As a graphic designer who has worked in a variety of creative environments from ad agencies to newspapers, the goal has always been to create eye-catching, memorable designs targeting specific audiences. Recently, I had the opportunity to work as the graphic designer for the television series “Guilty Party” Season 1. I quickly learned designing for the television and film industry is a whole different ballgame.
I was introduced to the world of working in television a few years ago when a set decorator contacted me about purchasing some of my linocut artwork to use on set for the television series “A Teacher.” This sparked my interest in learning more about the film industry. I took the local International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees set etiquette course, obtained my work permit, and submitted my portfolio. Nothing happened for more than a year. Just when I thought there was no chance of breaking into the industry, an art director working on a new CBS television series called “Guilty Party” contacted me about joining the team as the graphic designer. I jumped at the opportunity. I was thrilled to be joining the art department of a large production – especially since I had no prior experience designing for film. This was my “big break.”
Someone new to film usually starts in the art department as a trainee or assistant to learn the ropes. Because I had many years of design experience and was used to working with tight deadlines, I was allowed to hit the ground running as the lead graphic designer for the final two episodes of the series. On my first day in the art department, I was given a copy of the script, a breakdown of the scenes and the filming schedule and told to start creating and coordinating the production of a long list of design projects.
The graphic design work was business as usual for me, but the rest was a crash course in learning how to juggle department hierarchy, approvals, and the legal clearance (which is whole other story) of designing for film. Needless to say, I asked a lot of questions and made a few mistakes along the way.
In film and television, the graphic designer is responsible for the design and production of original on-screen graphics such as labels for props, set decoration to cover existing copyrighted products, specialized packaging, posters, paperwork, artwork, street signage, vehicle graphics and associated articles, such as fictional police crests and logos. All of this is done in consultation with the production designer, art director, and sometimes other members of the production crew.
There are many items behind or around the main subjects in each scene of television and film. These can be distracting and take the viewer’s attention away from the action. What I learned was that the things you see in a movie or TV show are all carefully planned and often take hours of time to create, even if they aren’t visible in the finished scene, or are barely there for a blink of an eye. Each item is carefully placed in a way to be something important to the scene or to just fade away into the background. Unlike my past design projects which were meant to grab attention, many of the things I designed for the television series were background dressing that needed to blend in and look natural. Even though they were in the background, these design pieces still required careful attention to detail and needed to look as authentic as possible in order to contribute to, or at least not distract from, the story. A lot of research went into recreating things like labels and newspaper articles so they were unique to the production. “Hero” graphics (items flagged as key elements in a scene) needed to communicate their purpose in a very short time span, sometimes in only a few seconds. Working closely with the small details of the story and analyzing the characters’ personalities were essential to creating Hero elements that communicated clearly and quickly.
I learned many tricks to help my work be more camera-friendly, including the use of colour, appropriate materials, and how to age and distress props. Creating duplicates in case a scene was filmed multiple times was another important consideration.
The ability to work quickly, be flexible and stay cool under pressure are essential for surviving day-to-day in the film and TV industry. Working in the art department tested my creativity, Photoshop and Illustrator proficiency, time management skills and energy. Twelve-hour days for months on end are standard practice, and the filming schedule is prone to changes that require everyone to re-focus and adjust their workflow. Tempers can run hot as the pressure goes up, yet the professionalism of these master creators always triumphed in my experiences.
Graphic design has taken me in many directions throughout my career. I have learned how to create designs to communicate the objectives of large corporations, small businesses, artists, and entrepreneurs. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to dip my toes into the world of graphic design for film and television. Being part of the team that builds the creative vision of television and movie directors opened my eyes to even more ways to use my design skills. This experience has forever changed the way I view television and movies, as those who already had some experience warned me it would. I gained great respect for the hard work and talent of the people who have made a career in this challenging and demanding industry.
Contributing in a small way to popular culture and seeing my work on screen is pretty amazing. Seeing a Hollywood star like Kate Beckinsale up-close as she arrives for a day of shooting is also really neat. I am very excited to watch “Guilty Party” Season 1. It premieres on Paramount+ beginning October 14 – you can view the trailer here https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11999520/.
SOURCES AND FURTHER READING:
Why Is Graphic Design Important For Filmmakers? By: J2, May 24, 2021
Art Department Roles and Hierarchy in Film and TV Production Design By: Rose Lagacé, May 1, 2019
Graphic Design in Film: The Substance of Visual Storytelling By: Andrew LaSane February 7, 2019
Graphic Design in Film: The ultimate guide By: Kerrie Hughes February 28, 2019
How to become a graphic designer in film and TV By: Artwork Bazaar, July 4, 2019
I.A.T.S.E Local 212, Motion Picture Information