‘Willy’ Print Pushes Boundaries, Engages Imaginations

Designed to promote its capabilities, Post Press Specialties’ Willy Wonka print received recognition as Best of Show – Digital Embellishments in the 30th annual FSEA Gold Leaf Awards Competition.
by Erin La Row, editor, PostPress

If there is one movie character who has helped shape childhood imaginations for decades, perhaps it’s the eccentric and mysterious Willy Wonka – founder and proprietor of the Wonka Chocolate Factory. Roald Dahl’s 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory first came to life on the big screen in the 1971 musical fantasy film adaptation Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, with Willy Wonka immortalized by the late Gene Wilder. The movie ignited imaginations, leaving many children dreaming of dipping their hands in a river of chocolate or dancing through a park of lollipop flowers and gummy bear trees. Others were shaken by the ominous undercurrent of Wilder’s character (let’s not forget the tunnel scene). Regardless, Wilder delivered a Golden-Globe-nominated performance – veering from charming to mildly sadistic candy maker – that still is captivating more than 50 years later.

When the team at Post Press Specialties in Independence, Missouri, needed to design a piece to demonstrate the company’s overall capabilities and how fine of a dot could be foiled on its digital embellishment machine, the titular candy man became the inspiration.

“I first asked for a duotone photo and, after a few days of playing around, Willy Wonka was targeted and we went above the two colors originally planned,” said Andy Humble, president of Post Press. The graphics were created in Adobe Illustrator. The challenge, Humble said, was to intermingle small dots of opaque foil to create an image resembling a lithographic photo. The team was surprised it could produce foil halftone dots in different foil colors in a way none of the team members had ever seen before. The result: a striking image of Wilder’s Willy Wonka in his signature top hat and purple jacket, simply called “Willy.”

The process

“Willy” was a piece of whimsy from the start, created on a leftover scrap piece of board that the team laminated. The project was done, design to finish, in an afternoon, with fewer than 10 copies made. It was produced as a sample to show customers.

“We showed the print to people as we did plant tours and a few samples were given away over time,” Humble said.

When asked if the company had anything to enter into the FSEA Gold Leaf Awards, Humble said the team found the last two copies and made frames out of paper in the shop. The team then added a black soft-touch laminate they had been given to try and added a quote from Willy Wonka himself: “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.”

The piece was produced on a Konica Minolta JetVarnish EVO 3D using foils made by Crown Roll Leaf. On the MGI, inkjet heads print the image based on the foil pattern and the Willy photo was adjusted to create layers of foil. The UV coating on the sheet then cures under a UV lamp before being re-heated under a hot foil stamp roller, which allows foil to transfer to the areas printed previously with UV. The paper stock used was 24-point CIS with 1.5 mil FeatherTOUCH matte laminate from Leading Edge.

Inspired by a “world of pure imagination,” Post Press Specialties moved quickly to create the project. “We have a special machine – we have great operators. Let’s make something to show the limits to engage customers’ imaginations,” Humble said. “We have different foil colors and the guidance of, ‘We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of the dreams’ [a Wonka quote lifted from the poem, Ode by Arthur O’Shaughnessy], and – the next day – 10 samples of this were shared.”

Now, the team at Post Press Specialties is celebrating “Willy” for winning Gold in the category Best Use of Digital Foil (Self Promo) in the 30th annual FSEA Gold Leaf Awards competition. It then took the Best of Show award from among all gold award winners for Digital Embellishments.

“The ‘Willy’ poster is an amazing demonstration of what can be accomplished with digital embellishments,” said FSEA Executive Director Jeff Peterson. “Even with having a record number of entries this year in the FSEA Gold Leaf Awards, it really stood out and was awarded Best of Show.”

Humble said he couldn’t be happier about the win: “We enjoy pushing the limits of equipment and operators in an effort to create something never done before. Thanks for the selection of Best of Show!”

The magic will live on, immortalized in film and print. Humble added that one customer asked for his own copy of “Willy.”

“He took it and had it matted and framed, and it’s now hanging in his house,” Humble said. “That very much surprised me!”

In the years since the movie’s debut in 1971, Johnny Depp has added his spin to the quirky character. Later this year, Timothée Chalamet is expected to bring Willy Wonka back to the big screen in the “Wonka” prequel.