To commemorate the newly-released Criterion Designs book, I thought I’d share the making of one of my own contributions (though generally I focus this blog on my independent and non-movie related work!)
It all began with two things my brother — the director and co-writer of the picture — gave me:
1. A thumbnail sketch of the scene and personnel, how their names would appear — floated over the artwork — for the final, printed cover.
2. A beautiful illustrated dustwrapper for The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler. It had a quality he wanted to try and recapture. A strong point-of-view: the feeling of peering into a room — perhaps a murder scene — filled with glowing lamplight, playing over and interacting with objects, floor, walls, and of course the body. There was something, I think, intimate and palpable, yet heightened, about the picture. It was the key inspiration.
Despite hundreds of production photographs — taken by James Hamilton, the set photographer — I could not find pictures of actors in the exact poses I needed. So I did the posing myself.
It was straightforward work at first. From the photographs, I had perfect references for Adrien Brody’s face, wearing his dad’s sunglasses; for Jason Schwartzman’s arm in his gold Parisian hotel robe; and for Owen Wilson’s unique velvet slipper (for which I designed the tiny space-themed icons.) Drafting the characters and creating the basic structure of the scene.
There were 2 artificial light sources to help capture the Chandler atmosphere. But, unlike the somewhat plain room it depicted, I had a traincar berth to contend with. An invented traincar berth. With, on practically every surface: a crazy pattern. Or piece of animal-print luggage. Or an area of silver. Or glass. Or a body part, draped in a certain kind of cloth … I would need a fully-customized color palette. Something mixed from scratch, and tested against the photographs for fidelity. Something for every pattern. Every curtain. Every bottle of airplane liquor … (I’m trying to create a little suspense here …)
For Part 2 … which can be found here … Textures and patterns! Color and shadows!