the English Sheik & the Yemeni Gentleman

This was the most challenging DVD cover I’ve ever designed.

The film is a touching documentary that focuses on the themes of friendship and family, but the only source images we had of the featured men had too low of a resolution to be featured on the cover – they were mostly from screenshots of the DVD. We had some higher resolution shots of the Yemeni landscape on hand, but I wanted the cover to feature the men most prominently.

Since using a photo was not an option, I opted to try to create a vector art version of a screen capture I took of the film. The art came together fairly quickly, and I was pleased with the way it looked.

I moved it to the DVD template, and it became clear that it wouldn’t work in its current state. The colors were too bright, the feel too soft, and the background too plain. The client suggested adding a city in the background, so I set to work creating a vector city.

This was the perfect chance to play around with the Illustrator CS5 perspective grid toolset! Being the nerd that I am, I was thrilled to get to play with the new toy, and quickly assembled an isometric view of a Yemeni city, cobbled together from various source photos.

Around the same time, I was also pursuing various options for the design of the text of the title. Being by far the longest title I’ve rendered, it presented a number of unique challenges. How to make the title readily and quickly readable and digestible was my top priority, followed with aesthetic appeal and an appropriate typeface. I settled on a couple of type treatments I liked, and moved on to implementing the background with the vector.

I dropped the city behind the mountain, and it was immediately too busy. There was nothing to de-emphasize the city, so it competed directly with the men I wished to feature. I attempted to replicate a limited camera focus, darkened the background, and added a bit of a haze, but it never ceased to feel too busy. After running the design past colleagues, it became increasingly clear that I would have to scrap the vector design. It was too cartoony, too colorful, and didn’t have the right feel for the film, no matter how I might try to dress it up.

Thus, I went with option B – using the higher-resolution photographs of the landscape. I took one such shot of a Yemeni desert city, expanded the sky, and overlaid some subtle Yemeni patterns lifted from ceremonial knives and fabrics. The concept looked promising; despite being devoid of the title characters, it was visually interesting and eye-catching. I implemented my favorite type treatment, and enjoyed how much of the cover was dominated by the sky.

Yet… it was still missing something. The whole cover felt empty and devoid of character.

Curious, I tried to bump up the font size, and switch to something less formal. The effect was precisely what I was looking for. Combined with some decorations from the edges of Yemeni fabric, the title treatment became the highlight of the cover, and gave it the character I was looking for.