Akiko Stehrenberger

What do you get when you successfully combine analogue photography with digital artwork? Akiko Stehrenberger’s poster art for “Funny Games”. With her astonishing gifts as a digital painter, Stehrenberger took a slice of 35mm and transformed it into a genuine analogue-meets digital work of art.

What kind of artist is Akiko Stehrenberger?

Good question! I'm an illustrator and art director that is fighting to put the ‘art’ back into the movie poster.

How did you become attached to the U.S. remake of “Funny Games”?

I was freelancing for several movie poster advertising shops and one of them had taken the project from Warner Independent. I loved indie and horror films, so it seemed natural that they hired me for the job.

The theatrical poster for “Funny Games” is incredibly striking. It’s also lifted directly from the 35mm negatives. Was it exciting to have the actual film negatives on hand?

I actually had no access to the negatives.

Really? So what did you have to base the poster on?

There was some unit photographs provided that gave me a grasp of Naomi’s likeness. However, since the film was extremely low budget, the only access I had to the shot was a 3" across DVD screen capture of a low quality, 72 dpi screener.

(The actual DVD capture of the 35mm shot used by Stehrenberger as the basis of the "Funny Games" poster).

Imagine taking a 3" swatch of fabric and stretching it out to 27"x40". If the fabric does miraculously stretch to that size, it will be extremely damage and distorted. All I had was a teeny, tiny screen grab. I knew that I would have to put some serious love into the image or it would look like a joke next to other polished designs. This was when I decided to use my illustrating knowledge and take the image to a completely different form. I decided to paint the still digitally.

It really looks like a still photograph.

People still to this day do not know if it is a photo or an illustration. Perhaps that's what they find intriguing.

What was the response like when you turned in the poster to Warner Independent?

Warner Independent didn't feel that just Naomi alone as a poster was good enough. They wanted to do the typical marketing thing. They wanted oversell it as a violent thriller. They asked for a white glove grabbing Naomi’s hair or blood on her face. I really, really did not like those ideas. I felt it was inauthentic to the specific scene they were referencing and made the poster look like a cheesy, typical movie poster.

Sounds like you had to go to war.

I’ve never fought so hard for one of my designs before. I told the movie poster shop that hired me that I would rather discontinue working on it rather than add things I felt were unnecessary.

Did writer/director Michael Haneke get involved at all?

Michael came in later after Warner Independent had narrowed it down to my poster and, luckily, he chimed in and agreed with me. It made all the fighting worth it in the end. Now I can't imagine how different my career would be if “Funny Games” didn't come out the way it did.

As an illustrator, what did you learn from the experience?

‘Funny Games’ made me realize how little is needed in order to create and being an illustrator actually worked in my favor. It’s one of my favorite posters to this day.

Finally, do you think you might ever dabble in photography?

I really wish I knew how to take a photo. However, the illustration thing isn't treating me too badly.

Photos courtesy of Warner Independent