Just say her name and most graphic designers will inwardly ooh and ahh: Annie Atkins, that art department star of some of the most visually rich films and series made today (Joker, Bridge of Spies, Isle of Dogs, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The French Dispatch, West Side Story). But she didn’t start there. Her film world roots stretch back to her school days, when she studied to be a director. It wasn’t until she discovered that she had more of an affinity for finessing a film’s minute details than say, working with actors and running a set, that she rerouted her career. Now, she spends her days making graphic props: from major movie moments and hero props (like the Grand Budapest hotel sign) that vie for screen time with the actors, to the ephemeral minutiae of the everyday that lend a fictional world real-world credibility.
Her enthusiasm for the graphic design niche she has carved out for herself, the obvious pleasure she takes in honing her craft, and the sense of both humor and wonder that she approaches every project with radiates from her when she speaks—it’s hard not to catch it. If you have the pleasure of seeing Atkins talk about her work at a conference, you will inevitably file out of the room afterwards amidst hundreds of excited whispers, everyone wondering how they can get in on some of that Atkins action. She makes it sound that exciting. Now, she’s written a book, Fake Love Letters, Forged Telegrams, and Prison Escape Maps: Designing Graphic Props for Filmmaking. In it, she chronicles some of her biggest projects and offers insights into a lesser known nook of filmmaking along the way (should you want to follow in her footsteps).
Read on for the stories behind some of her most exciting props and prop-making methods.