Out-of-this-world cover designs for sci-fi Film Classics

Some of the best contemporary designers set to work to create covers for sci-fi special editions for nine titles in our BFI Film Classics book series. Read about their techniques and inspirations.

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BFI Film Classics cover for The War of the Worlds

BFI Film Classics cover for The War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds

Designer: Graham Humphreys

The concept

I recall seeing the 1953 version on TV when I was very young and remember the impact it made on me at the time – quite probably one of the formative moments in my youth. I’ve always enjoyed the art of science fiction posters of the 1950s and hoped to create a very obviously painted image to reflect the convention of the time.

I’ve given the actors a green hue, because it has traditionally been the default colour of alien monsters and I wanted the humans to be as alien as the Martians – in the same way I have eclipsed the Earth with Mars.

The Martian war machine is part of the lexicon of great cinematic design and might well be considered the ‘hero’ of the film – that’s why it sits above the actors. I’ve kept a very primary palette as I wanted to convey the feel of Technicolor.

The technique

The illustration is painted in gouache on a watercolour surface. There is a certain amount of unpredictability in the marks and textures, almost as if it were the pigmentation of an alien skin.

My earliest film memory

Films have always been a rich source of inspiration for me. From TV Sunday matinees through to late-night horror screenings, most films have burned their way into my subconscious on one level or another. Within the science fiction genre, The War of the Worlds stands alongside When Worlds Collide (1951), Forbidden Planet (1956) and This Island Earth (1955) as my earliest experiences of the otherworldly.

BFI Film Classics cover for Quatermass and the Pit

BFI Film Classics cover for Quatermass and the Pit

Quatermass and the Pit

Designer: Nathanael Marsh

The concept

In the film an otherworldly phenomenon has plagued the inhabitants of the area throughout history. I liked the idea that these manifestations had become part of the local folklore and reference to them could be found in surrounding signs and symbols. I used the stained glass window idea as a way of recounting the events of the film as if it was a form of archaic historic record. This also tied in with the film’s religious themes, the way that the apparitions were often referred to as devils, demons and ancient diabolical evil. The concentric circles were a nod to the original movie poster artwork.

The technique

This piece was created entirely digitally. I used a tablet to sketch out the design with the majority of the work being done in Illustrator and Photoshop using a 1999 ‘tangerine’ puck mouse. I’ve been taking some wide panoramic photos recently and like the way that the perspective distorts spherically. I used this concept to try to fit all of the design elements into a series of radiating circles.

My earliest film memory

I remember being shocked at an early age watching a film called The Green Slime (1968). I think there was a scene in which a door slid open and someone on the other side had been electrocuted by aliens and just fell through with a grimace frozen on their face – terrifying!

BFI Film Classics cover for Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

BFI Film Classics cover for Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Dr. Strangelove

Designer: Marian Bantjes

The concept

Dr. Strangelove is an insane tale about the insanity of the cold war. Stripped down to absolute simplicity, it’s about bombs pointing at each other, which is my main motif, with the madness of it represented in a maelstrom of all-out war.

The technique

As always I started with a pencil sketch; then this was created on the computer in Illustrator.

My earliest film memory

I think it may have been seeing Disney’s Fantasia (1940), which I hated because it perverted the image I had in my head of very masculine, realistic centaurs and other mythic creatures. At some tender age already I was appalled that these beings were represented in pinks and blues; cute and infantilised.

BFI Film Classics cover for Solaris

BFI Film Classics cover for Solaris

Solaris

Designer: Matt Shlian

The concept

I wanted the piece to reflect the surface of the planet; something uneasy and undulating, with a feeling of tension.

The technique

The piece was designed on the computer and assembled from paper.

My earliest film memory

When they pull the man’s heart out in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and everyone’s chanting “Aum Namah Shivaya, Aum Namah Shivaya, Aum Namah Shivaya”.

BFI Film Classics cover for Akira

BFI Film Classics cover for Akira

Akira

Designer: Samantha Holmlund

The concept

Compared to other animations of the time, Akira had so much more detail, not just in the storytelling but also in the animation itself. The movements and angles were more dynamic and the colours were so striking. With my design I really wanted to use these techniques to capture the feel of the film.

The technique

To create the piece I sketched out my design in Photoshop and then used a number of different textures to create a more organic feel for the final piece.

My earliest film memory

I think my earliest film memory is watching Flash Gordon (1980) on a constant loop.

BFI Film Classics cover for Alien

BFI Film Classics cover for Alien

Alien

Designer: Marta Lech

The concept

I first selected all the elements from the movie that related to the emergence of the alien form of life. The first version of the sketch included a sequence of white shapes on a black background that led to a body of the alien. Outlines of a moon, an egg and a strange head emerged from the dark space. But for the final design, this was all reduced to the characteristic profile of an alien suspended over the horizon. The simple and dark image resembles a mysterious, floating ghost as well as an X-ray photograph of an organism subjected to scientific examination.

The technique

I use the technique of painting with bright pigment on black paper and have been working and experimenting with this method for years. Even though I am able to foresee its possibilities and limits to some degree, the final effect is always surprising. Transparent and overlapping layers of ink form a complex pattern of soft outlines and suggest an extraterrestrial context. They seemed perfect to illustrate both the futuristic and organic features of Giger’s alien.

My earliest film memory

Watching The Neverending Story (1984).

BFI Film Classics cover for Brazil

BFI Film Classics cover for Brazil

Brazil

Designer: Peter Strain

The concept

My idea is based around Sam’s early dream sequence, where buildings burst through and destroy the natural landscape, however I chose to utilise the image of a filing cabinet in place of the skyscraper. With this, I aimed to portray the theme of order and control, which can dehumanise the world.

The lower half of the image shows Sam in the ‘real world’. It’s dark and ominous, and the filing cabinet (the Ministry of Information) dwarfs Sam (the individual).

The top half then gives us a glimpse of Sam’s ‘dream world’. This time, the cabinet/building bursting through hints at how the system eventually erodes Sam’s mind and turns him into his vegetated state.

The technique

I sketched out the initial idea with pencil and then drew each section individually. I then scanned it into Photoshop, in which I added the colour and some hints of texture.

My earliest film memory

I think it was going to see Beauty and the Beast (1991) in the cinema and being oddly attracted to the promiscuous duster.

BFI Film Classics cover for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

BFI Film Classics cover for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Designer: Patricia Derks

The concept

I am a collector of images and translate them into my own style using colour in an unusual way. The cover artwork is in my usual style and draws on the look of Kate Winslet’s character, Clementine.

The technique

I graduated from the Art Academy Arendonk, Belgium and found my own way of painting – my artworks are the result of hours of research and I then pick up my brushes. The pieces are often swiftly painted in my favourite medium, oil paint, and always contain an element of surprise.

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