We were extremely fortunate to get this interview with Drew Struzan. If you're familiar with his work, then you'll agree that he's one of the best Star Wars artists in the business. Drew has also created the beautiful Indiana Jones posters, Back to the Future, E.T., and more. He also created the recent Episode I poster you see everywhere now. On with the interview!
TF.N - Well, first off, what did you think of Episode I - The Phantom Menace? Where did you see it for the first time?
drew - When the film was in production I was as excited about it as any fan could be. You know I've worked on the Star Wars artwork since the beginning in 1977. Most people think that because I've been around since then that the assignment to do the Episode 1 poster would be a foregone conclusion. I sure didn't think so at the time. I wasn't hired until the last thing! I believed at that time that they must have decided to go with photography as this is a new series and a new generation of fans. After having seen the advance one sheet was a photo it supported my worst expectations. I cannot say that I would have been surprised not to have gotten the job but I would have been regretful to see an old friend that I had worked with for 22 years fade away.
Alas, I was wrong! Thank George Lucas. In an interview I had with George he had said that he uses illustration for real specific reasons. Not the least of which is that he knows it touches the heart and imagination so much more readily that photography. When it came to the one sheet it was George that asked for artwork and requested my participation. What, was I going to turn him down? With all my heart, yes!
Once I received the assignment it was a necessity that I see the film to understand the story, characters and spirit of the film. It is the spirit of the film and George Lucas that I aim to capture in my work so I just had to see the film. I traveled to Skywalker Ranch and met with the folks from the art department, the head of marketing and the head of public relations. After lunch the film was screened for me in the screening room at the Ranch. What I saw a month before the release of the film was a ruff cut which proved to be vary different from the final version I saw a month later at a premiere. In spite of the changes, the heart and soul of the film was there, and I had no trouble getting right into the spirit of the thing just like old times.
TF.N - How do you feel seeing your Episode I poster artwork everywhere on TV, CD's, posters, toys, etc? Is it overwhelming during the creative process knowing how widespread it will be?
drew - Uh, it's my job man. It's not to say that it is not extremely wonderful to have done the piece. The thing is, I try my best to be humble about the whole thing. That George lets a little of the light from Star Wars shine on me makes me truly blessed. I am grateful beyond measure for all that Star Wars has meant to me and I express my thanks to George every opportunity I get.
Episode 1 must have gotten the most publicity of any film ever. I am glad that what I did came out so well since it is being seen literally everywhere. One of the extra blessings I got from this special project is that as it goes from country to country around the world, it does not change. Usually, when a film goes to other countries the poster changes. Sometimes different artwork all together from what we see here in the States. George it is that is making sure, out of some great respect I assume, that what is seen from country to country is the same icon everywhere. My art is getting some extraordinary coverage for which I am honored.
When I was creating the painting it was impossible to forget what I was working on. I must admit that this project and it's presence in the minds and lives of the people of the world made it much more present in my mind as I worked. I didn't get so overwhelmed that I couldn't work, however. Quite the opposite, I worked extra diligently which made the art all the better, I believe.
TF.N - What instruction does Lucasfilm give you when you create the posters? Do they request certain elements in it, actor's faces certain sizes, etc?
drew - It was George's unwavering trust in me that made it possible for me to do my best under these pressing circumstances. I only had two weeks in which to conceive, design, draw comprehensives and get them approved before I painted the finished picture which had to be done all within the deadline of two weeks. Now you know why it is called a deadline. Pressure? No, never felt a thing.
The art department at Lucasfilm had their ideas as to what the poster should look like and it is always George Lucas that has the final approval. It was a purposeful act that the Episode 1 poster has the same compositional design and concept as the ones I designed for the Special Editions two years ago. I think that they would like to have six consistent masterpieces to stand as a set when all the films are completed. Having seen the film, understood the characters and the spirit of the piece is what was the real motivation and creative direction for the heart of my painting.
