Normally, the artist is not identified on the film poster, and in many cases, the artist is anonymous. However, several artists have become well known because of their outstanding illustrations on film posters. Some artists, such as Drew Struzan, often sign their poster artwork and the signature is included on distributed posters.
Here you will find profiles of some of the most famous and greatest artists to have drawn and illustrated movie posters. The list if not exhaustive and is based entirely upon my own personal preferences of illustrations and movie poster design.
Drew Struzan was born on 14th May 1947 and is an artist known for his movie poster artwork, which includes all the films in the Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, and Star Wars series. He also completed work on others such as Big Trouble in Little China, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Blade Runner, The Thing, Cannonball Run and Jurassic Park. In his early career also painted album covers for many well-known artists and later in his career moved into collectables and book covers.
Drew Struzan studied at the Art Center College of Design, West Los Angeles, California. During an interview with a career advisor, he was asked about his interests and gave Drew a choice between fine art or illustration. Describing the two career paths he said, as a fine artist he could paint what he wanted, but as an illustrator, he could paint for money. Drew chose to become an illustrator, saying “I need to eat”.
When he began his career, Drew said “I was poor and hungry, and illustration was the shortest path to a slice of bread, as compared to a gallery showing. I had nothing as a child. I drew on toilet paper with pencils – that was the only paper around. Probably why I love drawing so much today is because it was just all I had at the time”.
His early career began as an artist for Pacific Eye & Ear (PEE) design studio, where designed album covers under the tutorage of Ernie Cefalu, he relished the creative aspects designing the record packaging afforded him. During his 5 years with PEE he designed album cover artwork for many artists including The Beach Boys, Bee Gees, Roy Orbison, Black Sabbath, Glenn Miller, Iron Butterfly, Alice Cooper, Bach, Earth, Wind and Fire and Liberace. Incidentally, Rolling Stone magazine named Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare album artwork in their Top 100 Album Covers Of All Time.
Drew started a company called Pencil Pushers, with a friend who had a background in the movie industry. This collaboration would last eight years. This is where Drew further developed his now distinctive style and became proficient with an airbrush. His first movie poster appeared in 1975 and although he mainly worked on B-movies, such as Empire of the Ants, Food of the Gods, and Squirm his popularity began to grow.
In 1977, along with Charles White III he created the Style ‘D’ release for Star Wars. Charles had been hired by David Weitzner, VP of Advertising at 20th Century Fox to create a poster design for Star Wars. However, Charles was uncomfortable with portraiture and asked Drew for his help. Drew completed the work on the human characters in oil paints and Charles focused on Darth Vader, C3-P0 and the other details in the poster.
The unique design of the Star Wars Style ‘D’ makes it stand out. Unlike other posters that tended to feature a coloured background, this poster appeared to have torn edges much like a wilding poster used on advertising hoardings. Drew explained that the about the design concept, saying “It was a necessity that invented that”, he went on to say “They found out there wasn’t enough room for the typography and the billing block they had left in the design. What can we do to make more space on a poster that’s already been printed? Let’s pretend it’s posted, then they can put the type below the actual poster. We painted Obi Wan down the side and stuff across the bottom to make it wider and deeper.”
As Drew’s popularity grew he went onto produce artwork for a number of films in the 1980s including Blade Runner, The Thing, The Cannonball Run, the Police Academy series, Back to the Future, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Muppet Movie, Coming to America, First Blood, Risky Business, D.C. Cab, Stroker Ace, Batteries not Included, An American Tail, and The Goonies.
It was during this time that Drew’s association with George Lucas began. He designed the original logo for Lucas’s company Industrial Light & Magic and went on to design the artwork for the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series. For the release of Star Wars prequel The Phantom Menace, George Lucas had added a contractual term that stated Drew’s artwork was the only work that foreign distributors could use, and that other than the text, no further modifications could be made.
Drew Struzan retired from actively producing artwork in 2008. Drew’s last major artwork, before retirement, was for Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. He painted the poster artwork before he saw the film in English. “Guillermo screened it for me in Spanish,” he says. “I didn’t understand a word. But Guillermo says the perfect movie is one that’s told in pictures, not through words.” The same can be said of posters. “My job,” says Drew, “is to capture the spirit of the movie, how it feels. People will see it because they want to feel that emotion. It becomes iconic when they can have that feeling every time they look at the poster.”
