I have been meaning to do this for quite awhile and with the success of Knight Rider Festival II, it got me to thinking about the infamous "Motion Picture" poster that was "leaked" onto the internet in 2006. I say "infamous" in past-tense because it was a huge thorn in my side at the time.
See there's a very interesting story behind this poster I would like to share with you and I am also going to give you some valuable tips on what tell-tale signs to look out for when trying to decide if a piece of art is legit studio creation or fanart.
I use this image as my example because many of you will recognize it from being plastered all over the internet as alleged "leaked" poster art for the motion picture. I want to break down elements from it to show you the secrets behind why it was created, the story behind it, and so on that you may not be aware of.
Some of you may know that I have been a friend of Merrick of Ain't It Cool News for a couple years now and he recently did a very flattering and informative review of The Knight Rider Companion.
Now let's roll back the clock a bit to October 2006. KRO members may remember that I came on the scene around late 2007, to reveal Glen's Knightcon 07 video that marked the first time he addressed his fans on video or the rumors of a motion picture in quite some time.
Well, before that news broke both on KRO and AICN - I got in touch with Merrick about this "leaked" poster here. At the time, being in Larson's "camp" on the movie development, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this poster was NOT an official release from TWC because the movie wasn't in the design phase yet nor was the script finished.
Having created the script cover art for Glen and some other unreleased concept art - I knew there was no way this poster was legit firsthand but I had to explain this to Merrick who did not know me at the time.
I emailed Merrick and explained that I knew Glen, was working on movie concepts and so on. I also cited how there was a alleged cast list for the Knight Rider Motion picture posted on imdb, that was swiftly removed.
So I took the poster into photoshop and started breaking down the tell-tale signs of a "fanart" creation. Obviously it wasn't enough to just "say" it was a fake poster, I had to provide proof. Needless to say not more than a couple days after the "leak", Harry (not Merrick) received an interesting email that proved my legitemacy and the original artist (who was in the UK) explained he threw the poster together as a joke to see how many people he could fool into believing it was real - but had no idea that so many websites would jump on the bandwagon that it was legit.
Later I would inform Merrick about the new series and the motion picture and provide him what was then, an unseen animated protoype logo for Glen's Knight Rider movie featured on the script cover artwork. The article was called War of the Knight Riders. --> http://www.aintitcool.com/node/34337
I'd say the original artist of this piece did a decent job at first glance - but for digital artists, we know what to look for between fanart and production art. Now I want to say first that I do not in any way, shape, or form intend to insult the original artist's work. I'm using his poster which is dated by now as context for an example in how to create more convincing "fanart" for those who are interested in learning about it and how to make a design look more professional.
So with that being said, let's break this image down a bit shall we?
When seen from afar as with most movie posters or digital art for that matter, everything looks clean and professional. A lot of graphic design or digital manipulation is based on using smoke and mirror techniques to hide things you don't want viewers to see or direct focal points to a specific spot. In this case from a distance you can see a car (get into that later) parked in a sprawling desert landscape. - But hold on, what looks like a complete photo is actually photo fakery!
Problem: If you find and download the higher res version of this poster, you will be able to spot a very obvious distinction between the background layer of the "clouds" and the desert hills - this is given away by a shift in contrast and a thin lighter line, showing the edge of the mountains. Additionally the shadow silhouette is also a dead giveaway by the hard edges blackened where the light source should be wrapping around the branches. This is an obivous painted in shadow effect. If you have light coming from the right foreground and behind, you would see the edges of the tree, it wouldn't be completely black. Now you can peel back the effect and see the illusion of depth that is broken by the obvious white line along layer 1.
So how do you fix this?
Solution: All you need to do is pay attention to your light sources and blur out that hard edge and blend it in with the background more. If more effort was invested into this, it would have been very difficult to spot one layer from the next, Keep in mind when you're trying to composite several layers together - pay attention to the grainy nature of each image and to avoid as many hard edges as possible. It is good practice in photoshop to "feather", even if you do it by one 1 or 2 pixels. You have to keep in mind though to make sure your edges blend evenly with the colors and focus of your background layer. Hitting that edge with a lower opacity burn tool would get rid of the brighter giveaway edge in the image.
