Ciara McAvoy Honored at the 45th Creativity International Print and Packaging Design Awards for Victor Frankenstein - Hollywood Illustrator Award Winning Poster

Victor Frankenstein Poster by illustrator Ciara McAvoy, photo courtesy of Ciara McAvoy

For the second year in a row, Hollywood studio illustrator, Ciara McAvoy was feted for her oil design of the Victor Frankenstein poster at the 45th Creativity International Print and Packaging Awards.  The Creativity Awards have been compared to the Oscars for graphic designers and illustrators and honors top professionals and students in the creative fields, including advertising design; impartial to art, illustration, photography, or graphic design, print and TV.

Victor Frankenstein Poster, courtesy 20th Century Fox

Additionally, McAvoy was honored with two Davey Awards (2015) in the categories of Individual Achievement – Art Illustration and Promotional – Posters.  She received honors last year at the Davey Awards for her work in Filth (2014) starring James McAvoy and Jamie Bell and directed by Jon S. Baird.  

Victor Frankenstein lab, photo courtesy Ciara McAvoy

McAvoy’s version of Frankenstein may very well be one of the last traditional posters to pay respect to this long-gone era of classical filmmaking magic. The Davey Awards, coupled with the Creativity International Awards, makes three wins for the movie before its release date.

Victor Frankenstein, starring Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott, and Freddie Fox is set for release on November 25, 2015. McAvoy shared some behind-the-scenes of the process and inspiration of her work on this film.     

Victor Frankenstein still image, photo courtesy Ciara McAvoy

The Victor Frankenstein images are incredible and it’s fun to see the photos of you and James McAvoy behind-the-scenes.  Why were you on set?

As soon as I heard Paul McGuigan was directing Victor Frankenstein with Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy, I rushed straight to the studio to pick up my brushes. The Frankenstein movies have a longstanding history of gorgeous and memorable traditionally illustrated posters, so this was a perfect opportunity for me to create something as homage to that tradition and legacy.

Movie poster artists mainly work from existing photographs—stars don’t really like sitting still that long. In this case, I didn’t even have that. I started my first character poster a few weeks before the first shooting day with only one image of Daniel Radcliffe in costume. As the character poster was featuring Victor Frankenstein and not Igor, I took the magnificent costume he was wearing and painted it on James, making a few minor alterations. I also improvised his new hairstyle and goatee, and added Leonardo Da Vinci’sanatomical drawings to add impact to the final composition, referencing the fact that the monster was created from human corpses.

A month later, I was invited to the set. After having dinner with me and another friend actor in his trailer, James McAvoy showed me production albums. He ended up showing me some photo albums of various scenes and costumes. Coming from a costume design background, my eyes were glued on the gold silk brocade fabric and burgundy regency ascot tie; collars were high and shawl-like to frame the face. I was eager to bring life to the design complexity and the historical references of the costumes.

Before coming on set, we were instructed to wear warm clothing and waterproof jackets to the set. Upon our arrival, we found out first-hand what that was all about.They were in the middle of a night shoot, but not just any night shoot; it was my good fortune to “experience” one of the most dramatic scenes in the film—the creation of Frankenstein's monster—complete with all the eerie rain, thunder, and lightning effects. Thank goodness for my waterproof jacket!

I returned to my studio and began a second project, painting something totally different (i.e., a more apocalyptic view of the lab, Victor as mad scientist, Daniel Radcliffe as Igor, Lorelei, and of course the impressively terrifying creature himself). 

James McAvoy and Ciara McAvoy review images and art from Victor Frankenstein, photo courtesy of Ciara McAvoy

What was it like on set? Where was it?

They were filming at Dunottar Castle. I was invited to the shooting night in Longcross, at an elaborately designed film studio with highly restricted access—cast and crew only.

James only had four people on set; a friend, his two agents, and me. The cast and crew were unfailingly friendly, hard working, extremely professional, and very concerned about keeping everything secret.

Ciara McAvoy and James McAvoy holding a painting of "Mr. Tumnus" by artist John Alvin, photo courtesy of Ciara McAvoy

Do you visit the sets of movies you have been commissioned for often?

No, I don't. In fact, this never happens. There truly is no better way to identify strong visual symbols that embody what the filmmaker is trying to communicate than living the action first-hand.

Getting older and reaching new levels of perfection, I became increasingly interested in behind-the-scenes production and ended up in the world of film financing last year by registering my own production company, CMCV Studios. As associate producer on a number of feature films (including my last project in developing Enemy of Man), I can stay on board and have the ability to make a special creative and financial contribution to the films. So, I’ll be on many more sets after this.

