Posted 03 October 2022
Interview by Ashley Tan
Mention Iskander Amyatt-Leir

Graphic designer for film and TV, Iskander Amyatt-Leir, on drawing inspiration from Victorian receipts

Having developed a penchant for projects with historic settings, graphic designer Iskander Amyatt-Leir seeks inspiration as a keen observer of the past: “finding bits of ephemera from years gone by or looking through museum archives to use as reference.” The result of this love has been work on highly stylised projects including Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch and television series The Great. Here, Iskander discusses the application of graphic design principles on such historical projects, alongside turning work experience contacts to full-time employment and budgeting for project-based work.

Iskander Amyatt-Leir

Iskander Amyatt-Leir

Job Title

Graphic Designer



Selected Projects

The Great, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, The French Dispatch

Place of Study

BA Graphic and Media Design, London College of Communication (2017-2020)


Social Media


What I do

How would you describe what you do?
I’m a graphic designer working in film and TV. The graphics team work as part of the art department but also work closely with set decoration and props departments. We’re responsible for anything which appears in film and television shows which has a graphical element. This includes anything that involves typography, illustration, pattern or needs to be designed and printed. This could be set dressing smaller props such as letters, newspapers or computer screens, but also larger art department requirements such as wallpapers, paintings or signage.

What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
I’m drawn to projects with historical settings, so I love finding examples of historical design and finding bits of ephemera from years gone by, or looking through museum archives to use as reference. I love discovering how the limitations of technology of a specific time and place informs design trends throughout history.

“I love discovering how the limitations of technology of a specific time and place informs design trends throughout history.”

Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
There are many different elements which go into making a television show or film, so an ability to collaborate and good communication is vital. We are constantly collaborating with a range of different departments, such as prop makers, painters and construction. Making sure that everyone is on the same page is essential.

I started working in the film industry after doing a BA in graphic design, which has been very useful. I don’t think it’s vital to have a formal education in graphic design; I know plenty of people working in graphics who started out in different departments and have learnt on the job. However, I do think it is helpful to have an understanding of the main principles of graphic design, such as layout, typography and colour theory. These are tools for communication, which is the core of graphic design; regardless of whether you’re creating a logo to express a brand’s values or a Victorian newspaper.

In terms of practical skills when starting out, I think a basic understanding of Photoshop and Illustrator is desirable. Being handy with a scalpel and ruler is also very useful as, in my experience, there is a lot of cutting and trimming of paper.

Trailer for The Great

Iskander’s drawings for The Great, designed to look like they were drawn by a child from the 18th century

What’s been your favourite project to work on from the past year, and why?
For series two of television series The Great, I had to create many animal drawings, which needed to look like they were done by children. It was fun to create something which was quite whimsical and needed an air of naivety. I enjoyed working out how a child would depict things, especially children from 300 years ago, who would have only heard stories about what they were drawing.

If you could sum up your job in a meme, what would it be, and why?
This meme (below) as working in film is fast paced, and often, you’re working to deadlines which are ever-changing, with new requests coming in last minute. I think it is important to be able to keep cool under pressure and be able to find creative solutions to problems as they arise. It’s our job to make sure things are ready for filming and you’ve got to find ways to make that happen, even if the circumstances change.

“It’s our job to make sure things are ready for filming and you’ve got to find ways to make that happen, even if the circumstances change.”

How I got here

What was your journey like when you were first starting out? Did you find your feet quickly?
I found there was quite a steep learning curve when it came to filmmaking and how the industry worked, which initially I found quite overwhelming. Although I knew I wanted to work in graphics, I found it very helpful to get a bit of experience working in the wider art department. I volunteered working on short films and music videos, which helped me understand the process of getting things ready for a shoot, how things work on a set, and the various responsibilities of different roles.

When I started working on graphics for films, I also discovered that I had to start thinking about the way my work would be seen [on screen]. Most of the graphics produced for films or television shows are barely seen and if they do get a close up, it’s often very quick. Therefore it’s important that the viewer can understand what the graphic is immediately; there’s not necessarily time for subtlety.

