If you're a James McAvoy fan (which, duh, of course you are), you have undoubtedly seen her amazing artwork. From "X-Men", to "Filth" and now for "Victor Frankenstein", Ciara McAvoy is an award-winning artist who specializes in painting hand drawn film posters with a nostalgic, authentic, realistic and old-timey feel to them. She started off wowing people around the world, including industry professionals, with her Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back posters, but it wasn't until she painted the poster for the critically-acclaimed James McAvoy film Filth that her work was used for promotional purposes.
Personally, it's a breath of fresh air to see the same artistry that was used in movie posters in the golden age of cinema being used today and no one can bring back that artistry back quite like Ciara McAvoy can. The likeness that she can portray in the actors that she draws are uncanny. The emotions that she portrays in every one of her pieces jump right off of your computer screen.
We Victor Frankenstein fans are insanely lucky to have her drawing an alternative poster for the film. Her artwork definitely gives the impression that although Victor Frankenstein is being released now, the film might harken back to an older time of movie-making; one that focuses more on characters than CGI.
I was fortunate enough to get an interview with this supremely talented woman and she was gracious enough to answer a few burning questions that I had as soon as I saw some of her artwork for "Victor Frankenstein". Check it out and let me know how much you love her work in the comments!
First and foremost, before working on this project, were you a huge fan of Frankenstein?
I’ve read the book of course, and was enthusiastic about creating a new poster. Victor Frankenstein steers away from Mary Shelly’s novel in that it's really about the relationship between Victor and Igor, so I decided to mesmerize viewers with a more emotion-evoking painting. My Frankenstein painting doesn’t align with the general dogma of what "works" in movie promotions; it stirs something from the viewer's memory or imagination, and thereby generates a response at a much deeper level.
How and when did you get involved with painting the alternative poster for the film?
It's important to keep an eye out for new movies in development when you are in the poster business.
If you create some art that is of interest to the director, the marketing people are typically open to considering it. Even if not used for the official poster, there are lots of online uses and potential uses for teaser art.
As with any industry, it’s a small community, so shoehorning traditional illustration in there (since photographic and digital art has taken over) is a matter of finding advocates and believers inside the studios. So, as soon as I heard Paul McGuigan was directing Victor Frankenstein with Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy, I rushed straight to the studio to pick up my brushes so that I could send him something.
This was the perfect opportunity for me to create a new image as an homage to the longstanding history of gorgeous, traditionally illustrated posters that help make those classic Frankenstein movies so memorable.
You’ve mentioned that you went on set and looked at pictures of the film so it would help guide you with your painting. How was the feeling when you went on set? Was it intense? Fun? Professional?
Filming took place in a large and elaborately designed film studio. James only had 4 people on set; a friend, his two agents, and me. So, yes it was an exciting honor! The cast and crew were unfailingly friendly, hard working, extremely professional, and very concerned about keeping everything secret. :) The director himself was absolutely lovely and down to earth. Since the film was hush-hush, they made it known to me, “If you talk about the film, we’ll have to send the monster after you.” :) Oooh, scary thought, given this was the most realistic creature I had ever seen.
There was always room for fun, which made the experience even more memorable for me. As a joke, guess who (hint: initials are JM) changed the position of the creature’s hand for a particular scene—with the middle finger pointed to the sky in all its glory. I think JM was making a sly "Filth" reference there. It’ll be interesting to see if the monster was actually filmed with his finger in that position! :)
I think they used stage 4 (a helicopter testing chamber) in Longcross studios because of its shape and ideal height for the scene inside the lab. Colossally impressive doesn’t begin to describe it.
Was there a particular moment during your on set experience that was particularly memorable to you?
Memorable, yes, and wet! They were in the middle of a night shoot when we arrived, but not just any night shoot; it was my good fortune not only to witness but also experience one of the most dramatic scenes in the film—the creation of Frankenstein's monster—complete with all the eerie rain, thunder, and lightning effects. I didn’t know why they instructed us to wear warm clothing and waterproof jackets to the set, but it became abundantly clear as we sat just a few feet away from the set! Did I mention rain? Thank goodness for my waterproof jacket!
Besides that phenomenal experience and watching 2 other memorable scenes, I had a short meeting with Daniel Radcliffe, Andrew Scott, and Jessica Brown Findlay in the smoking section. I don’t smoke, but I loved shooting the breeze with them, allowing the haze of smoke fill the room as I created their characters in my mind’s eye.
