Green Lantern poster: Process

Last week I released my version of the Green Lantern movie poster (seen above), which I worked on in the studio over the course of 2 days from sketch to final. It was a lot of fun to create something based on my childhood hero, so I took care in keeping as much material as I could in order to show how I went about creating the design. So now, it’s time to look at the Green Lantern poster process.

Back in 1983 whenever me and the neighborhood kids played Superfriends, I was always Green Lantern because I thought he had the coolest powers. I even went to the extent of making my own little Green Lantern power rings out of paper, not until this one right here:

Outside of thinking his powers were cool and his ring iconic, Lantern has the best logo in the DC Universe aside from the staples of Superman and Batman. All of these aspects of the character led to a bit of disappointment when I saw the official movie poster release for the upcoming film starring Ryan Reynolds, and it’s complete lack of showing Lantern’s ring. I won’t get into a big rant about the industry as I’d be preaching to the choir. Modern film posters aren’t geared around art and design anymore, they revolve around whoever is starring in these things in hopes of drawing fans of the actors, unfortunately not the content.

Just to be clear, I’m not riffing on the quality of the official poster because its beautifully crafted. I just feel the essence and iconic elements of the character was lost under the need to showcase Reynolds. That’s all.

So I took it upon myself to design a poster the way I would want to see it, focusing on Lantern’s iconic power ring, its logo and the classic Green Lantern costume (or at least a portion of it). Let’s get rockin’.

i. Sketching

Like I’ve said many times on my broadcasts I start every project with the sketchbook, I started drawing up come rough ideas of how I might approach the poster. I knew I wanted to focus on the ring, but wanted to do something strong, iconic yet simple. Since the ring is actually really small, I needed a way of making it look interesting and powerful. After doodling up around 10 sketches, I decided the way to go was simply showing Lantern’s fist raised in the air with green light energy shooting out.

I’m sure the redesigned Lantern costume for the movie will look cool onscreen, but you just can’t beat the classic design. Hal Jordan’s white gloves were a must as the green ring contrasts beautifully on white, it just makes sense from a design standpoint. Shown here are a few of the reference images I dug up online, the Superpowers figure from 1984 (which I still own), the cover design for New Frontier #6 created by Darwyn Cooke and an Alex Ross painting because I love those green lights.

In the case of the fist design, I really wanted to capture what Darwyn did on New Frontier. His hands are typically 2-color yet have a lot of substance and structure. Once I had all of these references gathered along with my sketches, I had a good concept and direction going but I knew the biggest problem I would hit: where was this gloved fist going to come from?

ii. Reference photos

After looking around some stock photo sites for hands and fists, I knew I was never going to find a good looking hand at the proper angle. Everything I found had something wrong with it, plus there was the issue of getting a ring on there. I decided I’d do it myself and take some photos using my own hand to get exactly the angle I needed. I even had my own Green Lantern ring on hand thanks to my pals at Strange Adventures.

My photo set-up was hilarious. I grabbed my Canon Powershot, my Rock Band mic stand and a dollar store flashlight pointed at the ring to match the lighting I wanted in the final poster. It worked great and I snapped a number of shots in a few different poses in case a new concept or idea came to light. It didn’t, the fist was still the winner.

iii. Digital sketch

This next step is what I call the digital sketch. After working on a number of posters over the years I found myself naturally gravitating to this middle step between the sketchbook and building the final design, where I build a pre-viz rough version of how the composition might be. I use pre-made elements that work as well as elements I’ll be using later in the final.

In this digital sketch for the Lantern poster, I used one of the hand photos I took in the previous step, a bunch of lighting effects I had on hand and some cosmic imagery from NASA’s website. My concern wasn’t making the glove or anything look convincing, moreso to have a quick study to ensure I was still on the right creative path. My initial idea was to use more blues in the background to make the green energy stand out, but it made the palette look bleached out. I wanted bold green everywhere. I even went as far as to make a quick vector base for the glove.

