Emma Kirner

BFA | Visual Communication Design


My name is Emma Kirner, and I am graduating from Notre Dame with majors in Honors Visual Communication Design and English. I have lived in South Bend all my life, and the opportunity to attend Notre Dame has been a true privilege. Throughout my time at Notre Dame, I have been grateful to take advantage of the global opportunities available to me. I was able to study abroad in London, travel to Dublin with a grant for my thesis, visit Canada to learn about sustainability practices for a Social Design class, and had my design work impact education systems in India and Haiti through The Global Center for the Development of the Whole Child. I am grateful for Sarah Edmands Martin, Clinton Carlson, and Neeta Verma, as they all were incredible mentors to me at ND.


For my thesis, I designed a series of graphic props that take the viewer through specific moments in Neverwhere, an urban fantasy novel set in London, written by Neil Gaiman. I approached this project as if I were a graphic designer creating props for a hypothetical Neverwhere film.

Part-historical referencing and part-imagination, the craft of graphic prop-making for film involves the making of text and image-based graphics that range from hero props handled by a protagonist to background set dressing. Graphic prop design is all about coaxing the ordinary into the transcendental, and making the real more supremely alive and magical. 

In search of industry-specific guidance, I was able to acquire a spot in a graphic-prop making workshop for film, run by Annie Atkins, internationally known for her whimsical graphic prop design work for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. In August 2023, I traveled to Dublin, Ireland for the two-day workshop, learned specific techniques for graphic prop-making, calligraphy, and stamp-making, and presented my initial concepts for this project for Annie’s critique. I am so grateful to the Keough Naughton Institute for Irish Studies at Notre Dame, who completely funded this experience.

As a creative director and designer for this hypothetical film adaptation of Neverwhere, I chose to set this adaptation in 1960, given London’s post-war boom and growth into a cultural capital, which is significant to the book’s interest in the role of the city of London as a site of survival and inspiration. The props include: a first-aid-kit treasured by protagonist Richard Mayhew, a 1908 map of magical London Below, a Missing Poster for a girl who can open any door, a handwritten note delivered by a rat, a poster that taunts the protagonist in his Ordeal of the Key, and a Neverwhere movie poster.

Mind the Gap: Exploring Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere Through Graphic Props