However, his complete retirement was short lived and is probably best as being described as semi-retirement, as he has completed some new artwork since. Namely for a documentary about Miles Scott who was known as ‘Batkid’, who took the internet by storm in 2013 when the Make-A-Wish Foundation allowed him to save San Francisco from the dastardly plans of The Riddler. Drew Struzan created the poster artwork for Dana Nachman’s Batkid Begins: The Wish Heard Around The World. His last known work was for J.J. Abrams, Star Wars The Force Awakens released in 2015. Although the not the film’s officially released image, it was a promotional poster produced in limited edition and released only to the fans at D23 Expo 2015.
The recently released book, Drew Struzan: Oeuvre, with a foreword by George Lucas, features over 250 pieces of artwork, including all of Drew’s most iconic movie images, as well as other highlights from his career, including album, book and comic book covers, stamps, trading cards, promotional artwork and very personal original works. The book comes right up to date, including exclusive San Diego Comic-Con poster art produced for the Walking Dead television series (2010) and the Cowboys & Aliens movie (2011), with text by his wife Dylan, providing an intimate look at the man and his legacy. The definitive collection of Drew Struzan’s work; this is an absolute must-have for any movie buff and an unrivalled slice of both art and cinema history.
Richard Amsel was born on 4th December 1947 and passed away on 17th November 1985. He was an illustrator and graphic designer. Unfortunately, his career was brief after being struck down with illness but stunningly successful, entailing a wide variety of commercial illustration work including album and magazine covers, it is perhaps Richard Amsel’s movie posters artwork that remains the most popular. His portrait of comedian Lily Tomlin for the cover of Time Magazine is now part of the permanent collection at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. He also was associated with TV Guide for thirteen years.
Richard Amsel studied at the Philadelphia College of Art in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While he was studying his proposed poster art for Barbra Streisand’s musical Hello, Dolly! Was selected by 20th Century Fox to be the film’s campaign after a nationwide artists’ talent search. At the time Richard Amsel was 22 years old.
Following this, Richard Amsel quickly found popularity within New York’s art scene, and his illustrations caught the attention of Barry Manilow. At the time Barry Manilow was a young singer/songwriter who was working with Bette Midler, at the time an emerging entertainer in cabaret clubs and piano bars.
Barry Manilow introduced the two, and it was quickly decided that Richard Amsel would do the cover artwork on her first album, The Divine Miss M. The artwork proved to be one of the most ubiquitous of the year and more commissioned album artwork and posters soon followed, as did a series of magazine ads for fashion designer Oleg Cassini.
His movie poster commissions during the 1970s included some of the most important and popular films but his artwork was often more accomplished than the movies they promoted. Some of his work during this decade included The Champ, Chinatown, Julia, The Last Picture Show, The Last Tycoon, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Muppet Movie, Murder on the Orient Express, Nashville, Papillon (unused art although used for the later re-release in 1977), The Shootist. He also completed the artwork for The Sting, with the poster design paying homage to the painting style of J. C. Leyendecker, evoking both his “Arrow Collar Man” and his covers for The Saturday Evening Post.
In 1972, Richard Amsel was commissioned by TV Guide to do a cover featuring the Duke and Duchess of Windsor which coincided with made for television film about their love affair. This started Richard Amsel’s thirteen-year association and resulted in a record of more than 40 covers.
Richard Amsel’s TV guide covers are converted collector’s item and have featured many iconic figures such as Mary Tyler Moore, John Travolta, Elvis Presley, Ingrid Bergman, Johnny Carson, Tom Selleck, Nancy Reagan, Frank Sinatra, Princess Grace and Katharine Hepburn. The most notable covers included Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh for the television debut of Gone with the Wind, the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana and Richard Chamberlain for the miniseries Shogun.
The cover he completed on Lily Tomlin for Time Magazine was completed in line with the magazine’s time deadlines, his illustration was created in only two or three days.
The portrait cover Richard Amsel illustrated of Lucille Ball, is perhaps his most loved. The illustration was done for the 6th July 1974 cover to honour the comedian’s retirement from television. Richard said of the artwork “I did not want the portrait to be of Lucy Ricardo, but I didn’t want a modern-day Lucy Carter either. I wanted it to have the same timeless sense of glamour that Lucy herself has. She is, after all, a former Goldwyn Girl. I hoped to capture the essence of all this”.
The dramatic changes made to movie marketing campaigns in the 1980s saw the work of illustrators being used less frequently and a move to photographic images being utilised instead. With the reduction for hand-drawn illustrations which limited the genres that artist could work in, often limited to science fiction, fantasy and adventure films.
