Time Magazine described Drew Struzan as the ‘Last Movie Poster Artist.’ The description carries both a note of celebration (of the artists work and importance) and regret (as photo and photoshop increasingly replaced illustration as the principal medium of film posters). Having looked at the art of Saul Bass and Robert McGinnis previously, the ‘Last Movie Poster Artist’ feels like a good choice to bookend this series for now.

We will focus on the process of creating the final poster(s) for a film in a non-linear timeline. By relaying comments from the excellent book, The Art of Drew Struzan (Titan Books 2010), we try to capture the victories and disappointments of the job of a movie poster artist. It is a tale of hard work, perseverance, talents and the rewards these can achieve.

Like Saul Bass and Robert McGinnis, Struzan is a trained artist who worked in advertising after graduating in the late 60s. He painted in different styles (‘I could paint like Rembrandt and Modligiani’) but over the course of the 1970’s it became apparent that his overriding talent lay in portraiture. In the star-driven world of movies, this talent made him a perfect fit for movie posters.

The creation of a movie poster begins with a comp, a series of drawings and posters that represent the movie – comprehensively.  The comp is commissioned to an artist or often multiple artistst who are tasked with creating a poster to ‘represent a movie before people even know what it is’. Sometimes studios will provide guidance, for other comps the work will be at the artists discretion. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) was one of the earliest comp portfolios Drew Struzan produced. However, the work was not used for either the US One Sheet (below) or UK quad posters with Richard Amstel and Brian Bysouth creating these illustrations.  Fast forward to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was released in 1989 and the artwork used on both the One Sheet and Quad for this film is undoubtedly Struzan.

Despite the hugely important role the illustrator plays in promoting the film, their work is often far removed from the more glamourous side of the film industry. Struzan describes his work as blue-collar and relays a story that he only met Harrison Ford for the first time in 2010 when he introduced himself to the star at an event. He describes Ford as hugely gracious but at this stage he’d already painted the star for all the Indiana Jones films, as well as many Star Wars and Blade Runner.

Staying with the notion  of the comp not being recognised, can you see anything strange about the Crocodile Dundee image to the right? The background for both the Crocodile Dundee and Coming to America (seen in main image) posters are the same. It looks north on Park Avenue towards Grand Central Station.  The image from Crocodile Dundee was submitted in the comp, never used and when the artist got a comp for a completely new film about an outsider arriving in New York City, he already had the perfect idea.

For the Harry Potter series of films, Warner Bros knowing that there would be 6 films in the series wanted to channel Back to the Future and Indiana Jones. They approached Struzan who produced the poster used for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,  a comp for the 2nd film and ideas for the rest of the film in the series.  However, before the release the release of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Warner Bros hired a new Head of Worldwide Advertising, and in what can be seen as a direction change for movie posters generally, he decided to use photography and photoshop for the remaining films. A number of Harry Potter posters on our site can be found here  and a clear shift in style can be seen.

There is a happy ending to this story but first we go back to the beginning and the first poster Drew Struzan produced for the Star Wars franchise. The famous Star Wars Style D ‘Circus poster’ was produced for a 1978 summer re-release of the film. George Lucas had specifically requested a poster where ‘Luke and Leah’ were swinging on a rope. Charles White produced a sketch in a style reminiscent of the old Hollywood Adventure movies and it was approved by Lucas. However White painted with airbrush and needing someone who could paint portraits with oil turned to Struzan. The two worked on the poster simultaneously which proved a challenge as the water-based acrylics in the airbrush don’t mix with the oil paint. After carefully producing the painting you see on the postage stamp, they realized they had left no space for the credits and came up with the solution to paint the Obi Wan Kenobi on the left side thus creating the scale required for the credits at the bottom.

Drew Struzan didn’t meet George Lucas until 1991. The master of Star Wars had huge respect for the artist, so much so that he commissioned him to do the artwork for The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002), Revenge of the Sith (2005). These are the widely recognised as the cinema posters for the series and can be seen below. Drew Struzan’s work had achieved due recognition from the most important players in Hollywood.

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