You may not know the name Drew Struzan, but you do know of his artwork. From Star Wars to Indiana Jones, and many, many others, Struzan has painted some of the most beautiful movie posters in cinema history, magically capturing the beauty and heart of countless stories on canvas.
The interview was excellently timed, as it came online following the reveal of an exclusive Star Wars: The Force Awakens poster at D23 Expo this past weekend, designed by Struzan; his first work on a Star Wars movie since Revenge of the Sith.
"RICHARD: Your posters have been so iconic. Especially the ones that celebrated the 20th Anniversary of Star Wars in 1997 and then the prequels. What was it like revisiting Star Wars once again?DREW: I don’t know if I was revisiting. I did it all along. Because I did comic book covers, I did a couple dozen book covers, you know? I was kept busy doing Star Wars since 1977, it was never far away from me. But this time it was quite a long time between. And revisiting? Questions like that I don’t understand – ‘What was it like?’ Like nothing else I suppose. In my life’s career, it was probably the biggest blessing because it kept coming around and because it was SO… you know, I hate to use the word popular, but I don’t have too many words. It was so touching to the whole world. About adventure, growing up, learning and sharing with friends. It was in the movie and it did that for society and I wish there were more things in the world that brought us together in peace, harmony and friendship. It was a wonderful experience.RICHARD: And that’s the undeniable power of Star Wars isn’t it? It is that. And your contribution being so pivotal to it’s identity and now with the a new slate of films …What was your process with this latest piece for THE FORCE AWAKENS, that was released at D23?DREW: Well, see it started about a year ago or more, a year and a half ago. I got a call from J.J. Abrams who I have never met, and he was in England shooting the film and he goes ‘Hi, I’ve always loved the work’ and Blah, Blah, Blah, sounding like you, you know, like a fanboy (laughs)…RICHARD: Yep (Laughs)DREW: …And we were talking along and he just goes ‘…Well, would you?’ and I said ‘…If I was asked.’ And that was the conversation (laughs). By the end of it, there were no other words. So about a year later, we get together and meet and he says we’re using all the original people – John Williams, Kasdan, Harrison Ford’s in it, everybody’s in it and everybody’s writing and making the music and we have to have your art to make it the real thing. So, of course, I’ve got to do it for George and I’ve got to do it for Star Wars. I’ve never worked with J.J before and so we started working on it and he showed me like half the movie and it was just… a wonderful film and I know it’s going to be grand. I got to read the script and subsequently I’ve seen half of it and I can tell you and the fans this, Honest to god, it is far and away probably going to be THE BEST Star Wars you’ve ever seen.RICHARD: WOOOOW! That’s a lot coming from you sir, I’ll tell you that much!DREW: Well it’s beautifully made and it’s a wonderful story."
Seeing part of the film allowed Struzan to encapsulate not merely the aesthetic of The Force Awakens, but the soul of the experience in his design.
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"RICHARD: Now having seen a cut of the film does that help more with your creative process or does it hinder it?DREW: Oh it helps undeniably, because it’s not about what I feel, it’s what they did and it’s up to me to get a feeling about the film. Because you know after all, as much as we’d like to think we’re intellectuals, we really act more with our hearts than we do with our heads and I definitely have the bigger heart than I have the brain (laughs). I read the script and I saw the film, I got to know the maker and I know Star Wars. I had feelings for it and I paint how I feel about it. And it seems to connect with you and the world. So I have a universal feeling and I paint what I saw. Having seen the film I know what it is about. I got familiar with the characters, so I know what they’re portraying in their feelings. So I paint the situation and I paint the feelings. Not to tell the story, but to tell you how you’re going to feel when you see the film."
Struzan detailed how he arrived at the design of the exclusive poster. Though he came up with several incarnations, it was his very first design that J.J. Abrams liked the best… and that particular one came to Struzan in his sleep.
"RICHARD: …Which brings me to THE FORCE AWAKENS poster as you’ve excited fans once more by showing the character Finn wielding a lightsaber for the very first time. Was there much discussion about this among you, J.J, and the studio?…and I can tell you and the fans this… it is far and away probably going to be THE BEST Star Wars you’ve ever seen.DREW: Ah, none what so ever (laughs). I worked for seven months on all different kinds of concepts with the studio and J.J and if you really want to know the sacred truth, after I got started and I saw the film and read the script, I was going over it in my mind for weeks – How do I feel about it? How can I represent this film really well? And I did this, like many creatives do, I came up with the concept in my sleep. Just like John Lennon used to write his best music in his sleep, I designed my painting in my sleep. That was the first one I did and I went for seven months doing stuff and in the end, guess which one they picked? The very first thing I did (laughs). So trust your sleep because that’s what I came up with and that’s what they loved from the very beginning.To me it represents the film. The spirit of the film, the new characters, the battle again to find the truth, to grow up, to find the purpose in life. It’s all those things that Star Wars had to be and is still. And I hope to represent that again to a new generation.."
de Carvalho also talked to Struzan about the polarity of good and evil, the Light Side of the Force and the Dark Side, in the poster and what that represents.
"DREW: I think you put the good next to the bad and the good looks better and the bad looks worse. (laughs) That is the story of humanity, is it not? That it’s our choice. Which side we’re going to choose to be on and the battle that goes on between the two. I think what’s lovely about literature, art and Star Wars is that the good prevails by being good. Good is always stronger than the bad and that’s what makes it a beautifully universal theme and I’ve got to show that’s still our Star Wars."
Image from drewstruzan.com
Despite thousands of fans and filmmakers who revere Struzan for his artistry, the man remains humble and enjoys painting more for his own pleasure and the pleasure of other people than for the fame.
"RICHARD: What are the most memorable responses you’ve had towards your work?DREW: Oh my goodness! (laughs) I have no memory of this kind of thing. I take the whole thing in general and I don’t even take it all that seriously. When you say it, I hear beautiful comments, do I take it to heart? No I don’t want to become egotistical. I’m happy that I did something that pleased you. There’s not much I can do in life but if I can please another human being for a moment, there’s no greater thing than that. So I don’t take it to heart or remember specifically like I’m going to support myself with it, no. You’re happy? Thank you man! You’ve made my life of some value. That’s the best gift I got (laughs)."
Read the full interview with Drew Struzan at Movie Weekly.