How A Photo Becomes A Movie Poster

American Photo: Michael Muller turns his photos into Hollywood marketing.

Michael Muller

Creating an effective image for the purpose of promoting a movie is always a complicated endeavor. Add to that the audience expectations inherent in bringing a beloved fictional character to the big screen, and you’ve got a truly big challenge.

Photographer Michael Muller kept all this in mind when he shot the movie poster for 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Having already photographed posters for several other comicbook movies — including Hancock, Iron Man and Spider-Man — Muller was familiar with the pressures that critical fans bring to the table. He knew it was best to come to the set fully prepared.

“I always read the script beforehand, because I want to really know the characters I’m shooting,” Muller explains of this unique challenge. “And Wolverine’s got this dark side to him, this troubled beginning, so I tried to tap into that and convey it in a subconscious way.”

Muller largely achieved this with stark settings and dramatic lighting; he even used a cage at one point to cast symbolic shadows onto the animalistic Wolverine. In addition to numerous solo portraits of Hugh Jackman, Muller also photographed the entire cast. And although 20th Century Fox — the studio that produced Wolverine — believed that all the images shown below effectively convey the tone of the movie, the group shot was one of the first to be ruled out. According to a Fox representative, ultimately it just wasn't right for the franchise. "We had already released three X-Men movies, so we decided that introducing new prequel characters before the film was out would be confusing," he explains.

It was thus narrowed down to single shots of the titular character. Among these, two stood out. “The bone-claw image [below, left] was a serious contender for a long time, because it indicated the early evolution of Wolverine,” the rep says. “Being a prequel, that made sense. But ultimately, the straight-on single [top] was chosen because it’s iconic of that character. Plus, print generally comes down to gut instinct, and that piercing stare was hard to beat.”