Featured: Designer Annie Atkins on how studying the world around us makes for better character design — Graphika Online 2022

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — This year, Graphika Online 2022, one of Asia’s most influential design conferences, brought creativity and inspiration to the fore once again. Graphika has acted as an arena for the most talented and imaginative creative forces in Asia and around the world for the past 17 years.

Graphika Online 2022 hands the microphone to some of the most creative leaders in the industry — such as the renowned Annie Atkins.

The Dublin-based designer shared the pivotal experiences that led her to work in the film industry; from working as a graphic designer for an advertising agency to designing graphic props for filmmaking. Atkins talked about particulars behind some of her works in the film The Box Trolls and in one of Wes Anderson’s films The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Atkins started out as an art director in one of the largest global advertising agencies in the world, McCann Erickson (now McCann). After several years of working on advertising graphic designs, repetitive work in the agency made her shift and pursue masters in filmmaking. Her debut was the historical television series The Tudors, where she initially applied for the art department’s assistant position but was hired as a graphic designer for the set.

As Atkins continued to design for different films, she set a rule to create designs on how it was designed at the time. “If something had been created by hand at the time, then I should be drawing it by hand now. And if something had been made of a machine at the time, then I [should] use my [computer] now,” Atkins said. She shared hand-drawn designs of the stained glass canopy on Penny Dreadful’s Grand Guignol theater and the labels of the boxes of the characters in the animated film The Box Trolls.

Her craft has been truly admired by many, including students from the workshops she has set. According to Atkins, she teaches her students 3 main things about designing for films.

  • Step away from the computer and start drawing by hand
  • Step into the shoes of the characters we’re designing for
  • It’s ok to copy

“In filmmaking, in order for our work to have value, we have to study the world around us and borrow and steal from things that have come before us.” She added that the real magic happens when a designer designs as if the characters themselves have made it. Atkins revealed that Ludwig’s tattoo is one of her favorite pieces of design in the film The Grand Budapest Hotel.

While it may be marvelous to create a perfect graphic film prop, Atkins shared her greatest graphic design mistake in the hero prop in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

“Halfway through the movie, Wes Anderson got in touch with me and said, ‘I think there’s a spelling mistake on the Mendl’s box’ and I said ‘Oh, God I hope not. I don’t think so because I’m very very careful when it comes to spelling and grammar…’ But he was right, I have put two t’s in the word ‘patisserie’,” Atkins said. “Sometimes problems happen. Mistakes are made and they can be fixed,” she added. Luckily, the hand-drawn error in Mendl’s box was fixed during the post-production process.

In her final remarks, Atkins said teamwork delivers the best outcome. “It takes a lot of people to work on a movie. The graphic designers are a small part of a much bigger art department and the art department is another cog in the wheel of a much bigger filmmaking process. But I think that when we take care of all the tiny little details in our departments, that’s when things are going to be a much bigger picture.”

Follow Annie Atkins on Twitter and Instagram, and visit her website to know more about her.

adobo magazine is an official media partner of Graphika Online 2022.

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