That program you’re holding? That lovely poster for Susie Essman’s upcoming evening of comedy you’ve seen all over town? These and every other piece of official printed material that comes from the Festival – fliers, the Front of House signs telling you how long the performance is and how many intermissions there are, every newspaper ad – are designed in-house by our three-person Print and Graphics team. In this post, Production Graphic Design Intern Tyler Prendergast describes how he made the poster for this year’s Free Theatre production, The Valley of Fear.
“For this poster, Steve Lawson [The Valley of Fear playwright] and Lila Neugebauer [The Valley of Fear director] wanted to bring out the darker side of the Valley of Fear story but still manage to stay family friendly and to appeal to the audience that Free Theatre attracts. They didn’t want to detract from the elegance of the Valley of Fear as a play, which is a serious take on an adventure story, rather than a spoof.
I started by looking at some of the inspiration images for the production – emotional research, set design research, costume research – compiled by the creative team, and tried to interpret those images. Steve and Lila and I especially discussed the idea of silhouettes.
The various iterations of the poster changed a good deal. I started with the silhouettes of these two figures who had this very spooky, mysterious vibe around them, and you could look at the poster and not really know that the play was about Sherlock Holmes.
The biggest thing that changed from that draft to the second draft was trying to instill more of the idea of “The Chase” into the poster, because one of the main characters is being followed throughout the play. The two silhouettes are at the bottom of the poster, overlaying an image inspired by the creative team’s research on English manor houses, where most of the first act of the play takes place.
Then in the third iteration, that chase idea sort of had to go out the window because we wanted our audiences to recognize that this was a Sherlock Holmes story. So there were all these different conflicting ideas, being dark without being too dark, being family friendly without being cartoon-y, and getting across that this is a Sherlock Holmes play.
For the final poster design, I originally used a Holmes silhouette which was a lot simpler than the one that’s on the poster now. It’s the public domain Sherlock image that’s used in England to brand Sherlock landmarks, just a silhouette of his face with a pipe coming out of it and that’s it.
Lila and Steve were on board with this idea, but had a different Sherlock Holmes image in their inspiration images that they liked better [see below]. The process of adding that required a tool in Illustrator called Live Trace, which takes a raster image – ‘raster’ means that it can’t be resized without losing quality - and turns it into a vector image [an image that can be resized without losing image quality]. This was very simple with the original silhouette, which was just a black silhouette on a wall, whereas the second silhouette was originally a shadow on a patterned wall, so I had to go through by hand and remove each individual part of the pattern from that silhouette. So something which seems as simple as, ‘Let’s use this silhouette instead of that silhouette’ was actually a much more complicated process than that.
“When I look at the final poster, I think of all the stages it went through, all of the notes and bits of feedback that came from Lila and Steve. Through that process, I think we created something which not only communicates to a potential audience member what they need to know about the show (date, location, etc) but also manages to set the tone for the show so that the audience member will have an idea of what to expect.”- Tyler Prendergast, Production Graphic Design Intern
The Valley of Fear runs in Poker Flats Field from now through July 20. For more info, click here.