A lot goes into graphic design when it comes to making any sort of media, whether it’s on television or on the big screen. From making fake newspapers to even the smallest details on bottles of alcohol, Zachary Zirlin has done it all. Zirlin, who worked on Daredevil Season One, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage talked a bit with Man Without Fear about the work of a graphic designer. He had to say this about the liquor.
“I have to say that liquor and beer labels are some of my favorite things to design. There is such a wide variety in the world and it’s so much fun to try to establish a fictional brand. I begin by doing research for some inspiration. I try to look at similar products as well as specifics of country of origin, perceived market, iconography, color palette, etc. From there I spread it all out digitally or physically and get going. We hopefully have a bottle style chosen at this point so I can design to a specific “canvas”, but I start by putting together all the elements. The name, the logo, any design elements, and even the little bits that help sell it as a real product, like the alcohol percentage and volume markings. I typically end up playing around with 3-4 versions before I’m happy to share with the rest of the team. Once approved, it’s time to get it made. I have a few vendors that I work with to turn the design into a reality. I love making them as realistic as possible and working with my vendors to make them something more than a simple printed label. I love to incorporate metallics, foils, and texture whenever I can to make it feel like a real brand. The subway ads are a very similar process but a little more difficult. Real subway ads are quite often for movies and tv shows. We’re creating our own realistic world and trying not to tie ourselves to any one specific time period so I generally try to keep things as non-descript as possible while keeping it as grounded and realistic as possible. Whenever possible, I try to throw in easter eggs and references to our other shows.”
He also discussed the details on the boxing posters in Season One at Fogwell’s Gym.
“That is something you’ll see in most TV shows and movies. When we need to populate paperwork, posters, signs, etc., we have to do so with names that we are legally allowed to use. It’s typically part of our start paperwork and contracts that crew members names can be used on screen. So when I’m tasked with creating over 40 boxing posters, it ends up being a full on crew-on-crew brawl. It’s also a really great way to throw some love to the crew. It takes a lot of people to make a show and putting their names on something seen on screen is a fun way to show appreciation. (And I always get tons of requests to print copies for them). In order to show the passage of time, we created a ton of older posters that would play in both the flashbacks and the present day. We felt that Fogwell’s was an old school place that wouldn’t be getting rid of their old posters. We then created some more contemporary posters to help show the progression of time, but wouldn’t overtake all the history of the place.”
Zirlin had a great story about the many newspaper headings found in Ben Ulrich’s office throughout Season One of Daredevil.
“We work very closely to create the newspapers. I love putting as many easter eggs in there as possible. Michael Tuths, our clearance coordinator, has been invaluable in helping to wrangle and brainstorm ways we can keep as many easter eggs as possible. Creating the New York Bulletin was a lot of fun as we were creating our world’s version of the Daily Bugle. Due to all the rights negotiations and whatnot surrounding Spider-Man and Sony, we had to create our own newspaper instead of using the Bugle known from the comics. We went back and forth defining the type of paper we wanted, how it was perceived, the type of journalism, etc. and I began creating versions. It was definitely a fun collaboration that we’re all happy with. We had a lot of fun working closely with Marvel to create some of the Bulletin’s most famous articles and covers, many of which were written by Ben Urich. You can catch them in the background of Urich’s office and the Bulletin offices.”
He talked about tattoos, which I found really interesting.
“The tattoo design was a really fun challenge. I did a lot of research into Russian prison tattoos. It is such an incredibly deep, symbolic, frightening, and mesmerizing world. Certain symbols mean certain crimes and there’s a vast visual language to it. So I was attempting to tell a bit of their stories with the tattoos. Their past, their crimes, their political views, etc. At the same time, it needed to be a fairly quick read on camera showing just how hardcore these guys are. After I had designed them and got them approved, I pass them off to Josh Turi, our special effects make up artist. From there he takes over in outputting them and making them look like they are real tattoos of varying age that are part of their skin, rather than a normal, cheap temporary tattoo. It’s pretty magical.”
Finally, he talked about the detail that went into the design of signs, like Nelson and Murdock.
“For those hero logos, we were given a lot of free reign. We had decades upon decades of incredible comic reference to pull from while developing them. But at the same time, we were creating a world specific to our show. It was based in the comics, but still our show’s unique interpretation. So it became about figuring out how we bring some these businesses into the contemporary, grounded Marvel universe that we were building. I tried to keep as many elements as I could in terms of layout, proportion, and type, while also allowing them to feel at home in our universe.”
Zirlin could not disclose his next project, but it is safe to assume he will be working on Marvel’s Iron Fist.
Daredevil and Jessica Jones are currently streaming on Netflix and Luke Cage will be available to stream this fall.