The Birds is one of Hitchcock’s best-loved horror films. Released in 1963, the film is set in the seemingly idyllic and serene Bodega Bay area of California. Before long, things take a sinister turn, with a series of increasingly violent bird attacks casting a cloud of fear over the quiet seaside town.
In this tutorial we’ll create a tribute poster to Hitchcock’s movie masterpiece, taking inspiration from one of the most tense scenes in the movie, in which a flock of crows slowly and menacingly gathers on a school playground. We’ll be using Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe InDesign to put the poster together—if you’re a beginner to all or any of these software programs, this is a fun and easy-to-follow tutorial where you’ll pick up some useful techniques for print and poster design.
Let’s get started!
1. What You’ll Need to Create the Poster
We’ll be using the full Adobe creative suite, Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign, to create the poster. We’ll use InDesign to create the layout and typography and look to Illustrator and Photoshop for creating the graphics. To create the silhouetted images of the birds and give the poster some vintage-style texture, you’ll need to download the following images:
You should also download and install this Hitchcock font, which is a lovely tribute to the original typography that designer Saul Bass created for many of Hitchcock’s movie credits.
2. How to Set Up the Poster Layout in InDesign
First, open up Adobe InDesign. Go to File > New > Document.
Set the Intent to Print, keep the Number of Pages to 1 and deselect Facing Pages.
From the Page Size drop-down menu, choose Custom. Let’s set the poster up to ‘Architectural D’ size, which is a standard size for printed movie posters. This is 24 by 36 inches, which converts to 609.6 mm in Width and 914.4 mm in Height. Type in the measurements, name the size Architectural D – Poster, click Add and then OK to exit the Custom Page Size window.
Back in the New Document window, set the Margins to 50 mm and add a Bleed of 5 mm.
Then click OK.
Expand the Layers panel (Window > Layers) and double-click on the Layer 1 name to open up the Layer Options window. Rename the layer Background and click OK.
Take the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) and drag across the page to create a rectangle that extends up to the edges of the bleed on all sides. Go to File > Place, choose the vintage paper image, and click Open. Allow the paper to fill the image frame completely.
Lock the Background layer, and then click on the Create New Layer button at the bottom of the Layers panel. Double-click on the layer and rename it as Color.
Expand the Swatches panel and click on the New Swatch button at the bottom of the panel. Double-click on the new swatch to open the Swatch Options window. Set the Type to Process, Mode to CMYK and the levels to C=43 M=14 Y=37 K=1. Click OK.
Take the Rectangle Tool (M) and create a shape the same size as the paper image frame below. Set the Fill to your new green swatch, C=43 M=14 Y=37 K=1.
Select the green rectangle and head up to Object > Effects > Gradient Feather. Set the Type to Radial, and switch the direction of the gradient if needed (by clicking on the icon to the right of the Gradient Stops slider) to ensure the gradient gets darker towards the outer edges of the page.
3. How to Create the Climbing Frame in Illustrator
For now, File > Save your InDesign poster and minimize the window. Open up Adobe Illustrator.
Create a new document and expand the Layers panel. Here we want to create a simple image of a climbing frame, similar to the one featured in the famous scene from the movie. You can either create your own image from imagination, or do as I’ve done here and use Google to find a still from the movie that you can use as a tracing guide.
Set the still on the bottom layer, lock it, and create a new layer to begin drawing. Use the Pen Tool (P) for straight lines, and the Arc Tool for any curved corners.
You want the graphic to be as minimal as possible, so don’t worry about trying to make the climbing frame too complex or decorative.
Continue to build up the lines of the frame, setting the Stroke color to a contrasting swatch to stand out against the image below.
When you have a complete image of the climbing frame, switch off the visibility of the image layer below.
Highlight all the lines, and adjust the Stroke color to Black.
Create a copy of the climbing frame layer by dragging the layer down onto the Create New Layer button at the bottom of the Layers panel. Then lock the original climbing frame layer below.
