How To Take Artistic Inspiration From A Film (In Four Easy Steps)

Although I’ve talked more generally about how to take inspiration (and the difference between inspiration and plagiarism), I thought that I’d focus specifically on films in this article. Naturally, all of the stuff here can also be applied to TV shows too.

But, I thought that I’d talk about it after making a digitally-edited gothic sci-fi painting (which will be posted here in August) that was initially inspired by the bar scene from “Blade Runner“, but quickly turned into it’s own thing (as any inspired painting should). Here’s a reduced-size preview:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 3rd August.

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 3rd August.

So, how do you take inspiration from a film?

1) Watch it: This step almost goes without saying, but get a DVD (or Blu-Ray) of the film and watch it.

Chances are, if it’s a film that you want to take inspiration from, then it’s one that you’ve already seen at least once. But, if you’ve only seen clips or trailers from it, then try to actually watch the whole film. If you’ve already seen it, try to rewatch as much of it as you can – paying close attention to how everything looks.

This will give you a sense of the atmosphere of the film and it will also help you to get into the mood for making original art inspired by it.

2) Freeze frames, screenshots and/or image searches: Once you’ve watched the film, then look at some still images from the film. This will allow you to study some of the general techniques and generic features of the film in greater detail.

The “generic elements” part is important! Although I’m not a copyright lawyer, it is a well-known principle that you cannot copyright an idea ( only highly specific expressions of an idea can be copyrighted). In other words, whilst the precise visual details of a single frame from a film can be copyrighted, the general idea behind that frame cannot.

For example, anyone can make a painting of “a rainy futuristic city, with tall angular buildings, neon lighting and flying cars“. This is an idea. Anyone can use it. However, if you then painted an exact copy of a frame from “Blade Runner” (or directly copied highly-distinctive details from the frame), then you would be breaking copyright rules. Why? Because that frame from “Blade Runner” is a highly-specific interpretation of the general idea of “a rainy futuristic city, with tall angular buildings, neon lighting and flying cars“.

So, take a close look at these pictures and see which colour combinations tend to be used often. Look at how the scenes are laid out (eg: camera angles etc..). Look at the general types of clothing (eg: formal, informal, old, new etc..) the characters are wearing. Look at the types of lighting that are used. I’m sure you get the idea….

Once you’ve studied at least several different images from the film in question, make a list of the generic elements that really appeal to you. Then move on to the next step.

3) Look for other inspirations: If you don’t have any other inspirations, then this is the time to find them. Look online for stills from other films in the same genre as the one that inspired you, read some comics, play some computer games, look online for types of art that interest you, or just watch another one of your favourite films.

The thing to remember about inspiration and originality is that the more different inspirations you have, the more original your artwork will look. If you just have one inspiration, then it is probably going to show. This isn’t a bad thing (provided you haven’t crossed the line into actual plagiarism), but it isn’t ideal either.

For example, in the preview I showed you earlier – although the initial inspiration was the bar scene from “Blade Runner”, I also took some inspiration from gothic fashion/traditional formal fashion (as opposed to the futuristic “film noir” fashion used in ‘Blade Runner’) for the clothing designs.

Likewise, although the idea of breaking up a scene into several parts by using pillars was inspired by the compositions used in parts of “Blade Runner”, the wall textures were probably at least partially inspired by the futuristic locations in the “Ghost In The Shell” anime franchise. Likewise, the picture is split up into two coffin-shaped areas – which, again, is more of a gothic horror kind of thing.

My approach to the lighting in this painting was mostly inspired by the orange lighting in the bar scene from “Blade Runner”, but my colour scheme (eg: orange/blue/green/purple) was probably more inspired by the one used in a set of “Doom II” levels called “Ancient Aliens“.

4) Use your imagination!: Once you’ve done all of your preliminary research and are starting to feel inspired, eject the DVD (or watch another one), close your internet browser and let your imagination take over. After all, whilst you now have a few general elements you can use, you are going to have to work out how to interpret them in your own unique way.

Although you will probably have at least one list of general elements, you now have to find a way to use those general elements to create something different from the film you took inspiration from. So, don’t look at anything from the film in question whilst drawing or painting. Don’t use any characters from it. Don’t copy any highly-specific details. Use your imagination!

Remember, inspiration taken from other things should only be used as a guide to help support your own imagination. It’ll give you a list of general things to use in your art, but you still have to find an interesting new (in the sense of not exactly identical to anything else) way of using them. It’ll allow you to produce art that is vaguely reminiscent of the thing that inspired you, but is also it’s own thing too.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂


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