How That The Batman Poster Was Made

Bill Sienkiewicz enjoyed the tremendous creative freedom working on his most recent assignment, a spectacular triptych poster for The Batman that will be given away at select IMAX screenings of the film on opening weekend. Working on big-budget comic-book movies usually involves tons of gatekeepers and countless restrictions due to secrecy and general studio paranoia, but the iconic illustrator says he enjoyed an unusual level of involvement with Warner Bros. during the creative process.

“The whole team at Warners that I dealt with was really, really supportive. And especially Matt [Reeves], the director. They came to me and said, ‘You’re the guy we want. We’re really excited. What can we do to make this work for you?”’ Sienkiewicz told IGN during an interview conducted over Zoom.

To back up his point, during our talk the artist showed off an oversized color proof of the final poster that the studio had sent over so he could double-check color accuracy and other details.

Bill Sienkiewicz’s triptych poster for The Batman

“That just speaks to the mutual respect we had for each other,” he says. Sienkiewicz was given unusual access for an artist working on a promotional poster. Typically, the artist may only get to see certain stills from the movie. But for The Batman, “I had access to everything from the whole shoot. It was like the kid in the candy store thing for me,” he says.

Of course, given the massive amount of secrecy surrounding this project, even if he had access to all the secrets of the film, Sienkiewicz did have some limits placed on his creativity. “Well, there was one character that I gravitated toward early on,” he recalls, “and in my first round of sketches they said, ‘Can’t show it. Can’t even really discuss it or anything.’ And all I can say is like, wow, there are Easter eggs and things that they drop these subtle little things that people kind of go nuts for. So they said no to that.”

It takes a certain type of artistic skill to draw an effective, compelling poster in order to promote a movie. Luckily, Sienkiewicz has quite a bit of experience in this type of work. The legendary illustrator has created posters for films such as The Green Mile and Unforgiven, an assignment that led to Clint Eastwood calling him “That Polish guy,” which is the artist’s actual Instagram handle. A few years ago, he even created a special movie poster for the New Mutants film adaptation which leaned heavily on his and Chris Claremont’s famous run on the comic. Creating movie posters is something Sienkiewicz had wanted to do going back to his art school days.

Sienkiewicz's The New Mutants movie poster

Sienkiewicz’s The New Mutants movie poster

“I always wanted to do movie posters. I loved comics. I was going to do comic books, but I’d fallen in love with movie poster art so that was kind of one of my goals,” he says. “I’ve been lucky to be able to do these kinds of posters for comic-related material and other projects. I just did a Shaft video cover for Criterion, and it’s also kind of a movie poster and I really had a blast with that, too.”

As with most Sienkiewicz creations, his Batman poster is a heavily stylized take on Matt Reeves’ new vision of Gotham City and its disturbed inhabitants. Working in mixed media as he typically does, Sienkiewicz built up what he describes as “a stack of original art” while painstakingly creating what eventually became the final image. “Ultimately, in every piece that I do, I want to have an original final [painting],” he notes. “Because of deadlines… and because there are often likeness clauses or some stuff involved, I may have to finish a piece digitally. But at some point, there’s going to be a final painting.”

We see most of the main players in the movie in the poster, from the Ridder to Catwoman and the Penguin, James Gordon and Alfred. Meanwhile, Batman and his cape serve as a looming presence. Anyone who follows Sienkiewicz on Twitter or Facebook knows he has an uncanny ability to do likenesses, and it’s a talent he began sharpening back in grammar school when he would draw portraits of Frank Sinatra and other members of the Rat Pack for his father and uncles. “I’ve always loved doing portraits,” he says. “One of the things in terms of doing likenesses is that there is a photographic element to it. You have to kind of nail it. I’m not doing Mort Drucker Mad Magazine caricatures.”

The Batman: Every Live-Action Version of Catwoman, Riddler, Penguin, and More

Sienkiewicz says one character in particular was fun to bring to life on the canvas. “The toughest people to do are the people who are kind of almost generic and nondescript, but part of the unique qualities of a character actor is their distinct look,” Sienkiewicz says. “The fact that Colin Farrell is the Penguin — seeing all the photos and the makeup on him — was incredible. You would think that guy absolutely exists as a real person, and that hasn’t always been the case. So, he was fun to do, and another great challenge.”

“The biggest challenge I think for me with a horizontal piece like this is you don’t want things too even distributed, because it will end up tending to lose the dynamism,” he says. “Sometimes you can cluster a lot of things in one area and give room to breathe where there’s like a lot of negative space over to the other side. Because there was going to be three pieces, I had to sort of juggle the sizes of characters and of elements and arrange them in a way so that, [kind of] like with blinders, when I would work on the center section, I had to put everything aside and move things around to see how that held up. And step back to make sure that it worked in context with all three pieces.

“Some characters that were more well-lit could move forward,” he continues. “So there’s a juggling aspect, but you’re also dealing with actors and they have [contract] clauses in terms of their image sizes have to be within certain parameters of each other, which I totally understand. Sometimes from a design point of view, as a visual, if you have two things that are of the same size, they’ll fight for dominance.”

The Batman is in theaters now.

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