Interview – ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ poster designer Ken Taylor on the Japanese inspiration behind his design

Australian-based artist Ken Taylor has created artwork and posters for some incredible bands and projects, including an exclusive design for a Quentin Tarantino 20th Anniversary boxset. But now, Taylor gets to flex his artistic muscles in the world of movies posters once more, as Lionsgate release their alternate art series for the upcoming John Wick: Chapter 4.

To celebrate the release of Ken Taylor’s new poster, I got the chance to chat with him about the inspiration behind his design, and the process that goes into making a new poster.

Nick: I just wanted to start off by mentioning that I had your ‘Tarantino XX’ poster as my phone background for years! I think it’s an amazing and insanely cool piece of art!

Ken Taylor: It’s funny you mention that because I just did a podcast recently where the hosts received that Tarantino box-set with that cover design for Christmas when it was released. So, it’s nice to know people enjoy my work!

Nick: And looking at what you have worked on now with this alternate art for John Wick: Chapter 4 – is it safe to say you were a fan of this franchise before beginning your work on it?

Ken Taylor: Yeah, definitely. However, I hadn’t seen the third one! I’d seen only the first two. So I quickly had to watch the third one before they sent me the fourth to watch. But, I got an unedited, almost directors cut that was four hours long and had some green screen shots and stuff like that. But I mean it was still amazing. It was probably my favourite of the four movies.

Nick: After watching the film, what was the first design idea that popped into your head? And how different did it end up being from the final design you chose?

Ken Taylor: Lionsgate initially called just to see if I was interested. I was actually renovating, we’d [Ken and his family] just moved states, and I was renovating my old house to get ready to sell it. So, I was sitting in the carpark of a Bunnings when Lionsgate called and asked if I had an initial thoughts.

Without giving too much away, there are parts of the movie that take place in Japan. And there is a scene where [John Wick] is standing on a building rooftop and cherry blossoms start to blow through, and that’s when that scene really kicks off. There’s a realisation within him, as well. That’s what got me thinking.

I’ve always been a fan of Japanese imagery, and giving that a run in the poster was really exciting to me. They [Lionsgate] were really into it straight away. So, I went home and did a quick sketch that they approved straight away.

Nick: How long is the process then, from that moment of coming up with the idea, all the way to the finished product that we now have?

Ken Taylor: The poster itself is probably about a week’s worth of work. But, I’m juggling lots of different things at once. So, overall, it took about 3 or 4 weeks. However, there were three different versions of the poster that I had created in that time. I’m hoping that other ones will be used down the track in some way as well. They’re pretty similar designs, Lionsgate just preferred the particular angle of Wick’s head on this one.

Nick: There’s also five symbols on the top right side of the poster – what are the significance of those?

Ken Taylor: I can’t say too much, but everything on the poster – the symbols, the cherry blossoms – is all influenced by a hotel John Wick stays at in Tokyo. One of the really interesting things about the whole John Wick universe is everything is thought out. The symbols appear in the hotel, but they’re a blink and you’ll miss it things. I was really inspired by the little things that were happening in the periphery of certain scenes. That’s what gave me a visual direction.

I’m not a huge action film guy, but there’s so much more to John Wick. I mean, you can’t get more brutal than John Wick, but it’s so beautifully choreographed and shot, plus the background and designs are great as well. It’s mind blowing, and it really inspired me for this poster design.

Nick: Talking about the things that occur in the background, or the finer details that make up a shot within the movie – is that also something you try to convey with your own artwork? And do you get excited when people pick up on the slight nuances of what you’ve created?

Ken Taylor: It’s certainly something I like to do. Most of the posters I make are to sell at a show as a collectable piece of art. But, they are limited edition silkscreened that may have symbolism that relates to a band or a sneaky reference to a lyric. I guess because I like the beauty of those kinds of pieces of art, and the level of creative direction I get from them is zero, I can do things like that.

There’s always bits and pieces in my work that people don’t even notice until months later! I’ve done posters with a silkscreen, transparent layer underneath. So, when you initially look at the poster, you don’t see it. But, if you’re unravelling it and light happens to capture it in a  certain way, you might find something. Or, turn the lights off and find out it glows in the dark.

Nick: Do you feel like that creative freedom is more helpful when making art specifically for someone or something?

Ken Taylor: It’s different each job. Sometimes I get to spend a fair bit of time with the key person, and sometimes they don’t get too involved other than hiring me and approving the artwork. You know, if I’m creating something for The Black Keys, they might say, please don’t make anything with black keys. There’s obvious do’s and don’ts, but for the most part, I get to run it my way.

Thank you to Ken Taylor for his time to chat about his John Wick: Chapter 4 poster, and thank you to StudioCanal for organising our chat! John Wick: Chapter 4 is in Australian cinemas March 23.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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