Kinoteka film festival poster designer Tomasz Opasinski on designing for Hollywood

This month sees the opening of the 11th Kintoteka – a celebration of Polish film and the gorgeous graphics that accompany them.

Tomasz Opasinski's Kinoteka 2013 festival poster
Tomasz Opasinski’s Kinoteka 2013 festival poster

The festival takes place across venues in London, Liverpool, Belfast and Edinburgh, and this year’s line-up boasts such diverse offerings as restored a classics by celebrated auteur, Andrzej Wajda, live psychedelic film scores and ‘challenging new works of brave ideas and sexual exploration’, according to organisers.

As well as numerous film and animation screenings, the festival is also hosting a number of interactive cinema workshops
for writers and directors (KinoteKa studio) and animation workshops for children, inspired by Witold Giersz’ art, as well as launching the national short filmmaking Frantic Films Competition, in response to Roman Polański’s cinema.

Tomasz Opasinski's Black Swan poster
Tomasz Opasinski’s Black Swan poster

A highlight of this year’s event looks set to be London’s National Gallery’s display of Polish animator Witold Giersz’s works.

Giersz began his career in the 1950s, and is known for his technique of painting on film. ‘I started out just as everybody else did at that time, with classical animated movies’, he tells Design Week. ‘After a few years I began to notice that everything in this particular style has already been done.

‘The stiffness of the line was what irritated me while I was drawn towards spontaneous free sketching and painting straight on celluloid tape – skipping the paper illustration altogether. That’s how I created a few films that I would call an attempt to put life into painting (including The Horse or Fire).’

At Kinoteka, Giersz will premiere his latest commission, Signum  – a piece inspired by cave painting, for which he painted directly onto rocks. ‘The prehistoric artists tried to manifest movement in a most dynamic way’, he says. ‘A racing hunter is posed to reveal the essence of running while the legs of the animals are sometimes shown in several phases of the motion at once.’

‘I, thanks to animation, can go one step further: to breathe life into a still drawing. I knew I had to do it someday.’

Still from Witold Giersz's Horse animation
Still from Witold Giersz’s Horse animation

This year’s event is promoted by a brilliantly bright poster created by one of Hollywood’s most prolific movie poster designers, Tomasz Opasinski. The work is both an interpretation of Polish Cinema and a response to this year’s festival theme, Classics to Erotica.

Tomasz Opasinski's Inception poster
Tomasz Opasinski’s Inception poster

We spoke to him about his career in film poster design, and what it’s like becoming a designer in his native Poland.

Design Week: Tell me more about your poster designs for the festival – why did you go for what you did?

Tomasz Opasinski : They literally got me at Classics to Erotica in the festival’s title. An amazing opportunity to do something cool and beyond the ‘standard’ in our industry.  The client Kinoteka turned out to be an awesome bunch – a mutual understanding and similar point of view helped us tremendously since day one of this project. We didn’t want it to be too offensive, not too sexist, not too obvious and, of course, not boring at all. Why this? Kids probably won’t get the joke and hopefully the adults will have at least sweaty hands while looking at it. I hoped to design a poster that will live long beyond the festival – not only in galleries, but also in people’s minds…an icon.

DW: How would you describe your work?

TO: Mostly fun with ‘I-wanna-kill-myself-now’ moments… But more seriously – it was and still is my dream job. Some of the most amazing artists mixed with Hollywood’s setting, actors, directors, photographers, the biggest film studios on the planet… are you kidding me? This is it! Friggin’-awesome – this is how I would describe it.

DW: What are the main considerations in creating posters for film?

TO: To me personally the most important thing is the ‘message’ – the metaphor or essence that makes the poster a poster. The rest is just a package for your message. Please don’t get me wrong here…colour, form, contrast and typography are also very important.  In addition, you have to have a sixth sense for presenting your artwork in large scale – a 15m poster looks and presents itself very differently than on your computer screen. You most definitely have to imagine this while designing.

Tomasz Opasinski's Deep Throat poster
Tomasz Opasinski’s Deep Throat poster

DW: How did you get into design?

TO: I’ve been drawing and painting since I was a kid, but if we speak about the poster design – it was actually an accident. Long story short: I won a Guru Award at PhotoshopWorld in 2002 and the representatives from Seiniger Advertising contacted me shortly after.  At the time, Seiniger Advertising was one of the oldest agencies of its kind in Hollywood and working there as an Art Director was way beyond any career-related dreams of mine. Breaking into the industry was one thing, but staying in it is a whole another story… It’s been 11 years and since day one I knew that ‘this is it’, somehow.

DW: How did you get into design?

TO: I’ve been asked about it many times and – long story short – I literally see images in my head, just that… I don’t feel any need to browse the internet, books or galleries… it just happens. In the back of my head, I see what I’m about to execute.  The execution happens as a second part of this process. I know my tools well enough to compose it freely without even thinking about it much… shortcuts, menus, layouts are already ‘in my fingers’… it’s just a tool that I’m very comfortable with. It’s actually hard to explain, but this is the simplest way to put it.

Tomasz Opasinski's Paris je t'aime poster
Tomasz Opasinski’s Paris je t’aime poster

DW: What is the education like for budding designers in Poland?

TO: We have amazing Art Schools in Poland and Polish artists are recognised around the world – there is no doubt in my mind about that. What we don’t have is so called ‘balls’ to fight at worldwide markets.  Also, there is this nationwide stigma of ‘oh, you don’t want to be a commercial artist’ like it’s a sexually transmitted disease or something – and I’ll never understand this, but I’ve witnessed it many times.

Tomasz Opasinski's Transfomers poster
Tomasz Opasinski’s Transfomers poster

DW: What advice would you give to people looking to get into design?

TO: I’ll keep it short and right to the point. If you can: don’t run your designs by close friends – they’ll always lie about the quality of your art and it’ll always be ‘awesome’ or ‘amazing’ in their eyes, for many reasons. They don’t want to hurt you, they know you too well or they’re just not your potential clients. Once you’re done – post it online and discuss it with random people. Observe them and their opinions – just don’t get them too literally… but don’t be afraid.

Opasinski will be holding a masterclass at 18 Hewett St on 6 March accompanied by an exhibition of his original poster designs at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, London, until 15 March.

Kinoteka runs from 7  – 17 March at various UK-wide locations. For more information visit

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