Designing a Silent Film DVD Cover: Inspiration

Sooo, in case you haven’t heard, I am working on releasing a silent film on DVD. Any good DVD needs a cover and since this is not a topic that gets heavily covered, I thought I would share the process.

The film in question is Kidnapped and it was released near the end of the Edison studio’s life. Movie advertising was becoming a true art in the 1910s but Edison’s ads were… meh.

As my goal was to create a DVD cover that looked like a real period piece from 1917, I knew I would have to look for inspiration elsewhere.

I mean, the Conquest ads are not awful but they’re also not really super dynamic for a DVD cover. So, I took a peek at the competition.

I mean, Universal was putting out ads like this.


I licensed an original still to serve as the centerpiece of the cover and then set to work.

My first order of business was research, research, research. I studied 1917 movie ads until I was cross-eyed but I made some discoveries. First, ads of the time used some hand-color. Note the rosy cheeks on the ladies in these Metro ads.

Next, stripes. Goodness, these ads look like somebody skinned a barber pole!

And there’s some beautiful vintage text treatments.

I was particularly drawn to this ad for a Lois Weber film:

Now THAT’S what I call text art! That tomato red so beloved by advertiser of the time is present but so is a very becoming shade of plum. I approve! In fact, I approved so much that I decided to steal it.

In our next exciting episode, I’ll talk about how I combined my discoveries and influences, the process of coloring a black and white still (ooo, controversy!) as well as antiquing the design.

(All clippings courtesy of the Media History Digital Library.)


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  1. davidwelling

    Congrats on Kidnapped. I am looking forward to seeing it. Preparing an effective DVD cover can be quite a challenge ( My day job is graphic design, so I know the pitfalls), but you appear to be up for the challenge. You have found some great sources of inspiration to work from. Good luck and have a fun time working on it.

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