Q&A

-How would you define your job?

A good definition of ‘key art finisher’: A key art finisher is a digital artist who works in Photoshop. Finishing encompasses many artistic disciplines into a refined skill: retouching (about 10% of our job), compositing, illustration, digital matte painting, advanced knowledge of lighting and shading, a great attention to detail, and lots of patience. Dozens or even hundreds of separate pieces of art and photographs are used to create the final composited key art poster. The satisfaction of finishing a big, complex piece of art is what makes many of us love our job.

-How did you break into the industry?

Completely by accident. I was asked to learn Photoshop at the print shop where I was working, so I could learn to retouch the photos of customers who asked for it (mainly real estate agents!), and to help create logos. I loved it so much, I just kept at it, doing many tutorials and reading a lot of books.

-What is the creative process like? Do you have a typical work day?

My role in the process comes after the creative portion is more or less decided. I’m given a low-resolution, often rather rough, comp from the art director. The comp is a very small version of the art that has been pushed and pulled, creatively, and finally approved by the client. From there, I take the comp and all of the raw assets, and then the fun starts. I completely tear apart the comp and rebuild it from scratch at 2, 3, or even 5 times the size, paying close attention to every aspect and detail to create a piece that looks cohesive, slick, and often very real.

-How does it feel seeing your work so widely published?

Even though I’ve had so many pieces of key art displayed as billboards, ‘coming soon’ posters in the movie theatre, on buses, transit shelters, subway stations, and in publications, I have to admit that it’s still pretty nice to drive down Sunset Boulevard and see my art on the side of a hotel or on a huge billboard towering over the road. On the flip side, I sometimes avoid looking at it altogether, worrying I might find a mistake that we missed in the creative process.

-How many people would normally be involved in a production?

In general, the creative team can consist of a creative director, sometimes an associate creative director, an art director or two, sometimes a photographer, and a finisher. Sometimes finishers will work in a team together to produce the best possible piece, each using their unique specialty and skill. Added to this are all of the other important people who make it all work, like account managers and project managers.

-What is your dream project?

I love to work on horror titles! Blood and guts and scary stuff is really fun to work on. A guilty pleasure: I’d also love to work in deciphering faked photos of UFOs or other weird events.

-What are your start, middle and end points?

After the key art finish has been built, it goes through rounds of revisions and scrutiny, both internally and from the client (usually, the studio responsible for the production). Our goal is to produce art that needs the least amount of revisions, so we try to use our care and attention in the building and painting process before we ever present the ‘first look’. After any notes are addressed and everyone is happy, the art leaves our hands to be prepared for outdoor printed display or digital display (trailer use, or web use), and presented to the viewing public. Often, from concepting to final production, key art for a film has been in production for many weeks or months.

-What was the best career advice you were ever given?

I never had a mentor… but one day some years ago, after a very frustrating day on the job, a creative director I worked with reminded me that, “We make movie posters for a living. We have the best job ever.” Maybe that’s why I’m still at it.