The standout talk of day one of Offset 2015 came from graphic designer Annie Atkins. Her honest and insightful account of working with director Wes Anderson on The Grand Budapest Hotel laid bare some of the intricacies of the role of graphic design throughout the filmmaking process. In addition, she shared some interesting anecdotes about her role in creating the fictitious Empire of Zubrowka, the setting for Anderson’s film.
Wes Anderson's distinctive and meticulous aesthetic is palpable throughout The Grand Budapest Hotel, and it gives the role of graphic design a prominence not always found in film.
Patisserie boxes, postage stamps, carpets, keychains, shopfronts, signage, passports, police reports, telegrams, testaments, banknotes, books—behind each of these graphic props lies a painstaking process which began with Atkins rigorously researching hundreds of items and making sure that their design accurately represented the period of the time. While Atkins acknowledged the transient nature of on-screen graphics (they often may show up for a mere second at most), she admitted that often she is only designing for the actors in order to bring a sense of authenticity to the set and to bring to life the imaginary world Anderson envisages. Due to the fragile nature of the props, Atkins added that sometimes at least 20 - 30 copies of each prop had to be created for the set.
In maintaining this authenticity Atkins revealed that each of the articles which appear in the various newspapers throughout the film were written by Wes Anderson himself, some intrinsic to the narrative while others contained merely trivial details. Atkins also admitted at one point she even studied an authentic calling card once belonging to Hitler in order to design one of the fascist character’s business cards.
It was hard not to warm to Annie, given the confession that she had misspelled the word 'Patisserie' on the beautiful Mendl’s pastry boxes which feature heavily in the film—she remained unaware of her error until Wes Anderson pointed this out after almost 3000 boxes had been printed! In the whimsical world of The Grand Budapest Hotel anything seems possible, and Atkins assured us that that no design detail is ever accidental, apart, that is, from that gnawing double ‘t’ in Pattisserie!
Annie Atkins is a Dublin-based graphic designer who specialises in graphics for filmmaking and movie poster design. She has also worked previously on the Oscar-nominated film The Boxtrolls, the Sky series Penny Dreadful, BBC and period drama The Tudors.
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