This step took a few hours to nail down, but it was hugely helpful before I moved on to creating the final poster build. Now that my planning was complete, it was time to start building my elements.

iv. Pencils and vectors

I’ll be the first to admit, I kind of painted myself into a corner with this part. My goal was to make the fist look physical with weight and definition, but I didn’t want it to look like a photograph OR an illustration. Yeah, easy task huh? I had to build and rip apart the hand design 3 times over before I got the process down and could achieve the effect I wanted. Even tried one version where I digitally painted the entire thing, it looked awful. I had to go analog, man.

I printed off a copy of the fist photograph and grabbed my handy tracing paper. I taped everything down on my sketch table and drew the basic outline of how I wanted to fist to look, taking into account the glove, highlights and shadows. I tried to do this step in Illustrator but it was far too much guesswork, I needed to pull it away from the computer and do this step by hand to have complete control.

I then scanned the pencils, brought the drawing into Illustrator and mapped out all the elements in vector while experimenting with every gradient in there. The drawing was HUGELY helpful, something I’ll be taking into account with future posters. It was a great mix of realism and illustration and even looked like Hal’s hand.

The ring was the easy part. Having a plastic ring onhand was a big help, but it was just a matter of matching the perspective and hitting the right combination of selective gradients.

v. Bringing it all together

Things got a bit tricky here. Despite the gradient work, the vectors still looked really flat and I wanted something more substantial to give strength to the fist. I managed to achieve this by blending a couple of photographic overlays with the vectors. As you can see by the image above, I used a green tint and a greyscale version of my fist and set them to Overlay in Photoshop. This gave the otherwise flat vectors a more physical look, like there was a human hand in there somewhere. It’s totally an illusion but it created the effect I wanted.

I couldn’t get the proper fabric folds in Illustrator that I needed, this was a glove afterall, so I searched around Thinkstock and got some nice images of folded linen and satin which worked perfect for getting those wrinkles. I changed the images to either green or greyscale, and laid them over the vectors using blending modes Multiply and Soft Light. They worked great, kind of a fluke.

After the fist was built, it was just a matter of adding the green light energy, a few background elements and some selective shading. I’m not going to get too deep into how these were created because there are a bazillion tutorials online showing cool light effects, but mine were created using a combination of my vector shard elements and a few photographs I had onhand of flares and lights. Most of these lights were switched to greyscale, then I overlayed some green on top to keep things more dynamic. It involved a lot of experimentation.

And finally, I added the final content from the Green Lantern oath as well as the 2011 logo, eluding to the release of the upcoming film. Done!

The process behind this poster was extremely different then what I’m used to, but it was an excellent journey to nail down the effect I wanted. Having to create that hand from scratch was a strange one, but I’m happy to say it’s ME wearing that Green Lantern ring. Yeah! I hope you had a good time gaining a bit of insight behind this poster because I had a great time creating it. Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to don my mask on and bounce off the rings of Saturn.

32 Comments

  1. Brilliant post. Very detailed. Interesting to see how you work.

  2. Awesome post, James. Always cool to see other people’s methods in Photoshop/Illustrator. Having designed movie posters for a bit, I definitely understand your frustration with the movie industry. Good on you for making your labor of love into a great movie poster.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Very interesting process. The amount of planning you put into your work is amazing, and it shows in the final product. Smart choice using the fabric image, and I like the single rainbow beam on the right to give it that Signalnoise touch. Wicked job!

  4. Andy

    Great article! Just a heads up: when you click on the Thinkstock link your directed to the strange adventures website :)

  5. Fantastic work James, love it how you’re so open about your work flow and processes used in your projects. The satin images used on the glove was very clever and worked a treat

  6. awesome. i just think the fabric overlay ends up making the wrinkles in the glove fall unnaturally, but other than that nitpick, stellar work.