Another solution to see if your blending is working - save a flattened version of your image and try upping the brightness and contrast - see if any of your edges stick out. If you blend things correctly, it should feel like the whole image brightens up uniformly but if you have edges that are too bright, they will stick out when brightened.
Problem: In this image, it's very simple and yet a common mistake that gives away the image of the car has been flipped from the original. Why? Because the driver's side steering wheel is on the right side, not the left. For an "american" production, K.I.T.T. will never be a right handed car.
When you're dealing with flipping images in your artwork, try to remember its like holding them up to a mirror. Text will read backwards, things will shift around - be VERY careful that your image is symetrical enough that you don't have things facing on the wrong side. Look at episodes of Knight Rider or even in Star Wars, you will see badges on the wrong side, licence plates reading backwards and so on - clear evidence that a shot has been flipped.
Solution: Well the solution is a daunting and sometimes nearly impossible one depending on your image - try to move things to their proper side. In this particular image, I would have just cloned out the steering wheel all together so that the windshield could be perceived as masking where it is specifically in the car. When you deal with K.I.T.T. though, especially the Trans Am you wind having a serious problem when you flip the image - the wheel and the airscoop are on the wrong side! The only way to fix it is to try to rebuild the air scoop back on the proper side but then if your interior dash details are too obvious, you'll have to move them too and that's a nightmare to pull off!
Your best best is to find a image you don't have to flip, get it from the right side the first time and work with it. Otherwise people are going to point out to you something you'll forget as you go along - this has happened to me more times than I can count with my K.I.T.T. work when I flip the image of the TA or even the Mustang because of the Shelby emblem in the grille.
Problem: Well we already addressed the hard edges issue so now I ask what is that solid black line supposed to be? Is this a culdersack in the middle of the desert? If so why is the road in the background continuing on? Logically none of this composition makes sense. Added to that this new mysterious black line is not grainy like the rest of the image and has no details to feel like it belongs with the background elements - it's very obviously sitting on top of the original image. It appears to just disappear behind the car - it doesn't wrap around the other side either, it just feels like a hole in the image!
Solution: There's no need for it! If this is an endless desert road, why make it cut off obscurely? It would have been fine to show the desert landscape instead. Remember, make sure your details feel like they live in your environment! This means blend things, don't make hard edges, and think in terms of real world logic - this isn't The Matrix.
Light sources are a HUGE help in either creating a sense of disbelief or destroying it. I understand the use of dramatic lighting and to this artist's credit they did a good job of trying to keep everything in the same color harmony. I don't quite get the brighter sunlight on the right, if the most intense light is coming from the left. It feels almost like two different suns are providing the sunlight but given the deceptive nature of skylines, I can forgive that detail.
The red glow on the far right background doesn't make any sense as the scanner light is facing the viewer - the light should get weaker as it travels along the body of the hood. I can understand the dramatic effect that can break the rules of logical lighting but if you are trying to create a focal point, don't emphasize the background over the foreground by putting a spotlight on it. Keep your brightest light sources on your focal point, don't compete with it.
Problem: Something feels very off with the clouds here because they're too much in focus from the background clouds. It feels like they are resting on top of the main background cloud layer.
Solution: I may be wrong because again, there is a deception to the desert skyline but if it were me I would have softened the edges of the clouds more and
added in a bit of motion blur to better blend the clouds together with the background skyline. These clouds feel like they're on another layer.
Problem: Not so much a problem here composition wise other than the original car being flipped.
Observation: I really like the way the artist has blended in the color lighting of the poster to the car itself, putting in a deeper black and some of the orange skyline tidbits along the rear of the car and in the highlights. However I dislike the choice of car because while I can understand from a speed standpoint the Keonigsegg CXX 400 is one of the fastest cars on Earth - from a production standpoint and even a fanbase standpoint no one is going to believe that the motion picture would use such a high profile and expensive car in the film.
Not to mention that as far as K.I.T.T. goes this car has no elements of the original TA that makes it feel like it even belongs in the same family. Then again you look at the Shelby Mustang and then it's like "no harm, no foul" compared to the Shelby as "K.I.T.T.", the car could be anything.
