Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"The Lone Ranger" Poster, Conception and Composition

When I first saw the poster for "The Lone Ranger", I was struck by the was it was composed and I felt like it could be the basis for a little discussion about composition.

This is the main poster that I saw most frequently.

I saw this version as well.

And then here's the original image that the poster was obviously based on and that I saw reprinted with a few articles about the movie.

 There are actually quite a few things that are interesting to talk about regarding the poster, and whether it's the best image to try and sell a big, fun summer blockbuster...but let's start with talking purely about composition.

The thing that inspired me to write this post was that the image breaks one of the most basic "rules" of composition. As we all know, symmetry is bad in composition, so one of the first rules you'll find in any book on composition is that you should always avoid creating a composition where two objects are given equal weight. 

And in all the above images of Tonto and The Lone Ranger, they're given equal weight: they're both equally important within the composition.

Then, maybe somebody was thinking the same thing, because I started to see this variation of the poster:

I'm not sure that this one works any better. I assume their thinking was that everyone is coming to the movie to see Johnny Depp. So they gave him more emphasis to (I assume) try and at least emphasize one over the other and make it a better composition. But it just seems awkward to cut off part of a figure like that. That's another basic rule of composition, by the way: never crop a character on a joint (like the elbow, or at the knee, or at the shoulder, as it is in this example) because it looks awkward and makes characters look kind of amputated.

Also, the movie is called "The Lone Ranger"...seems like an odd choice to minimize the titular character like that and squeeze him out of the frame in favor of Tonto...even if Tonto is played by a bigger star.

I was surprised they didn't do something more like this with the image:

I cropped it so that there's more space around The Lone Ranger and he has slightly more importance--he's closer to the center of the composition so he has more weight, and yet Tonto still has plenty of real estate in the composition. At least this way I feel like one is favored over the other so there's some hierarchy (and neither figure is being cut off).

Then, I saw this variation of the poster...

Again, I think having two images that have equal weight is a strange choice. It's just not a great composition. And when you're making a film called "The Lone Ranger", isn't it weird to have Tonto occupy the top (and therefore more important) space?

There's one more aspect--beyond composition--that 's worth discussing about the original poster: the color palette. If you're trying to sell a big, fun summer blockbuster, normally you have more of a palette that suggests color, life, excitement, fun....and, by contrast, the restrained palette used on the poster for "The Lone Ranger" feels more like the kind of palette I'd expect on a poster advertising a serious drama or a documentary. I'm surprised they didn't punch up the colors in this poster or shift it to a slightly warmer, richer color spectrum (but I'm no expert....maybe they had their reasons. If anyone has a suggestion of what I might be missing here, please let me know).

So I Googled "Lone Ranger poster" in order to find images for this post, and I found some other variations that I thought were better versions (to varying degrees). With the things we've talked about in mind, let's take a look at some of the other ones, and take a look at where they stand as far as compostion and color choices (and again, this is all my opinion--shoot me a note if you disagree or want to express a counterpoint).

This one has more color and punch to it. I like including the blue of the sky. The skin tones and touches of color on the characters are more saturated than in the original poster, so the palette seems more appealing and better suited to a fun summer blockbuster...but it's still a little on the dull side, color wise, and kind of dark. Making Depp smaller within the composition is a better choice than giving the figures equal weight, and touches on yet another principle about composing images: it's not always the larger element in a composition that dis the most important. Sometimes the smaller element has more importance and focus within the picture.

Beyond all the composition and color aspects, I guess we should pause here to touch on the most fundamental question of all, when designing a movie poster: what statement is the poster trying to make about the movie? Is it appropriate to the type of film? Is it clear about what it's trying to say? And will it convince people to see the movie? That's a whole discussion in itself, obviously...

But this image above doesn't exactly say "big, fun summer blockbuster" (neither does the original poster at top, in my opinion). I guess this one above is trying to say more about the relationship of the two characters, and the idea that The Lone Ranger is a strong, upright Boy Scout type, and Tonto is a bit skeptical about being forced to work with a guy like that. But no sense of the adventure or fun of the movie is hinted at in the poster, and that's usually the kind of thing the campaign for a film like this is trying to sell.

This one has an even better palette. Featuring the saturated colors of the sky and the landscape gives it a colorful feel that seems appropriate to the type of movie you're trying to market. Including the small figures against the landscape gives the impression that the film has a scale and scope to it that is appropriate for a big summer blockbuster. And even though the two heads are equally weighted, I think it's okay because they create a bit of a triangular composition with the small figures below.

 The thing that seems funky in this one is having The Lone Ranger looking off to the left. The strong direction of his look pushes your eye out of the frame a bit. I think it would work better if he was looking off to the right instead. That way his and Tonto's eye direction would be towards each other and would create more of a closed circuit within the composition (and relate to each other better).

In this one, Depp overlaps Hammer, but it still feels like the two of them are evenly weighted. And the fact that they are looking in different directions seems like it confuses the eye. The strong eye direction of both of them pushes me out of the composition to both the left and the right. And, again, the palette seems so muddy and dark...an odd choice.

