Christina Heurig

images · art direction · set design

Commission: Cinematic action shoot – post production

For the final images a lot of post production was necessary.

A closer look onto the process in the full article.



Phase 1:
Shoot on location and stitching all 5 actors together

The photo shoot is covered in this post.

Initially Christine wanted to create the whole surrounding in a studio digitally (with photo manipulation), but with my experience it is more time-saving to work with a ‘real’ location. Pro: All participants will have the real experience: the industry site, the cars and the light situation will be real and give them an atmosphere to soak in. Usually, this way it’s easier to help the non-professional actors convey their story in the best way possible.

First, I stitched together all participants in one composition and cut out everything accurately. Accuracy is highly important, as there will be a lot of smoke and other funk between the actors and the industrial background (and the smoke will go ‘in between’).

Cutting out in progress –


Phase 2:
Discussion with the client about image progressing

Before I started messin’ around, I sketched the actions roughly and sent it with an explanation to Christine. If you want to keep your clients happy: talk to them. Involve them. It is still their dream and they should have a saying in it. If they trust you: don’t disappoint them!

Through the whole production progress I kept close contact to Christine: I regularly showed her the process in screenshots and discussed the results to make sure all is going well for both of us.


Phase 3:
Adding helicopter, fire, police cars and first layer of smoke

First off I started with minor adjustments, such as painting in the separately photographed) money bag larger than life size to make it a bit more prominent. I turned on the car lights digitally as we couldn’t keep the car running on set (and most likely it will look better that way instead of having a bright slightly-burnt out spot instead of the texture of the car light).


Next up: first layer of smoke, more contrast and a helicopter. As it was Christine’s wish to involve some fire, we decided to add burning oil in a not-so-prominent position.

Christine provided stock images of barrels from her workplace to create a more industrial looking scene. I erased a few letters from the barrel’s brand to not interfere with advertising rights.

To finish the illusion of a frantic chase, Christine provided stock images of police cars from a friend. I changed the license plate numbers in the final image.


Phase 4:
Intensive color adjustments and change of the light setup

Since we were not allowed to use extensive smoke machines or massive flash set ups on set, a lot was re-created digitally.

First I painted in more smoke to create a dynamic composition. By playing with transparency it was easy to create the illusion.

Highlights and orange toning layers create the illusion of fire and an ‘explosive’ atmosphere

To enhance the situation, I used a dodge and burn layer to enhance sharp lines of cars, rim lights around the edges and paint in more contrast where it was necessary.

Orange helps to fake a reflection of the ‘explosion’ also on the edges of the cars. (see left and right side of the outer cars)

Especially the actors profit a lot from the color and highlighting: on the edges (e.g. the legs, Tony’s left side of the face and Christine’s hair) I painted in more orange. This gives the image its final ‘action baby drama’ crunch look that you’d expect on movie posters as well.

To finish the look, I played around with contrasts, saturation and painted in darker or lighter areas where I felt it was necessary.

The final composition is quite large and works best for printing on a large poster or work with details of the image.
In this case we will use the panorama later for Christine’s movie poster.



210 of layers in the finished image: A slow process.

The completion took many hours and of course, there are many small adjustments I can’t go into detail here. (Such as: bending the background towers a bit to get rid of distortion, re-size car tires, exchange parts of the cars, and some beauty retouching of the actors.)

Images like these are more like a painting you slowly evolve into something beautiful. Personally, I don’t like to work on these super strategic. It would not make sense to first do cutting, then retouching, then contrast and so on, as the dynamics of such a big composition change quickly in the process. So I chose to re-select layers and work on them again if needed all the time.

Overall, smoke, highlights and saturation will guide the eye and it is my job to make it as comfortable to the eye as possible.



Pt. 2: The iconic group shot – Poster

To create the hero image for a genre action movie poster, some ‘heavy duty’ cliche posing and crispy light was necessary.

On set, we took some ‘posing’ shots after the panorama portrait. I placed them all in a group and shot some standing poses of them. I placed some flashes strategically to create some sharp rim lights on the edges of their faces/bodies, so I could add in light smoke or even ‘background fire’ later in post.

In the review process after the shoot Christine and me chose the best pose of each model.

All portraits came from different photographs, so I composed them together in one picture. Each of the models is taken from his/her single portrait shot to make sure we got the best pose from everybody.

This also gave me the ability to ‘compress’ all members and push them closer together for the final image. If you look closer at classic movie posters, it is not unusual for retouchers to actually add various single-portraits together into one group photo. (Reason 1: you have a better chance to create crispy rim lights on everybody without the person left, right or behind casting shadows over them – Reason 2: most of the times not all super famous actors have time to be on the photographer’s set at once).


Basically I used smoke, color grading layers and the portrait of the security guy from the panoramic portrait (–> work time effective to save the client some money and you some precious time!).

Next up I spent some time painting in more highlights (in their faces, on their bodies, clothes and the guns) to create a more ‘artificial’ look of the models.

It is a bit ‘overdone’ and for sure not 100% natural: and just as exaggerated and dramatic as the movies their-selves are. A movie poster should always match the story, emotions and atmosphere of the movie – and follow certain cliches as well at the same time. That’s what makes it look like the typical genre movie poster: an image that makes the viewer instantly understand what this 1,5 hour motion picture will be about.



Pt. 3: Movie poster – Edit & Layout

Do your research, baby! Heavy, clear fonts.

To make life easier (and shorten unnecessary time spent by me / money wasted by the client), I started with a simple free template and customized it.

I looked through some helpful articles showing which kind of typography is used in genre posters and featuring classic poster designs for inspiration. Soon it became clear that the layout itself should be classic, but feature
classic action movie posters often feature a bright yellow typography (such as Nightcrawler and Brick Mansions )

With Christine, I chose after some try-and-errors the free type orbitron and gave it a subtle color-transition in Adobe Illustrator.
The spacing between the letters may be condensed to give the slogan a more “brickish”, important, heavy and dramatic feeling.
The round edges give it a bit of modern touch, as well as resemble the round edges of well-designed cars and a tiny sci-fi reference.

The rest of the process was a bit of letter-pushing (especially the billing block needed some attention), but in the end we had it: the perfect illusion of Christine and her team as heroic hollywood icons.

Christine was very happy with the result and – I am thrilled to be part of re-creating the dream world of her’s.
We’re all heroes it it’s for the world to find out!


Want to know how I created the photographs I worked with?

You can read it here.

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