Another interesting feature the artist did to the original of this car is they removed the headlights and badges. I thought that was a nice touch. Even the scanner while not accurate with the original KITT is decent enough.
I like the K.I.T.T. scanner bars in the poster, I just don't care for the red glow behind each one - feels very fanart as most production art tries to blend in as much as possible so that you can't determine one layer from the next.
Why do they do this? Because you have to keep in mind, good "key art" for motion pictures has to done in very high resolution to hold up to being put on billboards, side of buildings, lighted signs, bus shelters, and so on - it has to be as perfect and flawless as possible so that small mistakes don't show.
It was smart for the original artist to toss in the logo for The Weinstien Company but it's far too large and noticable for an actual studio poster, even if it's just a teaser. Logos on posters tend to be very small and understated for purposes of property protection, usually no larger than an inch.
The last thing to address is formatting - this poster is not anywhere near a standard motion picture format. Motion pictures tend to start at 6x9 and go up from there to 24x36 and so on. This is because there's expectations of framing size at movie theaters that most posters adhere to - this does not apply with banners, bus shelters, standees, and so on.
The last thing I'd address is the compostion itself. I see that the voice bars and the car seem to be fighting for attention. A good poster has a strong visual heirachy to it, it should lead the viewer in a specific direction. I don't know what to look at here first - the bars, the car, or the tagline?
Why is this problem happening? I believe it's because of scaling issues between the car and the voice lines - they're too alike in size. I also feel like there is too much dead space in the sky, this image could have been cropped in more to show the detail that really matters.
The other problem I feel is that the artist is going for a dramatic lighting effect, but it's not dramatic enough and because of this, it feels very flat and uninteresting. Everything but the car feels like the same contrast, this muted dull gloomy nature. While that might intentional, most people want to see excitement in an action movie poster like fire or glowing technical bits and backgrounds - something that sizzles and stands out the moment you spot it. Remember that movie posters are competing for your attention when you see them in the same place.
Perhaps it's just that I believe light plays a very important part in our visual response to things when it comes to art. I use a lot of vibrancy in my artwork because I like people to see something bright out of the corner of their eye and go "what's that"? Like a moth to flame, capture someone's attention enough for them to take another look.
I'm not crazy about the typography placement either - Why do we need it? We know it's Knight Rider by the scanner in the car's grille and the obvious K.I.T.T. vox lines. Let's say however for the sake of example though the studio required a tagline with "Knight". Why do we take so long to read it? Because we're being visually instructed to start top to bottom. The importance of a tagline is understated here as an after thought - there's nothing that leads to the "reveal".
Typography is key in movie posters.
Therefore I have made some subtle yet I feel effective changes to assign a more organized reader hierachy to this image. Having cropped the deadspace by bringing the sky down more to the car and getting rid of a lot of deadspace background desert detail we really don't need, we can now focus on the core elements of the teaser poster. I also darkened the sky since it was fading to black anyway to be more balanced with the fade along the bottom of the poster.
You start with the text at the top - KNIGHT WILL FALL - then the red voice bars, then the car, and finally the release date.
This allows you the viewer to understand what the poster is trying to tell you - why you should care - and when to look for the movie to come out.
I think this is infinately more effective to looking like an "official" movie poster would.
See how much of a difference this makes by addressing and solving most of the solutions I have explained in the previous images? While I could not do anything about the steering wheel issue being on the wrong side, I did remove the red tinge from the right and take out the offending black line. I also darkened up the continuing road behind the car because it's not important to the poster - it's there but less noticeable. I also softened up the secondary clouds a bit more.
The only details I would change at this point, I can't effectively do without the original file and that is either make the voice bars larger or smaller from the size of the car and bring them further down and get rid of that shadowy "rock" thing obscuring the sunlight. I think seeing the sun is very important as the origin of a light source and we always saw the sun in the end credits of Knight Rider, so it would make more sense to reflecting on the original series as well.
So anyway my friends, that's the story on this "poster" and some tips on how to spot a real professional poster from a fanart creation. It's all in the attention to detail and using visual tricks to focus a viewer to look at specific points in an image. There's a lot of psychology involved along with just the final image you're seeing when you go to a theater and see movie posters there competing for your attention.
I hope this has been informative and enjoy! Feel free to leave comments or ask questions.