Interview with Film Poster Artist Olivia Barratier

Written by Colette Finkbiner, blogger/writer with Three Horizons Productions.

Out Of Focus Art
Out Of Focus, Supernatural Thriller

When Three Horizons Productions’ (THP) debut short film, Out Of Focus, premiered in December 2012, I remember several audience members commenting on the font used for the film. In light of a 15-minute version of Out Of Focus’ acceptance to the Short Film Corner at the Cannes Film Festival; I interviewed artist Olivia Barratier, who did the key art for the film. While reviewing Ms. Barratier’s work, I was intrigued by the volume, quantity and obvious creative focus of her projects.

Ms. Barratier was born in Paris, France. At the age of 15, she travelled to the United States for the first time as part of a student exchange program. After her baccalauréat, she studied art and design at the Dublin Institute of Technology in Ireland. She eventually found her way back to the U.S. and now resides—and constantly creates—in Southern California. She has worked on film posters, visual effects, and other areas of post-production for many films.

Remi Vaughn had you create the key art for Out Of Focus. Tell me a bit about that.

I remember the first encounter with Remi and her energy, which is wonderful. The first conversation we had on the phone – I immediately had a great feeling about working with Remi and becoming collaborators. I did that project the way I normally do all of my posters. I go through the footage of the film, go through the photos and do four or five different maquettes and present them to the director. Then we go from there. With Remi, it was very organic. The most thrilling part is the first moment you have with those images. It’s like sliding into a story and capturing the emotions of the writer or the director. That’s a moment I love. I get to explore different emotions and try to give it an image.

Did you do the fonts for Out Of Focus?

I did. I hand draw fonts. I try to design striking fonts like in An American Haunting. I normally design the main title of the film. For Out Of Focus, I took inspiration from an existing font. I modify it and make it unique for the film.

Out Of Focus Poster
Out Of Focus Poster
An American Haunting Poster
An American Haunting Poster

In your process of creating art for a film, do you take notes or wait to get a certain feeling from the film?

Well, I either get to see the film or the film isn’t yet shot so I just get photos. In the case of when I see the film, I don’t take notes. I try to feel and be touched by one moment in the film. Often in a film, there is one moment that is really where you get goose bumps or it brings you in.  I really think the story and the emotion are most important and I try to capture that.

John Boorman, The General
Art by Olivia Barratier for The General, directed by John Boorman

Could you tell me about your education and training?

I went to art college in Dublin to do my master’s course in visual arts and communication. I started work with John Boorman, the film director. I did a series of posters with him when I was 20 or 21. I was working at the time in a big advertising studio. That’s how I got started doing photo retouch and got into film posters.

What took you to Dublin to study?

I would call it an accident. After graduating from school in France, after the baccalauréat, my girlfriend fell in love with this Irish guy, and we hitchhiked to Dublin two days before I was supposed to go to La Sorbonne where I was going to study history and sociology. So, I kind of got diverted. I went to Dublin and just stayed. I never went back to Paris.

Yellow Cab, New York 1988 by Olivia Barratier
Yellow Cab, New York 1988 by Olivia Barratier

You attended Amherst High School, in Massachusetts, briefly while you were on a school exchange program. At that time, did you decide you wanted to come back to the U.S. and work?

Yes. Absolutely. I was very struck by the United States. I very much had a sense of the freedom, of such an expanse and of a real sensation of something free about the people. Coming from France which is a beautiful place in terms of the architecture and in terms of the landscape, the United States is so different. I was struck by the United States especially while visiting New York. I was 15. The architecture and the amount of sky you could see and the lights really just blew me away.

So you went back to New York first, after Dublin, to work.

Olivia with General ArtI was in Dublin for 10 years: four years at school and then six years working. Then, I went to New York. At the time, I had just completed a course, which takes place in Portland, Oregon. It was an Avid film course. You basically become a certified Avid technician. You spend two months there working with a film director and go to the cutting room and learn the full process of digitizing a film. We worked on a Steenbeck as well as Avid. I was getting more into editing. I had started using the Avid in Dublin to edit music videos and television commercials. I spent three months in Portland and then went to New York and started working for a huge company at the time that was doing music videos for people like Moby, the Roots and hip-hop bands that were in New York. I worked as an editor and edited a feature there. I ended up working for two years in New York.

You’ve done a lot of different types of artwork in addition to the editing.

I’m definitely a visual artist first. In film, I’ve been an assistant director, editor, and have done a lot of aspects in post-production as well as on set. All of these combined are parts of the same thing: visual expressions. I’ve always stayed a visual artist.

Art by Olivia Barratier
Art by Olivia Barratier
Magic Paris By Night by Olivia Barratier
Magic Paris By Night by Olivia Barratier

Have you ever been in front of the camera as opposed to behind the camera or in post- production?

I was in front of the camera when I was 5 years old. I starred in a film for Jacques Demy, the film director. My parents met on his film Les demoiselles de Rochefort, which was a film with Catherine Deneuve, Françoise Dorléac, and Gene Kelly. My mother [Sarah Hardenberg] was a dancer. My father [Jacques Henri Barratier] was an assistant director. I then acted for Jacques Demy. I think that was my only in front of the camera appearance!

