I first heard of Hot Docs around 2007 while going to college for Graphic Design, one of my favourite teachers was a documentary film maker and turned me on to the festival. I was blown away. Equal parts surprise, excitement, and dumb luck. Documentary had been a long time favourite genre of film of mine, and not only was there a festival that exclusively played docs in a cinema – but it was right here in the city I had just moved to. I think I had seen Fahrenheit 9/11 in a cinema, but otherwise I would get documentaries from the library or History Channel. I don’t remember Blockbusters having much of a documentary section and this was before Netflix took over (the dark ages).
Fastforward (movie pun intended) five-ish years and I joined a little documentary film club that met every month to see a film and then go out after for discussion. My ideal night out. I talk to the leader of the HS Doc Club about maybe perhaps I could do posters and illustrations each month to help promote the club. My long-con plan was to do posters for free for her (occasionally got some free passes) and establish my illustration and poster style as something that would be cool for documentaries. I love visual metaphors, simple colour, and not really giving away any of the story other than what it was basically about. Heavily inspired by Saul Bass and contemporary gig posters. I did one illustration a month for her club for about 3 years before getting my first paid gig from the festival, doing simple promotional stuff for one of their other year-round events. Hot Docs is the name of the festival that runs in the spring, as well as the name of the theatre that exclusively shows docs year round. So getting to do stuff for one of their many many events was a step closer. It wasn’t my white whale, but it was a foot in the door and some healthy reassurance my long-con plan was working. I was on their radar. Just had to keep on keep’n on and eventually I might be lucky enough to work for the main event, the annual festival.
The big email came in just before Christmas 2018. Not really a holiday guy but couldn’t have asked for a better present. 5 years of working for free paid off. In no way do I mean to sound like I was owed, its about time, or anything like that. I legitimately LOVE documentaries and doing posters each month and helping to promote events was in no way “work”. Thats what I want to do, and has been what I wanted to grow up and do for as far back as I can remember. I was asked to create artwork for the 2019 festival and I couldn’t be happier. I will get into some of the creative and behind the scenes process, but I really wanted to write this blog to get out how important this gig was for me. Maybe it will inspire others to have goals or whatever, but also for me to remember why I do what I do.
The concept for this years festival was “open your eyes”. I was brought in early of the development of the creative, and at the time it wasn’t decided if this was going to be a tagline printed along side anything, or would just be an underlining theme of stepping outside your comfort zone and looking more closely at things you either haven’t noticed or have never thought to look into. One of the early concepts we talked about was a kaleidoscope and maybe that could be a visual element we could work with.
Another obvious direction was focus on the word eye. Maybe we could do something that used eye graphics or insinuated watching. Obviously, this was too obvious and the direction was scrapped. Thats a good thing though. I always feel like exploring a bad idea and being sure is better than not touching it and second guessing later if there might have been something there.
I was making some pretty complicated collage type illustrations (like I love to do) but one of the simpler pieces of a bigger image caught the eye of the festival team. I raised fist holding a lantern. The lantern supports on each side had two faces looking at each other, to imply conversation taking place. It spoke to the open your eyes idea with a leading the way kind of feel, and the closed hand also worked as a representation of a revolution.
From there, we tried to think of different ways to handle the light rays coming off the lantern. Different patterns, hidden images, and even a few tries to bring back the kaleidoscope imagery.
We needed up dropping the taking faces aspect and making the first larger. We felt having too many pieces diluted the overall idea and the simpler, the better. Next was to start experimenting with colour and seeing where we could push thing while still staying on brand with the green and yellow.
The festival team was pretty into all the colour experiments I did and end up going with the wild card idea of using all of them. I love wild card ideas. I made up a bunch of different posters with different schemes at the festival would mix and match them for different uses. Thinking that instead of plastering the whole city with the same image, if it changed up a bit maybe it would stand out more and get extra attention.