Thursday, November 8, 2007

Silkscreening 4: Red Rooster

Another one from the (sadly, now-finished) silkscreen class, this was for Red Rooster, a self-described "Urban Country" band. I tried to come up with some imagery that would suggest that seeming contradiction, and I quickly hit on the idea of some kind of farming implement in an incongruous urban setting. Tractors are neat looking, so I picked a tractor.

As originally visualized in my head, this concept involved about six colors—an orange and red tractor, green grass, blue sky, grey buildings and black shadows. My experience with the Randy Bandits and bird silkscreens taught me that less is more in silkscreening, at least as a beginner—the more colors, the more obvious the registration problems. So I scaled it down to two colors, which actually works better, I think, as it puts more emphasis on the band name and the flame detail on the tractor (as you'll see below).

I did a quick search for tractor images to find reference for a drawing, but I had trouble finding a tractor that captured the down-home vibe I was looking for, from the angle I wanted. So I had to reference different parts of different tractors to build my final Frankentractor. I won't link to the various reference photos, because a couple of them were Corbis images and for all I know even using them as reference might not be kosher, but the body of the tractor is primarily drawn from an antique tractor which was clearly built before rubber tires were invented, the back tires are from a high-tech modern tractor that otherwise looked more like some kind of tank, and the front wheels are drawn from some otherwise anonymous tractor.

I also decided to try a new shape for these, both for variety and to emphasize the height of the cityscape. I already had some 14" x 17" paper, so I made this design 7" x 17", which meant it fit two to a sheet. As an added bonus, this meant the Red Rooster folks got twice as many posters as anyone else (sorry, other band friends!).

Speaking of which, I knew I wasn't quite happy with the cityscape in the background, but the deadline for my free hours at the print shop was looming, so I sent this "sketch" over to the band for their thoughts:

They liked it, but asked for a couple revisions—first, they asked if there was some way to make it clear that they were a band and not, say, an off-broadway play. So I suggested adding a short tagline, as we had done on the Mr. McGregor ("Trailer-Punk Trio") poster. They sent over a couple of options, of which "city-fried country" was the clear favorite, so I added that in underneath the band name. They also asked if there was some way to include a rooster in there somewhere, so I added one as kind of a logo on the front of the tractor. Finally, I got around to redrawing the cityscape, and realized that the windows just weren't going to work—they created some odd problems of scale, and ultimately just didn't look good. So I lost the windows and added some good old fashioned schmutz, and sent the following to the band:

Luckily, they liked it, and all that was left was to print the thing, which went pretty smoothly, all things considered. As a two-color job, this was pretty forgiving, and this was definitely my most consistent print run yet. Here's a scan of one of the final prints:

For more information on Red Rooster, visit their website at:

Friday, November 2, 2007

Silkscreening 3: Mr. McGregor

I just delivered these to the band this morning, so now's as good a time as any to blog them...

This is the second in my series of silkscreen poster giveaways for friends' bands. Mr. McGregor describe themselves as a "universally acclaimed and locally admired trailer-punk-trio from Brooklyn. They write their own songs and carry their own equipment. They play about a dozen songs in half an hour. Once they’ve finished their set, they break down their stuff in under five minutes or your money back.”

Since I was doing these for free, I didn't really want to get into a prolonged sketching/approval process. But I had two ideas for this that I liked pretty much equally, so I sent both over to the band. The first was my attempt at Art Chantry doing the Marlboro Man:

The second was heavily inspired by a poster Paul Sahre did for the Soho Rep, plus the awesome shirt that Maury's wearing in the photos on their website (this isn't quite that shirt, as that shirt lost something in translation to drawing, but it is "inspired by"...)

The band chose the first one, and I set to work printing 'em. Here's the final product:

Proving again that I'm still getting the hand of this silkscreening thing, you'll notice the ink overlay effect looks a little different than I anticipated in my sketch, but I think it still works. Also, you can't really tell onscreen, but that goldish color is actually metallic gold ink, which looks nice and shiny in person. All in all, this was a much more forgiving design than the Randy Bandits poster I did earlier, and I think it came out pretty well, all things considered. I've got two more of these "practice posters" to finish up this weekend, before my studio hours at the printshop expire...