Of course there were requests as to inclusions of characters as well as the usual design limitations. I did a few drawings with alternate figures and objects, but the basic design never changed from inception. For instance, should I include a happy or an excited Jar Jar. George chose which he liked. I chose the portraits, colors, design and technique. George approved. George is always great and respectful that way. At the risk of being redundant, it is that respect for other people's talents that give strength to George's vision. He trusts another's talents and knows that if we all stand together we are the stronger for it. That's why I can work under the pressure and not feel it. Trust. It's trust hat gives me the ease of mind to create and produce. Trust begets trust, and not only makes for a better film and poster but also for good friends.
TF.N - Your Special Edition set of posters is a favorite of mine. What was the creative process there? Is it true that it was really a last minute job?
drew - The worst deadline ever! I was called one week before the poster was due to be printed in time to be in the theatres. I say "the" poster as when I was asked if I would or if I could, they only wanted one poster for all three of the films. We were on the telephone with a conference call between myself and about six others at Lucasfilm. I asked why one poster for three films? Why not one poster for each and let's not miss this great opportunity. When would there ever be another opportunity to do a tryptic, three posters that would work together as one? I put my foot in it! OK, now do three posters, a week apiece. Now that's a rush schedule. It took 20 years to get to this point and now I had three weeks to sum up the most successful trio of films of all time. There's pressure for you. Oh yeah, and this was during the holidays. I worked for three weeks, day and night, with no week ends to rest. I was exhausted, but hey... it prepared me for Episode 1, a breeze compared to this training.
TF.N - What do you do with your original copies of the Star Wars artwork? Does Lucas buy it? Do you keep it? Do you sell it?
drew - The original art always remains with me, my property. I can and do sell them as occasion arises. George is an avid collector of my work, as well as of other fine illustrators. Right now it so happens that many of the original pieces that I have done for the movies are on public display. Over seventy originals are being shown at a Museum! This one man exhibit is at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. It opened last month and will run there for five months. After it closes there it will travel in part, to New York City where it will be on exhibit at the New York Society of Illustrators Museum for but a month. There after it will travel on the East Coast and then on to six Museums in Japan.
I am quite honored to have my work showing in these prestigious Museums. The wonderful thing is to have them showing publicly as they have never really been seen in their original form before the public. While my work even now has it's special place in history, American art and the Movies, for the people to see them person to art is proving to be an extraordinary experience for them. The artwork is really a living part of our history that can now be seen in person.
All my work is always for sale. This is how I make my living. I do special Limited Edition prints of some of my work which makes it available in a truly fine form for many people. For those who can afford an original, my work is represented out of my gallery in New Your City. The American Illustrators Gallery which represents the Golden Age Illustrators like Rockwell, Wyeth, Pyle and Parrish now also represent my originals for sale.
TF.N - When you did the Star Wars book covers, how did you go about creating the characters or vehicles that weren't from the films? Were you given any guidance from the authors or Lucasfilm?
drew - That's just it. the authors created the characters or towns or planets and space crafts. The descriptions they gave in the books usually sufficed for me to draw the things. There were times when the characters came out in comic books and already had a vision before I did them on a book cover. Other times, like for Shadows of the Empire, the movie without a film, there were character designs provided which guided what I painted and embellished. Much of the time I was depicting what had already existed in the films, my input was my style, heart, technique and design and it should go without saying, also my identifiable "look" as "the" Star Wars artist as they say.
TF.N - Do you have any new movie posters in the works? Anything Star Wars related? Will you be doing any book covers for the new Del Rey series?
drew - You know I did the covers for TV Guide which released the same time the film did. That was fun. Sort of reminiscent of the tryptic for the Special Editions but this time four covers designed as one painting. So far this is all I have done for the new film. It appears, from what I've heard, that all the new book covers are going to be photographic. Here's where the "new" look comes in. I don't believe there will be any illustrations from me when it comes to the new books. Maybe the fans could start a ground swell demanding my art for the book covers? Wouldn't that be different? Truth is that I think they have all been done already. That's OK. It's a big universe with places we have not seen even yet. Maybe in a galaxy far far away they are planning a new series with illustrated covers.
