How to... Be a Graphic Designer for Film

Together, Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima are MinaLima, a company specialising in graphic design for film. Having met on the second Harry Potter movie, they have since worked on The Fault In Our Stars and most recently BAFTA nominee The Imitation Game.

Miraphora: “[Graphic designer] is a relatively new role within the art department. The needs and demands of stories and films have pushed filmmakers to realise they need someone to take charge of that.

It is a mini department within the art department. Our principal responsibility is to help tell the story by inventing or recreating props. If the film is a historical piece like The Imitation Game, it’s our responsibility to research as much and as thoroughly as possible how something would have been at the time and recreate it.”

Eduardo: “We had to try and find out how all the decoding and decryption paperwork looked. The information was not very easy to find and we wanted to make sure that it was absolutely correct. That was a very complicated process. It’s good because now you can see all this paperwork in an exhibition at Bletchley Park. They liked what we achieved.”

M: “It had been noted in the research that [Alan Turing’s] wasn’t a normal house – he would express himself in these notes and put them everywhere, all over the walls. So we found some reference to his original notations and from that springboard we had to run with that and create these walls of his notes, so as a viewer it would help you subliminally understand his thinking process. Our job is to put that final layer on the set.”

E: “We buy a lot of books in Oxfam, lovely old books with beautiful bindings.”

M: “If you’re recreating something authentic you might go to an archive. We’re looking at the whole era of graphic design, not just Turing’s world. We do a lot of museum visits. You might be designing a complicated book cover and you’d go to a metalwork exhibit at the V&A.

The hardest thing on The Imitation Game was probably the decryption, even though they’re pieces of paper.”

E: “There were so many different parts of the process. The other thing is they didn’t have a lot of paper and they would re-use it.”

M: “There was the basic piece of paper, then there was the ticker tape that came out of the machine, there were notations in a wax pencil on top and then maybe a rubber stamp. And we’re talking hundreds and hundreds of repeats of the same ones because they got burnt and wet…

How do you start doing what we do? We value mixing handwork with the computer. If someone came to us and said they’ve been collecting wrapping paper, or strange typefaces for the past 15 years and they had an archive, that would be really interesting because they’d been looking beyond the internet.”

E: “We need to make things as well.”

M: “Yeah, how would you age something? How would you make a book look like it was 150-years-old and the character who owns it is a heavy smoker and drinker? It’s a lot of lateral thinking and being really curious. We’d look for someone’s curiosity in a whole wealth of visual stimuli. Typography is crucial for us too. Anyone who works on a film will – on every film, I don’t know why – end up having to make a menu, a ticket and a label.”

Eduardo Lima and Miraphora Mina’s CV

How did they get started? Brazilian native Lima graduated in Visual Communications in Rio De Janeiro and came to London in 2001, while Mina studied Film Design at the National Film School. They met in 2002 on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and eventually formed MinaLima in 2010.

Where else have you seen their work? Throughout the whole Harry Potter franchise. But also you will have spotted their street signs in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd and the food packaging they created for City of Ember. For David Yates’s upcoming live-action version of Tarzan, they made maps and other Victorian ephemera.

Oddest thing they’ve had to do? E: “It’s when you have to invent something like Coca-Cola, but it can’t be Coca-Cola, yet has to feel real.”

M: “In Harry Potter, whenever it was non-wizarding stuff, everything had to be created from scratch.”

E: “There was a big scene in Piccadilly Circus and we had to cover everything up, so you couldn’t see Wicked posters and things.”

Any mistakes? M: “In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, when Umbridge is putting up these proclamations with all these different messages. We just got a bit carried away with the layout and there were a few spelling mistakes!”

Perks of being a movie graphic designer? E:” You can put the names of family and friends on things. Mira’s son is the illustrator on 15 books in Harry Potter. My mum wrote five books and is the security editor of The Daily Prophet.”