For more info on Mr. McGregor, check out their website at

Thursday, November 1, 2007


I've decided to try to participate in DrawMo! this year. What's this "DrawMo!" you say? It's a month long daily drawing project organized by my friend India, kind of as a response to things like NaNoWriMo ("National Novel Writing Month"). It's open to anyone with the inclination, and you can learn more about it here.

So here's my first quick drawing, and I should stress that the goal here is quantity, not quality:


(And before anyone asks, yes, that's my accordion, and no, I can't really play it. I only know two songs—"Born in the USA" and "My Hometown." (Springsteen's synthesizer years translate well to the accordion, apparently.))

Anyway, I won't clutter up this blog with too much of this stuff, but I figure I have to make a little bit of a fuss here at the beginning of the month so I don't punk out two days in. I haven't done any drawing without a specific goal in mind in years, apart from little doodles, so this is going to be a challenge...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Silkscreening 2: The Randy Bandits

I'm a big fan of a lot of the concert poster designers working today—Heads of State, Aesthetic Apparatus, Patent Pending, Small Stakes, Ames Bros, the list goes on—so when I signed up for my silkscreen class one of the things I most wanted to try was good old fashioned rock show posters. To that end, I sent an email out to a number of friends of mine who are in bands, to see if anyone could use a few free posters. I got plenty of responses—it turns out bands in NYC know better than to turn down free promotional stuff. Since it was fresh in my brain, I decided to start with a poster for The Randy Bandits.

As I think I mentioned in the last blog, part of my motivation in choosing the style of the Live at Otto's CD cover was that I wanted to have something fun to silkscreen. Unfortunately, that didn't necessarily translate to "easy to silkscreen." I adjusted the design for the new size (the final poster is 14" x 17"), and changed the text so that they could use the poster for any show anywhere. Rather than just make an acetate directly from the original files, I decided to redraw the separations onto vellum, just to give it that much more of a handmade look—the bottom line of type wound up looking a little sloppier than I originally intended, but I kind of liked the look, so I left it that way. Here's a scan of the final poster:

The colors are a lot brighter than the original CD cover, so I can't quite get them to display properly onscreen, but I think you can get the basic idea. I clearly still have a way to go with my printing technique—the registration is sloppy throughout, the ink coverage is uneven, a couple posters were totally ruined by excess ink bleeding out around the edges, and the yellow screen in particular broke down quite a bit while printing, so a lot of the white areas have specks of yellow in them—I'm glad I didn't try to charge anything for these! But, as a first crack at a new medium, I'm not unhappy with the results.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Randy Bandits: Live at Otto's Shrunken Head

I've been working on some music design recently, and having a blast with it. I find myself exercising very different design muscles than what I do with DVD or book design. With DVD design, in particular, I'm very much bound to the details of the film, and, as regular readers of this blog will know, I tend to over-intelllectualize that process. With music design, I'm finding that it's much more important to capture a mood or vibe, and actually, anything that's too direct a reference (to lyrical content or band name or whatever) feels wrong somehow. It's a more intuitive than the way I usually work (which could mean it's less interesting to read about, I suppose—if that's the case, sorry!). Plus, it's giving me an opportunity to do more illustration and handmade design, which has been great.

Kicking off my recent spate of music-related design, the Randy Bandits (whose bass player is a friend of mine) asked me to design their upcoming live CD, Live at Otto's Shrunken Head. As they described it to me, they considered it a sort of between-albums recording for more die hard fans, so their idea was to package it in just a simple single envelope, no bells or whistles. Their initial design concept was to do something along the lines of Live at Leeds or those Pearl Jam "bootleg" CDs that were coming out a few years back, to emphasize some of the raw quality of this particular recording. So I did two versions of that—the first, in the vein of some other stuff I've done, like Olivier's Shakespeare or the more recent Lexicon of Labor:

And then a one-color variation, based on the possibility that we might be able to print these as letterpress on actual brown kraft stock (which turned out to be cost-prohibitive):

And those are competent enough, sure, but nothing particularly special. I wanted to give them another option, something a bit more fun.