The 1980s marked a dramatic change in movie marketing campaigns, with more and more employing photographs in favour of illustrations. Movie poster artists now faced a narrower field in which to compete, often limited to science fiction, fantasy, and adventure films. The old masters of the industry like Bob Peak, whose bold, striking images for Camelot, Superman and Apocalypse Now that helped to redefine movie poster art started to look increasingly dated in their style and had to make way for the new artists coming through like Drew Struzan.
However, during this time Richard Amsel remained productive and his trademark signature becoming a widely recognised on magazine covers and movie posters. His movie posters in the 1980s included the colourful and camp Flash Gordon along with the elaborate fantasy The Dark Crystal.
Perhaps the most famous illustrative work completed by Richard Amsel was for Raiders of the Lost Ark. He completed two separate poster designs; one for the initial release in 1981 and another for the re-release in 1982. The artwork featured on many of the posters released worldwide. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg reportedly own the originals.
The description Richard Amsel used for Raiders of the Lost Ark artwork was that he “accomplished something”. He said, “Commercial art can be and sometimes is art, but if someone hangs a poster, it is still a poster pretending to be something it’s not. My work is basically for the printed page, and not for hanging in living rooms… If, however, I paint or draw something that takes people into the realm of fantasy, then I feel that I’ve accomplished something”.
The key to his success, beyond raw talent, was the unique quality of his work and illustrative style. Richard Amsel could perfectly evoke period nostalgia with titles such as The Sting and westerns such as McCabe & Mrs Miller, while also producing something timeless and iconic, perfectly befitting both something old and something new. However, even with his different approach from one assignment to the other, they all bear his instantly recognisable stamp.
The last movie poster work completed by Richard Amsel prior to his death was for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, the third of George Miller’s apocalyptic action movies with Mel Gibson. His final artwork for TV Guide featured news anchors Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather.
Richard Amsel died less than three weeks after completing the TV guide work, succumbing to complications from AIDS on 17th November 1985. When he fell ill, he had been commissioned to complete the poster for the Romancing the Stone sequel, The Jewel of the Nile.
Although his career was brief, Richard Amsel’s career was stunningly successful, entailing a wide variety of commercial illustration work including album and magazine covers and movie posters artwork. However, his movie posters alone matched or exceeded the creative output of many of his contemporaries.
Thomas Jung (known as Tom Jung) was born on 13th February 1942 and is an advertising art director, graphic designer and illustrator who is best known for his movie poster artwork and his work as a motion picture storyboard artist. Tom has worked on movie poster artwork for films such as Doctor Zhivago, Grand Prix, Le Mans, Star Wars, The Dogs of War, The Empire Strikes Back and Once Upon a Time in America.
Tom Jung studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts. Whilst he was studying he was drafted into the Army and during this time while stationed at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina, he worked on the newspaper Fort Jackson Leader as an editorial cartoonist, designing and illustrating primarily public service communications. Following his discharge from the Army, he worked freelance as an illustrator and art director with many well-known advertising agencies in New York.
In 1958, he was hired by Ben Adler Advertising Services Inc. to redesign advertising campaigns for foreign films to suit an American audience. He created press books and posters that were distributed to independently owned cinemas throughout the country. His work on the films La Strada and And Woman… Was Created, helped introduce the magical genius of directors Federico Fellini and Roger Vadim to US audiences.
An early project that Tom worked on was for the 1959 film, Plan 9 from Outer Space, a film awarded the title of “worst movie ever made” by Michael and Harry Medved in their 1980 book The Golden Turkey Awards: Nominees and Winners, the Worst Achievements in Hollywood History. Later, Tom would go on to work on the design and illustrate the ‘Style A’ poster for Star Wars, one of the most widely acclaimed films ever made. He carries an unusual distinction of having worked on the best and worst movies made in the last fifty years.
In 1963, he worked as a freelance art director for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he designed posters for titles such as Doctor Zhivago, Grand Prix, Far from the Madding Crowd, Ice Station Zebra, and The Shoes of the Fisherman. The design process at MGM was incredibly time-consuming and meant illustrating multiple poster concepts, carefully rendered in pencil or charcoal with or without copy lines and credits in position for approval. Once approved these would be given to the selected illustrator to prepare a full-colour painting.
For the 1967 re-release of Gone With the Wind, Tom selected Howard Terpning to illustrate his concept art. Tom’s iconic pose on the poster is often imitated by others, most notably in the Style A poster for The Empire Strikes Back. Tom said “I see the results of my design all over,” he said. “Gone With The Wind was really notable for its schmaltziness”. In addition, to Gone with the Wind, Tom worked with Howard Terpning on another six occasions for the artwork on Lady L, Doctor Zhivago, Grand Prix, Far from the Madding Crowd, Ice Station Zebra and The Shoes of the Fisherman.