And beyond that--again--what are you trying to say about the movie? In this one, I'm not sure at all. The two characters aren't really relating to each other at all. I don't get any sense of their relationship within the movie.

Then lastly, there's this one, which I admit I never saw in public (and seems to be an International version):

I don't know where to begin with this one. At least they suggested what some of the landscape of the film and the characters might look like. It still seems like a gloomy palette for a fun summer film and it doesn't look like the palette I'd associate with a Western either. All the imagery is so serious and brooding, as is the palette. There are so many elements here that don't relate to each other that I don't get any sense of order or composition. There's no hierarchy or importance here.

Normally I try to avoid talking about negative examples of things, and I really, honestly don't mean to be snarky or mean-spirited. Please don't take it that way. Obviously, designing movie posters is not an easy job and it's all subjective. I only posted these examples because they generated a strong reaction in me, so they're helpful to use so that I can relate my impressions, and hopefully spark some thoughts in your mind about what I'm saying and whether you agree or not. But regardless of what you think of these efforts (or my judgement of them), one thing I think we'd all agree on is that, before you begin designing any piece of art--whether it's a poster, painting, drawing or whatever--decide what you're trying to say and what type of mood you're trying to convey. Then let those things be your guidelines as you compose the picture and choose the palette.


Jonas said...

Summer blockbuster marketing does not always have to consist of bright, flashing colours. I guess they wanted to do a Sherlock Holmes kind of thing with the gritty look of the poster and the film itself. Which in Holmes' case worked well, but here somewhat doesn't.

MJ said...

To be honest the design looks fine to me and captures the mood. The other designs look like poor 90's over saturated knockoffs. But good points about Johnny Depp maybe it should of been called Tonto w/ The Lone Ranger

Anonymous said...

Looks like the two of them are walking away from an explosion - with confidence - showing a bit of action from the action film. Hence the gray smoke.. Johnny Depp is the bigger star so he would naturally get top rating...the poster looks fine to me...although the movie was a complete disaster.

JK Riki said...

Terrific article and examples! Extremely helpful to me, especially given that I was recently working on some poster design. It's amazing how small details can make or break a composition. Thanks for posting this one!

Wolf Lahti said...

I find it odd that all the images are static, nothing much at all going on in any of them. Even the last one, which is so busy, has everything in it sitting still. You'd think a poster for an action movie would be more dynamic.

Anonymous said...

As a spectator, I totally agree that any of these posters is rather confusing.
I guess the person who designed the poster got a hard time making the movie title fit with the main star playing the sidekick.

Anonymous said...

I think your analysis was great.

Even if you look at the placement of the birds behind both figures they are the same, with two exceptions:
1) I am counting one of the birds on Depp's side as a whole bird even though it is only suggested
2) I am not counting the bird attached to his head, which seems more like it is tied to his silhouette and not used in the way that the birds are to help add that balance.

They are also both leading with the same foot which is awkward.

I think one way to maybe have fixed the composition would have been to throw Deep in more shadow, since he is already in the shadow of the other figure. That way you could still get both stars but you would be able to break up the composition and while you would most likely be implying that Deep is a lesser figure you could subvert that with having certain areas of his face emerge.

Anyways a friend of mine recommended your blog and sure enough, his recommendation was great as usual. You can check out some of his work at http://figuredrawingdotinfo.blogspot.com/


Cojo said...

The stacked box version reminded me of the posters for RENT. Again, not a summer blockbuster. http://blogs.ubc.ca/lled368/files/2012/10/Rent-Poster.jpg

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dwestburg said...

I had a different idea for a poster, but it wouldn't add any more color:
What if you took the iconic lone ranger mask and made the two main characters the eyes on the mask?

I think this might work as they each have white on them (face & hat)

Any thoughts?

Pete Emslie said...

The digital desaturation and muddy palette is not limited to the poster, as all Hollywood movies today have resorted to that dreary muddiness as their default look. I personally detest it, and no longer go to see modern movies as a result. I'm a huge fan of classic movies of the mid-20th Century, where real colour was appreciated and used to create rich visuals, instead of this computer-manipulated, monochromatic, dreary crud that the hipsters today all seem to love.

il Buono said...

Although I kind of dig the color palette of the poster, I'm not sure if it sells the film to me. What is it with those color palettes anyway nowadays? On one side the muddled gray colors, on the other side all blue and green (e.g. Die Hard 5). What happened to natural colors (Raiders, Once upon a time in the west, BTTF,...)?

I also agree on the staticness of the picture. I think it would have been cool if it was an old school painted poster, genre Drew Struzan or like that painted Butch and Sundance poster where they running and shooting.

Jérôme Anfré said...

In France we have this : http://fr.web.img4.acsta.net/pictures/210/056/21005616_20130514100052863.jpg
that's slightly better, I guess

Lance said...

Love this article, I design a lot of ad campaigns for a popular network. Can anyone recommend some good books on composition? Awalys wanting to improve my craft.

TC said...

Great article. It embodies a lot of what I learned in art school. Today's movie posters, magazine covers, etc. have a dreadfully boring look. Always the movie star's PHOTO, big face, usually blue/orange complementary color for some reason...does the art director/man in charge really think this is the best artists can do??

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