How top illustrators create stunning official movie posters for films such as Black Panther, Wonder Woman & Trainspotting

It's a good time to be an illustrator who loves creating film-related art.

Last year we explored a growing resurgence of 'hand-painted' film posters harking back to those from the 1970s and earlier, and here we explore why film studios such as 20th Century Fox, Marvel Studios, Warner Bros and Lucasfilm are favouring illustrated social media and marketing initiatives for the promotion of films such as Star Wars, Baby Driver, Avengers, Ready Player One, Guardians of the Galaxy, Wonder Woman – the list could go on.

They’re turning to global artist collective Poster Posse – founded on its exceptional fan art and large following – for these official illustrations, which could be in the form of fine art prints, limited edition posters, collectable tickets and even exhibitions and installations, creating an exciting opportunity for illustrators to work with the franchises they love.

We speak to Poster Posse founders Rebecca and Don Thompson and UK illustrators who are part of the collective, Doaly and Sam Gilbey, on why there’s a rising market for illustrated material, what it's like to collaborate with major film studios and how artists can get their work noticed. We also mention the project behind each illustrated poster in this feature.

Image: Poster Posse artist Orlando Arocena's official poster for Warner Bros Pictures' various Ready Player One campaigns

Don and Rebecca Thompson founded Poster Posse to give artists a platform to showcase their fan artwork and to try and get artists work with film studios. By utilising social media, Poster Posse aim to put work from artists in front of film studios they most want to work with. Poster Posse's personal tribute to World War Z – purchased by the studio two weeks after the artwork went live – was a marker of how the collective shifted from a celebration of fan art, to producing fully fledged marketing materials.

Poster Posse’s recent projects include creating official images for Sony Pictures’ digital, DVD and blu-ray release of horror film Insidious: The Last Key, Star Wars: The Last Jedi poster art for Disney Movie Rewards and partnering with iam8bit to create a gallery show celebrating The X-Files as part of the launch of a six-episode mini-series event on Fox.

But the collective also creates its own personal passion projects in between working for clients, such as celebrating Women’s History Month, creating posters for Beetlejuice's 30th anniversary, and illustrating its own "tribute" posters to major films such as Blade Runner 2049.

Image: Doaly's alternative poster design for Black Panther

"The fact that fans have a direct avenue to the people in charge of their favourite shows and films is driving this growth,” says Don.

"Fans are able to let studios know instantly whether or not they like a film’s poster or trailer. Their voices are also able to let studios know when they see art they do love. It’s great that studios and creators are listening to those fans and actually giving them what they want.

"What they want, sometimes falls into the realm of what we do and it’s that connection to fans and properties that keeps us going and excited about the next project."

The relationship works like this – film studios generally reach out to Poster Posse via social media after spotting an artist style it thinks will work well for marketing materials, or sometimes artists will express interest in a film and Poster Posse will then reach out directly to the studio.

"The [studios] often ask for specific artists within our group. If they don’t have a specific artist that they would like to work with, we offer them multiple suggestions from our global consortium of over 40 members," says Don. 

Image: Doaly's Wonder Woman  officially licensed gallery print for Bottleneck Gallery

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UK illustrator Doaly is a member of Poster Posse and a massive cinema junkie. He’s recently created official posters for films such as Red Sparrow, Wonder Woman and Proud Mary, but he began creating film-related art as a passion project while working as a designer (which led to some official works), before Poster Posse founder Don Thompson reached out to him.

"I was combining my love of cinema and art to produce work that was a creative outlet outside of work, as much as I loved my day job I wanted something for myself outside of that," says Doaly.

He says poster art is in high demand because fans of the films will watch it, and then want to take a piece of it home with them.

"This is when illustrated posters come into play. You get this artistic representation of a movie that functions as art and a poster for the film you love."

Image: Doaly's cover art for the Red Sparrow prequel comic based on the film for 20th Century Fox and MEOKCA 

Sam Gilbey is a Poster Posse artist and UK illustrator. He creates fan-based work which has showcased in 50 pop culture group shows in the UK as well as LA, San Francisco and New York between 2013 and 2017, and most recently officially licensed posters for E.T., Jurassic ParkJaws (Universal Studios). As Sam started contributing to fewer exhibitions last year, he was looking for somewhere new to channel his passion for pop culture, and the evolving Poster Posse seemed like a new venture to get involved with. He’s created posters for November Criminals and T2 Trainspotting. Most of his Poster Posse projects tend to be for social media – that’s where the power is really, he says (your work will be seen by the most people) – but it also involves posters for print or an exhibition or installation around the promotion of a film.