TF.N - You created some artwork dedicated to Princess Diana and to the students at Littleton. Can you tell us about those? What inspires you to create them and how do you distribute them?
drew - Well, I have done a series of collector plates of Princess Diana. I am even yet paining the last of the series of twelve. I am doing them through The Franklin Mint. I saw a report only the other week which said that among the most popular of all famous people from the twentieth century, Princess Diana received more votes than all others put together. I am honored to be able to paint these twelve pictures to commemorate her memory to us. Contact The Franklin Mint.
Littleton. I was moved as was the whole of the country with the tragedy in Littleton, Colorado earlier this year. As we all grieved, we all wanted so much to do something to help. So far away, how could we touch the children and the friends and families in a way to love and heal them? In a very short time they had donations, federal help and the community rallied like you wouldn't believe. As for me, what could I do?
A friend in Colorado called me the day after to ask if I wanted to get involved. He knew that my art has healing powers and asked that if he could put together the support and distribution and production, would I be interested in doing a painting to heal the children. With no hesitation, I said yes and began painting. Within the week the poster had been printed from my painting and I was meeting and greeting the students from Columbine High, making a gift to them of my art.
If you'd care to know more about the experience and the on going efforts of the foundation we started, look us up on the web. On the web site at www.artfortheheart.org ( Art for the Heart ) you can see the painting, contribute to the cause by purchasing posters to give away or keep to enable your healing, and learn more about what we did and why we did it.
TF.N - You have a new website at www.drewstruzan.com. I was very impressed with the look and content of the site. What do you want to accomplish with your website and how has the Internet helped you in your work?
drew - I built the site for basically one reason, for the fans. I am a working man. I paint pictures that are seen as advertising which are here and then are gone. I have no books about me or my work as yet. While there have been many a promise and oh so many people wishing and waiting for a collection of my work, it has never happened. So, in a simple effort to make the work available to the people I found a simple way to communicate and share with as many as possible, for free. The web site is to share my work and ideas with others. If people are enjoying what I have put up, if they are learning or if they are inspired then the site is worth while. Art without an audience is a voice in the wind. Finally a gallery without a middle man. My work is to paint, the work of the web site is to get the paintings seen, remembered and enjoyed. It's simple and altruistic.
TF.N - You have a new CD out that features your Star Wars artwork. What can fans expect to find in it? Anything unique or unpublished? How can they buy it?
drew - Ok, the web site doesn't show everything I've done. It is just a smattering of the variety of my efforts. A more complete collection is desirable. A book you say. Well, the best laid plans.... Once again I had to do it myself. With what I learned from building my web site I addressed the problem of a collection of my works from a more modern and doable perspective. I found I could produce a CD Rom with more in it than in a book for less investment and at a more reasonable price.
I decided to test the waters with a CD on one subject. I have 22 years of paintings and drawings and association with Star Wars. There is enough here for a book by itself! All Star Wars all the time! If it goes well and there are enough people out there who appreciate this effort then I can go on to do more collections in this format.
The Star Wars CD runs on both PC and Mac. It has over two hundred pictures, paintings, drawings and comprehensive designs. It has movie posters, book covers, special projects and artist's studies. It has an interview between me and George Lucas, and interview with me and my wife about the relationship with Star Wars and our history. I give a tour of my studio with voice over. I have a "how to" section where I show the creation of a Star Wars painting with a verbal explanation of my process. Drew on art, drew on Star Wars, see his pictures, hear him speak! See paintings from inception, concept, finished art to printed posters and book covers. See it full size, zoom in to see the details, have your questions answered. See works that no one has ever seen before!
I am really proud of it! I believe it is finally a collection that well represents me and my work. This is my best effort to connect with my fans, other artists and friends. Finally, one place to get a collection of my work with accurate representation. If it works, maybe Indiana Jones next, the Movies, the books the advertising, the fine art .....all as close as your computer.
If you are interested, guess what, find me on the web. Try at my web site and click on the Star Wars CD at the bottom of the main page and it will take you directly to the site. Or connect direct to www.drewcds.com and there you will see it and get information on it as well as where to order it directly. Or, trying to make this easy for you, To order call toll free 1-877-DrewCDs or 303-752-8661.
Nice being with you, thanks so much. Peace....drew