Drew Struzan is movie poster artist, with a career spanning more than 3 decades and known for his illustration work on more than 150 movie posters. Here we offer a glimpse into the illustrated world of movie posters by Drew Struzan. Over the last 30 years he has created some of the most iconic movie posters known, including Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Blade Runner. George Lucas has dubbed him “the only collectible artist since World War II”, Steven Spielberg said that he is my “favourite movie artist” and The Boston Globe described his as “the last of the great poster artists”.
Just like one of my other favourite movie poster artists Robert McGinnis, Drew Struzan has also drawn and painted book covers as well as working on album covers for titles such as Beauty and the Beast, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, The Goonies and for artists such as Roy Orbison (Memphis) and Brothers Johnson (Blam!).
I had to almost live up to the art that we were later going to ask Drew to create for the poster.”
Famous directors such as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Frank Darabont and Guillermo del Toro have pointed out, Drew Struzan has an uncanny ability to capture both the spirit and mood of a film in one static image. Indeed, it’s not uncommon for his posters to surpass the source material. “I had to almost live up to the art that we were later going to ask Drew to create for the poster,” admits Steven Spielberg in the 2013 documentary, Drew: The Man Behind the Poster.
Drew Struzan’s style is unique and starts with him sketching out drawings on gessoed illustration board, then tinting the draftsmanship with airbrushed acrylic paint, finishing up the highlights and other details with coloured pencils adding further airbrushing if required. The gessoed based allows Drew the luxury of being able to accommodate any requested changes to the work. He prefers to work on a 1:1 scale, and generally draws on a 40×30 inch board. Working from reference photographs and live models, Drew Struzan has been known, at times, to include depictions of himself, family members and friends in his work.
He is known for working very quickly; typically he will finish a painting within a week to two weeks. With the theatrical release of the Star Wars special editions, Drew Struzan created the three panel triptych within the limited four-week deadline. The poster artwork for John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of The Thing was created overnight, having received that assignment less than a day before the finished poster was needed.
They sent a messenger… picked it up, drove it to L.A., they liked it and used it as the poster. It’s become kind of a fan favourite.”
Drew said of the timing for creating the movie poster for The Thing, “They had actually called me on the telephone from Hollywood, I was living up in the mountains a hundred miles away. They called and said “Gotta project and we need a poster…uh…by tomorrow, we don’t have any reference material or anything but you remember that movie from the 50’s called “The Thing”? Well that’s it, just a remake of that movie…..So do a comp and we’ll take a look at it”. With no other material and no other knowledge than that, I just had to make a vague symbol of what I kind of recalled the felling of the movie was. So I did one drawing, faxed it to them, and they said “fine, paint it. We’ll need it by tomorrow morning at nine o’ clock”. I worked all day and all night into the next morning and got it finished. They sent a messenger a hundred miles up into the mountains and picked it up, drove it to L.A., they liked it and used it as the poster. It’s become kind of a fan favourite after all that and I painted it in what? Less than 24 hours?”
There have been times when Drew has worked on movie posters illustrations but they have never made the final cut. One such example was for Guillermo Del Toro’s film Hellboy. Drew created an iconic illustration for the film but they decided to go with a photoshopped version instead despite Guillermo wanting to use Drew’s design.
“The Hellboy thing was kind of done in those last 5 years of my painting career where the only time I got work was when people like Guillermo, who are lovers of art and artists themselves, they wanted art. So they did it regardless of the attitude of the powers that be. Of course the result was they didn’t use it. It was really heart breaking ya know? Guillermo loved it, I mean he said “This is my movie! This is perfect! This is great!” and he really fought for it but even he didn’t have the power to change their minds and attitudes. So it just wasn’t used, I got a lot of that the last few years where I did the paintings for the lovers of art”.
With the change from traditional illustrated movie poster artwork to the photoshopped examples of movie poster artwork we see today, Drew says “I don’t mind computers as a tool but it’s a shame it has not only changed the feeling of the world but also the industry. There’s a lack of the handmade human touch that people enjoy. That motivates, inspires, and transcends the page and becomes a part of people’s lives”.
The mentality of the people who commission the work and buy it has changed. Now it’s just a money maker instead of an art form.”
