Interview: Mark Raats on his SOLO: A Star Wars Story mural sitting tall and majestic in the heart of Melbourne CBD

As an Australian based Illustrator, Mark Raats has been around the world a couple of times more than most, having his artwork recognised and purchased by the likes of J.J. Abrams and George Lucas. Working alongside Lucasfilm among many others on projects now for well over 25 years, Mark never ceases to amaze with his stunning work. Watching some of Mark’s YouTube Video’s on his channel HERE is mesmerizing; his work with paint and brush, pencil and paper are second to none.

This week, Mark Raats upsized his latest work as a giant mural in Melbourne’s CBD, promoting a rather huge film by the name of SOLO: A Star Wars Story.

Catching up with Mark about this new piece, he is one of the very few people who have gotten to know how similar this Han Solo is to the Harrison Ford counterpart of years gone by. After all, Mark’s drawn Ford thousands of times… so how different was it drawing and painting Alden Ehrenreich (pronounced Aiden) compared to Ford’s Solo? How exciting is it having your own artwork transferred to a massive billboard in one of the busiest places in Australia? Let’s find out.

Mark Raats Art transferred to a huge building promoting the release of SOLO: A Star Wars Story (2018)

I just wanted to say how fantastic your art is, mate. Your work is second to none. My favourite pieces are your Freddie Mercury portrait and your Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull movie poster.

You like it? Thank you very much, that’s very kind of you. It was a bit of a disappointing project afterward (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), because I wasn’t wild about the movie when it came out. But when I did the Crystal Skull teaser poster, that was before I saw the movie because I was working on the stills that they were sending to me from the set, and it looked really good. But when the movie came out I was very disappointed with it.

I think a few people were.

Yeah, I think you’re right. There’s a sweet enjoyment about it. Although, having said that, George bought the original art of that from me, so I was still happy at the end of the day, so I can’t complain.

That’s awesome. Well there’s another one coming out, you might be up for that job too?

Well, we’ve been talking about it this morning, so we’ll just see what comes out of it.

Well of all the work you’ve completed over the years, is there one piece you’re most proud of?

It’s a difficult one to answer. Some artists will say “oh, you know, you can’t choose between the art, it’s like your children.” But I think I would say more than that, it’s like your children because you like different ones for different reasons. It’s not as if I like one more than others just because I like the way it turned out. I like it because there’s an association with it that I’m particularly fond of.

For example, the Raiders of the Lost Ark poster I did in 2012 for the re-release of Raiders on IMAX and in Blu-ray. I’m very fond of that one because years ago somebody had asked me “which poster do you want to do? If somebody sent you any poster in the world, which one would you want to do?” And I’d say Raiders was definitely the one I always wanted to do. So, to be able to do that one obviously makes it a very fun memory for me.

The ones that I like outside of that obvious association whether it’s that or the 40th Anniversary piece I did last year for Star Wars: A New Hope. I think the other ones that I’m fond of are ones that I’m able to do something different with, rather than just conform with the norms that fans and studios would prefer you do.

In fact, this latest one that I’ve done for Solo would be one of them, because we didn’t go for a whole collection of floating heads. We didn’t just have an actor-heavy thing. Partly because none of the new actors are yet embedded in the franchise. Although we might know them from other work, we don’t really associate Alden with the character of Han Solo at this point in time. So even if you put his face on the poster it wouldn’t really mean much to the fans. So, it was a nice opportunity just to steer away from all of those things and come up with something that is more in the spirit of the movie and that’s why I think that one will also be a favourite of mine, just because of the fact that it is different. It’s not what you would normally expect, which also seems to be all the feedback that I’m getting back by the ton via social media. People say the same.

Fantastic. So how does it work? Who hired you to do this billboard project for Solo?

This particular one was Disney themselves through their representatives in Perth, where I live and they came to me. They were aware of my body of work that I’ve done for Lucasfilm. I’ve worked for Lucasfilm on and off for over 25 years now and they were aware of stuff that I had done before, they just felt that it would be nice to do a bespoke poster piece for this new upcoming movie. So yes, the contract was awarded by Disney themselves.

How big is it?

Well my original is not the same as the one obviously that’s on the building. That’s another crew who’ve amazingly replicated what I did on the side of the building. So that is my artwork, but it’s not the piece that I did personally. The original artwork as it stands is about the size of a normal movie lobby poster. So, it’s about a meter high by about six or seven hundred millimetres wide.

Mark Raats original artwork for SOLO: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Has any of your work been on billboards before, other than the IMAX release?

Yup, yup, I have, smaller ones as well. I did the 30th Anniversary for Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. There’ve been smaller companies who have also asked me to do work for them. Less known titles. I did a poster for one of the Star Wars Legends. There’s a guy by the name of Ralph McQuarrie who designed the original Star Wars look with George Lucas back in 1975, and there’s a documentary that has been made of Ralph’s life, and I did a poster for that as well, which was for the movie.

Fantastic. You’ve created thousands of Harrison Ford pieces over the years I’m sure. Many of them have been Han Solo. How different has it been creating another version of his character with a new Han Solo being Alden? Is any of the characteristics or features from previous Han Solos transferred over to the new work?

I would say not, and I think that that’s not a bad thing. I think that it’s a good thing that Alden is taking the character and doing something different with it. It’s a bit like comparing Daniel Craig with Sean Connery. They’re both James Bond, but they’re not the same character. But you do accept them both as James Bond.

I think that in a way casting Alden is the same kind of logic. I don’t think that what the studios wanted was for people to sit in the cinema and worry about whether whoever was acting was doing a good impression of Harrison Ford. They were more concerned about them being happy with the character as a character, rather than an impression and I think that Alden has done that.

So, to answer your question about doing Alden in the poster rather than somebody else, I haven’t used his face so that has made a difference. I’ve got a silhouette of him on the bottom left-hand side of the poster, just so we know that he is the character. But again, specifically not made it an Alden picture. It is the new character, you can see the way he stands, and it’s an image that fans will be very aware of from the trailers that have come out. So, they’ll be comfortable with the fact that what I’ve done there is the character. But he is very different from Harrison, I think in almost every respect he’s different from Harrison.

Have you seen the Solo film yet?

I haven’t, no. If I did and I admitted that I had, I’d probably have to come and ask you to delete that from the interview, but no I haven’t seen it yet. I think I’ll see it on the 17th. I’ll see it at one of the early screenings.

I can’t wait. Well, what’s next for you over the next few years? What are you up to next?

I’m lucky enough to sort of consider myself semi-retired, so I’m not chasing after a million jobs. These jobs come and go, and I’m happy just to do them when they come in. I don’t have anything, other than there are some smaller productions that people have asked me to work on. There’s a lot of private commissions that I’ve got to do as well. There’s a huge number of private commissions I’m meant to be doing. But as far as studio work goes, although there’s a lot of stuff that’s been spoken about, they’re all still a little bit further away so none of those are finalized at this point in time.

What do you do when you’re not drawing or painting?

Well, I actually work with the mining industry. I help companies with creating marketing and presentation material and documentation. If they are reporting to their shareholders, if they’re reporting to new investors, if they need to raise money, then I work on material for them for that. The art is something that I’ve always done as a hobby, although I’ve been able to do some really nice things for a really long time. I specifically have kept the two different so that the one can do its job and that’s to feed my family and the other one I can do because I just love doing it.

SOLO: A Star Wars Story releases 24th May 2018.

Mark Raats artwork can be seen in the heart of the Melbourne CBD, you just need to look up! Also Check out Mark Raats official website HERE