Los Angeles InDesign User Group

Using InDesign and Illustrator to Create Movie Props

Thursday, May 21, 2015

HPR Graphics, Los Angeles, California

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By Alvin Takamori


I often think of the Los Angeles InDesign User Group meeting locations as a bit of a treasure hunt. Even if you find the larger facility on a Google Map, it can still be a challenge to find the specific room. That was the case at the most recent meeting, on May 21 at Hand Prop Room (HPR) Graphics. HPR has a fairly large facility, so it’s easy to spot from the road. However, most of it is dedicated to 3-dimensional prop fabrication and storage. The graphics department is crammed into a small space and their entry is a backdoor.


Those who succeeded in their search were rewarded with an inside look at a unique niche of graphic design: graphics for Hollywood props. Our guides into this world were Anieshka Jane, who is the manager of the HPR Graphics Department and two of their graphic designers, Katie Wood and Dallas Kennedy. Yep, that's her name.


With the exception of reality shows and documentaries, the majority of movies and television shows create imaginary environments for their characters to inhabit. These environments are filled with objects and many of them need graphics. As Anieshka described some of these, it was striking how many things that you’d never think of have fake graphics. The driver’s licenses and passports of characters, the magazines or newspapers that they read, the tickets to events they attend, the legal papers in a courtroom drama, or the medical files in a hospital scene, not to mention the numerous packages, bottles, or cans of products a character consumes or uses. These things all require graphics that have the look and feel of real products in the brief moments that they appear on screen.


If you’re wondering about copyrights for all this fakery, that is the responsibility of the client. In this industry that is usually a production company. HPR doesn’t concern themselves with these matters. If someone complains, a simple request to stop using the offending prop is usually all that’s needed. One exception is money, which needs to be obviously fake. It’s required to be 25% larger or smaller than real currency and printed on only one side.


To create these various objects, they typically use Illustrator even when they know that InDesign would be a better choice. Why? Because most of the designers are more familiar with Illustrator than they are with InDesign. But at the same time Anieshka chuckles remembering the time a client, trying to be helpful, provided a text-heavy newspaper page done in—are you ready—Photoshop.


Metallic and clear materials are the most challenging to replicate. At HPR they layer thin sheets of vinyl foil to create metal. It was fascinating to watch the Gerber Edge FX vinyl printer create foil die-cut labels, ready to place on bottles. Their recently acquired Mimaki CJV 30-60 printer allows them to print on a transparent substrate to create the wrapping for foods like bread.


We separated into two groups to tour the production side of the office. They have a rotary engraver, a silk-screening setup and a vacuum-forming machine, which is great for creating phony license plates out of styrene. They have a library of forms to simulate the licenses of different states, countries and time periods. After touring the shop we had a question and answer session. Among other things, we learned that: turn-around times can be impossible. Also, the food preferences of actors had to be addressed when filling a fake package with real food. It was an interesting meeting and I’ll definitely be paying closer attention to all the products in the background the next time I watch a television show or movie.



Farthest Attendee Prize Winner


6-MONTH SUBSCRIPTION: InDesign Magazine—Deniese Cuda



Raffle Prize Winners



3-MONTH SUBSCRIPTION: Stock Layouts—Jeffrey Schimsky

1-YEAR SUBSCRIPTION: PDF2DTP from Markzware—Norine Lukaczyk

3-MONTH SUBSCRIPTION: Fotolia—Nancy Anne Fox

EBOOK from O'Reilly Media—Alvin Takamori

SOFTWARE: TypeDNA—Deniese Cuda

1-MONTH SUBSCRIPTION: Digital-Tutors—Deniese Cude and Norina Lukaczyk

TICKETS: LA Web Professionals Meeting—Deniese Cuda



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