The Art of the Movie Poster: Dawn Baillie on Chinatown and a Lucille Ball Cover of TV Guide

The work of Jim Pearsall and Richard Amsel

Dawn Baillie is no stranger to groundbreaking movie posters. In fact, she's responsible for one of the most iconic: The Silence of the Lambs. She's a storyteller whose preferred canvas happens to be a 27-by-41-inch sheet of paper, paired with a creative brief. 

Over the course of her career, Dawn has designed world-renowned posters. Her creative agency, BLT Communications, collected numerous Clios for its storytelling skills, and in 2012, Dawn was the recipient of the inaugural Saul Bass Award. 

Despite her own success, Dawn remains ready to celebrate the artists and work that inspired her own creative journey. She chatted with Muse about two of those pieces. 

Muse: Looking back, is there a piece of key art that stopped you in your tracks and made you think, "Wow, I want to do that"? 
Dawn Baillie: When I was a kid, I loved and collected the covers of TV Guide. I loved to analyze every colored pencil stroke made by the likes of Richard Amsel. I looked at the direction of the strokes, how he blended his colors, how he broke his compositions into designs that ended in twirled strands of hair. The Lucille Ball cover from July 6-12, 1974 is a prime example.

I never got the chance to meet him, but I am forever grateful for the inspiration. Studying his work as a small child helped me to understand the history of illustration when I studied at Otis-Parsons. Understanding the Leyendecker, Rockwell and Coles Phillips references in his work helped me with my own compositions. If it weren't for his TV Guide covers, my life would have probably taken a different direction. 

Jim Pearsall's key art for Chinatown captures much of the same elegance and confidence of Amsel's work. And like Amsel, Chinatown is arrestingly unique while still paying homage to illustrators past. That reverence, coupled with his exceptional technique and style, was incredibly inspiring to me. It remains one of my favorite pieces of key art to this day. 

What about the Chinatown poster stood out to you most?
The purple logo! Its Leyendecker pinstripes, its water as design element but also part of the storytelling, its noir, and design. The ethereal face of Faye Dunaway. The no eye contact. So, this invites you to think about the story. This isn't two celebrities. This is a story! I was too young to see the film when it came out, but I remember the feeling of first seeing this poster outside a theater on Hollywood Boulevard. The beautiful logo evoked flowing water and an exotic take on a part of the city where I lived. 

How did the Chinatown poster move the needle for entertainment marketing?
Skilled designers really took movie posters to a new level of beauty and simplicity. There was a confidence that came from not just the quality of the films but the illustrators and designers working at that time. This work is timeless, and will be referenced in movie poster history forever.

Generally speaking, what makes a great piece of key art?
A great piece of art is one where I am stopped in my tracks and forced to think about what I'm seeing. One where the technique or the storytelling actually cuts through my cluttered sensory overload. 

What elements of key art inspire your work today?
I still think about storytelling in key art. I still like little hints or Easter eggs. I still like surprising use of color and will always like purples and greens.

Fun Facts

Q: Who created the Chinatown poster for the German release?
A: Richard Amsel. 

Q: Who was on the cover of the first issue of TV Guide?
A: Desi Arnaz Jr., the baby of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (1953). 

Q: How many covers of TV Guide did Richard Amsel illustrate?
A: 37 published covers. 

Ashley Falls
Ashley Falls is associate director of program management and development at The Clio Awards.