Somewhere in California, in a small art studio just a stone's throw from the backyard of his house, Drew Struzan sits in front of his easel and creates legends.
His brilliant movie poster and book cover paintings have made him one of the most sought-after and beloved freelance artists in the world. His masterful and oftentimes magical renderings of the heroes of the silver screen have become just as cherished and remembered as the films they endorse. Struzan has provided the stunning imagery for such films as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Hook, The Goonies, Back to the Future, Police Academy, The Great Muppet Caper, The Flintsones, and many more.
Recently, Drew Struzan's name has become synonomous with George Lucas's epic space fantasy, Star Wars. Who could forget his classic "Circus" style poster for the 1978 re-release of Star Wars, or the "Revenge of the Jedi" poster which beautifully depicted the sillhouettes of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, lightsabers clashing against a dark backdrop under the ominous visage of the Dark Lord of the Sith? Struzan's uncanny ability to capture the liknesses of Luke, Leia and other heroes of the Rebellion has also given him the opportunity to do several covers for the Star Wars novels published by Bantam press. To many Star Wars fans, Drew Struzan's stunning Star Wars art has made him the definitive Star Wars artist, perhaps second only to the vision of Ralph MacQuarrie.
ES: One of the most famous Star Wars posters is the "Revenge of the Jedi" poster. Did you have to change any of your artwork for the poster when George changed the title?
DS: No, there were no changes to the artwork, not a thing. (laughing) I just did it, and the title was changed. It was on the press and it was already printed as "Revenge of the Jedi," and then they decided to change the name for whatever the reasons were, and so they ordered to destroy all those posters. Obviously, people knew that the minute they were told to be destroyed that they would be collectible, so somebody, somewhere, stole a couple pallets of them and the only ones that are around now, basically, are really pirates of those posters. But I didn't change the artwork at all.
ES: You've become famous for your remarkable and consistent character likenesses, whether it's Dustin Hoffman in Hook, or Michael J. Fox on the Back to the Future posters, and of course, the Star Wars characters. What kind of research do you do, or what source material do you require to capture these images so well?
DS: Well, the way it works in the movie industry, it takes years obviously for (an author's) concept... to finally make it onto the screen. Through all those years, and all the hands it goes through, and all the people, and the money, and the dreams... the last thing that's done is the movie poster. By the time it gets to that stage, the film has long been shot in most cases. And the actors are on to other projects, so they're nowhere around. But when they make a movie, they have a still photographer on the set, and they catalog everything that goes on in the movie and behind the scenes in still photography. So, when I work on a movie (poster), all those stills are made available to me, so that I can basically see the movie in 35 millimeter photography.
I can pick out still shots of the people and the scenes and the things that went on in the film, and that's what I usually paint from. (Laughing) You know, the actors aren't about to sit for me! They're long gone, and often look quite different from how they did in the film - the costumes and the situations, you know. It's kind of neat, because I can pick out the best of what's available and I can do it according to my tastes and my designs, and then I can see what is available and design around the limitations, if there are any.
When I do Star Wars, most of the time I'm not provided anything, so it's pretty much up to me. Fortunately with Star Wars, there's always so much stuff printed in books and Fanclub(s)... I just do like everybody else, I collect all the books and I (use) what's public information. That's what I paint from most of the time. So, I don't see anything special. (laughing) If you have a good eye, you can find the likenesses in the books and the different characters and the different shots of the starships. There really isn't any special treatment when it comes to that, I have to provide my own material.
ES: Let's start off with your Star Wars movie poster art. Which Star Wars poster was your first and how did that opportunity come about for you?
DS: Well, the first one I did was the re-release poster for the original film back in 1978. Actually, it wasn't my job. The way it works is, you know, you get hired to do these things and Charlie White III got hired to do the poster. Charlie's a pretty well-known air-brush artist, but he doesn't do portraiture. So once he got the job, he knew he needed to have portraits done so he called me and asked if I wanted to share doing a painting with him. He'd do all the robots and the spaceships and stuff, and I'd do the people, because he couldn't do people (laughing). I said, "Sure, that'd be fun." At the time I didn't know I thought it was a pretty cool job, but I really didn't know what would come of it. So, I did all the people in the painting and he did the airbrushing and the robots and stuff. Some people refer to it as the "Circus poster." I don't know why they call it that.
ES: Well, that one is said to be George's favorite poster, since it resembles a lot of the old, epic movie art from the golden age of cinema such as Gone With The Wind. Was this concept in mind all along?
DS: Yeah. I mean, we wanted to capture that because the line on it was "a galaxy far, far, away." So, the concept was to make it look like an old poster. Originally, it was just the shape of the poster, but after we got it done they found out that the billing wouldn't fit, and we had to figure out a way to make it bigger so there was more room for billings, so we decided to just add room around the poster and make it look like it was wild-posted. Then we could add in the Obi-Wan figure and the torn paper around the edges, and then we had more room at the bottom for the typography. So it kind of was a developing idea, but obviously, it was always designed to look old-fashioned. The part I painted, the main two figures, are painted it oil paint and that medium was chosen so it would look just like an older poster so I painted it in the styles of the 1920's so that it did look older. The lighting and the technique was an older technique of painting.
ES: What can you tell us about the Star Wars 10th anniversary poster you were specially commissioned by Lucasfilm to do in 1987?
DS: Well, I wasn't (laughing) commissioned by Lucasfilm to do that. Actually, it was a guy back in Kansas or somewhere who at one time was the President of the Star Wars fan club, and he used to call and get information from me all the time whenever he could to put in the newsletter. After a number of years of this, I told him; "Why don't you get a real job?" (laughing). He said that he didn't know how to do anything else, so I told him why don't you just do what you love? He really loved the poster work, and he was into that kind of thing, so I told him; "You know, you can buy licensing and you can produce Star Wars stuff." So, I talked him into it.
One of his first projects... he approached Lucasfilm and bought the rights to do a poster for the ten year anniversary of Star Wars. So, because he liked my work the best, and I had given him the idea, he got a bunch of money together and commissioned me and we made a deal so that I could do the poster. So, it was really him buying the merchandising rights to produce it. I painted it, and he marketed it. Now that's kind of what he does for a living, he does them all the time, but that's where I got it; I wasn't really commissioned from Lucasfilm at all.