The John Wick movie franchise starring Keanu Reeves is one that inspires more passion and discussion among its fans than almost any other action films. While it might be known colloquially as “the movies about an assassin avenging his dead dog,” the series clicks on several deeper levels thanks to its lush visual aesthetic and endearingly gothic tone.
A movie like John Wick 3: Parabellum can pose an incredible challenge on the marketing front. Trailers and print ads must energize fans while doing justice to its complex vibe and nuanced anti-hero—ideally while also enticing new audiences to discover the franchise.
The U.K. artist known as Billelis was clearly up to the task. His dark and mesmerizing poster for John Wick 3 is an absolute masterclass in combining rich, layered detail while creating a striking image that practically leaps off the page or screen.
(Click the image below to see a larger version.)
Adweek caught up with the artist to learn more about how the poster came about and exactly how such an intricate image was created. Here’s our chat with artist Billy Bogiatzoglou of the Billelis studio:
Adweek: How did you get connected with this project?
Billy Bogiatzoglou (Billelis): I was approached by LA agency and with the help and support of my production company, NERD Productions, and Lionsgate creative executive Doug Lloyd. The discussion began of how we wanted to bring this collaborative project to life elegantly and what I wanted to achieve from an artist’s perspective.
The creative freedom that I was endorsed following the brief really allowed me to become personally connected with what I was designing and make it something that together we could all be incredibly proud of. It really has been a dream collaboration on all fronts.
What was your concept going into the poster design? Did you pitch several ideas, or was it always going to be this one?
It was a real honor to be part of this process and have the opportunity to add my vision to the legendary John Wick franchise. Very soon after reading the brief, I envisioned exactly what introspective path I wanted to venture down and the ideal overall demeanor and finish that I wanted to achieve. It all came together for me very quickly in my head, then I put pen to screen. We all fell in love with the concept as the production process started and as it developed the buzz in the studio and form the agency was more and more intense.
Remembering each of the varied locations that are represented in the John Wick movies, I intricately wove together Moroccan patterns, Japanese neon lighting and decorative elements from the Continental Hotel cohesively into the aesthetics.
I sculpted elements in Zbrush whilst the artwork was put together in Cinema 4D and rendered in Octane. Post-work and grading was done in Photoshop and Lightroom.
The most challenging part of producing my whole visionary ideas and perceptions is managing to allow each element to come together with the next without it becoming overwhelming or confusing for the story that we were trying to tell.
I also created 3D depth, displacement and normal maps so the principal photography could be affected by the 3D lighting, resulting in a cohesive mood.
How long did the whole design process take? Did any aspects prove more time consuming or difficult than you expected?
It was around three months’ work from the rough concept photo bash to the retouching and grading of the principal photography of Wick. Once the rough concept was approved, I used it as a backplate to guide all the 3D elements I had to create.
There were multiple versions created with various shots of Keanu Reeves which ultimately led to the final launch shot—battered, bruised and hunted. The previous versions also contained variations of guns which were ultimately removed for various reasons and instead used weapons inspired by the statues in the Continental. What was once a safe haven is now what is trying to kill John Wick.
Tell us about some of the symbolism and visual references in the final piece.
Religion has always been a huge inspiration to my work, which I feel has added a deeper, mythological and mysterious impact to the pieces. Even though John Wick is by no means a Saint, I found that something about him evokes a sense of righteous retribution.
So naturally, I gave him a halo, creating a Santa Muerte aesthetic. Around his halo is a series of spears, swords and weapons inspired by statues in the Contintental.
Another key addition was the element of death alongside the juxtaposed angelic references. The fate of John Wick is unknown to us all but the writers; however, personally, I would love to see him reunited with his late wife and beloved puppy—pictured on the bottom of the artwork enveloped by roses.
How would you describe your design aesthetic? How well do you feel it matched up with the vibe of the John Wick series?
I would describe my illustration style as a balancing act between dark art, gothic illustrations and decorative elements. I aim to portray beauty in darkness with inspirations from baroque architecture, tattoo artwork, religious iconography and geometric decorative patterns.
I felt like it was a perfect match because even though the film is based on assassins, death and violence, there is a sense of elegance coming through the locations, clothing and the high-end concierge level of service these assassins get.
I believe in crafting art that stands the test of time and art that is still truly bespoke.