Illustrator Bartosz Kosowski reveals how he created this intensely rendered, ambiguous movie poster for I Am A Killer

The Polish illustrator takes us from concept to the finished work of this film poster representing a detective and suspect whose roles blur.

This striking movie poster was designed by Lodz-based illustrator Bartosz Kosowski for the recent Polish film Jestem Morderca (I'm A Killer). It’s about the relationship between a man accused of a series of murders and a police detective who’s convinced that the man is guilty – and the effect that the case and their interactions have on them both.

Jestem Morderca is based on a true story from the early 1970s, and stars Arkadiusz Jakubik as the suspect Wieslaw Kalicki (on the left of the poster) and Miroslaw Haniszewski as policeman Janusz Jasinski (on the right). The artwork is rendered with intense detail in shades darker than much of Bartosz’s work, combining the faces to show the two characters at the core of the film’s story and how the lines between their roles may not be as clear cut as the viewer might assume.

I caught up with Bartosz over email to find out more about how he conceived, drew and coloured the work. (Warning, this interview gives away some spoilers for the film)

Neil Benett: What was your concept for the artwork – what from the film did you want to represent?

Bartosz Kosowski: "Of course I started with watching the film. Although it was still a pre-released director’s cut, I got the idea what the film was about and – more importantly – what atmosphere and mood dominated in the film. Then I met with the film producers and we discussed my initial ideas for the poster.

"The film is a thriller based on a true story set at the beginning of 1970 in the industrial region of Zaglebie, which is struck by a series of brutal murders on women. It tells the story of a young lieutenant whose task is to catch the murderer. As the job is beyond his - and probably anyone else’s - capability, he arrests a labourer even though he lacks proof.

"The film revolves around the relationship between the officer and the accused. As the plot unfolds, we can see the transformation of the officer, who is blinded by his ambition to such an extent that he loses all his humanity and becomes a murderer himself.

"I wanted to create a poster that would be consistent with the style and atmosphere of the film so I went for the dark vintage feel with muted colours and gritty texture. I also thought that it would be great to focus on the double meaning of the film's title. When you watch the film, the title I'm a Killer becomes ambiguous - and I wanted to use the same ambiguity in the poster design."

Advertisement. Article continues below

NB: How did you want to represent the main characters?

BK: "I wanted to present the characters in such way that we wouldn’t really know who the killer is. Therefore – apart from the colour and tone difference – I decided to draw the characters in the exact same way. Of course, they differ a lot in appearance so the linework and the shading in [suspect] Arek’s portrait (especially the way I drew his hair and beard) is definitely more vivid than in [detective] Mirek’s but generally I wanted the whole piece to be coherent in terms of style."

NB: Take us through your creative process for this project.

BK: "Just like with any other work, I started with really rough sketches which had to be accepted by the client. Then it occurred to me that it would be much easier if I had both portraits drawn in full, so that I could easily change the layout if necessary. As a result I spent over two weeks working first on the detailed sketches, then the linework and the colours of both portraits.

"Once these two were ready, I moved on to the layout phase which resulted in twenty-or-thirty-something different versions of the poster. These included various typography treatments, various compositions and colours.

"When the producers chose the final version, I worked on it a bit more adjusting the final colours and polishing the details.

Advertisement. Article continues below

"At this very last stage I came up with an idea to enrich the poster with some extra typographical elements. I decided to add a hardly visible map of the area where the real murderer operated and put the exact dates of the killings in the spots which corresponded to the places where the crimes had been committed."

NB: How did you decide where to put the 'tears' between the two works?

KB: "My initial idea was to use the rule of thirds and go for the composition in which we would have part of Jasinski’s face (the officer) coming out from beneath the face of Wieslaw (the accused). I’ve tested it with the production team as well as a small focus group against a more simplified 50/50 composition and it turned out that majority of people preferred the latter, so we just decided to use that.

"I wanted the lines to be placed along the characteristic shapes of both protagonists. I wanted to show both the bushy beard of Arek and the characteristic hairdo and turtleneck of Mirek."

NB: Tell us about the lettering on the alternate version of the poster you created.

"My first idea for the typography for the film's title was to base it on letters of the real murderer (his name was Zdzislaw Marchwicki). I did some research and found the images of the anonymous letters he sent to the authorities in Zaglebie. I analysed his handwriting and drew the title the way he would have done it.

"It turned out that although the idea is very appealing, it didn't work simply because it didn't look good. I thought that perhaps we could use some other real-life murderer and decided to use the handwriting of Charles Manson. It did look better but unfortunately also not good enough.

Advertisement. Article continues below

"My next choice was my own handwritten typography (shown here), which would still keep the handwritten feel but could be more expressive than the previous two. Although I personally was really happy with the result, this one didn’t make it to the final poster and we went for a distorted sans-serif font below the illustration"

How did you get into creating movie posters?

BK: "Though I have always been a movie buff, I started creating film posters only three years ago. I took part in my first film tribute show at Spoke Art gallery and that was how it all began. I have created alternative movie posters for David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Wes Anderson.

"I think that the turning point for me was when I created a poster for Kubrick’s Lolita. The screenprint happened to become so popular that at some point it almost went viral and it has received lots of recognition from the industry: it got me, among others, two gold medals from Society of Illustrators (New York and Los Angeles), a Merit from Graphis and a Bronze Award at European Design Awards.

"A few months later Legendary Pictures asked me to create a screenprint for Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak for their Art Series."

Advertisement. Article continues below

"Then there was Jaws poster, which took me about a year to complete and ended up on one of the walls at Universal Studios. As a result of all of the above, I may say that film illustration and poster design takes more and more of my time these days.

NB: What are your influences?

As for my poster design influences, it is difficult to point to one (or even several) artists that I look up to. As I come from Poland, I suppose I have been somehow influenced by Polish Poster School of the 1960s. I really like the works of Waldemar Swierzy with his abstract smudges, dots and splashes which altogether make up really realistic and beautiful posters. Apart from him, I should probably mention the works of Saul Bass, Stephen Frankfurt’s Rosemary’s Baby or – to choose something more contemporary - Vasilis Marmatakis’ poster for The Lobster or La Boca’s pieces for Black Swan (shown here).