Apprentice forgers at The Forge

Posted by Emma Hopton on 08.10.19

If you were lucky enough to grab a ticket to the sell-out talk from Annie Atkins last month then you saw a sneak peek into the fascinating world of Graphic Design for Filmmaking. In the workshop that followed, 16 students – from as far afield as Australia and the USA – learnt first hand the process, attention to detail and tricks of the trade that make it such an art. 

The Forge provided the perfect venue – a warm, welcoming creative space where each person started with a box full of goodies. We won’t give away the details (you need to go to the workshop yourself for that) but suffice to say it piqued our interest from the word go! Literal tools of the trade that would help turn Annie’s advice into practical solutions over the next two days.

What was soon evident was the sheer level of work and craftsmanship that goes into everything Annie does. She showed how the process starts: looking at clips to identify the graphics (from the obvious notebook, letter or door sign to the potential pattern needed on the carpet) – elements that you don’t even see but are so integral to the storytelling. A newspaper with bespoke content, the handwriting on an invoice, or an actor who is specific about their prop detail (a character so precise he wouldn’t have chosen a notebook with plain paper).

With so much design influence taken from existing imagery, legal clearance is essential. Annie explained how inspiration and style were merged to create the finished product, and the process and importance of getting this signed off. Authenticity is key – it’s the extra detail that you won’t think to add that will make it real so start that reference library now! From here we really also started to understand the team involved – from Set Decorator to Prop Master, working with designers, model makers and art directors to bring their ideas to life.

It was great to learn so many new skills in such a short period, with a good mix of theory and practical which I really enjoyed.

— Participant in Annie Atkins' workshop

Even with the simple tasks — like tea-staining that we all tried – the level of detail permeates. Having to know exactly how strong the tea was, how long the paper was left in to soak — just in case the exact colour shade ever needed to be recreated. Learning too how to make paper more transparent — a detail you didn’t even realise was missing until you see how it completes the prop when it’s there. And how the subtleties of design could add so much character as everyone drew their own stained glass window.

Not only did everyone leave with a whole set of new skills to hone, but book lists and film lists aplenty – films we may have already seen but were now able to re-watch with fresh eyes. Charles Eames said, The details are not the details. They make the design.’ in this case, The details are not the props. They make the narrative.’

Annie’s workshop is the most legitimate training/​coursework available to learn graphic design for filmmaking.

— Participant in Annie Atkins' workshop

Annie’s 2019 workshops have sold out and the dates for her 2020 workshops have yet to be realised, sign-up for her newsletter to be the first to find out. And meanwhile, we’ll leave you with a set of excellent top tips. 

Annie’s top tips

  1. Measure twice, cut once. 
  2. Never use glue on a cutting mat. 
  3. When something goes wrong, fix it and move on, don’t point your finger at anyone else* 
  4. Become a hoarder: collect all the old bus tickets and cigarette packets you can find, you can use them as reference material later. 
  5. Be in bed by 10pm every night – 9pm on Wednesdays. 
  6. When it comes to ordering paper, ink, and other materials order plenty: you’re better looking at it than looking for it. 
  7. Paint your tape-measure with pink nail polish so nobody in Construction goes walking off with it by mistake. 
  8. If someone in Costume asks if you’ll design a business card for them, say yes – you can get your jeans taken up later on. 
  9. Likewise Hair and Make-up, you can swap a business card design for a nice up-do for the wrap party. 
  10. Always go to the wrap party. You’ll miss all your new pals once they’re gone. 

* Except Production, it’s totally fine to blame the production office for anything you like 

Annie’s breakdown of our next steps’ was great – you seldom see that at other workshops, and you never see it done as well as she did it.

— Participant in Annie Atkins' workshop