The first idea that stuck in my head was that "bandits" for some reason made me think of pirates—which doesn't make a whole lot of sense, upon reflection. "Bandits" usually implies Old West, doesn't it? (Now that I think of it, their last album was called "Redbeard," that may be where I got the idea.) Anyway, I had this idea of a big goofy smile with a couple of gold pirate teeth, but I was never able to execute it in any way that said "pirate"—the gold teeth seemed more hip hop than I intended, and the whole thing just didn't really work. I never even sent this one to them, actually—this is the first time it's seen the light of day. (For good reason, really.)

After abandoning that, I sat down and re-listened to a bunch of their songs for inspiration. One song in particular that stuck with me was called "I Will Fight the Hungry Lions," which got me thinking of lion tamers and a kind of circus vibe reminiscent of The Basement Tapes or something, which seemed to capture something of the Bandits vibe. As it turns out, I was listening to the wrong live recording, and that song isn't even on this particular CD‚ but actually I think that made it work better. Like I mentioned before, when the references get too specific, you lose some of that ineffable rock n' roll cool.

So I did a quick google search for some visual reference for lions, and put pen to paper. Here's the initial drawing I came up with:

Then I set to work photoshopping it to death, adding color and layers of schmutz. (Part of my inspiration was the silkscreen class I've been taking, so I had in the back of my mind the whole time that I might want to convert this into a poster as well as a CD cover. But I didn't think the pure flat colors would carry enough weight in standard 4-color printing: thus the schmutz.) Here's where I wound up:

Luckily, they liked it! All that remained was to finish up the envelope and create a disc label, which you can see below:

For more info on The Randy Bandits, check out their website at

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Robinson Crusoe on Mars

Both producer Curtis Tsui and I are huge fans of Bill Sienkiewicz, and have been trying to find an excuse to work with him for some time. When Robinson Crusoe on Mars hit the schedule, we finally had the right project, one we knew he'd be perfect for. The next step was convincing him to take the gig.

I sent a note to his agent, Eric Knight, explaining the project and what we'd be looking for. I tried to sell the movie a little, as I assumed they wouldn't have heard of it, and the title alone makes it sound a bit cheesier than it is. (I certainly had prejudged it a bit before I watched it—I was expecting something more along the lines of the Monsters and Madmen films, but actually Robinson is unironically good—beautifully shot, well acted, smart (if scientifically outdated) ideas underlying the whole thing—at least the first half, anyway.)

A few days later, I got a call from Eric, who told me this story: apparently, Robinson is one of Eric Knight's favorite movies from childhood, and as soon as he received my email he began thinking of ways to convince Bill to take the project. Once he'd worked up a whole spiel in his head, he called Bill to sell him on it—"Listen, Bill, you've been offered this project, and when I tell you the name you're going to think it sounds silly, but don't judge it until you've heard me out.... it's called Robinson Crusoe on Mars"—at which point Bill enthusiastically interrupted him, saying how much he has loved that movie since he was a kid! How's that for serendipity?

Once he was onboard, I sent him the following note outlining our thinking on the film:


Enclosed please find a DVD screener of the film, and a CD containing some reference photos. (The photos aren’t great—the film is obviously going to be your best reference.) I also threw in some Criterion DVDs just so you can get an idea of how all the parts will fit together—Eric mentioned you’re already familiar with our company, but I figure you might still enjoy the DVDs.

So here’s what we’re thinking about for Robinson Crusoe on Mars. We were thrilled to find out that you knew and loved this film, so if you have any additional ideas, we’re absolutely open to them, but hopefully the following will give you an idea of where we’re coming from in our interpretation of the film.

