Designing History: Creating La Boca's Red Army poster

Scot Bendall, Creative Director of La Boca design studio, discusses the influences and process behind the stunning poster art for Gabe Polsky's enthralling ice hockey documentary, Red Army.

"As a studio we’ve always been fascinated by Russian avant-garde graphics. From the film posters of the Stenberg Brothers and the constructivist graphics of Rodchenko and El Lissitzky, through to the colours and textures of Kandinsky, it’s a period of art history that continues to influence us and the world of graphic design in general.

So, when we were presented with a brief to design the poster for Red Army it was an opportunity we grasped with both hands. We were fortunate to become involved in the project at quite an early stage and the poster was originally commissioned to accompany the film when it became officially selected for the Cannes Film Festival 2014. As the film was due to premiere at the festival, it wasn’t possible for us to watch it beforehand so we had to rely on the brief and a short synopsis of the film for our inspiration.

We were told that the film explores Soviet history, through the career of the legendary USSR ice hockey team, and specifically the players known as the ‘Russian Five’ who formed the near-unbeatable core of the Red Army team. The brief highlighted that the film focused on the human point-of-view of these players, whilst also exploring the wider Cold War tensions of the period. The political background to the team makes the story of these players even more extraordinary.

Stylistically, we were asked to imagine the poster in the world of Soviet graphics from the 1970s and 1980s, whilst maintaining a clear link to ice hockey and featuring the five players. The poster was required to look historical at first glance, it needed to be instantly clear that we were talking about the USSR and ice hockey. When designing a poster based on historical references we usually try to place ourselves in the period, and ask how the poster would have looked if we were designing it then. We do research into graphics from the period to discover subtleties in the designs that sign-post the era, and hopefully create something out of that which feels new, but also familiar. 

Red Army poster during screen printing

Creating a poster for a documentary is quite different to designing a regular film poster. The starting points are often easier as the films are based on facts and real people. You have a very clear line of inquiry from the beginning, and there are usually less ambiguities involved in representing the filmmaker's vision. We had initially discussed representing likenesses of the five players on the poster but it was felt that this would compromise the graphic-nature of the design and not enhance the message we were attempting to convey.

As with most film poster projects we initially created a selection of rough ideas before one was approved and developed. Unusually, in the case of Red Army the designs that didn’t make it through were still quite liked by the producers so they were used to create a set of postcards given away at the screenings in Cannes. 

Red Army promotional postcards

Overall we’ve been happy with how the poster has been received, even being included in the top 10 film posters of the year by Adrian Curry on MUBI, which is quite humbling for a small studio like ours. We’re now very excited to see the poster accompany the UK release by Curzon Artificial Eye, and we’ve created a limited edition of 100 screen prints to celebrate. The prints are hand-made in Bath, and feature 8 separate inks all individually layered on to eggshell art paper. These are available now from the La Boca online store."

Red Army poster screen print

Red Army is released in Curzon Cinemas and Curzon Home Cinema on Friday 9 October. Book tickets here.

Red Army limited edition screen prints (24 x 36") are available from La Boca at