Book Review: The Art of Drew Struzan

Sometime in the last 20 years or so, the movie industry lost a bit of magic. Once upon a time we hardly had movie trailers on television. Instead, we’d see posters for upcoming movies that would try to snag a bit of our imagination. As much as the script, the actors, the soundtrack… the posters were an integral part of the moviegoing experience. And typically they’d be painted by hand, not edited on a computer or massaged as a photograph. The posters I remember from my youth were just as worthy of hanging in a gallery as they would be hanging on your bedroom wall.

Between 1977 and 1981, I must have had two or three different variations of the Star Wars poster on the walls of my bedroom. They were all in vibrant colors and captured the magic of “a galaxy far far away” better than any of today’s movie posters do. It’s become so bad that I hardly even look at posters any more because they all look the same – a miasma of faces and logos thrown together by a marketing department somewhere.

During this seemingly bygone era, one of these artists seems to have done an influential movie poster for every movie I loved in that time. Drew Struzan. Through the years, he captured a part of my imagination with posters for Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Big Trouble in Little China, Hook and many many more. It was through his talents I was drawn to many movies in my youth – with his art acting as a Pied Piper tune to lead the way.

The Art of Drew Struzan provides a glimpse into the magic his movie posters captured during his career spanning more than 30 years. But along with that you see the tragic tale of how the marketing machine of Hollywood has left the artistic tradition of movie posters in favor of a fast-food style that makes nearly every modern poster pale when compared to those of the past.

A foreward from acclaimed director Frank Darabont sets the stage with a discussion of how the “suits” have lost their way in marketing and a bit about how he came to know Struzan over the years. The artist did many pieces for Darabont’s movies, though some never made it to the public. And an introduction from author and film critic David J. Schow provides a glimpse into the life of Struzan and a lifelong appreciation for how much of his soul the artist puts into each piece. These are well known men in movies and the admiration for Struzan’s work is obvious, but more than that there’s an appreciation for how he works as well.

After that, the book progresses from Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 to Hellboy II: The Golden Army in 2008, showing black and white sketches, partially done pieces, and final artwork along the way. Struzan tells stories of each period as you go through the years, offering explanations for why certain things happened the way they did.

Struzan’s relationships with Spielberg, Lucas, Darabont and Guillermo del Toro through the years, along with other actors and directors makes for fascinating reading. But you can tell it’s all told with a touch of sadness the more recent you get. The fact that marketeers commission art from him but don’t use it is a travesty in my view and that seems to be the case more and more frequently as you go through the book. It’s no wonder that he retired in 2008.

The art alone would make this a worthwhile book to pick up – but it’s the context and history you get along the way that seals the deal. The Art of Drew Struzan should be on the reading list of any movie buff. Be sure to check it out at your local or online bookseller!

This article first appeared at here.


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DVD Review: Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated

Hi all!

Zombies. It seems there’s a worldwide resurgence in zombie attacks these days – in movies, television, and books. But the traditional perception of a zombie started in 1968 with the release of George A. Romero‘s Night of the Living Dead. Romero used traditional storytelling, merging the “threat from space” with the rise of a virtually unlimited army of the dead seeking to consume the living.

What is it about zombies that makes them such a compelling horror figure? They feel no pain. They have an insatiable hunger for living tissue (and yet won’t eat each other). Anyone they bite becomes another member of the undead army. And no matter how many you destroy (bullet, blunt object, or blade to the brain), there always seem to be more of them.

As you can see, zombies have a special place in my heart even though they’d eat it like a valentine if they were given the opportunity. So when I heard about the Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated (NOTLD:R) project which brought together nearly 150 artists and animators from around the world to revisit scenes from the classic film in their own particular mediums, I knew I had to check it out. NOTLD:R didn’t disappoint.

I knew it was going to be an eclectic mix of styles and media – but I didn’t know just how eclectic. These artists used everything from rotoscope and abstract shapes, to sock puppets and stop-motion animation, to cartoons and video games to show their vision of these scenes. And through it all, I found myself fascinated by the sheer variety, skill, and talent of all of these people from around the world.

My only complaint (a very minor one) is that I didn’t have a second monitor handy to play the original beside the animated version. But I will be fixing that issue by downloading the movie and watching it on my laptop at the same time I’m watching the animated version on my television. Many places it’s easy to see the influences of the original – the shapes, backgrounds, and so on showed themselves in the art. But in others, as with the abstract shapes scribbled in that appear as zombies, it’s less easy to see the old in the new. That’s not a bad thing honestly – making something new out of something old – so it’s just a very minor nit.

