The first consideration for me in designing Steven Soderbergh's CHE was trying to figure out how to make a design for this film, as opposed to a design promoting Che Guevara the man, or Che the cultural icon. The iconic image of Che, originally a photograph by Alberto Korda but used and reused by so many artists and designers, is one of the most recognizable images in the world. The idea of Che is well known, but the film's project is to "humanize the icon"... which makes the icon the logical starting point.
It became clear to me pretty early on that we had to tackle that head on, to show the image you recognize, tweaked just enough to show that this isn't going to be exactly what you expect. We settled pretty quickly on the idea of reproducing the classic Che icon with Benicio del Toro's face in place of Che's. It seems like an obvious idea—so obvious, in fact, that I was shocked that it hadn't been used for the original theatrical campaign, apart from one rare French teaser poster—but effective, nonetheless.
The question, then, was how to execute that? The visual inspiration for the set design came from two sources: first, the color palate Soderbergh uses for the map sequences that open each of the two films:
And second, from Cuban and South American poster art:
Using a simple high contrast, street-arty style, I threw together a Che graphic pretty quickly, then tried a couple possible layouts:
But really anything fancy was just obscuring the central concept: that the face in the icon was Benicio del Toro's. The simpler the better, then:
The next question (or, really, a concurrent question) was where to go from there? CHE is broken up into two films, Part I and Part II, which meant I was going to need three covers: one for each film plus a slipcase.
My first thought was to treat each cover as a separate poster, drawing from some of the wildly varying styles of Cuban and South American revolutionary design. This proved a little too ambitious to execute... I never quite got anything that cohered well enough to be worth showing to anyone, but for you, loyal blog readers, I'll show a few. Stealing blatently from some of the examples shown above, I came up with these:
I have to say, I remember these being a little worse than they are, for the most part... I recall being really embarrassed by these at the time, for whatever reason, but a couple are alright on their own. Regardless, I couldn't find a way to make them cohere into a unified set, so I set all those aside to narrow the focus down to one style with three variations: expanding the icon to incorporate Che's early days in Cuba, in the more traditional 26 July movement uniform (before he started wearing the beret, at least in the film), and the end of his life in the Bolivian jungle, with long scraggly hair. It also gave me the opportunity to really highlight the colors, which quickly became the anchor for the set. Here's the two individual covers:
That basic concept was holding together pretty well, but then it came time to tweak the cover image. Soderbergh liked the concept, but wasn't happy with the execution of the slipcase cover—he had a number of comments, but the one that I remember most is that he didn't like the way I drew the lines on del Toro's forehead, which made it look like he smelled something funny. So over the course of a couple weeks, I tried a series of tweaks, some minor, some major, some alright, some really really bad. The difficulty was in trying to find a balance between conveying the right emotion, (defiance mixed with vulnerability), meshing well with the hair and hat from the original Che icon so it doesn't look too cobbled together, and just plain looking like del Toro. I did a lot, most of which got saved over at various points, but here's a few that survived:
You'll also notice I tweaked the red from the first round--which seemed just TOO obvious--to a subtler red-orange color, which I thought sat nicely next to the individual covers. Finally, we ended up here As I recall, the highlights in his eyes in that last version we what finally made it click):
And so we had our package. From there, I tried to find interesting ways to incorporate photographic imagery, icons like maps and stars, and of course the colors of the film, while not getting trapped into repeating the style of the covers over and over again. Normally my menus and packaging are a little more regimented; on this I tried to include as much variety as possible. Here's a few favorite menu pages, for example:
And... there you have it. (See this is why I don't like to include menus, etc in these posts... so much more dramatic to just end on an approved cover, don't you think?)