We’d like to focus on the first half of the film—the “struggling to survive alone in a harsh alien environment” part—rather than the later, “on the run from alien slavers” part. From our perspective, the alien slavers of the second half are both less visually interesting and less central to the film than the isolation of the first half, so we’d just as soon stay away from Friday and the alien ships on the cover.

We’d love to highlight the beautiful cinematography of the Martian landscape, and the “one man alone on a Great Adventure” isolation of Draper. And one of the strongest visuals, in my opinion, is Mona the monkey in her astronaut suit—it immediately gives you a sense of the period and some of the somewhat over-the-top flavor of the film.

(I keep visualizing a beautiful red-sky Maritan landscape (maybe in watercolors?), with Draper barely visible in the far distance, struggling to cross the expanse, and Mona the monkey in her astronaut suit in the foreground. But that’s just a rough idea, so don’t feel constrained by that.)

Another thing worth mentioning is that we’d like to make sure that some of the optimistic flavor of the sci-fi of this period comes through in the art. That is to say, this film is definitely born of a very positive vision of space travel, and of the future generally—none of the dystopian undertones of later sci-fi films have crept in yet. For all the danger in the film, it still has a pretty upbeat, “man conquers all” mindset—as the producer of this DVD, Curtis Tsui, put it, this is the era when “rocketships can still bring great adventures rather than toast your ass in space.”

So hopefully that helps give you a sense of where we’re coming from. Give me a call when you’ve had a chance to re-watch the film and we can discuss it further. It’s a thrill to have this opportunity to work with you, and I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

—Eric Skillman

Bill took all that to heart, and sent us his first sketch:

Bill captured the mood we were looking for right off, but there were a couple technical problems, from our perspective. First, the big black mountain on the left is awesome, but given how much text and such we have to put on the back of our wraps, would likely be completely obscured, which would be a shame. Also, we felt like the composition worked better horizontal than just the cover by itself, which is really the primary thing people will see. I passed all this on to Bill and he sent back these sketches:

That first one is really close—awesome landscape, just the right sense of isolation. But we had the nagging worry that we weren't giving the viewer quite enough information: without seeing more of Draper and Mona, we don't get the details which give us the sense of period and context—meaning, mostly, the space suits. (Otherwise, the "Robinson Crusoe" in question could be a native Martian, or some 51st Century space cowboy or something, rather than a dawn-of-the-space-era-style astronaut.) But since we didn't want to lose the sense of isolation, the tiny man against the huge Martian landscape thing, I suggested separating Draper and foregrounding Mona. Also around this time Curtis found a particularly hilarious production still from the film, which I sent to Bill as a joke:

...and he responded in kind with this sketch, reproduced here for your entertainment:

Once that was out of everyone's systems, Bill sent us actual sketches, and we finally had an approved cover:

That second one was exactly what we were looking for. Draper's hunched over posture really gives the sense of struggle against overwhelming odds, and how can you not love Mona in the foreground? Since the jagged peak in the center was going to be pretty much obliterated by the branding and spine title treatment anyway, we figured we may as well lose it, and since Mona was already in her space suit, no need to keep Draper in his helmet. So we gave Bill the go-ahead to start painting the final illustration. Meanwhile, I decided to tweak the type a little bit, and eventually wound up here, which captured just a little bit more of the period look we were aiming for:

Then Bill's final illustration arrived, and can I just say, wow? He absolutely captures the period vibe we were looking for without looking at all dated, and it's absolutely gorgeous to boot. Everything we wanted and more:

And with the final type:

This job has given me plenty of opportunities to work with people whose work I've long admired, and almost without fail the experiences have been even better than I had hoped, and this was no exception—Bill was fantastic to work with, and I think the final package speaks for itself. Thanks again, Bill!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Silkscreening 1

So I've been taking this silkscreening class recently, and it's been a great impetus to bring more hand-made elements into my design work. (Particularly on a couple projects I'll hopefully be blogging about soon.) Here's a look at my first (arguably) successful print:

This is a four-color silkscreen—the lighter orange is made by overprinting the transparent yellow on top of the darker orange, which I was particularly proud of. (Hey, I'm still a beginner at this!) The actual thing is approx. 6" square. I'm still working out the kinks—this is the best-looking print of the lot, and even it has some registration problems. It's an interesting process—it's kind of simpler than I expected, but more exacting and detail-oriented, too. But it's definitely been a blast to learn a whole new skill. I'll post more as I finish them.