In 1968, Tom was hired by Bill O’Hare, vice president of advertising at CBS’s television network’s theatrical film division Cinema Centre Films, to work on the art direction of their entire release schedule of nearly thirty films. With the help of resident artist, Vincent Marrone, Tom designed and illustrated for films such as A Man Called Horse, Little Big Man, Prime Cut and Le Mans starring Steve McQueen.
In 1973, Tom worked on the artwork for Papilion. He said “It was obvious that Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen had unique roles in Papillon, Steve represented, at that time, a gut of defiance that any person would identify with … defiance against oppression and authority. The poster made with this theme merged perfectly with the mood of the film”.
While working as a freelance illustrator in 1977, Tom was chosen to work on Star Wars. Prior to completing the artwork, he was given the theme of ‘Good Over Evil’, along with photos in colour and black & white, 2.25-inch stills on contact sheets taken from the original 35mm print of the film. His work was used on the ‘Style A’ one sheet. According to Tom, the “cross” which is formed by Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber set against the ghosted background image of Darth Vader was Tom’s homage to the good vs evil theme.
In 1978, he worked on the artwork for Lord of the Rings. His artwork was chosen for the ‘Style B’ poster design and showing Gandalf with the Hobbits, Frodo and Sam, is rendered in a different style Tom’s previous artworks. He said, “There’s probably a lot of posters I’ve done that people aren’t aware of: Papillon, The Man Who Would Be King, and … for Lord of the Rings”. The poster won first prize for Best Graphic Award in 1978 from the International Society of Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy.
With the work he completed on The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, Tom said “I used various martial arts attitudes in my working studies, trying to come up with the perfect look. I was searching for the image ‘bicoastal’ (as they used to say) of Darth Vader, which could be the centrepiece for The Empire Strikes Back. I made the presentation to Sid Ganis at Lucasfilm’s new offices in North Hollywood, near Universal Studios. In the large airy reception area sitting on couches, with my presentation spread on a coffee table, we attracted a small crowd of onlookers. Steven Spielberg peered in and chimed, ‘I like that’ and strolled away. It was the drawing of Darth Vader in profile, a powerful outstretched arm holding his lightsaber”. As well as completing the work on the ‘Style B’ movie poster he later went on to complete the artwork on the 1981 and 1982 re-releases.
In 1981, Tom was contacted by Sid Ganis of Lucasfilm, to develop concept sketches for Raiders of the Lost Ark. At the same time, the production company Paramount Pictures had contacted another illustrator, Richard Amsel, to develop a marketing campaign. Tom created sixteen different concepts, one of which was chosen to go to colour. He borrowed the artwork style from his previous work on Papillon and used a brown palette with a unique concept to create the iconic character Indiana Jones for his interpretation.
After many months of modifications to the concepts, it was decided that Richard Amsel’s artwork would be used for the poster. The decision was partly made on the view that Indian Jones should not be shown with a gun. In Tom’s artwork, a gun and whip feature prominently being held in Indiana’s hands, however, although the concept was not used it is preserved in the Lucasfilm archives.
In addition, to the key art Tom produced for Indiana Jones, he also worked on the key art for The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), The Wheeler Dealers (1963), Smile (1975), F.I.S.T. (1978), Apocalypse Now (1979), Scarface (1983) and Heat (1986). The concept art for Scarface is shown below.
His Creative Process
In 1997, Tom began working on the production side of the business as a storyboard artist. His first role was with the Disney film Jungle 2 Jungle. His ability to work without the need of visual aids helped his transition to storyboard artist fairly simple. He also worked on The Perfect Storm, The Salton Sea and Disturbia.
In an interview, Tom was asked about his design and illustration work on The Man with the Golden Gun ‘Villains Style’ in 1974, he said “The actual painting is done on 20×30 double-weight illustration board, half of a standard 30×40 board. I used acrylics, I can use it transparently or opaquely; it dries quickly and is permanent and can be reworked. I’d use airbrushing for large areas of background, colour pencils, and inks and dyes and tempera and whatever else I think that may give me the desired result. Sandpaper. Brillo. A single-edge razor blade. Whatever works”.
Tom would often use members of his family as models. When he worked on the Star Wars poster design and with Frank Frazetta in mind has his final illustrator, he used his son Jeff as Luke Skywalker and his wife Kay as Princess Leia. After discussion, it was decided that Tom would complete the illustration.