How Watching Films Helps Me To Seek Inspiration In Visual Storytelling.

As a graphic designer, there’s no end of places that we can turn to for inspiration. You can pick up inspiration from anything, including films.

January 11, 2020
Larasati A.

I always love watching films. I remember going on my bike when I was a kid with some cash my mom gave me, held tightly in my small grip, to rent some of the DVDs in the film rental near home. Then my love and appreciation for films started to snowball when I got into college. Movies are no longer just an “entertaining motion picture” for me. I began to see the visual storytelling in it, how they use set design to establish some occurrences, how they color grade frame by frame to evoke particular emotions, how they use visual semiotics to tell a story.

Inspiration 1: Composition and Other Elements in Cinematography

One of the films I’ve seen during that period that I remember being so heavy in the visual storytelling is The Fall, a beautiful film in both its storytelling and visual, directed by Tarsem Singh.

Look at that negative space!

On the surface, The Fall is a simple story; takes place in a hospital in 1917, a little girl named Alexandria happens to meet Roy, who is bedridden and offers to tell her a story. As the film progresses, it switches between the real scenes at the hospital and the dream-like narrative of the story. We get pulled into Roy’s story, and this is where the visual sumptuousness merges out. It presented us with Singh’s usage of juxtaposition colors with yellow tone and negative space, creating such a surrealistic, dream-like visual, because we see it through Alexandria’s eyes and imagination.

I personally love its use of negative space; it is rewarding for the audience when they get a feeling of inclusion because they figured out a subtle and hidden message or image. Quoting from James George in this article:

“People, by nature, like to feel included and informed. They enjoy feeling like they are privy to inside information, so when they see a creative use of negative space within logo or design, it sticks out in their mind.”

Inspiration 2: Graphic Design in Film

There is a lot of other films I could name that inspired me in some ways, and some of them do have actual graphic design works in it. For instance, the graphic design in Wes Anderson’s very stunning and meticulously created masterpiece The Grand Budapest Hotel. Designer Annie Atkins is the film’s lead graphic designer responsible for making all the graphic props to vivify the fictitious Alpine state called the Empire of Zubrowka, as told in this article:

“A fictitious country needs all kinds of graphics: flags, banknotes, passports, street signs. It’s impossible to imagine graphics like these. You have to do your research and you’ll find treasures that you couldn’t even have begun to sit down and draw until you saw them in front of your eyes.”
Stunning graphic props from The Grand Budapest Hotel by Annie Atkins

I love doing research and looking for references when it comes to creating graphic design, so I couldn’t agree more with her statement about “finding the treasure”. Her design works in this film also really show how she used all the treasures she’s got, making it so historically inspired, especially the typography and typesetting.

Inspiration 3: Storytelling through Film Posters

Not only from the film itself, but I also take inspiration from film posters and title sequences. Some of my favorite posters are made by Vasilis Marmatakis. When being asked in this insightful article whether he wants the poster to be the first image a viewer sees, he said:

“I think it’s an entry to the film. It creates the right mind-frame. I found out about films through posters. When I was a kid, I’d get videotapes because of the covers. I discovered cinema, like Dario Argento, through the posters.”

Vasilis Marmatakis works a lot with negative space in his poster design, which as I mentioned before, is one of my favorite styles. It may seem tricky when it comes to film posters, but it works perfectly well when we know when and how to use it while also doing visual storytelling. For example, here is his work for Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster, an absurdist dystopian film about what it feels to be alone; it has this longing sense, the need to be with someone. That longing sense is likened to the negative space of a person the protagonist is holding. The design is minimal, yet very intriguing.

Inspiration comes in many different shapes, sizes, and mediums, that includes films.

I encourage every creative out there to not only enjoy the next film you see but to take inspiration from it. Look at the color contrast, the composition, the actual design graphics in it, and maybe you can “steal” something from it to use in your next design project!


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