If you're wondering about the drawing itself, that bird is something I did for the booklet cover of Berlin Alexanderplatz. Here's a peek at what it looks like in it's original incarnation:

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Lady Vanishes

Has it really been a full month since I last posted anything here? Wow. Sorry about that. I figure I'd better get something new up here, though, since Peter's just informed me he's going to add a link to this thing on the Criterion blog. So here's some thoughts on a newer Criterion release. (Actually, I don't think this is in stores yet, but the cover's been up on the (newly redesigned) website for awhile so I figure it's fair game.)

The Lady Vanishes is actually one of my favorite films in the Criterion Collection—I saw it for the first time at the Janus Films 50th Anniversary screening last year, and was thoroughly entertained—so I was very happy to have the opportunity to give it the look that I felt it deserved.

In a somewhat unusual situation for me, I had a vague image of the typography in my head before I had any idea what to do with the rest of the cover. A couple of false starts later, I had a treatment I liked (the far right below):

The type has no real justification other than a vague period-appropriateness and my great affinity for Chris Ware (in the 3D shadowing), but it really seems to work for whatever reason. Never underestimate gut instinct in design, I say.

So with the type in place (as far as I was concerned), I turned to the images. Initially, I had the idea that the design for this film should be somehow "tricky." Since the film is very "now you see it, now you don't," I thought there might be something along the lines of a clever optical illusion that might work—something like that image of the two faces staring at each other that's also a picture of a vase? Or maybe a silhouette of a "lady" poking out from behind one of the ascenders of the title treatment, concealed in an obviously impossible way like a cartoon character behind a very small tree?

But I couldn't really think of anything clever that didn't feel too clever, if you know what I mean, so I stepped back a bit. I looked through the available artwork again, and stumbled across this poster:

Which, all things considered, is not anything I'd call a design masterpiece, to say the least. But buried underneath the haphazard film stills is a really pretty fantastic illustration of the train from the film. So, in what some might consider pilfering but I choose to think of as a heroic act of salvage, I pulled the train out of the old poster and combined it with my new type treatment. Like so:

And I have to say, I really like it! The train's just got a perfect style for the film, capturing the vibe of high adventure without being anything too serious. And the colors are gorgeous!

I can't recall if it was producer Curtis Tsui or Art Director Sarah Habibi who had the idea to put the musical notes (representing an important plot point in the film) into the smoke of the train, but that, along with the "vanishing" letters, adds just the right amount of cleverness to tie the whole thing together.

However, there was some concern that maybe the train alone wasn't quite enough, that maybe some more literal connection to the film, and the main character played by Margaret Lockwood specifically, would be needed? We considered hiring an illustrator to try to paint a new figure in the deco-ish style of the train, to be merged together, but that kind of mix and match made me nervous, so, I tried incorporating photos (that new title treatment is taken from another old poster):

...silhouettes (this was just a rough, it would have been significantly redrawn):

...and finally painted images from other posters:

...before eventually settling here:

As you can see, this version was the closest to the original composition, with the added advantage of justifying that trapped space in the upper right corner with the subtle but effective addition of Margaret Lockwood. It's on the verge of turning into a Hollywood "triple-big-head," but I think it narrowly avoids that and is actually pretty successful.

If I do say so myself.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Happy Kirby Day!

It's not a national holiday, but it should be: today would have been Jack Kirby's 90th birthday.

