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D&AD Interview: Annie Atkins

As a graphic designer specialising in the film, animation, and games industries, Annie Atkins knows a fair bit about what it's like to design for films. In fact, she knows so much that we picked her to speak at the inaurgual D&AD Festival in April 2016. 

In the interview below she discloses what it's really like to design for films, tells us what she was excited about ahead of D&AD Festival, and reveals what goes on in her typical day.

Grand Budapest Hotel Mendls Boxes
Annie Atkins designed Mendl's boxes for Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel.

Can you tell us a bit about what you do?

I'm a graphic designer for filmmaking, which I once heard described as "all the things in a movie that everybody sees and nobody cares about", which I thought was quite accurate. It's all the graphic props that are seen in the blink of an eye. That can be something as complicated as an entire national press for a fictitious country, or it can be as simple as a tiny handwritten note, but the level of detail we go into is enormous compared to the screen-time these pieces get.

What’s a typical day like for you?

I'm at my desk at 8am and I sit there switching between my computer and my drawing board until 7pm. I draw a lot of lettering by hand, but I'm constantly scanning and altering digitally too. I also have my email open all day noting all the requests, changes, and additions from the director, the production designer, the prop master... time is always against you in film so it's a case of churning things out as quickly as possible, but still always with a huge amount of care. You have to stay focused.

Penny Dreadful Shop Front Annie Atkins
Concept for Penny Dreadful

What advice do you give to people who want to apply their skills outside of that traditional model?

I worked in advertising for 4 years before I left to go to film school to do a masters degree. I think you just have to take the plunge and go for it and go and study something else if you're not happy in your work. It can be hard being a student again if you've been earning for some time, but if you're cleverer than me you'll save up some money before you quit your job.

What do you think the graphic design community could learn from the way film-makers work

Copy more! When I worked in advertising I felt like everything I made had to be 100% original, and I would start every brief by looking at a blank Illustrator document. Those days are gone. I spend so much time researching graphic design from other periods, other cultures, other worlds now. I get all my inspiration from the tactile things that craftspeople have made over the centuries. It's so much more interesting than starting work with a blank computer screen.

Boxtrolls Box design
Box art for Boxtrolls

What's your D&AD Festival talk about ?

I'm going to take the audience through the process of designing graphics for film in some detail, illustrated with movie clips and behind-the-scenes photos. I think the most surprising thing about my talk is the level of detail we go into in film design. I'll also be showing some of the glaring mistakes I've made in various movies, and the consequences.

What are you most looking forward to about the Festival?

I can't wait to see Ashleigh Axios's talk. She's the creative director of the White House. And I thought my job was demanding.

Bridge of Spies Signage
Bridge of Spies Signage

Why do you think London is such an exciting city for creatives?

I grew up in the middle of nowhere in Snowdonia, north Wales, and it was always my dream to live in London, so I went to study at Ravensbourne. I think there's such diversity in London it's hard not to be excited about working there.

This year the theme for D&AD Festival 2016 was ‘nothing matters more’. In your view, why does creativity matter?

Everyone's naturally creative, it's human nature to want to design things -- it doesn't matter if that's a movie prop or a cake or a spaceship. The important thing is recognising it and acting on it. I run workshops in graphic prop-making and I always finish up by telling the class to take everything they've learnt, go home, and keep making things. You don't have to wait for anybody's permission.

If you think you have a campaign that deserves a Pencil, enter your work into the D&AD Professional Awards and see if our judges agree. When it comes to awards, nothing matters more.

For more creative inspiration and the opportunity to get up close and personal with the world’s best design and advertising, join us at D&AD Festival.

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