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Brian Miller’s ‘Wings over Washington’

By Charles Purdy

Illustrator Brian Miller describes this assignment as a “dream project”—a trio of posters for Wings over Washington, an immersive cinematic experience that takes viewers on an aerial tour of the state of Washington.

Miller doesn’t know what led the Wings over Washington team to him—whether it was his Behance profile (which he says earns him a lot of visibility), one of his other social media profiles, or a specific illustration he’d done in the past. But he knew he was ready. “You never know when or if [a dream project] is going to land,” he says. “That’s the part you can’t control. What you can control, however, is cultivating your skills and work ethic, so if it lands, you’ll be well equipped to tackle it with all your might.”

The project was to create three unique posters advertising Wings Over Washington, which allows viewers to “fly” over Washington locations such as Mount Rainier and the San Juan Islands. The posters themselves would be nearly seven feet tall and displayed on the front of the theater structure.

Miller’s final posters (click to enlarge).

The film, of course, made great reference material for Miller to work with: “One of the challenges with creating posters based off the film was the sheer volume of beautiful locations to choose from,” he says.

After watching it several times and discussing ideas with the Wings over Washington team, he began sketching.

Miller sketches digitally, using Procreate on an Apple iPad Pro. He says he prefers to sketch with minimal tools—mimicking his former process of creating simple paper thumbnails. “I prefer to nail down the overall composition first, before allowing myself to work on details. It’s easy to get distracted if I give myself a lot of tools and features at the sketching stage.”

Miller started with these sketches. “I wanted each piece to look as if you’re flying through it,” he says. “Sometimes at ground level, sometimes higher—just like in the film. I also thought it would be great to have something flying in each of the pieces, whether it was an orca or a mountain biker or a plane—anything to further reinforce the idea that this is a ‘flying ride.’”

After he was satisfied with his sketches, Miller moved to Adobe Photoshop CC—where he always finishes his illustrations in black and white before adding color. “I'm very linear in my approach,” he says. “When I’m working on a piece, I want to nail down the shapes—down to the shape of a leaf, the shape of a rock—and make sure that I’ve created shapes that are perfect. I can’t think about color at the same time; I like seeing everything in black and white first.”

Creating his illustrations in black and white before adding color allows Miller to make sure he’s happy with his values and his use of light and dark. “I wouldn’t mind working just in black and white more,” he says. (Click to enlarge.)

Miller adds color to his work in a painstaking, deliberate way—replacing areas of color, shape by shape, using many very well-organized layers, rather than painting color over the black and white. “That’s one of the benefits of using Photoshop,” he says. “It actually saves me time, I think, allowing me to easily make changes should a client want them.”

Miller used color, shadows, and light to create hidden moments in the pieces. “The posters will be seven feet tall,” he says. “When you’re looking at one of them closely, you want to see more than just the whale or the other central figures—you want to look through and appreciate the foliage or the rocks.”

Learn more about this project on Miller’s Behance page.