An oldie but goldie. After my Predator 2 cover I was inspired to delve deeper into the 80s. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Commando!!!
For once, the official cover used the original poster artwork, but it still left a bad taste in my mouth.
The lazy back was one thing, but the horrible choice of colour for the title treatment, and placing it on top of the cover was just poor design. They screwed up the colours of the poster as well, much too contrasty.
To put my money where my mouth is, I made a design to suit my tastes better.
First, the official cover:
My custom cover:
Available by PM request as always.
Okay, last night I was too knackered to do a complete writeup (and I have a noisy keyboard that wakes the neighbours, not to mention the people sleeping in the same room. I'm a noisy typist who learned to type on a pre-electric typewriter). Here goes.
Yes, I wasn't satisfied with the original cover. I could excuse the lazy, template, drag 'n drop back, but not the mistakes on the front. The colour red for the Title Treatment isn't a good choice for something as massive and blocky. The placement on top of the cover boxes in Arnold's head, and leaves awkward negative space between the title and his shoulders. Putting a Title Treatment on top frequently imbalances the cover, very much so in this case. (Anyone notice how the John Alvin posters for Star Wars just don't work when the title is placed above the heads? Yet, the official covers and many customs persist in doing so. It's obvious from the artwok that Alvin left room for them at the bottom, but people just don't see it.)
Secondly, either deliberately or due to a lack of better sources, the colours on the Arnold photo were compressed too much, eliminating much detail and just being ugly. The whole cover was just dark and depressing.
But it's easy to criticise. I'm sure the original designer was under pressure to churn out 8 or 10 covers a day on the conveyor belt. I took about 8 hours doing mine in comparison. We must not forget that people doing this commercially don't necessarily do so under optimal conditions. Still, a critic is someone who crows when someone else is laying the actual egg, so it was time to put up or shut up.
I always start with the front poster. The colour and layout of that always informs the choices for the spine and back. I wanted the original image of Arnold as untouched as possible, like I remember it from the actual theatrical poster. A search online yielded good results, but as alwyas there was no single image that answered all my prayers.
I wound up with a good, smallish poster where the image itself was uncropped, one incredibly good wallpaper that cut off Arnold at his shoulders, and one smaller image with beautiful colours from the original photo. I resized, rotated and merged the uncropped image to match the wallpaper, and married the two to give me a complete image. I always blow the smaller images up to match the big ones, not the other way around. This way I retain all the detail in the big image in my final composite. Most times I can trick the smaller image into matching the bigger one by some careful sharpening and adding a unit or two of uniform noise, leaving the impression of detail that isn't actually there. If you look closely at my final cover, there is a slight loss of detail below Arnold's shoulders, where the big wallpaper leaves off and the smaller image continues. I blend the edges, of course, to not make a visible split between the images. I always do this compositing of images at about twice the size of the intended use, so that everything evens out when I shrink it down to fit.
Then there were the colours. The big images were still too contrasty for my taste, and the smaller one I found had much better skin colour and more information in the shadows. Applying colours from one image onto another is actually pretty easy in Photoshop. I resized the small image to match the big composite I'd made and put that on top. (You just have to be careful and match them exactly, which is sometimes a chore between resizing and rotating again and again.) Using the blending options in Photoshop, I set the top layer to "color", et voila! You keep the details of the underlying image, but the colour information from the other one is superimposed over it. I chose not to desaturate the original colours completely, but left the final image a blend of the two. This gave the final image a bit more punch.
THE FRONT COVER:
Finally I had a image for the front I was satisfied with. It's a handcrafted composite taking the best elements of several sources to make a new, better image. I experimented with different sizes of the photo on the front. In the end I settled on a medium one, where you still see his muscular forearm clearly (which the official cover neglected to do) as well as having some of the picture continue below the title. I also wanted Arnolds RPG carrying bag to be included, which would shift the image too far to the right if I didn't make it smaller. After resizing I usually apply a modicum of sharpening to the image. This is only advisable if you have a good image to work from. Sharpening brings out the dreaded JPEG compression blocks if you're not careful.
Omitting the tagline was a major mistake of the official cover. I don't generally include them on my covers, but this has a high nostalgia factor for me so I had to put it in.
Originally I had intended to recreate the title treatment from scratch, but one of the poster scans I found online was perfect. I just had to clone out a few fold lines and I was set. Using the Magic Wand selector, I isolated the title from the poster and dragged it into my cover. The colours were left as they were originally. This is where I got the brown/green colour scheme. The brown shade was used for all the text on the back, as well as the strokes and lines around the photos. The reuse of colours on all sides of a cover gives it cohesion.
