4 Design Insights From The Poster Artist Behind Star Wars

The force is with his posters: advice dispensed from a new documentary about iconic designer Drew Struzan.

Drew: The Man Behind the Poster, a new documentary by Erik Sharkey, turns the camera on the most famous film poster designer of our time. Drew Struzan went from being an art student who could afford to eat only twice a week (to save money for paint) to being the creator of iconic images for Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, E.T., and The Muppets, among others. Earlier work included classic album covers like “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” (that creepy man on his deathbed is a Struzan self-portrait) and “Welcome to My Nightmare” by Alice Cooper (described in the doc as “a nice guy”). The film offers a glimpse into Struzan’s creative process and adulatory commentary from Hollywood heavyweights. Herewith, design insights from The Man Behind the Poster:

1. Happy accidents are real and can wind up in the Musuem of Modern Art.
After finishing the very first Star Wars poster, Struzan realized he’d simply forgotten to leave enough room to include the credits, names like, oh, George Lucas and Harrison Ford. With no time to start from scratch, he instead ripped up the poster’s edges and added extra paper to the sides. He painted the new background as if the too-small poster had been slapped onto a wooden wall, with Obi-Won Kenobi collaged in. It’s now George Lucas’s favorite poster, and part of MoMA’s permanent collection.


2. Mess it up. Part of the enchantment of Drew’s work is the texture, tactility, and irregularity created by hand-painting. Rough edges, visible brush and pencil strokes, and fantastical renderings of characters can actually improve on photographs. A Kermit close-up just looks like a stuffed green sock, but in the Muppets posters, you feel his love for Miss Piggy. Drew endows E.T. and his light-up finger with what Spielberg calls “a beauty that far surpasses” that of the film’s weird little alien doll. “I love it when it isn’t perfect, not too clean,” says one commentator in the doc. “I hate when tech becomes the thing instead of the tool.”

3. Relying too heavily on Photoshop can sabotage originality. Directors lament the current state of film posters–overly digitized, designed with pixels instead of paint, usually just “two big heads” or a line of actors posing as if for a “Gap ad,” as director Frank Darabont puts it. According to Guillermo del Toro, “Asking modern film business people about poster design is like asking the Pope about condoms.” Says Spielberg, “The new posters don’t go after your imagination, they go after your wallet.” Painted posters are becoming a lost art.

4. Taking selfies is sometimes okay, for art’s sake. Struzan owned an Indiana Jones hat, whip, and outfit, and to help develop sketches, he would often dress up and photograph himself in macho ark-raiding poses. It was for work, he swears.

About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.