Going to the Movies
Finding Illustration Inspiration in the Lobby… Let’s All Go!
by Brian Stupski
As a kid, it was a big deal. We didn’t do it often… it just wasn’t in the cards. But when we did go to the movies, man… it was a total experience. I enjoyed any film we’d see, but I always held a special fascination with the theater lobby, namely the movie posters. Looking back on it, aside from cars, a few notable children’s books and assorted product packaging, movie posters were my first real exposure to design. (as a side note, after seeing Jason and the Argonauts as a kid, my obsession with stop-motion animation and film was ignited… Ray Harryhousen permanently warped my fragile young mind!) To say that there was an impact in that would be an understatement… I was floored by the graphics, the layout… the ability of an artist to convey the general scope of the story, to excite moviegoers into plopping down their cash for a ticket (in many cases, anyway— some just stunk up the joint) was, consciously, anyway, my first real understanding of print design as an emotional trigger.
Fast-forward a few years, and my interest in movie posters and film itself was still growing. I loved movies almost as much as I did cars, and my friend Joe was a total movie nut, namely horror films. The guy knew literally every horror film, director, production house… he was a walking encyclopedia of the genre (as well as sci-fi films… not so odd that he’s gone on to write some great books!). This was in the heyday of VCR’s and video rental houses, and what made it great was that we had access to so many movies, as the classics (meaning both “great” as well as just “old”) were being released by the dozens. Companies like Vestron (they essentially revolutionized video distribution, and pumped out roughly 3,000 movies on videotape between ’83 and ’95… there’s some more useless trivia that clouds my brain daily), MGM/UA, Embassy, AIP and more were releasing tons of independent, low-budget, B-grade and major releases… From The Stuff and Blade Runner to Revenge of the Living Zombies, Basket Case to Xtro, man, we watched a TON of VHS-format celluloid. We’d try to seek out some great films, and it was in doing this that I was introduced to the work of Hammer Films, a stand-out among the many great (and not so great) productions we’d watch.
What made the Hammer films so great was the way they told the stories, and the era they came from! Their horror and sci-fi boom was ’55-’59… Coincidentally, the golden age of custom cars… hmmm… Anyway, Hammer’s horror films were more “gothic” in nature (monsters, based more in terror, with a back-story that makes you feel a bit for the players), and they often re-told classics like Dracula, The Mummy and Frankenstein (six Frankenstein films from’59-’74, no less). Great actors like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were regulars, and man… they were just tremendous entertainment, even for two kids discovering them almost 30 years after their release. The films had a great look, but, again, what infatuated me was the cover/poster art! Tom Chantrell was the wrist behind many of the great designs, and just had a knack with not only killer art, but amazing layout and design. I think that a lot of my color work is influenced, be it unconsciously or otherwise by the man’s work. Keeping a loose yet detailed feel in my work is directly attributed to Mr. Chantrell’s influence, as well as that of Saul Bass (whose mantra was “Symbolize and Summarize”—how insightful is that? Spare yourself four years of design school, and just repeat that… then send me the money you saved. OK, half. More on Mr. Bass later… and I mean Saul, not Lance. Although, I may have a great way to compare him with cars. I’ll think of it.). Bold, direct, powerful. You’d know Bass’ work anywhere:
My infatuation with movie posters continues to this day (although with three young kids, my serious collecting days are some time off, yet). As a kid, the work of Drew Struzan was everywhere… remember the posters for Indiana Jones? The Goonies? Technical brilliance! My tastes fall somewhere between the amazing portraiture of Struzan, the expressionistic and detailed style of Chantrell, and the bold graphic statement of Bass… All have been a profound inspiration in my design and illustration work. It’s still a point of fascination for me when we go to see a movie… I wander around, and check out the new posters. However, it seems as though the true art of the movie poster is falling to the side of the road, as far as mainstream movies go, anyway. Independent films have always had kind of cool (and occasionally bizarre) poster art, but lately, it’s as though the fine art has gone away. The new Indiana Jones film brought back a spark of life, though… Struzan nailed it again! …and the last Batman flick?! Man…. Great stuff, and the two versions, each with the burning bat symbol (one of Batman, one of the Joker) are great, and really play up the menacing undertones (and overtones, let’s be honest here) of the movie. Would a hand-painted or rendered piece have been better? I submit that in this particular example, it could not. There’s a time and place for almost every style and technique, it would seem.
In any event, I bring up the movie poster art topic for a few reasons… One, you may not have been aware of the things covered here (Hammer horror films, the posters, the designers), and I enjoy opening up a new subject for you to head out and experience; Two, I had wanted to answer a few questions that I’m often asked (“where do you get inspiration from?”, “how did your style develop?” and “what the hell are you talking about?”); and three, hopefully, to inspire new designers who are trapped into relying on software and computers to draw for them to seek out what makes design and art so damn fun to begin with: creating it by hand! We’re already inundated by computer-generated, “cold”-feeling works that lack that human personality that shines through in all artwork. Now get out there, watch an old b-movie, seek out some wild inspiration from beyond the automotive sphere, break out the pencils and raise the bar…