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Thursday Theory: Using Movies as Design Inspiration

Thursday Theory: Using Movies as Design Inspiration:

As a movie lover I often find that I can draw inspiration from my favorite movies. However, this seems to be an area overlooked by graphic artists.

Today I’m going to take a brief look at some areas of the movies that inspire me. Next time you’re catching a flick try and pay attention to some of these cinematic aspects. I’m sure you can find a way to translate some of your favorite cinematic works to your digital works. Remember, it can be hugely beneficial to draw inspiration from several mediums! If you’re only ever looking at online blogs your work won’t be as diverse as it could be.


When applied to the cinema, mise-en-scène refers to everything that appears before the camera and its arrangement—composition, sets, props, actors, costumes, and lighting. (Source: Wikipedia). In short, mise-en-scène are the overall visuals of a shot.

The Batman movie series have one of the most iconic, recognizable mise-en-scènes ever. Even a glimpse at the now famous logo or a silhouette of the batman create all kinds of visual connections for the viewer. In your graphic design work this is what you should be aiming for. To create an instantly identifiable work you should try and keep things simple and unique!


Lighting is often used in movies to draw the users eye towards a subject or event. The same can be said for graphic design, where lighting, as well as lighting effects are used to draw attention.

The Harry Potter movie series uses some great lighting effects. In the example above Dumbledore is summoning a fiery phoenix. The explosion of light and fire is truly breathtaking, and the viewer’s eye is drawn to the center of the shot instantly as this holds the most light and color. In your graphic design works you should try and use these focuses of light and color to engage your viewer.


Framing is an important device used in cinematography. How you frame your subject can add a lot to the shot, as well as giving visual clues about your subject. If a subject is loosely framed then they appear to be overwhelmed by their surroundings, perhaps made to look smaller or less significant. If a subject is tightly framed they are given more visual precedence, and perhaps even made to feel claustrophobic.

The shot above from Iron Man is a classic hero shot. The subject is tightly framed, and at a low angle to appear more powerful/important. The surrounding background doesn’t contain a lot of detail, so the main focus is on the hero, who is also perfectly in focus.

Special Effects:

With advancements in CGI, movies are increasingly using special effects to wow their audiences. By portraying the physically impossible the visuals can be infinitely more interesting than some more standard shots.

Inception is really well known for its stunning visuals and use of CGI. The shot above is what drew many people to go and see the film. It’s against all laws of physics, and for this reason is so intriguing. You should try to mirror this in your digital design work, by pushing the limits of what’s possible.


Don’t forget that movies often contain some really creative typography, particularly in their title sequences.

Juno was well regarded for it’s soundtrack, yet it also uses some great retro typography. You can really get inspired by some of you favorite typographical examples in movies, and translate these to your digital work.

Have Your Say!

This whole point of these Thursday Theory posts is to encourage discussion and let you have your say on pressing design issues.

Please leave a comment below and join the discussion:

About the Author:

Tom is the founder of PSDFAN. He loves writing tutorials, learning more about design and interacting with the community. On a more interesting note he can also play guitar hero drunk with his teeth.

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1 Comment:

  1. I really liked the idea behind this whole post, and I think that there is really a lot more to explore. I haven’t taken an in-depth film class since high school but from what I remember (when I wasn’t falling asleep during citizen cane or that movie where Tom Hanks is dating a fish) is that mise-en-scene is a really complicated process, and also gives the viewer subtle or even subconscious hints into the mood, tone, or message being conveyed in the shot. I think as people begin to push what you can do with the creativity of their design there’s a number of things that would be really cool to explore, like an up-close and a long view or a fish eye view of the same design element. Depth and lighting can guide what you’re looking at, and I think it is something else that you can look at in movies and get inspired about the things your designing. Other movies to consider for various reasons: Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Matrix, Pulp Fiction, I def agree with inception, and maybe older movies where traveling is an element like Silver Streak (one of my favorite old school comedies)

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