He says it’s good business to be involved in the collective.

"It’s good because you’re sharing work with your peers and getting feedback and hopefully constructive criticism.

"Then as it’s become more about commercial work, with Poster Posse effectively presenting your work to some truly amazing clients, you’re in a spot where you’re more likely to get a gig working on something you love, than you might on your own steam not having any of those important contacts and relationships."

Similarly Doaly says it’s a place where artists can learn off each other and "upskill" in a way you wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

"It’s like a big family all over the world."

Image: Sam Gilbey's officially licensed poster for Jaws in collaboration with Iron Gut Publishing and licensed by Universal Studios

But what is it really like to be commissioned by a film studio, under a tight brief and usually involving licensed material? Although you may be producing work for film companies you love, is your style sacrificed?

As a Poster Posse artist, you’re usually chosen for a project because the client has already decided that your style is right for the job, but sometimes you have to adapt to a change to the brief midway and the results aren’t always what you would have like originally.

"The briefing process is not dissimilar to a general design brief which I’m use to," says Doaly.

"You’re asked to view trailers of the film and given a synopsis. A lot of the work I do is conceptual and is generally what I’m asked to create; something interesting that pulls in story elements and makes you think.

"I’m asked to come up with something that’s out of the box, rather than a piece which is solely focused on showing the character."

Image: Doaly's official artwork for 20th Century Fox, for the theatrical release of War for the Planet of the Apes

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Doaly generally begins with a sketch and description of the piece, what the motivation is and examples of the style he wishes to use. From there, it’s a process of iterating on your final piece until sign off.

“It’s a real joy to work with movie properties, when a new brief comes in you always have to pinch yourself because you get to work in a field you love. I count myself exceptionally lucky to do what I do. During the creative process you do go into work mode but when you’re done with piece you get to enjoy it yourself and fan out a little too,” he says.

Image: Doaly's limited edition poster for Marvel Studios as part of the deluxe vinyl edition sound track

Working with licensed property is both a mixture of both a wonderful dream and having to be careful, says Sam.

"Primarily being a portrait artist, it’s sometimes not even possible to try to get a likeness approval for certain actors. That’s bitten me a couple of times, but equally I’ve then had fun thinking of other ways around the problem – limitations can be good for creativity."

Sam begins with very rough sketches initially just expressing the kernel of the idea and/or composition. From that point it’s then about finding the perfect execution of that core idea, and the client having a good idea of what to expect eventually because of your existing/previous works.

"It’s true that sometimes an idea you really love doesn’t get past the concept stage, and on occasion a finished piece, which you still get paid for, doesn’t actually see the light of day.

"Of course that can be frustrating, but I always feel like I don’t mind jumping through a few hoops, or hitting the occasional brick wall, if I get to work on at least some of the franchises I love in an official capacity."

Image: Sam Gilbey's poster art for Sony Pictures, to promote the home release of Danny Boyle's sequel

If you’re an illustrator who enjoys creating personal film-based artwork, then social media is your best chance at being picked up by film studios or collectives such as Poster Posse.

"Try not to go overboard in terms of getting people’s attention, as you don’t want to be annoying, but equally, the chances of getting your work seen and hopefully shared by someone influential are slim, so try not to take it personally if you think you’ve done something great but it’s not been picked up," says Sam.

It’s also about producing work that’s timely – try to create work that you post close to the launch of a new film.

"I couldn’t believe it last year when Chadwick Boseman, the star of Black Panther, ended up sharing a sketch (seen here) I’d literally only spent 30 minutes on. He kindly posted it to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and tagged my separate accounts each time."

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Don and Rebecca spend an "inordinate amount of time" looking for artists on Behance who aren’t currently "on their radar". Often after releasing a passion project, they’ll get a bunch of emails from artists looking to join Poster Posse or at least participate in an upcoming tribute.

"Given that we still want to offer a platform for artists to showcase their talents, we have guest artists jump in on our passion projects. We share their work right alongside ours for these projects," says Don.

Image: Doaly's official artwork for Baby Driver