Poster designed by Olivia Barratier for Les Tombales, a short film by Christophe Barratier
Poster designed by Olivia Barratier for Les Tombales, a short film by Christophe Barratier

You sort of got into the family business of film and the creation process.

My father was a film producer. He produced Costa-Gavras films, which are very political and very successful films, one of them being State of Siege. That is a very important film politically. It is in the family. My brother [Christophe Barratier] was nominated for an Oscar, for his first film. He’s a film director. He’s been doing very well as a film director and also produces films.

Have you been nominated or received any awards for your work?

In the line of work I’ve been doing, movie posters, there are no awards as such, but this year I’ve been awarded as one of Lürzer’s 200 Best Digital Artists in the world. So I’ve been selected as one of them. I also won an award for one of my artworks, through Lürzer’s “Archive,” which is a German-based art magazine. They present the work of the best photographers and best digital campaigns that have been done. They are incredible. I’ve been following them for five years because, to me, they are a reference of what is happening visually in the world. That was a huge honor.

You are a photographer as well.

Yes. I take photos of my artwork. I was trained as a photographer. When I was at university, photography became one of my subjects. I started out working with film, not digital. Then I worked in a studio for six years in advertising and all the photographers used medium-format cameras with up to 10×8 transparencies and shooting huge campaigns like Smirnoff, Coca Cola, and all the car campaigns in Ireland. I worked in a high-end professional photography background. Photography is a huge part of my process. I do landscapes where I retouch the photos and maybe put 40 photos into one landscape. Or if I am using the negatives or the digital image, blend in paint and different media and collage. Photography, I’d say, is 90 percent of my process.

Do you still use negatives?

I do still use negatives.

Bogart's Tower by Olivia Barratier
Bogart’s Tower by Olivia Barratier

Do you find certain attributes to the negatives that are not found in digital image? Do you find that sometimes a certain piece warrants a negative instead of a digital image?

I would have to say that the line between them is getting thinner and thinner. The digital cameras are getting so incredible. The lenses are getting better. For the most part I use digital, but I still use a lot of film. I think what happens is that certain media has a magic quality to it and a dimension to it that you don’t get with digital. With digital, you get exactly what you see. What you shoot is what you’re going to get. With film, there is always an element of surprise and something in the texture. I do think it is irreplaceable in terms of that magical quality that you still don’t get with digital. I find that the immediacy of the digital process prevents you from taking a step back. I tend to wait before I look at what I’ve shot because I think there is something about waiting to look at what you’ve shot.

So negative film adds a certain dimension or atmosphere you don’t necessarily get with digital? I can see with digital how easy it is to look and scrap right away what you don’t like without really looking at the image.

Exactly. I think with certain errors, what we think won’t work, there is something wonderful that we may disregard too quickly.

Art by Olivia Barratier
Art by Olivia Barratier

When you work digitally, do you use certain go-to programs to work with your images?

I’ve been working with Photoshop for 20 years now. I feel Photoshop is like second nature. I’m used to processing my images through it. I don’t use pre-formatted effects. I counterbalance my images and, if I’m doing a superimposition of images or layers, I do it in Photoshop.

What projects are you currently working on?

At the moment, I am preparing for Paris Photo LA at the end of April. We have twenty pieces that are being printed and mounted at the moment. Most of them are 20×30 and we’ll have a few bigger pieces. I am also getting my Diaries printed for that.

I would like to know more about your Diaries series.

I’ve always kept diaries. I think they are an interesting record of bits and pieces of everyday life. They create an image of the mood or the moment. In this case, it is a visual record. I have found a really interesting process to get them printed. It is a process I’ve developed. They’re going to be printed on this very beautiful paper. Once I do this, I’ll have a place on my website that will show how they look mounted. I also have an exhibition taking place at Barnsdall, which was Frank Lloyd Wright’s house.

diary1
diary4
diary40


What is it like to go back over those moments after some time?

It’s incredible. I have to say what is extraordinary is that they are so emotional. There is no holding back in them. There’s no facade and no hiding. They’re not construed. They are just pure. So when I look at them, I remember the exact moments with no barrier. I find that really incredible because they’re like my stepping stones of my life.

What would you tell a young artist just starting out?

by Olivia Barratier
by Olivia Barratier

Recently, I was at Caltech in Pasadena to hear my cousin give a lecture. My cousin is Stephen Hawking, the astrophysicist. He ended his lecture by saying, “Don’t look at your feet. Look at the sky. And stay curious.” It blew me away. I think I would say the same thing. I think it’s about observing the world around us. I think staying amazed and curious is wonderful. We do have this whole world of technology which is brilliant as tools, but I think it’s important to not be distracted. We have a tendency to be looking down whether it is at our feet or our phones. I think for any artist, “Continue looking up at the stars. Continue looking at the world around you, being amazed, and observing.”  I did some classes on botanical illustration. I found that every week the garden was completely new and changed. It was evolving constantly. By observing that evolution, you evolve yourself.

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Three Horizons Productions is a team of independent filmmakers who want to develop, acquire, and produce multi-media projects that showcase inspirational themes, compelling stories, and provocative characters to entertain or educate international audiences. Three Horizons Productions, located in Arizona, has a global outreach.