The use of the camouflage in the background isn't to everyone's taste, I know. I like to use textures because they give the cover some life, and they can be used as wraparound images to tie the front, spine and back together. Just pasting in the original poster isn't very satisfying to me artistically either, so the textures are my way of freshening up the image without altering it beyond recognition. This one was a traditional jungle pattern I found on Google. I blended it at just 40% opacity to make it a little subtle, and applied a gradient mask to taper it off towards the bottom. The tapering shadow gives the image a sense of dimensionality, like it recedes into the darkness.
Finally, I tweaked the colour balance of the photo from blue to slightly green, to better blend with the camouflage and the brown/green title.
The centered Blu-Ray logo along the bottom of the front is also a Nissen staple, BTW.
Spines are fun! If the original title treatment fits, I'll use it. Sometimes I have to shift a few letters around to make it work in a single line, but this one just slotted in there. My main concern with spines is legibility from a distance, and I try to make the title as big as possible without bleeding off the spine. I leave just a little breathing room on the sides for comfort. The placement of the title is just north of center because it looks more balanced that way. I used the Fox template for the studio logo and placement of the BD logo.
A back makes or breaks a cover. They are a ***** to do and take twice as long as the front.
Having done this a few times, I have found it is best to do all the writing first. Put in the synopsis, the extras, the credit block, the specs, the logos, the legals, all of that first, then see how much space you have left over for images. (My first covers were always a struggle because I did the images first, then had to shoehorn the writing into cramped places and it always showed. See my Shadow and Rocketeer V1 for example.)
I'll be the first to admit this isn't one of my best layouts for the back. The image of Arnie and the log is too big and shifts the balance of the cover. I left it like that to include the bicep but I think that was probably a mistake. This is what happens when you fall in love with an image and it blinds you to compromise the design to fit it in. It also made me include a critic's quote, because it left the top of the back looking too airy. I never include stuff like that! What was I thinking? Why I didn't just swap it I don't know. I was just too eager to finish and upload last night, I guess. Maybe I'm just getting sloppy? The first step in correcting a mistake is to recognize it, so I may go in and do some revisions on the back. There's always the temptation to go back and Lucas* your older covers, but I find it more productive to press on and make new ones instead. (* I just made that verb up, I think. Everyone gets it, right?)
The slanted image borders with their horizontal lines are meant to mirror the opening credits of the film. I have used the parallelogram shape for several other covers in the past, (T2 and Predator 2 spring to mind) and wanted to avoid repeating myself, but it just made sense with this one. The extended lines and overlapping images are just a design flourish to break up the boxes a bit. Having the log picture with straight edges breaks it up a bit and gives it some variety as well.
When choosing images I try to go for variety, including as many different scenes and characters as I can. Avoiding major spoilers is a concern. SPOILER ALERT (Highlight to read): I've seen several official Commando covers with images of Matrix and daughter post-rescue on the back. Like using Lady Liberty on the front of Planet of the Apes!
The row with the four headshots at the bottom reminds me of the 70s disaster-movie posters where all the major players were lined up like that. I'm not sure that really works here. I think I put in too many images on this cover. Hindsight is 100% accurate, ha ha.
Once a film has been released on Blu, screencaps pop up almost immediately online, and you get more variety than the tired, promotional stills that have been reused again and again. DVD screencaps can work, but they often look a bit rough. The one of Matrix preparing to fire his quad RPG is from the DVD, and it just barely holds up.
When using screencaps I always enhance the brightness/contrast to make them "pop" more for the cover. It doesn't reflect the actual photography, but plain, unprocessed screencaps often turn out murky on a cover. This way I also maintain at least some consistency across photos on the back. I also choose photos that match my chosen colour scheme as much as possible. The classic 80s look of films is more forgiving in that sense than modern teal/orange photography.
For the credit block I keep coming back to the Steel Tongs font. It is a bit bolder and more legible than Universal Accrediation or Top Billing. It lacks some of the characters the other fonts have, but I still prefer it to them.
I have lazily settled into using a template I have made for the legal text at the bottom, just retyping the details that pertain to copyright year etc. After having done more than 60 covers the boring bits become VERY boring, so the ready-made legals are a good way of getting me 90% there. I can see I have also been lazy with the centering of the info in the specs-boxes. Shame on me.
Well, I hope you all have got a good insight into the thought-processes behind this cover, and maybe a better idea of what goes into making them in general. Like I said, roughly eight hours went into this, so when some of you request custom covers, just understand that these people don't churn them out by the dozens. I think Bunny Dojo said it best on his site, making custom covers is a celebration of design, and an expression of a love for the movies (or something to that effect). I appreciate all your kind words of encouragement and constructive feedback, and that is one of the main attractions for posting covers here. Many thanks to you all.