Seriously Cool Posters from Gravillis Inc.

Enter this year’s HOW Poster Design Awards will be judged by Target associate creative director Allan Peters, a self-proclaimed poster design lover who can’t wait to see what you’ve created. Enter your great poster design today!


At this very moment, design firm Gravillis Inc. is out there in Los Angeles creating some seriously cool posters for companies such as 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, Universal, HBO, FX and Netflix. Led by husband-and-wife duo Kenny and DeAnna Gravillis (who, it must be noted, met at Def Jam NYC), the agency has produced movie and television poster design for many huge productions including The Fault In Our Stars, Orange is the New Black, Blackfish and The Internship, just to name a few.

Needless to say, Gravillis Inc.’s portfolio is the first place you should look for poster design ideas, design inspiration and, oh yeah—stunning work samples that’ll blow you away.

Read on for an exclusive interview with Kenny Gravillis, who leads the agency as creative director (DeAnna Gravillis is CEO). Gravillis gives us the scoop on creating posters for big names in the entertainment industry, and you won’t want to miss his words of wisdom on creating the best poster design.

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What initially compelled you to go into design?

Back in London in the mid-eighties, the big job you went for when you were done with high school was working at a bank. I had a cousin who was a layout designer for magazines, and one day he invited me to come and meet him at work after school. I was about 14. I would go to his office and just basically hang out and look over his shoulder. It was such a cool environment—no computers back then, but the drawing boards, the letraset, the photography laying around everywhere, even the rubber cement that they used for adhesive back then—all that stuff was so fresh to me, and I felt it was a million times cooler than working at a bank.

That experience made me want to go to art school. It was a very influential thing to see designers in their natural environment. I really wanted to be part of that.

“The poster industry has gotten so much more open
to artistic representation of films and shows,
regardless of whether it’s a main campaign.”
—Kenny Gravillis

How would you classify your style? Does being based in LA influence your style?
I’m not sure that we have a specific style, per se. I hope that our style is relevant to the projects that we work on. When you’re an artist not working in a commercial environment, it makes sense that you have a style, because it has to be so specific to you, to define you from everybody else. However, in a commercial environment, you have to be more flexible.

If there were a common thread running through our work, I’d say it would be a sense of good, solid, intelligent design. I don’t want us to have a specific visual style because one of the things I love the most about this industry is the variety of the projects we get. We don’t want to be pigeonholed into any one genre and the only way we can do that is not having one definitive style.

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What’s it like creating ad campaigns for the entertainment industry? Any amusing stories you can share?
It’s definitely a lot of fun, and there is a glamorous factor to it, but it can also be un-glamorous, especially when it comes to executing the work.

Funny story, we worked on an ad for this A&E show starring William Shatner called “Shatner’s Raw
Nerve.” We wanted to do something with Shatner sitting next to a couch that was set on fire. We could have done it in Photoshop, but we wanted to do it for real. At the last minute, we decided to change the chair that we were going to set on fire; the old one was relatively cheap, and this new one was rather expensive. So, we had a discussion with the client about whether we could set this thing on fire. The ad looked great, but it was one of those decisions that had to be made on the spot. Thankfully, the client was OK with it.

That part of the job, coming up with ideas that we actually shoot, is really great. Often in entertainment, you don’t get a chance to shoot everything that you’d like because everyone feels it can be done digitally, but it’s still hard to beat what you can get in-camera.

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Where do you find your inspiration?
In all things creative—architecture, fine art, whatever it may be—ideally, we want to find people who don’t work on movie posters, because we want something that feels as if it comes from a different point of view.

Recently, we worked with these French artists Zim & Zou, who make amazing things out of paper. Together, we came up with the poster for the 2014 SXSW Film Festival. It’s great to have opportunities to collaborate like that.

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You say you’re committed to creating “concepts that will skillfully display new ideas, always giving creativity first priority.” Is there a project you’ve worked on that stands out to you as best exemplifying this?
We worked on a poster for the second Alvin and the Chipmunks movie. Generally, when you think of that, you know what the poster’s going to look like: pop-esque, CGI images of chipmunks. Since the movie was a sequel, it was even more of a challenge to differentiate this poster from the first movie’s poster (which was indeed poppy CGI chipmunks).