Paul McGuigan had set up his impressive workstation—monitors and all—in a rain-proof tent inside the reconstructed lab. Between takes he invited me to have a look at what he was shooting (something he does not often do, I was told). It was magical.
Is there anything from watching them shoot that inspired what you would end up painting or did you strictly focus on the images that James showed to you?
Seeing Paul McGuigan in action, the personal experience I had, seeing the characters up close and personal—all those elements combined made me take a 180-degree turn and paint something totally different (i.e., a more apocalyptic view of the lab, Victor as mad scientist, Igor, Lorelei, and of course the impressively terrifying creature himself.
James McAvoy also showed me photo albums of pre-production costume tests, which was also a tremendous help. He knew I had nothing to work with and wanted to help in any way that he could. Coming from a costume design background, my eyes were glued to those photos with awe. I wouldn't be surprised if they win best costume design awards—or earn nominations at the very least. Having seen those images, I returned to my studios eager to bring life to the design complexity and the historical references of those regency style costumes.
What was the part of the poster that you painted first?
I always start with the main character's expression (i.e., eyes, nose, and lips) until I reach photorealistic perfection. It's a ritual for me and helps me to kick start my own creativity and build confidence.
When the character comes alive and whispers, "pull me out," then I know I’ve opened the floodgates to the rest of the painting. It all just comes together after that.
Did you have a favorite character to paint?
Not really. :) The industry is quite small and I ended up painting the same famous actors a few times, which some have claimed to be favoritism. So, I’m human. Why not embrace it?
Seriously, though, on some level, I like working with some actors more than others, especially those with “many faces.” It’s a challenge and a pleasure for me to portray an actor’s versatility in my portraits.
Actors don’t phase me, because they’re artists like me. I just do my job and they do theirs. But artistically speaking, working on a perfect facial bone structure is the biggest bonus for me. :)
You’ve posted a few pictures on your Twitter account of the beginning of painting James’ Victor and how it ended. What was the process and how long did the entire process of painting the poster take?
My process is like a 3D puzzle. However, instead of starting at the upper left corner and working my way around, I jump immediately to the good stuff in the middle.
After adding the first coat, I apply layer upon layer. Then hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of tiny brush strokes later, I thicken colors and incorporate my own secret techniques (the kind of techniques you don’t learn in school, the kind of techniques you pick up and invent along the way). You have to know when to stop with the fine detail, though. Too much can be overkill and you ruin the integrity of the work. That’s when the "Frankenstein" magic happens and brings my characters to life. (But I don't need lightning and thunder, just a day light lamp). :)
How long does it take? Weeks, months, I don’t really keep track of time unless I’m on a deadline. A painting is never finished as long as I have it stored in my art studios. When I have the time, I go back and improve a piece of art that I wanted to do differently or add more details. That’s the nature of the beast within me. Many of the award-winning pieces I’ve created have changed and improved. :)
You’ve painted James McAvoy, beautifully, a few times before this poster. Do you find that experience different every single time because of the fact that he embodies his characters so brilliantly? Or is the experience similar every time because of his likeness?
James is one of those rare, unique actors I was talking about two questions above. He’s one of those true artists who can make any scene he’s in instantly memorable. I enjoyed painting him in a variety of characters (e.g., the drug-addicted, morally corrupt and misogynistic detective, sergeant Robertson he portrays in Filth; or the clean, powerful Professor X). His fantastic facial expressions are based on his deep reverence for the characters he plays. For me it’s a delight to immortalize that kind of emotion in paint.
On that note, you’ve painted James McAvoy three times now. What has been your personal favorite painting that you’ve done of him so far and why?
I would say X-Men. Naturally, I’ve improved it since the awards last year. It’s even more impressive now. :)
Based off of the experience on set, looking through the images of the production and painting the poster, what are you looking forward to most from the film?
I'm looking forward so seeing high-definition images. I have a good visual memory, but what I did on Frankenstein would have been a hundred times more accurate if I had photos from the studios.
You can check out more of Ciara McAvoy's amazing step by step process of painting the Victor Frankenstein poster below:
You can check out more of Ciara McAvoy's spectacular artwork on her website or follow her on Twitter. As always, you can follow me on Twitter, Tumblr or subscribe to my Victor Frankenstein podcast, "It's Alive".