Frankenstein on canvas, photo courtesy of Ciara McAvoy

How long did it take you to paint the poster?

I can't say exactly, but months. I don't count the hours unless I'm on deadline.

Let me give you an idea about the process, though. From the first coat, I add layers and layers—hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of tiny brush strokes—thicken colors and incorporate my own secret techniques (the kind of techniques you don’t learn in school, the kind of techniques you pick up and invent along the way). The trick is knowing when to stop with the fine detail. Too much can be overkill and ruining the integrity of the work. That’s when the Frankenstein magic happens—bringing the heroes to life. (I don't need lightning and thunder, just a day light lamp).

Because I’m a perfectionist, a painting is never finished as long as I have it stored in my art studios. A chance to go back and improve a piece of art that I wanted to do differently or with more details is just the nature of the beast within me. Many of the award-winning pieces I’ve created have changed and improved. I wish I could get back some paintings I sold, but life goes on.

Ciara McAvoy and James McAvoy review images on the set of Victor Frankenstein, photo courtesy of Ciara McAvoy

Did you run into any difficulties?

Not at all on this one. If I painted an imperfect nose it's on purpose. His nose was broken in this scene  I went in a different direction, wanted to overexpose skin tones to the point of losing all visible detail on a part of his face in order to create a slightly greater contrast with the background. It added to the eerie effect. 

Is there anything from watching them shoot that inspired what you would end up painting or did you strictly focus on the images that James showed to you?

Seeing director, Paul McGuigan in action, the personal experience I had, seeing the characters up close and personal—all those elements combined made me take a 180-degree turn and paint something totally different (i.e., a more apocalyptic view of the lab, Victor as mad scientist, Igor, Lorelei, and of course the impressively terrifying creature himself.

You’ve painted James McAvoy, beautifully, a few times before this poster. Do you find that experience different every single time because of the fact that he embodies his characters so brilliantly? Or is the experience similar every time because of his likeness?

James is one of those rare, unique actors I was talking about two questions above. He’s one of those true artists who can make any scene he’s in instantly memorable. I enjoyed painting him in a variety of characters (e.g., the drug-addicted, morally corrupt and misogynistic detective, sergeant Robertsonhe portrays in Filth; or the clean, powerful Professor X). His fantastic facial expressions are based on his deep reverence for the characters he plays. For me it’s a delight to immortalize that kind of emotion in paint.

Ciara McAvoy on the set of Victor Frankenstein, photo courtesy of Ciara McAvoy


James McAvoy reviews Victor Frankenstein images with Ciara McAvoy, photo courtesy of Ciara McAvoy

Walk me through your creative process, from conception, to drawing/painting, to completion.

I have an unusual way of creating my posters. I only draw initial pencil sketches, black and white compositions, and full color renderings of concepts to be sure the production team is in agreement with my vision.

It’s time consuming to make changes and ensure these changes are in line with the aesthetic integrity of the piece. So, it's best to have a clear concept down before the real work on the actual painting begins.

When I get the go-ahead, I paint directly on canvas. It's like a 3D puzzle, but instead of starting at the upper left corner and working my way around, I jump immediately to the middle and start with the main character’s expression—eyes, nose, and lips—until I reach photorealistic perfection.

Your mother is French and your dad is a Scot. How did those two very different cultures influence your artistic sensibility?

You may not know this, but the Scots have a great deal of affection for the French. Traveling back and forth between the two countries, I realized how close the temperaments really are—our attachment to traditions and the respect for the pact of friendship between the two nations.

I inherited my talent for portraiture from my French grandfather (a pre-WWII portrait artist from Montmartre) but the inspiration, passion, stubbornness, and that very close family interaction are definitely Scottish.

How long have you been working as a movie poster artist?

I've been in the industry for almost 20 years and though traditional artwork is far less “in vogue” in the US nowadays, I continue to do quite well in Europe. The predisposition of American studios to use graphic and photographic designs seems to me a missed promotional opportunity. I’m surprised more studios aren’t capitalizing on the dearth of hand-painted posters as a strategic marketing vehicle. Why not stand out among a sea of computer-generated doppelgängers with an exotic, one-of-a-kind movie poster that invariably forces your audience’s imagination to run wild?

Ciara McAvoy and James McAvoy holding a painting of "Mr. Tumnus" by artist John Alvin, photo courtesy of Ciara McAvoy

Who were your early inspirations in movie poster art?