Beyond the movie itself, there are an insane number of of extra features. The commentary alone is worth listening to. Jonathan Maberry, one of my favorite zombie fiction authors of recent years, joins Mike Schneider (project producer), journalist Pierre Gutierrez, and Wild Eye’s Rob Hauschild to provide some context for the project. Listening to these folks discuss how the movie came to be over the course of 18 months from inception and request for submissions to the final product is simply incredible. “Reanimated” refers to the fact that the movie initially had life, but it’s now being animated again in a different manner.

Also included is a second commentary track with Mike Schneider, filmmaker Keith Croker, and Corpse S. Chris of “Horror Host Graveyard” which specifically deals with how the project was put together. And even a third commentary featuring 27 artist call-ins talking about the scenes they produced. It’s obvious that everyone involved, whether an artist, producer, or promoter, feels passionately about the project and enjoyed the aspects they contributed to.

Beyond the commentary, there are extras upon extras. Not everything could be included in the final edit due to time constraints, so many sections had to be cut down. In the extras, you see the full extended scenes as created by the authors. Among my favorites was the “Cats and Mice” extended scene from Andres Silva, which portrayed a scene in almost a Tom and Jerry style of cartooning.

You also get several “Behind the Scenes” videos where three artists – Ryan Sigg, Calum MacASKILL, and Mike Boas – show how they produced their segments. I watched all of these with my daughter, who is an aspiring artist, and found them fascinating. The artists provide great details about their different processes – from rotoscoping with Boas, producing abstract zombies with MacASKILL, and how to film stop-motion animated scenes with plasticene figures and a green screen with Sigg.

Many more extras are included, but I highly recommend watching “The Zombie Encounter Panel” – an hour long panel filmed at a conference in 2009 that features Maberry, Dr. Kim Paffenroth, John Joseph Adams, David Barr Kirtley, Gutierrez, and Hauschild. Like all panels, each member has a unique perspective on zombies in a variety of media. Listening to the panel is like having your own private zombie conference in your living room. It was great to listen to their first zombie experiences, favorite unknown zombie media, and what they’d do during a zombie attack!

If you like zombies or art, I highly recommend you check out Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated when it’s released on DVD on September 21, 2010. Not only is the artwork amazing, but the extras included make this a must have for anybody in your zombie horde.

Article first published as DVD Review: Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated on Blogcritics.


p.s. Pick up this and other great DVDs and books below!

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Book Review: The Artist Within: A Guide to Becoming Creatively Fit by Whitney Ferré

Hi all…

Creativity is a difficult thing to cultivate, whether you believe yourself to be an artist or not. There have been many books about enhancing your creativity over the years. Of these, my favorite so far has been The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It takes a simple approach to brief field trips and exercises you can explore to stretch your artistic muscles. And the beauty of her approach is that it works across all disciplines – writing, drawing, painting, sculpture, and so on.

Whitney Ferré’s book The Artist Within: A Guide to Becoming Creatively Fit takes a slightly different path, which I think might work better in a group setting than as an individual. I am fairly conservative but feel I have a fairly open mind, and though I appreciate what Ferré was trying to do, it didn’t really work for me.

The first chapter works through the “Eight Principles of Design” to provide a foundation for the rest of the book. The eight principles are emphasis, balance, proportion, unity, harmony, contrast, rhythm, and repetition. And, as she says, these principles “are not the result of a panel of art academics who felt the need to create more rules… They have been used by artists for centuries to create paintings that successfully communicate their heart’s desire, the natural beauty of a landscape, the spirit of a portrait, or the innate element of objects in a still life.” These couple of sentences for me define what the book is all about – expressing yourself through a graphic artistic medium.

After that, I really found myself struggling to work through the exercises. I held on as she had me simply scribbling on paper (which is a great exercise for stress relief if you haven’t tried it), but really started losing interest when I was supposed to find a “Personal Symbol” among the square, triangle, spiral, circle, and plus sign. This to me was similar to the notion that being born during a particular time of year ties a person to the behavioral pattern of an astrological sign. The power therein only works if you believe it does. And evidently I lost the faith early on in this book.

From there, she works through the eight principles of design a chapter at a time, using exercises like leaf rubbing, dream collages, clay charades, magazine mosaics, and so on. As I said earlier, I seriously feel that this book might work in a group setting – especially with children. But as an individual seeking to get “creatively fit” I couldn’t get behind the “touchy-feely” aspects of the approach.

If you’re looking for a book about inspiring your own creativity and aren’t working in a group, I’d avoid Whitney Ferré’s book The Artist Within: A Guide to Becoming Creatively Fit and look for The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. If you’re looking at a book to serve as a pattern for an art class for children or adults, Ferré’s book might be just what you’re looking for. But it didn’t work for me.

Article first published as Book Review: The Artist Within: A Guide to Becoming Creatively Fit by Whitney Ferré on Blogcritics.


p.s. Pick up this and other art books from Barnes & Noble below!

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