I'd hoped Amazon would cooperate and deliver my Fourth World volume 2 today, but it looks like I'll have to wait a few more days, unfortunately. So I'll have to get today's Kirby fix from Tom Spurgeon's expansive gallery, or that New York Times op-ed from a few days ago.

And for the cinephiles in the crowd, here's an excerpt from Kirby's 2001: A Space Odyssey #2 ("based on concepts from the MGM/Kubrick production"), which I picked up randomly at a flea market in the Adirondacks on our recent vacation. It's Kirby's vision of the dawn of government:

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Hands over the City

Hands Over the City was another situation, like Divorce Italian Style, where as soon as I hit "stop" on the VHS screener, I knew what I wanted the cover to be, and I knew who I wanted to do it. First, the what:

After watching the film, I recall being left with the sensation of having watched history unfolding, rather than having watched a narrative. It struck me that this isn't a film about individual people—characters come and go as necessary to move the plot along, but there aren't really "main characters" so much as historical forces that move the plot forward. Certainly, Rod Stieger's Nottola emerges as a primary mover and shaker, but it's not his story, really, it's the story of the city itself. All that boils down to the idea that I didn't want any people on the cover.

I also knew, from our briefing process, that we wanted to find a way to get Rod Steiger on the cover—he's a recognizable face, after all, and this was kind of a lesser-known film. Luckily, there was an easy way around that, since one of the major motifs in the film is Nottola's campaign posters, which allow sort of an end run around my "no people" idea.

The other repeated visual motif in the film is the enormous city planning map in Nottola's office, which is obviously a pretty good way to reference the importance of the city.

Combining those two elements works out to be a pretty simple idea, and easy enough to execute—but also, in the wrong hands, very possibly lifeless and dull. Which was why it was lucky that I simultaneously thought of artist Danijel Zezelj.

A longtime favorite of mine, Danijel's work is incredibly expressive. His work often revolves around architectural elements, textures, stark blacks and whites that evoke iconographic political art, even, occasionally, maps. You couldn't ask for a better candidate for this job.

(By the way, if you're only familiar with Danijel from his American comics work, do yourself a favor and check out the collections of his more personal workSmall Hands might be my favorite, but they're all good.)

So I knew Danijel was perfect for this project, and that was further confirmed when I contacted him and told him about the project, and he told me that he had actually lived in Naples for a while a few years back, and knew it very well. It's always a good sign when you find connections you never knew existed between an illustrator and a project.

I told him what we were looking for, (faithful blog readers might note that on previous art direction posts I've included the original briefs I sent to the illustrators. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find the brief I sent to Danijel anymore, but it basically said all that stuff I say above), and here's what he sent back to us, in what are probably the most fully realized "sketches" I've ever seen:

The first one is almost exactly what we were hoping for, with the caveat that we can't really see Rod Steiger's face, which was kind of the whole point of using the poster in the first place. The second was gorgeous, but producer Abbey Lustgarten felt (and I agreed) that the moped was too central on the cover, considering neither of us could recall any mopeds in the film.

So we went back to Danijel and asked him to find the happy medium between the two. He came back with this:

Which was maybe a little too far from what we were liking about the last round—pulling back so far loses some of the immediacy, I think, and losing the "Votta Nottola" type (which Danijel did because he was worried about it conflicting with the title treatment, which is a valid concern) made the political poster idea less obvious at first glance. So I backpedaled a little bit and explained our concerns to Danijel, and he turned in what became the final cover:

I tried a few title treatments, and we settled on the last of these:

Then at the last minute, we decided to move up the launch date of our then-new branding system, so I retrofitted the cover to include that, and we had ourselves a final cover:

On the cover, I needed someone of Danijel's talent to make an otherwise somewhat pedestrian idea sing. But I also worried that I was confining him too much; wasting the opportunity to work with someone of his talent. So, on the interior packaging, I wanted to be sure to give him as much freedom as possible. I asked for cityscapes, broadly, but left it to him to interpret the film as he saw it. And what he turned in for the interiors was better than I could have hoped:

