Have you ever taken a moment to think about who designed the fictional newspaper or packaging for laundry detergent in films? It’s a behind-the-scenes job which I had never thought about before. I knew that props were made by a prop designer of sorts, but I had never considered the fact that these things were designed by a graphic designer.
The designer will create any prop or set piece which appears on screen and these can include something as simple as a handwritten note, to large props such as fictional signage, or even the nitty gritty of creating fictional book covers, food packaging and newspapers.
It seems almost a shame that a graphic designer will spend time designing these items only for the camera to rarely linger long on them. However, these elements are crucial to help the actors become immersed in the film’s world and having authentic looking design elements are important to help portray the look and feel of the era of a film or tv show. For example, you wouldn’t have a bible printed in Comic Sans with a glossy cover in a Tudor setting!
For modern films and shows, the makers may have to get permission to use real brands. For example, there may be a scene with boxes of cereal on a kitchen table – but unless they have permission to use this, the designers would have to mock-up fake cereal packets and stick new labels on milk cartons. This just shows the level of detail that goes into shooting a scene that may only be seconds long.
If you have ever taken a tour around the Harry Potter Studio, you will see the sheer scale of work that went on behind-the-scenes to put the films together and make them simply magical. The attention to detail was staggering and I loved looking closely at the props of the magical newspaper, ‘The Daily Prophet’. From afar it looked authentically like an old-timey newspaper, but on closer inspection you could see all the little adverts for magical stores and supplies. It seems like an insignificant thing but without these little details, the film would simply lose its magic. Even the schoolbooks resembled real ones with their hard-back binding, foiled lettering on the covers and tattered pages – apart from the fact they teach Defence Against the Dark Arts!
I’m sure there are many graphic designers in this niche field but I would recommend checking out Annie Atkins whose beautiful work featured in The Grand Budapest Hotel and of course the geniuses House of MinaLima who did the graphic design behind the scenes of the Harry Potter franchise.