Iskander’s self-initiated project of props based on a character from Sarah Walters’ Tipping the Velvet, depicting a character’s visits to music halls in Canterbury

How did you go about landing your first commissions?
I started by getting jobs from contacts I had made when I was doing work experience while on a year in industry at university. I found work experience to be the best way to meet people and make contacts when starting out as getting jobs in the film industry is often reliant on who you know.

When starting out, it’s important to reach out to as many people as possible. If you’re at uni, reach out to people on the film courses to see if you can help on their projects. Attend events and talks aimed at people in the film industry and get chatting. I’ve been to some great talks put on by BAFTA and the BFI where I’ve met people who have helped me get my foot in the door of the industry.

“When starting out, reach out to as many people as possible. If you’re at uni, reach out to people on the film courses to see if you can help on their projects.”

Apothecary bottles made by Iskander for a doctor’s cart in The Great

What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
When starting out, I found the biggest struggle to be developing the confidence to network and put myself out there. I’m naturally quite introverted, so the thought of reaching out to people I didn’t know well was nerve-wracking. However, I’ve found that most people are willing to help; the worst that can happen is that you don’t get a response to your email.

As I’ve started working regularly, I’ve found maintaining a work-life balance to be a struggle. Film industry hours are long and you’re typically working an 11-hour day – if not more – so it’s important to make sure you give yourself time off between long projects and not overwork yourself. It’s easy to want to stay late to try to make a good impression, but in the long run, I’ve found that results in being less productive.

“It’s easy to want to stay late to try and make a good impression, but in the long run, it results in being less productive.”

If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
I saw graphic designer Annie Atkins give a talk about her experience working on Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel when I was finishing my first year of university. It was my first time hearing about graphics for film, and I decided then and there that that was what I wanted to do.

I was already interested in historical design and analogue methods of producing graphic design, and hearing her talk about designing and making telegrams and old fashioned passports showed me that film could be an excellent way to turn those interests into a career. She’s since released a book which has some wonderful examples of graphics for film as well as her creative process, which I found very informative.

I also love collecting historical ephemera – anything from World War II ration books to French newspapers from the 1960s, to even Victorian receipts. I love being able to hold something and really analyse what makes it feel authentic: what type of paper they used, how the typography is arranged, what effect the method of printing has... it all helps in understanding how things were made and why.

How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work?
As a graphic designer for film and television, I think self-promotion is more important than social media; it’s about making connections with the people you work with as they’re the ones who are likely to recommend you for your next job. Social media can help, but it’s challenging to showcase your work as you’re not allowed to share visuals of a project until after it has been released, which can often be a year or two after you’ve worked on it.

What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
Learning to save properly when I’m working. Working in the film industry, you’re essentially a freelancer – you’ll work on one production and when that wraps, you’re out and looking for another job. There’s no guarantee that you’ll find another job immediately and, often, you’ll need a break to reset between productions, so there are times when I’m not earning. I’ve learnt to account for this time off and put aside money while I’m working to support myself between jobs, meaning I can actually relax between jobs without getting too stressed about finances.

My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t be afraid to get in touch with people you want to work with. Even if doesn’t work out at that point in time, it’s better that you’ve made contact; you never know what it could lead to. One of my first jobs was from a production designer who got my portfolio from someone I’d emailed six months before and never heard back from; don’t lose hope if someone doesn’t get back to you immediately as they’ll often keep your details on file.

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
Get involved in smaller film projects and creating self-initiated projects focussed on the type of films you want to work on. I created a series of graphic props based on a book set in the Victorian era as I knew I was more interested in period films and shows, and it was front and centre in my portfolio for quite a while. People often don’t have a lot of time to look at your portfolio, so make sure that the most relevant projects and skills are showcased first, and take out anything which doesn’t show off a relevant skill.

I would also suggest checking out the Graphics Union, which is a group of UK-based graphic designers working in the film industry. They’ve recently released membership options for those starting out and I’ve found it an invaluable resource while working in the industry.

Interview by Ashley Tan
Mention Iskander Amyatt-Leir