Ally Campana is just a cater waiter moonlighting as a singer-songwriter when country singer Jackson Maine quite literally stumbles upon her in A Star Is Born: He’s at a drag bar trying to get a drink when he hears her belt out “La Vie En Rose.” So begins their romance: First Ally appears onstage with him for a handful of duets, then he talks her into doing a song solo; later on, he sits with her as she’s cutting her first single. But much to his consternation, Ally is eventually rebranded into a tangerine-haired star, belting pop bops about seduction and asses in jeans. And the new Ally is memorably introduced: She and Jackson kiss on the balcony of a hotel suite at the Chateau Marmont. Across the street stands a massive billboard, featuring Ally’s face, her new look, and her name in big block chromatic-yellow letters.
The sign Ally and Jackson stare at was faked for the movie, digitally added in postproduction. But as part of the Warner Bros. Oscar push for A Star Is Born, a real billboard now stands across from the Chateau, identical to the one from the film. Both are the work of graphic designer Andrea Burrell, who spoke with Vulture about coming up with the iconic design.
Even though Ally is a pop star invented for A Star Is Born, her music is good enough to stand alone; her visual identity had to be equally impressive, enough so to look real. At the start, the production sent Burrell images of Ally’s wardrobe and a still from the scene it would appear in. “They couldn’t show me a lot from the film, like what they had shot already,” she said. “They gave me a still of the scene where they’re overlooking and basically it was just a blank billboard saying, ‘Here’s where it’s going to go.’” Burrell and production designer Karen Murphy looked to some other musicians’ album artwork for inspiration: “Originally, we were looking at big pop stars, but then we were backtracking because none of them felt like the right look as far as who Ally is,” she said.
The studio provided Burrell with three photos of Gaga in character as Ally to choose from. Burrell decided to go with the low-key, tangerine-haired option because “she wasn’t done up as far as makeup goes, and it just felt very raw,” Burrell said. “Gaga herself is so radiant with that hair color. I felt like she needed to be the center of the image without any distractions.” Burrell then designed a color palette that looked like stage lighting, so the billboard would look like it came from a shoot where the lights were reflecting off of Ally’s face. “I sent like four or five different color waves to [Murphy],” she said. “She sent it to Bradley and Gaga and they came back and they loved it. There wasn’t a lot of back and forth. It was handpicked by them.”
Burrell designed the movie’s billboard in October 2018. Exactly a year later, Warner Bros. asked her to make it real. “They were like, ‘We want to put it out there for awards season to create buzz,’” she said. “They wanted it exactly how I had designed it. Obviously the design that I had made was done in visual effects. It was a much smaller format. I widened it and added more colors.”
In the film, the billboard is a little bit of a reveal: At that point in A Star Is Born’s arc, we know that Ally has performed at a small iHeartRadio show as a solo artist and has a single, but it’s unclear exactly how successful she is independent of Jackson. After her manager surprises her with news that she’s booked on the season finale of Saturday Night Live, her husband pulls her outside to stand and stare at the billboard and talk; Ally has arrived, but Jackson wants to make sure that everything is happening on her own terms. When Ally and Jackson look at the billboard in the film, they’re both a little awestruck by it. “You always said you liked my nose. It’s real big up there,” Ally says. “I love your nose,” Jackson replies. “I wish it was bigger up there. The whole thing should just be your fuckin’ nose. Fuck all those people that said anything. Just put up a billboard of your fuckin nose!”
Because I have seen this movie four (or is it five?) times, I recounted this dialogue to Burrell in its entirety. Did she have any idea that’s what they’d say? Was there ever a version of the billboard that was entirely Ally’s fuckin’ nose? “That is so funny. I totally forgot about that,” Burrell said. “They did keep asking to bring her bigger and bigger and bigger so that her face became more prominent.”