In-progress movie poster design for the movie "Oblivion," by Tomasz Opasinski

How to Design a Movie Poster—Featuring Tomasz Opasinski

By Charles Purdy

Tomasz Opasinski has worked on hundreds of posters for major-release films, video games, and TV shows in his 14-year career. And in his free time, he creates more movie posters—for fun (and as a creative outlet after the often strict design requirements of movie studios). We invited Tomasz to give us a glimpse into his work, talk about his creative process, and share some of his Adobe Photoshop CC tricks.

As artistic as they are, movie posters are a selling tool—so they have to communicate clearly. Tomasz describes one function of a movie poster as posing questions that the movie will answer. Many movie posters have common formats and design schemes—in his years of creating and teaching, Tomasz has developed Poster Design Systems, which he shares with new designers on his team and shared with us in this a recent live Creatives at Work webinar event (you can watch the full recording near the bottom of this page). He explained that movie posters fall into a few recognizable categories: metaphor-based designs, word-based designs, and curve-based designs—and, of course, “Do Whatever You Feel Like” designs. 

First slide: Metaphor-based designs are the most artistic (and, in modern movie posters, the rarest)—they involve an abstract image that doesn’t appear in the film but communicates its themes. Second slide: Word-based designs are literal interpretations of key elements in the film. Third and fourth slides: Curve-based designs are what Tomasz calls the “easiest way to start.” He has about 150 fundamental designs that show how actors, type, and other elements might be positioned in a poster, to communicate ideas such as romance or fear.



Movie posters are often created months, or even more than a year, before shooting even begins. So poster designers frequently must work without production stills or even a script to guide them. Nonetheless, they also must work very quickly to produce comps.

Tomasz spends most of his creative time in Adobe Photoshop, so over the years he has developed some shortcuts that help him work fast when he needs to light a scene, add details, or create a 3D look.

Before you dive in to the full recorded session, check out these quick, under-three-minute snippets that show off some of Tomasz’s Photoshop techniques:

Tomasz uses stock images on layers to add dimension and effects to his creations—he calls this one of his “favorite tricks.” Here, he uses a stock photo of a solar flare to create a light source and re-light the scene in the Oblivion poster. Techniques like this allow him to easily make revisions—a movie poster has lots of stakeholders and approval rounds, and that means lots of revising. 

Using stock images is one way to achieve effects like these, but Tomasz also recommends photographing your own library of images and textures. In this snippet, Tomasz multiplies an image of a hedge, masks the greenery, and uses a brush to unmask leafy details—or “paint” intricate vines—on the Oblivion bridge. (Check out his massive library of brushes!)

Tomasz builds basic 3D models in Maxon Cinema but creates the bulk of his 3D effects in Photoshop—Photoshop is where, he says, he takes things to “the next level.” In this snippet, he demonstrates some ways to achieve 3D effects in a Photoshop workflow. 


In our wide-ranging hour-long conversation, Tomasz discussed the life of a movie-poster artist, discussed the creation of the poster for the Tom Cruise film Oblivion, showed off many of his Photoshop techniques, and even addressed how his work has been influenced by the Polish Poster School (Tomasz is Polish, though he is now based in Los Angeles).

Find more of Tomasz’s work on his personal portfolio site and his Behance page.

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August 18, 2015

Images: courtesy of Tomasz Opasinski and Crew Creative Advertising, Trailer Park Print. Images, text, and recordings are intended for educational purposes only.

Layout: Nicolle Rodriguez