8/27/2014

John Alvin (3rd from left)
Learn some fascinating facts about a poster designer you didn't know you love.

UPDATE: An exclusive interview with Andrea Alvin!

You love John Alvin's work even if you didn't know it. John Alvin was born in 1948 and, before he passed away in 2008, created some of the most influential movie posters ever created. If you've seen a poster for E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial or Blade Runner then you know, and love, his remarkable illustrations. You know how much we love John Alvin's work since several of his iconic posters were in our list of the greatest sci-fi movie posters of all-time. Yesterday a phenomenal book The Art of John Alvin was released.

Here's the official description:
John Alvin's movie poster art is among the most iconic of the last 40 years, from Disney films such as Beauty and the Beast and Pinocchio, to Empire of the Sun, Gremlins, Blazing Saddles, Predator, and Star Wars 30th anniversary posters. This book not only collects some of Alvin's finest work, but also includes previously unseen comprehensives and in progress sketches.

The book is large at 12" x 9" (310 x 228 mm) but not too heavy. At 160 pages I found myself wishing there were more since some of my favorite posters, like Gremlins, are missing. Of course, it would take a couple of phone books to show all his posters, so it's understandable. The color illustrations throughout are beautiful on glossy pages with exceptional quality. What makes the book more remarkable is that his wife, graphic designer Andrea Alvin, had a front row seat to the creation of his most iconic work and can give all kinds of interesting facts and perspectives on Alvin and his designs.

He created posters for over 135 films in his career. He was working as an illustrator at an animation studio when a friend invited him to work on a poster for Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles. Brooks loved his work since it didn't have the cartoony style of most comedy posters of the 70's but was full of little jokes that made it hilarious. That led to a long career in film.

We got the chance to preview the book and we thought it would be fun to share six remarkable things we learned in the book.

6. Alvin Made an Unproduced Batman (1989) Poster
The official Batman poster was just the Batman logo which was described by angry fans as "a mouth, with bad teeth" but it turns out John Alvin was hired to design the final one-sheet poster for the film. He did a stunning compostion, but the studio decided to stick with the logo concept. He ended up designing the posters for Batman Returns and Batman Forever though.


5. Alvin's Daughter is the Finger in E.T.
The image of E.T.s finger reaching out to a child is based on the classic painting by Michaelangelo called "The Creation of Man." We all assumed it's Elliott's finger, but we're wrong. It turns out he took photos of his daughter Farah and used them to paint the hand.



4. Alvin Hid His Signature in Several of the Famous Posters
The studio usually didn't allow the artists to sign their movie posters, but when he was he would expertly hide them. Some examples are his first name hidden in the Earth for the E.T. poster, and vertically on the building in the Blade Runner poster. His daughters nickname "Cake" was also hidden in several posters. To this day, even his family doesn't know where all the signatures are.


3. The Jurassic Park Poster Could Have Looked Very Different
Alvin was hired to make a poster for Jurassic Park and created some amazing designs using images of fossils and dinosaurs, all of which were obscured in some way since Spielberg was keeping the look of the animals secret. Finally, after designing some amazing pieces he had a finished poster of the gates with a giant dinosaur footprint. Just then, Spielberg decided that they were going to use the Jurassic Park logo as the movie poster. Alvin's work was never used.


2. Cocoon Got Shredded
The poster for the Ron Howard film Cocoon is brilliant since it features a scene that never appears in the movie, but perfectly captured the wonder of the film. There are a bunch of great scenes in movie posters that never happened, but this is one of the best. Unfortunately, when the finished painting was being shipped to Los Angeles it was accidentally shredded by a baggage conveyor belt. Thankfully, the poster was professionally photographed before being transported and they were able to reproduce it.

1. Young Frankenstein Poster Was Really Big
When Alvin was making the poster for Mel Brooks the director kept insisting that everything be made bigger. Andrea said, "the monster was big and everything on the poster felt big. We really saw the personalities of the main characters." To promote the film it was painted on the side of the eight-story Playboy building on Sunset Strip and was the world's largest billboard at the time.

Here's a brief interview with John Alvin's wife Andrea that she did for us.
For those that never got the honor of meeting him, how would you describe John Alvin?
Andrea: John was very funny, smart and kind. He was the kind of man that most people liked when they met him. He had a strong work ethic and high standards for himself. He often called himself “a Boy Scout,” because he always tried to do things according to the rules. His sense of humor, though, could be very wicked.

Your husband's work was known as "Alvineseque." How does it differ from other poster styles?
“Alvinesque” was coined by Fred Tio, head of marketing at Disney Animation. It referred to the misty etherial quality that John brought to his paintings. John often used symbolic solutions and created an emotional quality to his art. Many other artists are wonderful draftsmen and their art is beautifully rendered, but John’s art has a soul that comes through each painting. This is what sets it apart from all the rest.

What little thing do you remember most about John that most people don't know?
One thing that only people who knew John personally would know is that he always wore red shoes. In the late 90’s, John had a gallery show in Tokyo, Japan. He happened to have a pair of red shoes that he wore to the gallery opening event. The Japanese people loved it!  John then went on a quest for red shoes. I will never tell how many he had, but it was a substantial collection.

Alvin attended and made posters for Star Wars Celebrations and many talk about how influential it was to meet him. How did they influence him?John loved to meet and talk to younger artists that were in the beginning of their careers. Because they would look up to him and come to him for advice, he knew that he needed to continue to grow as an artist. Being from another generation, they had a different way of interpreting their subject matter, and John was influenced by this as well. He was always looking for a sense of artistic community, and he found it with many of the young artists that he met at these events.

Where's the sneakiest place he's hidden his signature?
He felt that his signature was discrete and not necessarily hidden on ET and Blade Runner. What he did sneak into his art for a period of time was “cake.” This was a pet name he had for our daughter Farah. I know it is in the First Star Wars Celebration poster somewhere on Darth Maul, and in the Celebration IV poster somewhere in the landscape. I don’t want to spoil the treasure hunt, so I’m not being more specific. Happy hunting! 

Thanks for the interview!

In 2006 John Alvin told Art Business News, "With any of my cinematic art, I want the viewer to embrace and relive the magic that we all felt when we go to the movies." In this age of Photoshop and CGI it's a lost art and this book helps to celebrate those days.

Some images via impawards.com, IGN.comflavorwire.com

What do you think of John Alvin's work? What's your favorite poster by him?

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8 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's cool about the Young Frankenstein poster.
The cocoon one was shredded - good thing they had a backup photo.

Pat Dilloway said...

It's better than most posters now days that are just someone with his back turned.

M Pax said...

Amazing work. I wish I had some of his talent. Alas, I am dependent on others...

DAVID WALSTON said...

That's cool. Now I know to look closer at his work.

Maurice Mitchell said...

After the hours of work I'm sure they were kissing the photographer Alex.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Yeah, they lack style sometimes Pat

Maurice Mitchell said...

I still haven't found the Blade Runner David

Tony Laplume said...

Bigger! And more cowbell while you're at it, please.

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