morgan girvin

illustrator, maker and hermit
home > illustrated work > film posters > the grand budapest hotel

The Original 24x36” Illustration and the final Coloured Illustration


This was a Private Commission piece I created based on Wes Anderson’s film ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. I absolutely love this film, and it’s certainly one of my favourite Anderson Flicks, so I was absolutely delighted to get the opportunity to try and capture it in a piece of work. There was a lot of back and forth with how this was shaping up, especially with the colours, but I’m so happy with how it’s come out (so I think it was worth it!).


If anyone has seen the Wes Anderson Boxset that I made (click here if not!) then you’ll know that I really like the image of The Grand Budapest standing tall atop it’s little hillside. So I knew right from the get go that that would probably feature within the illustration, and given the hierarchical nature of that imagery, I knew that it would probably be the centre piece. Which worked out fine for me since, you know, it is called The Grand Budapest Hotel.

As to what would fill the rest of the image, we knew that we wanted it to have as many details as possible crammed into it. The film is so rich, both visually and narratively, that there really is such a wealth of things to choose from. One particular visual I was inspired by was this wallpaper I had on my laptop a few years ago:

A photograph of a sloping cobblestone laneway with the far-reaching landscape spawling out into the distance. Google reverse-image search now tells me that this is a place in North Dorset, but whilst I was in the midst of planning out the illustration it felt quite reminiscent of the Eastern European villages and landscapes that we get brief glimpses of throughout the film. It was with this that I started planning out the general layout; village in the front, mountains in the back.

As you can see in the rough sketch above, perspective (still) isn’t my strong suit, and the incorporation of the village wasn’t quite working as I was hoping. But from here I transitioned to hashing these things out digitally. On the computer I’m able to draw the hard things (characters, vehicles, anything that’s not bricks) on seperate layers, so I’m easily able to move things around. +1 for technology. Below you can see how the layout was beginning to take shape.

One of the other things that was tremendously helpful with the project was the ‘The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel’ book by Matt Zoller Seitz. There was a lot of useful pictures, information and screengrabs that I could draw upon and use within the illustration. And besides that, it’s just an interesting read!

Around this time in the development process, I started also trying to think about colour, and this was my initial direction:

At the time I thought it was great, but with distance it is very (very) clearly much too pink, and too dark! Very glad this wasn’t the direction we ended up taking. Here are some of the further developments we made to the general layout:

Again, alongside the linework, I was also trying to figure out the colour. Off the back of the previous colour roughs, I gave it another crack, this time aiming for something lighter. I also altered the Pink hue I had chosen, as I looked back at stills/promo for the film and realised it’s a lot closer to salmon than I remembered.

With the general layout pretty much set, I moved on to creating a pencil sketch. This bit can be quite time-consuming, but I find it incredibly helpful to fill in all of the details that I don’t want to hash out digitally. The digital stuff is great for layout and being able to move things around, but as for the texture of the buildings, the bricks in the road and the shape of the trees? I need a pencil in my hand for that.

One of the other things that was included at this point was the name of every ‘billed’ cast member. Beforehand I had just cherry-picked the most prominent names, but I read on the Wikipedia page for the film that -

”A seventeen-actor ensemble received star billing in The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

I thought that was quite an interesting notion, and since Anderson’s films are often known for their colloborations, I wanted to honour that and carry it through in my work. After the pencil sketch was scanned in, I noticed things had to change. Below you can see some of the iterations. Some big differences, some little.

After the pencil stuff was sorted, I scanned it in, blew it up, printed it off, and drew it all in ink. I think I over did it on the stippling, not for how it looks, but just for how much work I ended up putting in to it. But you know what, it looks fab! I did the drawing itself just shy of 24x36”, so it really was a massive undertaking. It was 4 sheets of A3 paper cellotaped together, which made it easier when it came to scanning. Here’s the scanned (and stitched together) drawing below.

Linework? Easy Peasy. Colour? Utter nightmare. I hate colour. It’s awful. You’d think that with a director who is known for their pastel colours that it would be easy for me to get this sorted right off the bat....right? Nope! It was a tedious case of trial and error on my own behalf trying to get them figured out, you can see below how iterative the process was.

One of the things we were trying to capture was the idea that the artwork is taking place early in the morning. The Village is dark, and the sun is rising over the mountains. Agatha is out on her early morning deliveries and the day is about to begin. The problem, we realised after a while, is that the dark colours we were aiming for just didn’t reflect a Wes Anderson film. I was making things too dark, or it was coming across too gloomy. 

The breakthrough moment came when it was suggested I try use blue, and we realised that it didn’t actually have to be dark colours. Instead it could be a light blue (which also features throughout the film - and on the Criterion Cover), which would hopefully convey that early morning chill that we were looking for. You can see below where it started to become a bit more refined.

And now, I’m sure that looking at that, you’d be able to draw a straight line directly from that colouring through to the final illustration. Except it wasn’t as simple as that. I think we’d spent too long looking at the colours, and things weren’t working for us. It wasn’t quite right. The yellow isn’t working? I don’t like the blue? The colours look a bit flat? Why have I done that church building in blue?

And thus ensued a good few weeks of mucking about with the colours, and it ended up being a nightmare. I’d loved the work I’d drawn, but I wasn’t able to colour it in a way that I, nor the commission group, were particularly happy with. So we went round and round the garden, tweaking and changing trying to get something everyone was happy with. And do you know what we called the final piece?

That’s where we called it quits. Thats the point where we tucked it away and decided “Yep, that’ll do”. And what an ABSOLUTE TRAVESTY that would have been! I mean, sure, it works, but it’s hardly a Wes Anderson poster.

Thankfully, after 2 weeks of stepping back and radio silence, I was cleaning up my desktop when I saw the light blue version we’d had, where we’d initially felt like we’d made the breakthrough on colour. I sent it through to the group - “I’m not sure what on earth I was thinking with how we left it. How about we look at this version again?” And lo and behold they had thought the exact same thing, with the exact same version.

I took everything back to how it was and cleaned things up. Some buildings needed changing, the yellow glow was toned back so it was more subtle, and voilà, we got where we ended up! Don’t get me wrong, there was a LOT of fiddling that was still to be done, especially regarding the trees and the logo, but for the most part it was finished! And now, looking at it, I’m absolutely delighted. Possibly my favourite thing I’ve ever drawn (I say this most times I do something new, and every time I mean it), and I hope that other people like it too!