Across the purple waves of an ultrasound print out, two spectral figures set sail on a boat. In their wake, the surface rips, revealing a notebook page beneath—a symbol of the blank space that viewers are expected to fill in themselves. This is the movie poster for the upcoming Sino-US film Dear Mother, I Meant to Write About Death—a documentary by filmmaker Chen Siyi that casts a lens on her mother’s experience with breast cancer. The poster was designed by Changsha-born artist Luo Xiran, a recent graduate from the Maryland Institute of Art who, since 2017, has been in love with designing movie posters.
在今年十月即将到来的韩国釜山电影节上，中美合作纪录片《我们在黑夜的海上》(Dear Mother, I Meant to Write About Death）入围“广角亚洲短片竞赛单元”，该片由青年导演陈思毅执导，讲述她自己在得知医生母亲身患乳腺癌后回国探望的故事，横跨六年时间完成。在以乳腺B超作为背景的电影宣传海报上，蓝黑色影像化作汪洋，一艘乘坐两人的孤舟款款向前，船身划过的痕迹撕开一行行留白的笔记，等待着观众在影片中慢慢填写。
More than simply a credit sheet for a film’s directors, actors, and producers, movie posters are the “face” of a film, forming the audience’s first impression of the movie. With the evolution of cinema, movie posters have been a staple visual accompaniment to the art form. Its importance can’t be understated. Many directors and production houses even commission multiple artists to work on a single poster in order to select the one that best captures the tone and story of the film. “Movie poster are condensed stills that should capture the entire film,” says Luo. “The end result crystalizes artist’s understanding and interpretation of the film.”
Luo’s poster designs are unlike the posters of typical blockbuster productions. They’re a lot more restrained, relying on hand-drawn illustrations or even simple collages to create something memorable. The simplicity with which she approaches the medium feels natural—there’s a soothing elegance to her one-frame visual narratives.
Luo says her aesthetic is inspired by both renowned movie poster artist Akiko Stehrenberger, who approaches her illustrations with a designer’s eye. Directors with an affinity for telling stories around family, normal life, and femininity—such as Éric Rohmer, Naoko Ogigami and Ann Hsu—hold a place close to her heart, and their storytelling methods are also quite influential to her work. Aside from these artistic influences, she believes that her own feminine intuition and eye for detail plays critical parts in her creative process. “I’m a practical person, and I like creating around subjects that are feel like a part of ordinary life,” Luo says. “I’m the more interested in the relationship between people.”
这当中一部分原因是受到电影插画海报领域翘楚 Akiko Stehrenberger 的启发，她的设计思路影响了罗曦冉的创作；另一部分原因，则是她作为女性，对于生活的那一份细致入微的观察力，“我是一个比较实际的人，喜欢贴近日常的题材，我还是对人和人之间的关系比较感兴趣。”而在罗曦冉所列举的片单中，侯麦（Éric Rohmer）、荻上直子、许鞍华等围绕家庭、伦理、生活、女性主题创作的导演，皆是她的心头好。
Luo’s creative process centers around the mindset of less being more. When looking to capture the core of a film, she believes that the most minimal approach is best. For example, in an homage poster for director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Boys from Fengkuei (1983), line work resembling windswept tall grass form the outlines of the four protagonists. The frenetic scrawl also serves to capture the complexity of the featured characters: the sense of confusion, anxiety, and melancholy felt when they found themselves outside the comfort zone of their hometown. For her homage to director Tsai Ming-Liang’s Vive l’Amour (1994), shades of pink cover nearly the entirety of the poster and the three main characters. They appear almost smothered by the color, a visualization of the intoxication and encompassing feeling of love. While these artworks capture the overall vibe of the film, Luo also leaves plenty to the viewer’s imagination. “I often consider how to convey the core message while allowing room for the audience to think and interpret it for themselves,” she explains. “I aim for simplicity and concision, but I also want to leave an impression through artful ambiguity.”
在罗曦冉的创作思路里，减法往往比加法更能令人印象深刻。很多时候，她更希望通过极致简单的手段，将影片的核心思想精准把握。例如在她私下为了练手，重新制作的 1983 年侯孝贤执导影片《风柜来的人》的海报中，缭乱如野草般的线条，勾勒着几位少年的轮廓，将几位小镇青年前往城市时的迷茫、焦灼、不甘、悲伤等复杂心态埋藏在数屡叶草之下；再如同为练手的《爱情万岁》海报设计中，醉人的粉色将三人包裹，在交代三人之间可能发生的关系同时，留给观众“爱能包容一切”的直观感受。这种即精准又有所保留的创作方式，在保证与影片内容契合的同时，留给观众想象的空间，“我在创作中，会考虑如何在确保穿搭核心信息的同时，留给观众更多思考与理解，如何言简意赅、但又不缺乏趣味，这种暧昧不明的感觉，是我想要的效果。”
However, some art films or documentaries pose a challenge. The straightforward narrative can make it difficult to distill the full story into a singular frame. When faced with this, Luo believes that communication is key to achieving the best work. Whether it be repeat discussions with the directors or producers, she believes in dedicating enough time to understanding the film’s message. She also enjoys straying from her hand-drawn approach and even taking her work into the realm of the surreal through collages or playful typography.
Of all the posters that Luo has created, her design for the Chinese documentary All the Golden Hits of 21st Century (2022) is perhaps the most unique. The poster aesthetic is a sharp pivot from her previous work, employing a number of portrait cut-outs in a collage format. The film, directed by Lai Dongbai, tells the story of how a former county internet singer has managed to keep up with the times through his discovery with the Kuaishou app. In order to capture the kitsch flavor of rural China and the hodgepodge sights of the Chinese countryside, Luo assembled the film title by cobbling together Chinese characters from photos of store signage. “I’m very interested in type design and I enjoy trying something new in each poster to find the right type,” she says. “For me, the type design part is just as important as the illustration.”
Under her delicate touch, Luo’s posters capture each film’s essence and emotion in a succinct way. Much like the types of films she creates posters for, she hopes that her work can help people appreciate the minutia of life in a new light.
Although poster commissions alone cannot sustain Luo’s livelihood, she has no plans of stopping. She believes that with time, she’ll get to where she needs to be. “Movie posters require more design-oriented thinking, and it’s not personal creation—it needs to achieve more than give myself creative satisfaction,” she says. “I hope my poster art can be seen and understood by people of all ages.”