The envelope, please…

By the time the Academy Awards start, the movies themselves seem to be almost an afterthought. Oscar night is the annual shareholders meeting of Hollywood, Inc. and involves the same sort of weird rituals as any business or tribal gathering. For news designers, too, the night has a “seen-it-done-it” feel. For us, it’s all about silhouetting photos of the underdressed and overindulged on the red carpet while waiting for the Best Picture announcement and anxiously watching the deadline clock.

For designers the big night comes much earlier, when the movies are released. Movie fronts are all about voice. Your challenge is to capture the tone of the movie, using color, scale, typography, and the same handout images that every other designer in the world is staring at. How do you use a flat page and your wits to capture a motion picture?

Presented for your consideration, how some newspapers played the best picture nominees when they first appeared. Let’s take a look:


From The Washington Post,  a beautifully simple design by HyunJu Chappell, working with illustrator Sean McCabe , in the style of classic movie posters.

From the National Post, a bold use of photography and an unconventional headline treatment. Also unconventional (or is it unfortunate), the ad for “Invictus.”

“An Education”

The Washington Post’s team of Chappell (design) and McCabe (illustration) again. A stylish piece of work, though perhaps the tone doesn’t quite match the Swing London look and feel of the film.

“Inglourious Basterds”

I love how this next one pushes the source material and adds interesting graphic elements (the planes, the rising sun motif). Nice pairing of hed and image, as well.


I’m not sure about the garden elements at the bottom of the illustration (I’m guessing a not-so-subtle reference to the main character’s blossoming over the course of the movie), but I like the duotoned supporting characters. Again, it’s very reminiscent of classic film posters, in this case ’70s blaxploitation flicks. (Update: Illustrator Sean McCabe adds that his inspirations were the posters for films like “Mahogany” and “Lady Sings the Blues.”)

“A Serious Man”

Some papers took a more conceptual approach, trying to play off of the story line of the movie. The Job-like main character of the Coen Brothers’ movie inspired some interesting takes. The Boston Globe added a cameo appearance by a higher power, while The Washington Post played off the Star of David. The WaPo hed is a real winner.


This animated movie had a different look from the other nominees and designers responded with some inspired pages. Jane Martin at The Globe played with size, scale, and wide-open spaces while Patrick Sedlar of the Detroit Free Press implied them with an imaginative crop that leads you off of the top of the page. Designer Paul Gonzales at the Los Angeles Times opted for a more straightforward use of an image from the film, but with an effective typographic twist.

“Up in the Air”

Some of my favorites came from this movie including this smart National Post front that doesn’t use any handout art. Chin Wang’s Globe cover takes the same basic idea of the route map and uses it to plot some of the story lines.

Finally, another crowd-pleaser from the Washington Post uses the same image, but in a completely different way.

There’s a great range of approaches in these pages: from illustration to creative typography to conceptual design. The alert reader will note that three nominees — “The Blind Side,” “District 9,”and “The Hurt Locker” — are not represented here. Is it a sign? And if so, of what? We’ll find out on Sunday…

Seen any others that you’d like to include? Email me or add links in the comment section.

Dan Zedek is the Assistant Managing Editor for Design at The Boston Globe and was site chair for SND Boston in 2007. Read previous columns here.

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