When comparing his work to the existing trajectory of movie poster design, he said “That’s what I was trying to do all my life, that’s what I feel I accomplished in many ways. It feels, for the most part, that it is gone. Not to say there aren’t great designers out there doing great things, because there are. But the mentality of the people who commission the work and buy it has changed. Now it’s just a money maker instead of an art form. The people that run the show aren’t artists anymore, they’re businessmen. So the computer enabled this new attitude”.
On the future of movie posters in the digital age and whether the hand drawn illustrations that he complete during his illustrious career would make a comeback, he says, “That’s what concerns me most of all because now, will it come back? Will paintings and art that connection from human to human be gone forever? Or will there be a renaissance? Will people go “We need to have more of our humanity and less of our industrialisation …I don’t know. It’s sad and I don’t think it will ever come back. Once a man has power, it’s a very rare person who would give it up. So I don’t think it’s going to change”.
I’m just doing what I’ve always done. I’m still painting and still sculpting and just enjoying art for the sake of the art.”
Drew Struzan officially retired from illustrating movie posters in 2008 and on the day he retired, his first grandson was born and says “I’ve been a babysitter for quite a lot of the time”. On continuing and producing new artwork he says, “The desire has always been for me to be a painter, to be an artist, that’s what I’ve always done. I was an illustrator for practical means and now that I don’t do that and don’t need to do that anymore. I’m just doing what I’ve always done. I’m still painting and still sculpting and just enjoying art for the sake of the art for no other reason than the pure love of visual stimulation I guess. So I’m still painting, that’s what I’m doing”.
This is my hobby, this is my life, this is my passion, this is what it’s all about …making art.”
However you could describe his retirement as being patchy at best. Over the past few years, he’s continued to produce occasional work for television and film like Frank Darabont’s The Walking Dead and Cowboys & Aliens. Filmmaker Dana Nachman made a documentary called Batkid, based on Miles Scott, a young boy with leukaemia, who took the internet by storm in 2013 when the Make-A-Wish Foundation allowed him to save San Francisco from the dastardly plans of The Riddler. Drew Struzan created a poster for Dana Nachman’s Batkid Begins: The Wish Heard Around The World.
Of course, the words that everyone asks is there a possibility he’ll come back to work? His last known work was for J.J. Abrams, Star Wars The Force Awakens released in 2015. Although the not the film’s officially released image, it was a promotional poster produced in limited edition and released only to the fans at D23 Expo 2015. Since then Drew has continued with his retirement but you can Never Say Never.
Drew Struzan: Oeuvre
by Drew Struzan, Dylan Struzan
This sumptuous hardcover edition, with a foreword by George Lucas, features over 250 pieces of artwork, including all of Drew’s most iconic movie images, as well as other highlights from his career, including album, book and comic book covers, stamps, trading cards, promotional artwork and very personal original works. The book comes right up to date, including exclusive San Diego Comic-Con poster art produced for the Walking Dead television series (2010) and the Cowboys & Aliens movie (2011), with text by his wife Dylan, providing an intimate look at the man and his legacy. The definitive collection of Struzan’s work; this is an absolute must-have for any movie buff and an unrivalled slice of both art and cinema history.
The Movie Posters of Drew Struzan
by Drew Struzan
Drew Struzan’s talent for capturing what is both human and heroic in the face of a movie character has made him the top Hollywood film campaign artist for the past 30 years. Struzan, “the last of the great poster artists,” according to The Boston Globe, has created the images for some of the biggest and most successful box office hits in cinematic history, including Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Back to the Future, the complete Star Wars series, E.T., Blade Runner, Rambo, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Hook. This compilation of his cinematic art, accompanied by text explaining his particular vision of each character, features a foreword by the director George Lucas.
The Art of Drew Struzan
by Drew Struzan, David J. Schow
Drew Struzan has created some of the most iconic movie poster images of the last 30 years, from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to “Star Wars: Episode III”. This is the first book to cover his movie work in depth. Featuring over 300 pieces of artwork, including previously unseen poster art for “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” and “Hellboy II”, this is a treat for movie buffs and artists alike.
The snapshot of artwork below highlights Drew Struzan’s talent for capturing what is both human and heroic in the face of a movie character. Further information about Drew can be found on his website, including his portfolio of illustrated works. Most of the images featured are available as Limited Edition Fine Art Giclee Print from drewstruzan.com and Galactic Gallery.
NOTE: Images remain the property of Drew Struzan and are used for illustration only.
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