Highlight all the lines on the pasted layer, and head up to the Brush Definition drop-down menu at the top of the workspace. Go to Brush Libraries > Artistic > Artistic_ChalkCharcoalPencil. Choose the Pencil brush to set the lines, and increase the weight of the Stroke to 1.5 pt. This gives the climbing frame a slightly more vintage-looking texture.
Then go to File > Save As, and save the image as an Illustrator file.
Head back to your InDesign document and create a new layer. Name it Climbing Frame. Lock the Color layer below it.
Take the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) and create a new image frame at the bottom of the page. File > Place and choose your saved climbing frame image. Click Open and arrange the image so that the top is visible, with the lower part of the frame extending past the bottom edge of the page.
4. How to Create a Flock of Birds
Create a new layer and name it Flock of Birds; lock the Climbing Frame layer below. Take the Ellipse Tool (L) and create a rough oval about a third down the page. Set the Fill color to [Black], and then Edit > Copy the oval.
File > Save the InDesign document and minimize the window for now. Open up Adobe Photoshop. Now we’re ready to create the menacing flock of birds…
Create a new document in Photoshop, with the rough Height to Width proportions of 4 to 3 (I set mine to 400 mm by 300 mm).
Edit > Paste to drop the black oval onto the canvas. Resize to fit roughly as shown below.
Open up the Many birds flying in the sky image in a new window in Photoshop.
We’ll use this image as a building block for creating an image of a swarming flock of birds. First, we need to remove the white background. Duplicate the Background layer to preserve a copy of the original image, and then switch off the visibility of the Background layer.
Use the Magic Wand Tool (W) to select the white part of the image, and then click on the Refine Edge button at the top of the workspace. Use the sliders to make the edges nice and tight to the silhouette of the birds, and click OK.
Hit Delete to remove the white selection.
Use the Lasso Tool (L) to isolate a few birds from the image (try to select a group of birds flying in roughly a straight or slightly curved line), and Edit > Copy the selection.
Move back over to the other Photoshop canvas, and Edit > Paste the selection onto the page. Position against one edge of the oval, allowing some of the birds to disappear into the shape. Move the birds layer below the oval shape layer.
With the birds layer selected, create a New Adjustment Layer, choose Levels, and move the black slider to the far right to increase the level of black in the birds and make them appear more silhouetted.
Now it’s simply a case of copying and pasting more bird selections from the flying birds image onto the original canvas, allowing them to each sit below the Levels and the oval shape layers.
Focus at first on disguising the sharp edges of the oval shape, allowing the shape to feel as if it’s built up purely of swarming birds.
Then start to focus outside of the oval, building up more separate bodies of birds. Build up a small stream of bird shapes leading from the bottom right of the oval downwards, as if towards the climbing frame in our final poster design.
Continue to build more and more birds by copying and pasting different sections of the image over.
Then head back to your flying birds image and select the whole image, and Copy > Paste. Drop it onto the other canvas, and reduce the birds in size to create a sense of depth and scale.
Eventually you’ll have an image that’s completely dense with birds in the center, with hundreds of smaller outlying birds giving the sense of a huge swarm.
When you’re happy with the image, File > Save it as a Photoshop file, ensuring the image has no background color visible.
Return to your InDesign document and create a new large image frame using the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) on the Flock of Birds layer. File > Place the Photoshop image.
5. How to Add in Some Perching Crows
To give the sense that the flock of birds lifted off from the climbing frame below, we can add a few remaining perched crows on the climbing frame.
Open up the Crows perched in a tree image in a new window in Photoshop.
Duplicate the Background layer to keep an original copy of the image.
Go to Select > Color Range and click onto the blue area of the image to select the whole sky.
Increase the Fuzziness to about 110 and click OK to exit the window.
Refine the selection if needed, by using the Refine Edge function. Then hit Delete to remove the blue sky.
