Unsung heroes: Drew Struzan, The Name On The Poster

Remember when a poster really sold the promise of a good time at the movies? When that one sheet of an iconic character, maybe even one you hadn’t got to know yet, but just knew looked intriguing, could get your heart racing? Chances are it was painted by the Don of movie poster artists, Drew Struzan. In this age of photoshopped banality, it is worth remembering the work of this giant in the industry, highly regarded by top film-makers and fans in the know.

Drew Struzan was born in Oregon City, Oregon on March 18, 1947. As a child, his skill was such his parents had his work inspected by professors at Stanford University. Drew modestly claims “You’re not born a master, you have to work at it.” Because he moved around a lot growing up, he never made many friends, so painting and drawing occupied a lot of his time. At 18, in 1965, he enrolled at the Art Centre College Of Design in Los Angeles. Faced with a choice between studying Fine Art and Illustration, he chose the latter. He is, despite his talent, first and foremost a pragmatist. With a young family to support, he stayed on in L.A and worked at first in the music industry, designing album covers, as well as taking catalogue work. After a while his work began to be noticed by movie executives. With more recognition and a wider client base, Drew went freelance, starting off on B-movie posters. His calling card to the big leagues was his poster for Star Wars, known as “the circus poster”. It was a collaboration with another artist, Charlie White III, who didn’t do portraiture work. He did the hardware, while Drew did the people and droids. The concept was to make it look like it was slapped on to a wall, with torn edging, and painted in an older style. The poster is said to be George Lucas’ favourite of all the designs used to promote the film.

From that point there was no looking back for Drew, and he became a prolific artist throughout the 1970′s to the 1990′s. He illustrated a wide range of posters, from comedies and family films, to horror, sci-fi and action. His creations are done in airbrushed acrylics, the actual size of a movie poster. He is most identified with his definitive Indiana Jones posters. By the time Last Crusade came around he was given a free hand. When the Star Wars prequels came out George Lucas had sufficient say to insist that Drew would illustrate the posters, although he didn’t always get his way in the actual composition of the final image.

His quickest turnaround for a poster was his iconic image for John Carpenter’s The Thing. He got a call requesting a poster by the next day. Unfortunately, there was no reference material available, but did he remember a 1950′s B-movie called The Thing? He was told it was a remake, so he did one quick drawing and faxed it off. The studio guys liked it, fine, paint that, we need it by 9 O Clock tomorrow. So Drew worked day and night, until the courier arrived at his mountain home to rush it back to L.A. From conception to execution in 24 hours, a fan favourite.

Drew and other talented artists became less in demand in the 1990′s, as cheaper, bland, “floating head” shots became more prevalent in posters. Drew commented “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. That’s what I was trying to do all my life. But the mentality of the people who commission the work… now it’s just a money maker instead of an art form.”

Drew has many industry fans, among them Frank Darabont, who based the artist character, played by Tom Jane, in The Mist,, on Drew. At least with regards to his working environment. He even had the character painting a specially commissioned Drew piece, The Gunslinger from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. Guillermo del Toro was introduced to Drew by Darabont. After Drew did a beautiful (but unfortunately rarely used) poster for Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro fought for Drew’s poster to be used for Hellboy, only to be overruled by the Studio suits. As Drew came up against the same wall again and again, he chose to retire in 2008.


A documentary about Drew’s work, featuring contributions from many industry fans, including those mentioned above, has now been completed. The release date is unknown, but here is the trailer.

Since retiring, apart form the occasional favour for a friend (he did a poster for Frank Darabont’s Zombie T.V series The Walking Dead), and the very rare Mondo commission, he continues to paint and sculpt, and enjoy art for the sake of “the pure love of visual stimulation”. Drew, I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Originally posted 2012-11-16 13:41:25. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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