We all bring our own unique value and style to the movie poster world, and I have the deepest respect for those Golden Age artists who devoted their entire lives to their art. Bob Peak, John Alvin and Drew Struzan are my all-time favorites.

I remember waiting in the ticket line outside our small movie theater when I was younger. I was so selective then already, because my interest wasn’t in the title, plot or cast. I was transfixed by how beautiful the poster was, fixated on how it immortalized in one static image the feeling and atmosphere of the film. That’s what made me want to go see the film. That feeling always stuck with me, especially now as I work to recreate that same feeling for moviegoers today.

You can imagine how touched I was to read these words from Drew after my Revenge of the Sith poster came out: "Absolutely beautiful work. Thank you for sharing your grand gift." What better gift and honor to be recognized by one of the industry's greatest masters.

How do you feel when you see illustrated movie posters as official movie posters and not just teaser posters in new movies instead of the usual digitally-made ones?

It' makes me incredibly happy! There’s a new generation of artists who incorporate their hand-drawn illustrations into digital designs, which I see as homage to the Golden Age. Most of them work for agencies since it's incredibly difficult to get a commission or individual credit working as a freelance artist.

How many of your illustrations have been selected as campaign material?

90% of my work is official, so it was all used at one point or another as campaign material. As a Lucasfilm artist, my art (e.g. concepts, designs, etc.) was their exclusive property and used in all sorts of media communications.

What was the high point in your career or when did you get that 'big break'?

I’ve had a spectacular career, but I'd say I got my biggest break 10 years ago with Revenge of the Sith.

Revenge of the Sith Poster, photo courtesy of Ciara McAvoy

Poster for Enemy of Man starring Sean Bean and Charles Dance, photo courtesy of Ciara McAvoy

How many awards have you received for your work?

Many. I had to start counting them recently, only because studios are more willing to hire an award-winning artist these days.

If you want to be taken seriously as an artist, not only your work has to be good in the eyes of the public, fans and all the movie buffs around the world, you have to prove yourself even more in front of international panels of professionals to attach a gold label of excellence to your work.

Last year, I was honored with 3 awards for Filth and started this year with 5 wins: 3 for my work on the Star Wars: Episode III anniversary poster, 1 for the X-Men and 1 for Filth (the film was released on 30 May 2014 in the U.S. and the expected award time frame is 1 year after the release date).  

A still image from Enemy of Man, starring Sean Bean and Charles Dance, photo courtesy of Ciara McAvoy


A still image from Enemy of Man, photo courtesy of Ciara McAvoy

 What you can add about Frankenstein :

Victor Frankenstein is a masterwork. I simply had to pay tribute to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which is one of those time-honored subjects that has not only stood the test of time but has spawned 50+ films—many of them great classics—since 1910 (more about Frankenstein here). Of course, along with those classic films come the gorgeous, memorable—not to mention highly prized—movie posters. For example, an original poster from 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein went for a record-breaking $262,000 at auction last year and just last month a discarded 1931 Frankenstein movie poster was sold for $358,500 at Heritage Auctions.

The incredibly positive reactions to the last pen and ink drawing for Wolverine demonstrate resurgence in the appreciation for traditionally illustrated posters. As an artist who specializes in paying homage to great movie subjects, I couldn’t let this next opportunity slip away. Besides, the genre itself just “screams” hand-painted, period-style artwork through and through. Using photographic or digitally created imagery for a movie like this would be “monstrously” sacrilege. 

Now, there’s a great story behind this poster, too. An incredible thing happened at the start of the project; I was invited to have a look around during filming in London to get a feel for the movie. This never happens! (That’s why it’s a great story). I was shown sets, costumes, make-up, etc. and had some wonderful chats with the director and actors while they were shooting one night. James McAvoy even ended up showing me some picture albums of various scenes so that I would have something to work with.

To prevent security leaks, no one was granted access authorization to the movie set photos, so home I went with nothing but my cherished memories and vivid images imprinted in my mind’s eye. I’m known for my realistic detail work—usually conjured up by my imagination—but this time I had the opportunity to apply my unique style by accessing my memories of the set details. It was the critical ingredient to my Victor Frankenstein poster, the key to “unleashing my final creation” and immortalizing Victor, the complex man and crazed mastermind behind the “monstrous figure that holds unimaginable terror for anyone in its path,” the one we all know and love as Frankenstein.

For more information, please visit Ciara McAvoy’s Official Website.


Watch the Victor Frankenstein trailer below: 

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