Want to create striking key art? It pays to plan ahead

The key art concept for 'Ladies in Black' and the final poster.

In a bid to see marketing thought about earlier in the production process, Carnival Studio has put together a best practice guide to creating key art. Creative director Demi Hopkins chats to Jackie Keast about the impetus behind it.

Often an audience’s first introduction to a film or TV show is via its poster. Equally, it can be a project’s most enduring image.

Key art may be regarded as a project’s public face. If it’s strong and eye-catching, it should pique interest and communicate to an audience what it is about.

However, Carnival Studio creative director Demi Hopkins has identified that often planning for key art and other marketing collateral starts not at the beginning of the pre-production process, but after a project has wrapped.

At that stage, he and his team might be handed a hard drive of images and asked to piece together the poster from unit photography. There may be little budget left over for a proper key art shoot, and even if it can be arranged, the actors may have changed their physical appearance or are not available.

From a gallery shoot with Rachael Taylor, Fay in ‘Ladies in Black’.

Other times, Hopkins might be delivered images from a gallery shoot for a poster. While they might be high quality images, they are not necessarily appropriate for key art. Gallery shoots often feature static poses to camera; key art shoots are typically more dynamic, concept-driven and the talent are less camera-aware or engaged.

According to Hopkins, the best marketing assets are created when all parties – producers, filmmakers, distributors, creative agencies and photographers – work together from the project’s initial stages.

If concepts are well-defined, then they will guide the capture of unit stills, a key art shoot, gallery shoot, and clean plate and atmospheric photography during production,
as well as other marketing collateral such as EPKs and social media assets.

“It’s such a shame to get through the epic task of making a film, with all the different, amazing creative people involved and then have the marketing let it down,” Hopkins tells IF.

In an attempt to start a conversation with the industry about planning for marketing, Carnival Studio has launched a “no-nonsense” guide to key art, put together in consultation with publicists, stills photographers and the like.

Carnival has also conducted a survey of producers to best understand their experiences.

The results show an overwhelming consensus that marketing plays an essential role in the success of a project, but that issues of time, budget and a lack of clarity around responsibility for marketing may interfere.

“Producers have the best intentions and everyone wants to have a great end product,” Hopkins says.

“But often they’re so focused on just making the show, that marketing is often bumped down the priority list.”

Some of the results from Carnival Studio’s producers survey.

One of the key impetuses for creating the guide was also due to Carnival Studio noticing key differences between how the film and TV sectors approach marketing in Australia.

In Hopkins’ experience, in TV, the network or platform will take charge of the marketing early on. There will be a dedicated marketing day within the production schedule, which is stipulated in talent contracts.

However, on films, often key art shoots are often done in between scenes, with actors pulled off set. They are shot individually, meaning they aren’t reacting to the other characters. Oftentimes, these shoots are seen as a hindrance to production.

Ultimately, Hopkins believes marketing has never been more important for local projects, given the crowded marketplace.

“Australian films and TV series are competing with international titles, especially the American market, that takes marketing really seriously and funds it hugely. It’s very difficult to rise above the noise for an Australian title, especially with a modest budget.

“Marketing has to be sharper and clearer than ever because… people have only got so much attention. That’s really what we are trying to do, is compete for attention of viewers.”

Below, IF has published some edited extracts from the guide. For a copy of ‘A Practical Guide To Great Key Art’ go here.


Plan ahead

Key art is the face of your project. If the concept is well-crafted, it will tie in with your story arc perfectly and give you the power to connect with your audience (and boost box-office sales). But it’s often put on the back-burner – where it stays until
production has wrapped.

Key art designers are left to scrape together material from existing set photography, film stills and behind-the-scenes imagery.

The solution is to put together a rock-solid marketing plan, ahead of production.
Ideally, you’ll have dedicated days during which all marketing content is captured. In this way, photographers aren’t competing with your shooting schedule. This is common for television and streaming services, but less so for film, and it’s an area we believe needs addressing.

Gain buy-in from all stakeholders

Great marketing relies heavily on communication between producers, filmmakers, distributors and their chosen creative agency.

On films, marketing is traditionally the responsibility of the distributor. It is important to be on the same page as the distributor for the target audience, positioning and key messages, as this will inform the brief for the key art and the rest of the campaign. Producers should work closely with the distributor to formulate a plan on marketing and publicity assets to capture during production.

TV networks/streaming services are typically organised and well-resourced. The network is responsible for marketing and works closely with production to ensure everything runs smoothly, e.g. make-up, hair, scheduling and actor availability. A
dedicated marketing day/s will generally be set aside to capture all key art concepts and network promos, social content and EPK interviews. If there are multiple creative agencies involved, each will have very specific needs, and the photographer will usually require multiple lighting setups. Often, the unit publicist communicates with all stakeholders to ensure every box is ticked.

At the end of the day, when all the relevant stakeholders are informed and involved, the creative direction is more likely to be embraced and a successful marketing campaign achieved. Note: some stakeholders prefer a condensed version of concept designs – particularly if they’re time-poor (and let’s face it, who isn’t?).

Hire a good creative agency

A good creative agency can provide clear and concise visual treatments that all stakeholders can share and digest at a glance.

Concepts won’t necessarily need to be presented in person, which saves everyone time.

Before starting production, an agency with experience in key art design will give the best bang for your buck and facilitate better buy-in on creative ideas from all stakeholders. From there, the unit publicist, line producer and key departments can work together to ensure sufficient time is scheduled for asset capture, budgeting is adequate and covers other creatives (hair and makeup), and the talent are all briefed on what is trying to be achieved.


1. Six weeks prior to production

• Provide script and brief to your creative agency, including audience, tone, identified themes, visual wishlist, casting info and contractual requirements

2. Four weeks prior to production

• Circulate positioning strategy and concepts, including sketches to your distribution team and filmmakers for feedback and approval

• Schedule time, location, photographer and art director for special shoot (to happen during production)

3. Two weeks prior to production

• Circulate photography briefs to production staff and

photographer for scheduling

4. During production

• Hold special shoot (including character portraits – if needed)

• Photographer to capture additional clean plate assets and on-set photography, including assets for social and publicity

5. End of production

• Work with unit publicist for talent approvals on unit, gallery and key art stills

• Selecting images for key art is very different to selecting images for publicity. Supply your creative agency with ALL photo assets (jpeg/raw) – approved and unapproved – via a hard drive, in one hit. They will use approved images as a priority but require ALL images in case alternative poses are called for (often a hand or body is replaced to create the best composition)

• Provide creative agency with updated and final brief post-production. Agency to develop first round layouts for client approval, generally over a four week period

• Select preferred creative concept direction(s) for further development. On locking preferred direction, the creative agency will then complete the design, adding typography design, retouching, corrections and colour grading and finally supplying finished art

• A key art project, from delivery of images to finished art, typically takes four to six weeks

This story originally appeared in IF Magazine #202. Subscribe to the magazine hereand take advantage of our digital subscription special that will get you 2 issues for $2 and access to 30 back issues.

Read our story about the industry push to see better integrated marketing campaigns here.