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Astrid Chevallier, a French poster designer in Hollywood.

By Marie-Amélie Fauchier-Magnan
Published June 12, 2009

The Key Art Awards Show is happening tonight at the MOCA in Los Angeles. This event celebrates the best movie marketing material of the year. Animation, comedy, documentary, the most beautiful posters will be showcased during this evening held by the Hollywood Reporter. French poster designer Astrid Chevallier will be attending the event. The Los Angeles based artist tells us about a profession that mixes art and advertising.

How did you become a poster designer?

Creating posters is a form of design I've been doing consistently over my career.
When I got out of the Beaux-Arts in Paris, computers weren't much used yet. I started to work on cultural posters for the city of Aubervilliers, and on posters for Theatre plays. Since then, I've designed for many other formats, but the poster is a specific medium that I like a lot, it reminds me of a canvas. I've always had the urge to include some texture in my work, even though today I work mostly with Photoshop.

The first French poster designers were artists, Toulouse-Lautrec, Mucha... do you feel part of this tradition?

Absolutely. At the end of the 19th century, the development of advertising posters allowed some artists to make a living through their art. The poster stands half-way between "advertisement" and "painting". What I like about the movie poster, is that it calls for a certain touch of art. Movies are the 7th form of art, even though in the United States it's mostly seen as entertainment.

Are you saying that Hollywood posters are different from European posters?

They are. People here tend to focus a lot more on the technical aspect than people in Europe do. Special effects are very important: when given a picture to build a poster, the first thing designers do in Hollywood is to mask it out, to separate the character from the background and place it on a new background. Here, building a poster is mostly a matter of collage and montage. In Europe, the norm is more about using use a still photograph from the movie and enhance it slightly by tweaking its shadows and lights.

What kind of expectations do clients have when it comes to a Hollywood poster?

Movies in Hollywood are very expensive productions: sometimes the goal of the poster is to tell the whole story within one picture. 
Let's take a look at Indiana Jones's poster for instance In the illustration you can find pretty much all the key elements of the movie, the good guy, the bad guy, the treasure... It takes quite some graphic dexterity to get such a composition to work. Collage and montage can get tricky from an artistic point of view because with so many elements the composition my fall apart.

Isn't it a little bit frustrating to have such constraints for an artist like you?

It's true that I enjoy working here, but sometimes it's hard to express the European preception. Here quantity often wins over quality. As you say, sometimes there are some restrictions: sometimes a specific size for the title treatment is required. The size of the actors' names might have been negociated when they signed their contract with the production. This might limit our possibilities. Independent movies have usually less guidelines which allows more creative freedom.

What is the role of a poster compared to other marketing material?

You have only one picture, and yet it has two goals: catch the eye of the viewer first. Deliver a proper message comes right next.

You operate your design studio, Purple Red. What makes you stand out compared to the American studios?

I had a lot of opportunities in Hollywood because I have a European artistic vision. I also stand out because I'm a woman in a man's world. Clients are interested in seing what a woman can bring to the table. Most creative directors in American advertising agencies are men.

What is your artistic mark?

Most of my posters have some "texture". I like to integrate a painted impression or some scratches to my posters. It helps to create a feeling, a mood in a subtle way. Also my compositions are often centered, I like to have one main element and to organize everything around it. I may add some details but when I do I try to keep it light so that it doesn't become an illustration, nor does it reveal the whole story.

France-Amérique is the largest French speaking publication edited in the United-States.