We want to isolate just the silhouettes of the crows. Luckily they are in a very rich black tone that should make them simple to isolate.
Go to Select > Color Range again, this time clicking on one of the black crows to pick up the black tones in the image. Increase the Fuzziness to about 137, and click OK.
Copy > Paste the selection onto a new layer, and switch off the visibility of the two layers below.
Use the Lasso Tool (L) to isolate areas of any remaining branches and delete them. You can use the Refine Edge function to get hold of any trickier areas of the branches.
Create a new layer.
Select the Eyedropper Tool (I) and click onto a dark section of one of the crows to pick up the black color. Then use the Brush Tool (B) with a small size and soft edges to paint over some of the areas of the crows that have any white or pale sections, to create solid silhouettes.
When you’re happy with the result, Shift-select both the paint layer and the isolated crows layer below, and Right-Click (Windows) or Control-Click (Mac) > Merge Layers.
To further increase the dark tones of the crows and make them more silhouetted, add a Levels Adjustment layer, sliding the black slider further to the right.
Switch off the visibility of any background color, and then File > Save the image as a Photoshop file.
Return to your InDesign document and create a new layer, called Perched Crows. Lock the other layers.
Create a new small image frame using the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) and File > Place your new Photoshop image into it. Arrange the image so that just one of the crows is visible in the frame. Position it so that it appears to be sitting on the climbing frame.
Copy > Paste the image frame, directly selecting the image inside the frame each time and manoeuvring a new crow into view. Position each on its own perch on the climbing frame.
6. How to Add a Finishing Typographic Touch
Remaining in your InDesign document, lock the Perching Crows layer and create a new layer above, naming it Typography 1.
Take the Type Tool (T) and create a new text frame in the center of the black oval. Type in ‘BIRDS’ and, from the Formatting Controls panel at the top of the workspace, set the Font to Hitchcock, Size to 300 pt and Font Color to the green swatch, C=43 M=14 Y=37 K=1, which we created earlier.
Create a second smaller text frame above the first. Type in ‘THE’, set the Font to Hitchcock, Size 84 pt and Color to [Paper].
We can also add some curved sections of the text inside the oval to add extra interest. To do this, use the Ellipse Tool (L) to create an oval shape that’s slightly smaller than the size of the black oval sitting behind.
Take the Type on a Path Tool (Shift-T) and click onto the line of the shape at the top-left corner. Type in ‘A FILM BY ALFRED HITCHCOCK’, highlighting and setting the text in Hitchcock, [Paper] and the Size at around 30-35 pt.
Create a new layer and name it Typography 2.
Select the ‘A FILM BY’ oval on the Typography 1 layer and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste in Place onto the Typography 2 layer above. Lock the Typography 1 layer to make it easier to edit the text of this second oval.
Edit the text to read ‘STARRING TIPPI HEDREN’ and pull down on the vertical line visible somewhere along the edge of the oval shape to switch the text to sit on the inside of the line.
Your Finished Poster
Congratulations! Your poster is finished, and it’s looking fantastic. All that’s left to do is to export it as a PDF or JPEG file ready for printing (File > Export in InDesign). This poster would make a great promotion for a Hitchcock movie screening at a college or community hall.
In this tutorial we’ve covered a range of useful poster design techniques and set up print-ready artwork using Adobe software. You should now feel more confident in tackling poster design projects and giving them a vintage twist! Just some of the key skills we’ve covered here are:
- Setting up a poster layout using Adobe InDesign.
- Incorporating texture and color to build up an interesting, vintage-style background.
- Designing minimal vector graphics in Adobe Illustrator and applying textured brushes to add vintage authenticity.
- Editing complex graphics in Adobe Photoshop to create an image with lots of depth and detail.
- Formatting typography to give the poster a final vintage touch.
Awesome work! I’d love to see your results from the tutorial, so be sure to share your Hitchcock poster designs in the comments below. And of course… Happy Halloween!