’t do that, do this but only like that! The signs really added to the claustrophobic feeling of that set, and Wes had asked for them all to be black with simple white hand-painted lettering - based on the style of the old sign at Yorckstrasse subway station in Berlin.”


As expected Wes Anderson’s new film The Grand Budapest Hotel is a visually arresting cinematic experience. A highlight of the film is all of the handmade graphic elements ranging from title screens to perfume bottles. Check out this awesome interview with Annie Atkins, the chief graphic designer for the film


The Grand Budapest Hotel | Annie Atkins

The new Wes Anderson flick has some stellar design work, the old classy feel of these pictures and items are direct reflection of those quirky little worlds that Anderson builds in his film making. Stoked about this design work and stoked about the new movie.


Another five excellent wordsmith bloggers

The first five are here: Katie West, Emily Gould, Rachel Hills, Helen Martin and Cate Sevilla.


‘Annie and the Little Pinch of Salt’ is my newest discovery and very excited I am about it too. Supposedly it’s written with a touch of hyperbole, but that’s cool; it’s life, but a little louder. Sort of like those autobiographies with a disclaimer at the front, saying that everything happened, although some characters have been merged and some timelines have been condensed, to make for a better narrative. Real life, take note.

There was a point when I thought I’d never feel at home [in Iceland] — but there have also been points in my life when I thought I’d never learn to drive a car, or ever fall in love again. Some things just take time, and courage, and patience. … That night, on the walk back through Reykjavik, I think about the sky being closer to the ground. It’s science, not romance — isn’t that what she said? I walk with my arms stretched up in the air and trail my fingers through the cloud above my head.”


It’s not so much a fashion blog anymore, ‘Style Rookie’, as it is a blog about life and all that, and that’s good; Tavi’s writing is so much more interesting and clever than that. I mean, if this is what she writes at 15 … I think it took me about another decade to develop her kind of self-awareness. This girl will go places.

Right now, I could pretend to be an archetype of a feminist superhero and say I never want to be a conventionally attractive person. But, while I have so much respect for the people who can say that truthfully, I’m not there yet. I think it would be, in my case, much more effective to be honest and willing to have this conversation instead of signing myself to a stereotype I can’t fit. I admit to the basic human desire to be attractive. That’s certainly not all I want to be, and I’m not bending over backwards every morning for it, but it’s there.”


‘What Would Phoebe Do’ is the blog of an American doctorate student in Paris, working on, as I understand it, a dissertation about French Jews and intermarriage. I know nothing about any of that, but this blog is excellent. Phoebe’s commentary on social-slash-academic issues always make for an interesting and informative read, but me being me, I’m really enjoying reading about her trials of understanding Parisians and dorm-living at the age of 27.

Still to be done: … Get on some kind of reasonable sleep pattern. (Falling asleep definitively at 6am, only to be woken up by construction on the wall right outside my room not long after, only to eventually wake up past noon, is not sustainable, even if I did get some work done in the middle of the night.) Libraries, food markets, other human beings keep schedules.”


Hannah’s blog is full of baked goods, patchwork quilts, ethical clothes choices and instructions on everything from how to make your own washing powder to home-made beer. Hannah, who’s lovely also in real life, lives in Brockley with her husband and posts regular photos of their fanciful yet earthy weekend outings around Londontown. I like to look at these pictures when the Boy and I are having a lazy weekend, like a window to a life I could have if only I was a wholesome and proactive person. The dream lives on.

We’ve been baking bread regularly for a couple of years now, always storing it in brown paper in the cupboard, (“you see, it has to breathe” says my mister.)  The brown paper we were using was beginning to look a little tired however and the holidays offered the perfect opportunity to whip up a studier alternative. … It is simple, but it does the trick, and looks ever so sweet in my cupboard.”


This is really a career advice site, one where hyper-pragmatic Penelope tells it like it is. Did you know you are more likely to succeed in the workplace by being nice than by being good at your job? I certainly didn’t, and it explains a lot. Anyway, readers like me are also enjoying reading about Penelope’s life with the Farmer, what bureaucracy feels like when you have Aspergers, and other pearls of wisdom, such as this:

Here is the key to getting unlost when you are in your twenties: Get married or make a lot of money. Don’t tell me I’m shallow. I don’t care. Life is shallow, really, since we have no idea why we’re here. In your twenties you feel like you need to get settled, and find your place. Some people need to have a special person in their life that they are connected to and making a home with. These people are caretakers and fusers. Other people need to make a lot of money, not because they want a BMW (although many do) but because it’s a way to measure how valuable you are as an adult, to the other adults in the world. “