  7. Nice detail description of the process…
    your work is always amazing.

    note: Your link for Thinkstock goes to strange adventures website…

  8. Thanks for sharing James ;-)

  9. Well done, James! Thanks for the insight, nothing more inspiring to me than to see other creatives’ processes. The fresh outlook can do wonders for my own creativity!

  10. How many times in Signalnoise Store ???? =)

  11. Hey, it’s not only the technique you are teaching here, but to design for pleasure. It’s not common to put so much effort on a piece that’s for yourself (at least not common for me), and to document the process!

    Big thanks.

    I liked the vector-raster blend, it really improved when you added the fists.

  12. Kashane

    Nice step by step, love it!, Godbless.

  13. james (Author)

    Thanks for all the kind words, everyone. I’m happy the behind-the-scenes write up is resonating well with everyone. I had a great time working on this poster.

  14. Smart thinking with the linen samples James, clever solution.

  15. Jack Jones

    Great process but not particular original design:
    http://artisticallychill.com/blog/wp-images/absoluteGLRebirth01.jpg

  16. james (Author)

    Jack, never seen that poster before. You’re right, pretty similar. It’s weird because I actually contemplated putting the big GL logo behind the fist but axed it. Good thing. :)

  17. Outstanding! it so intresting to write about your process, and I like your lo-fi set up! yeah

  18. I mean to “read” about your process. sorry fro my eng

  19. Too bad he’s not wearing white gloves in the movie.

  20. K Barry

    Everyone has their processes and discoveries, and watching a pro find their way step by step is hugely beneficial to others. Thanks very much for this.

  21. nada

    Yeah, agreed with Jack, the concept has been done time and time again.
    Superficially it’s immediately reminiscent of Cooke, but specifically derriviative of at least a dozen or more DC GL covers.
    http://www.comics.org/issue/43820/cover/4/?style=default
    Ultimately, the process is interesting but incidental, the idea has to be paramount, and this idea is derivative.
    http://www.comics.org/issue/43820/cover/4/?style=default

  22. Cameron D

    Really cool stuff James, thanks for sharing your insight! I love hearing about the background work behind the art! I’ve gained some valuable knowledge from your process, thanks a lot!

  23. Lo-Fi baby! :-) That picture rulez!

  24. miguel

    thanks for this. the process stuff is my favorite. that ring looks amazing.

  25. james (Author)

    Nada, I think you’re entirely missing the point. I created this poster to focus on the iconic elements of the Green Lantern character, specifically Hal’s ring as it is the source of his power. I already stated this in the post. What does he do when he uses the ring? He makes a fist. What’s more iconic then that?

    My intent here was to make a film poster that focuses on elements and designs already established in the comics and cartoons, elements that define the character. The last thing I wanted to do was force my own design ideas into this thing, because that’s exactly what the film industry does.

    Has this been done before? Absolutely. But that’s the mark I wanted to hit: classic Green Lantern.

  26. captaincomplexity

    love the art and the process

    – just wondered though…
    re the date 2011 with the lantern logo in the zero

    – why not just lose the zero and enlarge the lantern?

  27. The whole process you went through is mind blowing and the end result is truly awesome. Now I REALLY can’t wait for the movie to come out.

  28. ron

    those saying the design is a rip-off don’t understand what “iconic” means.

    great design and write up too. But one pedantic qualm, the word you meant to use is “alluding,” not “eluding” in the next to last paragraph.

  29. Great post! congratulations. is always nice to see what is behind the final art.
    for those who criticize, they have not realized that design and illustration is always about references. Always. A designer does not live in a cocoon and the research process reflects attention to pop and general culture. Only the best designer knows how to draw materials to create stunning pieces.

  30. Hey James,
    Amazing work! Thank you for taking the time to share your process. Really great to see the behind the scenes of such exceptional work!

  31. This is really amazing, as said before, it’s awesome to see the amount of work that is behind such a great visuel. Thanks twitter for the discover !

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