The world of film is in desperate need of Drew Struzan. The illustrator, famed for his work with George Lucas on the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films, is not dead but his partnership with the world of film is in sad decline due to more and more movie studios turning to Photoshop to cheaply and quickly produce artwork for their films.
Take a glance around the lobby the next time you are at a movie theater. Do any of the film posters immediately grab you by the eyeballs? Do the posters inform you of the film’s tone or plot or impart any real information other than the names of the cast? My office is in a movie theater so every day I get to see the latest posters for upcoming films. While there have been a few stand-outs in the last year, by and large most movie posters seem more of an afterthought than any real part of a movie’s marketing campaign. Horrible Photoshop jobs play Frankenstein with the film’s cast — some of the worst crimes include taking the heads off actors and badly plopping them onto the bodies of stand-ins or “enhancing” an actor’s body by airbrushing a slimmer waist or bustier cleavage.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial © Copyright Universal City Studios, Inc. 1983
This blind allegiance to the power of Adobe Photoshop has created a movie marketing landscape that is as uninspired as most of the films being produced today. Meanwhile, Drew Struzan quietly works in his studio — continuing to create some of the greatest illustrations and paintings the commercial world has ever seen — or not seen, because studios just aren’t calling as much as they used to.
Struzan began his career as an illustrator for the music industry. Working for a small advertising boutique, Struzan would illustrate the covers for records such as Alice Cooper’s “Welcome to My Nightmare” and Black Sabbath’s “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.” His work in music quickly caught the attention of film studios and soon Struzan was working in the field that would define the majority of his career — movie poster illustration.
Struzan has illustrated the posters for films as varied as Back to the Future to An American Tale to Big Trouble in Little China. He has created some of the most iconic Star Wars art ever — as synonymous with Lucas’ legends as Yoda and Darth Vader are. Struzan perfected the art of “epic-ifying” a movie — taking, in some cases, a pretty standard b-level comedy like Meatballs III and turning it into something bigger, more profound through the use of his painting.
It was more than just creating photorealistic paintings that gave Struzan an edge, though. Struzan is able to boil a movie down into its essence and highlight its themes and the emotions it brought forth from audiences. His style varied with the project he was working on. Sometimes his paintings were painstakingly lifelike collages of scenes from the film (perhaps paving the way for the eventual rise of the Photoshop monster that has consumed movie poster production today). Sometimes, though, Struzan went wild with his imagination, utilizing heavily stylized artwork and a deft knowledge of whitespace and layout to create something that was just as beautiful — if not more so — than the movie it was marketing.
The Walking Dead © Copyright AMC 2010
Struzan’s work is like a grittier, earthier version of Norman Rockwell’s famous slices of Americana. Flecks of paint or a jagged frame help ground the fantastical scenes that Struzan illustrates — just as much a part of the U.S. cultural landscape as Rockwell’s scenes of suburban utopia.
In recent years Struzan has had to find new work outside the world of movie posters. From stamps to collectable plates to the growing world of custom prints (as evidenced by the recent collaboration he did with Mondo Posters), Struzan continues to put out new work. The world of movie posters misses him, though. Even on those rare but joyful occasions where Struzan is given the chance to illustrate a movie poster (such as his recent work with Guillermo Del Toro and Frank Darabont), his version always seems to take backseat to whatever Photoshopped monstrosity the studio dreams up. Do studios feel that Struzan’s painted posters will turn away audiences? Do they think that people demand more realism in their movie posters than Struzan’s photorealistic paintings can offer? If they do, they are wrong. Struzan’s paintings are a closer approximation of reality than some of the Photoshopped nightmares being framed in the lobbies of movie theaters today.
Luckily for fans of Struzan’s artwork, there is a new book that offers a near complete portrait of Drew Struzan’s work up until today.
“Drew Struzan: Oeuvre” is a gorgeous 320-page hardcover from Titan Books. Light on words and heavy on illustrations, the book collects a full sampling of Struzan’s career — from his work in records to his movie posters to more recent commercial work. The book even includes a rare glimpse at the paintings he produces for his own enjoyment. The book is not a complete representation of Struzan’s work but it conveys a full understanding of what Struzan is capable of as an artist and where he still has yet to go in the coming years.
Besides a few brief introductions scattered throughout the book (written by Struzan and his wife Dylan), the book does not offer any commentary or perspective from Struzan. There are other books that do that. Instead, “Oeuvre” is what the name says — a tapestry of a man’s career. While it would have been nice to have the work presented in chronological order (I’m a sucker for seeing the maturation of an artist), the book has a very nice flow to it that’s hard to dismiss.
A gorgeous coffee table book, “Oeuvre” is a must own for any fan of film. It’s the equivalent of a Penthouse Magazine for those that love and appreciate the art of the movie poster. In fact, you might want to pick up some tissues with your copy. You’re going to need them.
Tags: Alice Cooper, Back to the Future, Big Trouble in Little China, Black Sabbath, Frank Darabont, George Lucas, Guillermo Del Toro, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, The Walking Dead