So, one of our designers came up with this Lite-Brite concept. Lite-Brite was popular in America around the same time the Chipmunks were. We took that idea to make this iconic-style poster of Alvin made out of Lite-Brite pegs. Seeing the poster would launch you back to your childhood, eliciting this kind of nostalgic feeling. Another unique aspect of the poster: Due to the concept, the background had to be black, which is usually a no-no for kids’ movies. That poster gives me a lot of satisfaction because it’s an example of an incredibly mainstream project handled in an unexpected, creative way.

“When the trust of the filmmaker is at your side,
you can really let loose and come up
with interesting work.”
—Kenny Gravillis

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Is there any one-poster project that stands out to you as having been the biggest challenge?
We worked on Quentin’s Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” for about a year. I love Quentin’s movies, and we had previously worked on Inglourious Basterds and had come up with a pretty successful character campaign, so we were very excited to jump on Django.

One of the tough things about working on hugely anticipated films is that it’s hard for the movie
studio or filmmakers to commit to ideas quickly, and even when they do, there’s a good chance it will change over the course of the project. We did a lot of what we thought was really strong work that for one reason or another didn’t solve it.

This is part of being in the industry because we work so far out timing-wise, sometimes two years before release date, especially on bigger films. There’s a lot of room for re-direction, and in fairness you can understand why. There’s a lot of money involved in pulling the trigger on a marketing campaign for a movie, and it’s extra hard to swallow when you work on something so long, but don’t actually get to produce the final poster, especially when its a filmmaker you’re really into.

In the end, we did produce a great graphic mark that was used on T-shirts at Comic-Con for the film, and seeing Samuel Jackson wear it kind of made up for not getting the main campaign.

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Has your perspective on poster design changed over the years?
Yes, I think it has. When we got into posters, we were coming from a music album-cover background. In music, because the art is so much related to the artist him/herself, it’s much more based on art and feeling. When you get into film and TV, communication of the idea—the story, the product—is paramount. We weren’t sure there was a place for us in that world. It was a tricky transition. It felt hard to break in, but now, you can’t miss alternative-style posters and artsy fan posters. The poster industry has gotten so much more open to artistic representation of films and shows, regardless of whether it’s a main campaign.

Is there anything quirky or interesting about your process?
I don’t know if it’s quirky or not, but if we have two weeks on a project, we probably spend a week and a half on ideas. We work in rough mode for a majority of the time, and finish only in the last couple days. Obviously, execution needs to be amazing as well, but the execution is less of a process compared to the idea.

For some reason, I always feel like I can bring in a ton of people to make things look amazing very quickly—but great ideas no matter how many people you bring don’t always come so fast.

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Who are some of your favorite designers these days—particularly poster designers?
There are a lot of really good designers making really good posters out there. I have specific ones I like and have worked with before. There’s Akiko Stehrenberger, an exceptional illustrator who has done a lot for us and is an amazing designer.

I also like what seems to be the relationship that Neil Kellerhouse has with David Fincher. It feels like a huge win to have a filmmaker who understands design and its importance, but most importantly, is willing to back a certain designer to work on his or her projects. When the trust of the filmmaker is at your side, you can really let loose and come up with interesting work.

Any words of wisdom for designers looking to create amazing poster designs?
Yeah, I think that a word of wisdom I’d have right now is that communication is still really key. We’re in a place now where there’s so much visual stimulus going on, and I’m seeing a million great fan-made posters, so I think it’s getting easier for people to make new stuff.

However, the communication of the idea is still the most important thing. If you’re making posters, you’ve got to make sure to communicate with your design. With a lot of students, you see stuff that looks cool but doesn’t mean anything. The work has to say something.

The main thing I would say is to remember how lucky you are to be doing something that you love. I think when you are able to craft out a career in design, and it’s in a medium that you love, you have to consider yourself very fortunate and remember not to take any of it for granted.

Stay hungry because you could so easily be working at the bank.

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