For all the conceptual reasons discussed above, the cover illustration was still the best cover, (and don't get me wrong, I love that cover), but the piece that wound up on the booklet cover (the first above) is one of my absolute favorite pieces of art we've ever commissioned for Criterion. And at the close of the project, Danijel was kind enough to gift it to me, so it now has a place of honor on my wall of art (I'm not sure you can quite make it out in the photo, but seeing the actual paint strokes used to create the final image is really fascinating):

It was a privilege working with Danijel, and the end result is a package I'm incredibly proud of. Thanks again for taking on this project, Danijel!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Wages of Fear

This one was a long road to the final cover—not inappropriate, given the subject matter. Diving right in...

Because this was the second Criterion edition of Wages of Fear, one of the things to keep in mind was that it had to be noticeably different from the original version:

This wasn't really a problem for me, because I never really felt the image on that cover worked—once you've seen the film, it makes perfect sense, but to the uninitiated I think it looks a little too "Creature from the Black Lagoon." (In fact, I remember being surprised upon finally seeing the film that there wasn't any supernatural horror element.) But that scene of Jo in the pool of spilled oil is a powerful one in the film, so I tried a couple new takes on the same theme:

About that type: I found myself very attached to the crazy title treatment from this otherwise bizarre poster:

(Is he punching the truck? Is he punching so hard the sheer force of his blows creates trucks? Kind of a surreal masterpiece, honestly.) Anyway, the title treatment doesn't really have any particular resonance with the film (to me, anyway), but I just loved it's kooky Anders Nilsen vibe. So it informed the above comps and also a few more, once I'd moved away from the pool of oil idea and toward some comps that focused on the perilous trucking suspense:

Or the toll taken on the main characters by their exhausting struggle:

But since, like I say, the type didn't really feel like the film, it wasn't doing the covers as a whole any favors, despite being awesome. Next, I tried taking the type in a very "pulpy" direction, but it came out very "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..."

Then there was this one—the type treatment isn't half bad, and it gives a better idea of the plot and the source of suspense than any of the previous comps. The "EXPLOSIVES" type competes with the title a bit, but it's not too bad. A contender:

But here's my favorite of the bunch:

This one I always really dug, both for the "burdens of atlas" vibe—my back gets tired just looking at that image—and the way the title treatment looks like it's giving him a gut punch, adding injury to injury. The problem was that we'd recently done quite a few covers in similar high-contrast "photocopied" styles, and people were starting to get a little sick of that look. (And admittedly, if you're looking for that style, why assign me when you've got Art Chantry and Aesthetic Apparatus in your Rolodex?) So despite liking this one a lot, I had a feeling it was a non-starter. I did another version with a blue overlay, to allay any concerns about too many black & white covers in a row (which, as you can imagine, happens not infrequently at Criterion):

I got pretty enamored of that light blue pretty early on in the process, and I couldn't exactly tell you why—some dark browns to evoke the color of oil would seem the obvious choice, but would possibly have taken things too far in a "sepia-toned" direction. But I've got no real justification for the blue, other than it just felt right—which is enough, I suppose.

So.... where to go from there? I thought I might be able to pull something together using the iconography of the oil company they worked for in the film (visible in some of the earlier comps above), so I adapted that logo. First, I tried building it into an existing still in place of the original logo, but that didn't really work:

Then I tried laying over straight photography, but it never quite clicked:

There's something to that last one, maybe, but still, nothing to write home about. I tried it without any imagery at all, but it wasn't enough:

And this is certainly misguided:

I tried another tack: if that high contrast "atlas" image from before wouldn't fly, maybe I could remake it with straight photography. It didn't quite work the same way, but it had it's own charms, though the title treatment gets a bit lost:

Finally, I came back around to an earlier idea: that photo of the two men, exhausted and fatalistic, really captured something of the mood of the film, so I combined that with the most straightforward and effective of the earlier type treatments, (I lost the "gut punch" but gained a nifty little tucked in director credit), and wound up here, which became the final cover: