(...for the last time?)

One of my favorite illustrated movie posters of the last 30 years or so is the STAR WARS "circus style" design, done by artists Charles White III and Drew Struzan. It's retro look pays homage to the billboard-glued marketing campaigns commonly found on city streets. This was actually an unplanned design element that happened by necessity, when the artists realized there wouldn't be enough room at the bottom to hold all the necessary text. The faux wood background and ripped paper scraps actually added to the poster's sense of nostalgic charm.

White did the main body of the poster, and asked Struzan to come in and paint Luke and Leia. Struzan painted them in the style of the late illustrator J.C. Leyendecker, using bold, strong lines and bright colors. (Leyendecker was famous for his Saturday Evening Post covers as well as his ad campaigns for the Arrow Collar Man; he also was a friend and art mentor to America's other great illustrator, Norman Rockwell.)

I always thought it would be fun to see a similar design used for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, substituting the STAR WARS poster with "Indy" characters and situations. As much as I enjoy George Lucas' space opera/adventure, I've always held a stronger affection for RAIDERS, and Indiana Jones is a character I've painted many, many times throughout my childhood.

When INDY IV was announced back in early 2007, my interest piqued again and I did two new "Indy" paintings (as well as recent movie posters for the documentary Indyfans and the Quest for Fortune & Glory). Neither of my paintings came out as well as I had hoped, so now that INDY IV is about the be released, I wanted to make something that I could really be proud of...and send Indy off with a bona fide bang.

What I liked so much about the Struzan/White design is that it's both nostalgic as well as a little bit cheesy and campy -- perfectly capturing the fun nature of the movie. My poster is as much a tribute to their work as it is to RAIDERS. I wanted to feature the RAIDERS characters in similar action poses and stances. Instead of Luke & Leia I'd heave Indy & Marion... Instead of Darth Vader and his lightsaber, I'd have the ill-fated Arab Swordsman....


For Indy and Marion's pose, I found a great source photo of my friend Brandon (who, coincidently, is also the INDYFANS director!) and his girlfriend, Amy, dressed as the characters at San Diego's Comic-Con. After substituting their faces and adjusting their bodies' proportions (sorry, Brandon, but we're both a bit shorter than Harrison Ford!), I started sketching the poster's overall layout.

My chief problem: Tried as I have, it's impossible for me to emulate Leyendecker's painting style. It looks deceptively simple, but it's very, very hard to emulate and I'm just not good enough an artist. But I decided to press on, painting the poster my own way, using oils on a large 24" x 36" canvas board.

I sketched the basic layout in pencil, then painted Indy and Marion's faces in color. The other design elements used a different technique, painting them first in black and white, and adding the color once the B&W underneaths had tried.

When painting, I try to surround myself with a lot of different source photos. A problem I often face is that I rely too heavily on one image or another, and in doing so I focus more attention on duplicating the image rather than understanding it. Such was the case of my source pic of Karen Allen, taken from ANIMAL HOUSE. Though I loved her pose, the lighting in the photo didn't match the sharp contrast or color style of what's supposed to be in the painting. I therefore had to guess how different colors of lighting would look on her face, while trying to paint it in the accentuated style as the rest of the piece.

Karen Allen's face has, for some reason, always been a big challenge for me to paint. I've always found her very beautiful, but not in a traditional sense. Her exotic features -- wide eyes, high cheekbones, cleft chin -- are damn difficult to capture without making them seem too exaggerated. I spent more time painting (and repainting) Marion's face than all the other characters combined. Compare the early pics to the later ones and you'll see what I mean -- my depiction of Marion's face looks like crap, but in the end I think it came out OK.

I took a lot of creative liberties, tooh. To make the lighting seem more dynamic, I added a bright blue "backlight" to the left side of Marion's face and arm. I was really nervous about this at first.

Because of the painting's size, I also needed to work on an easel. It's something I'm not used to, and it's hard to keep a steady hand while being careful not to smudge the oil paints.

Here you can see how I paint in layers of color over the black and white images. I add little by little, and often need time to allow the paint to dry before applying more. Hot lights can speed the drying process, but in one instance (something to do with my accidentally falling asleep for an hour or two) the lights almost burned a hole into the painting!

The style of painting is a bit uneven. Only the dress was painted in a deliberate "Leyendecker style", but even that was hard for me. Leyendecker's bold brushstrokes, as intricate as they look, were usually very fluid and natural; a testament to the artist's extraordinary talent. But my painting of the dress was a slow, deliberate process. I'll never cease to marvel at the powers of the true masters!

Scroll down to see the final product. Lettering added digitally. Found some vintage-style ads from magazines and glued a few to the "wood" background for creative billboard effect. Everything else is painted. A lot of artists have made very successful careers through Photoshop and digital painting. That's all very well, but to me it seems so impersonal. I love putting pencils and paint to paper; there's a tangible, magical thing about them that computers, despite all their contributions, will never capture.

I DO use Photoshop to touch up my paintings, though -- mainly to make some minor color adjustments, or fix some little blemishes that may occur when photographing the artwork. For this piece I actually went to a professional photographer, who snapped some pics inside his studio. But even then, there are minor glares I had to erase, as the oil paint was still drying!

I slightly altered the color of the poster's border, changing it from orange to a light shade of red (and matching the color of the "RAIDERS" title). I did the same for the circle around Belloq's face, and added thin black edges along the peripheries to make it look a little cleaner.

The main adjustment was adding some shading to Marion's face. I was quite nervous about doing it in paint, but Photoshop allows you to experiment with limitless possibilities.

I also added some additional shading to Indy's face, fixes to his left eye and eyebrow, and reworked the fedora to more closely match the particular one he wore in RAIDERS. (Diehard Indyfans know that the style of hat changes subtly from film to film.) Below is a before-and-after comparison.

Another adjustment I make is on Indy's face. It doesn't quite look like Harrison Ford's, so I use a tool in Photoshop called LIQUIFY that's pretty remarkable. It allows you to push and pull an image -- like warping an ink cartoon pressed on the face of silly putty -- but with an extraordinary amount of control. This saved me from having to repaint everything, and even though it's a digital fix, it maintains the "fidelity" of the original painting's look. (I also shrink the size of Indy's head a little, to compensate for the stretched jawline and chin.)

Here's a before-and-after that illustrates the subtle changes the LIQUIFY tool can offer. (NOTE: It's also a good way to slim your waistline in personal photos... Not that I've done that... Recently...)

Over six weeks of work. Damn tired now. I'm retiring from painting Indy this day forward...unless someone pays me for it. A lot. Of all the Indiana Jones artwork I've done, this is far and away my favorite. (I think it's Brandon's, too; he got a big kick out of "posing" in Indy's boots.) Here is the final painting:

This doesn't come easily to me. Everyone assumes artists can make something perfect without effort. That's bull$h!+, guys. I paint, repaint, and repaint some more. It's exhausting, tiring, stressful, but if it comes out OK I love every minute of it.

And here is probably the best compliment I've ever received: this young man liked my poster design so much, his dad made a T-shirt out of it!


UPDATE 1/15/2010: To fulfill a new year's resolution, I decided to do some touchup work on this poster.

First and foremost, I was never quite happy with the way I painted Indy and (especially) Marion. I figured since I had already invested so much time on this piece, doing a little more to finally get it right would make all the difference. And so, after a few hours of digitally tinkering in Photoshop, I made some significant changes to their faces.


But why stop there? Since the painting depicted a wall of assorted pictures, like a bulletin board, I thought it'd be fun to include references to the other films in the series...


Here is the final, *FINAL* poster: