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Out-of-Home History for Hollywood

Martin Charles's work for '42' recaptures Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field and more.

It’s widely accepted that wide-format printing will continue to play a vital role in the future of out-of-home advertising. But that same technology is also being used to recapture its past.

In Hollywood, graphics play a key role in creating the authentic look that make many of today’s movies so believable. Graphic designer Martin Charles, owner of SagaBoy Productions (www.sagaboyproductions.com) and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is one of filmdom’s leading practitioners of this craft.

His designs and prints feature prominently in such films as The Avengers, The Artist, AI: Artificial Intelligence, Leatherheads, Public Enemies, and Charlie Wilson’s War, more than 50 movies in all. For each, he’s tapped the visual power of his Roland VersaCamm VS 640 and XC-540 printer/cutters to set the scene with digital recreations of everything from flooring to wall papers, ceilings to signs – whatever the scene requires.

In his most ambitious project to date, Charles’ expertise was called into play for 42, this year’s biopic about Dodger baseball and civil-rights hero Jackie Robinson. “In all my years working on films, 42 stands out for the sheer number of huge graphics needed,” says Charles. “We literally printed miles of graphics for the film.”

That work, always in the background, evoked many of the ads that greeted pedestrians as they passed though the city streets, airports, and train stations of the 1940s. But, it was only one aspect of this project.

“We had about five large ballparks that needed full graphic coverage,” he adds. “The largest stadium needed about 20 large-scale graphics, and the largest – and there were several – measured about 20 x 45 feet.”

Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, long gone, was the main stage for much of Robinson’s dramatic career and a critical setting for the film. As every baseball fan knows, gargantuan ads enveloping the outfield fence and adjacent to the scoreboard are part of the ballpark experience. Charles’ task was to re-create 1940s-era ads for brands like Esquire boot polish, Gem razor blades, and Schaefer beer.

“Period films usually require recreating how things were, with some original design mixed in,” he says. “The original design had to match the period, and that was a welcome challenge.”

He had reference photos and films of the stadium to work from, but nothing that could be printed on such a large scale. “My job was to re-draw most of the advertisements in the stadium, because of the size.”

It would take several rounds of testing sample prints for color, design, and how they appear on camera before final production. “Projects like this require me to work around the clock,” he notes. In fact, for six weeks before filming was scheduled to begin, he moved his Roland printers to the set, and worked onsite.

“I printed mainly on Roland blueback matte paper,” he says. “I’m not sure what the outdoor life was, but for my needs it was more than fine. The paper was 100-percent waterproof and UV safe, and was up for only about 4 weeks.”

His work though, is forever captured on film, a visual contributor to the historical accuracy of a period movie. For Charles, it’s on to the next project. “When the shooting crew arrives on set and are in disbelief [about how believable things look], my job is done.”


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