George Lucas had already penned two drafts of Star Wars when he rediscovered Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, a study of the archetypes that have structured myth and religion throughout history, across diverse continents and cultures. Campbell deemed this irresistible, underlying story "The Hero’s Journey," and it gave Lucas just the framework he needed to give his movie its final form. And in his hero’s case, it was quite a journey indeed, starting on the desert planet Tatooine, winding through the cold corridors of the Death Star, and, in subsequent adventures, spanning icy Hoth, swampy Degobah, and employing all manner of vehicles and vessels in between. It’s a spectacular range of scenery, and designer Andrew DeGraff meticulously captures it all in his incredible maps of the trilogy.
But when you get the idea to chart a film’s action in a single image, you don’t just jump to epic adventures in galaxies far, far away. You start a bit more local, which is just how it happened with DeGraff, a Philadelphia-based illustrator. In fact, he explains, the visual style for the paintings evolved out of a series of travel maps the artist contributed to GO Magazine a few years back. Then, in 2009, he applied the technique to Goonies for a show at Los Angeles’s pop-culture-centric Gallery1988. "I thought it would be fun to take the characters completely out of a character-driven story and figure out what this 'real’ space would actually be," he explains.
Next came a similar map for Wet Hot American Summer, and then, last year, another for Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, in which DeGraff drew inspiration from Saul Bass’s opening credit sequence to show Cary Grant’s movements throughout the contorted plot with a bold red arrow. "You always want to top yourself," the artist explains, "and after painting the 362 windows on the 6" tall Plaza Hotel"—the setting for some of Northwest's intrigue—"nothing really seemed too crazy." So he decided to take on the blockbuster favorites of his youth—the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies.
In the case of Lucas’s epic, what appealed to DeGraff wasn’t the sole hero’s journey but rather the intertwined plots of all the characters. "I knew I wanted bolder, more graphic character lines to energize the areas between planets," he says, "and I felt that the strength of those movies is derived from collaborative story arcs rather than any single conflict. In a way the trilogy is a series of 'buddy pics’ that intermingle, separate, and reintegrate." DeGraff says he went for a "more direct, geometric NYC subway map aesthetic" to convey the interplanetary zigging and zagging of the characters.
Indy, on the other hand, goes it alone, and DeGraff designed the maps to reflect his precarious, spontaneous odyssey. "Indy is a much more vulnerable character, surviving as much on luck and chutzpah as anything else, so the overall line is finer and more fragile," he explains. But the change in scale—moving down several from entire planets to specific buildings, rooms, and scenes—allowed for a more nuanced representation of the film’s action. "Basically I got to set up a sort of game board and then move the pieces about, letting the plot develop a drawing on top."
Each film necessitates a slightly different process, but in general it starts with a preliminary viewing and note- taking session; then moves to a study of any supplementary materials available (Lego recreations are "very helpful" for his diagrammatic style, DeGraff notes); and then ends with a graph paper draft to make sure all the pieces fit together. When the paint is dry on the final piece, it’s a process that has eaten up anywhere from 100 to 200 hours in all. But DeGraff thinks it’s worth it, and it’s hard not to agree—for all the ways we’ve seen Star Wars repackaged and retold over the years, from scene-by-scene fan-made tributes to renditions entirely in ASCII characters, DeGraff offers an entirely new way to follow along with our heroes.
[Hat tip: Geek Tyrant]