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Creative Voices

The Secret World of Annie Atkins, Graphic Designer for Films

By Summer Wilson

It’s a creative position that many of us haven’t thought about much, but just about every modern movie has at least one graphic designer working hard behind the scenes. Annie Atkins specializes in designing graphic props and set pieces for TV shows and feature films.

In this role, Annie might be tasked with creating any designed item that appears on screen—whether it’s as simple as a handwritten note or as complicated as a stained-glass shop sign or a fictitious country’s newspaper.

The majority of Annie’s work shows up in what she calls “the blurry background”—the camera rarely lingers long on her designs. But she believes that one of her primary jobs is to create authentic props for the actors to interact with, helping them enter the film’s world. Her work on The Grand Budapest Hotel was an exception: Director Wes Anderson relied heavily on Annie’s work to create the film’s distinctive look.

For a scene that may have multiple takes, Annie makes six identical copies of paper items. If actors will heavily use the prop, she’ll make 12. (When working on The Grand Budapest Hotel, for example, she often made 30 identical copies, due to Wes’s penchant for shooting many takes.) And many of her creations are made by hand.

See how she achieves an authentic look—watch this video and go inside Annie’s beautiful, secret world of graphic design for film.

Annie also designs movie posters and film credits, and she teaches graphic prop design workshops. She lives in Dublin, Ireland. Visit her website to learn more.