The Poster Art Renaissance: Modern and retro collide in a flurry of designs

Anybody who has stepped foot in a cinema or video retailer will be familiar with the concept of movie posters – they act as advertisements for upcoming, or newly released, films and help consumers to understand if its content is suitable for them. Some consider these posters an artform in themselves, but it is only recently that this medium has been able to flourish.

The inspiration for this article came as this author was admiring the Infinity War Comic-Con poster for the umpteenth time. As a movie poster it is flawed, for there is no title, no release date and no names listing the cast; the only suggestion to the film’s plot is the character of Thanos, who holds the Infinity Glove aloft in front of our world. Yet as a work of art, it is impeccable – its lines and brushstrokes depict the characters with great realism, with the bright colours making the poster even more appealing.

Posters such as this are now a rarity, chiefly because studios and distributors view them solely as promotional tools. In the days before the internet and television, movie posters were the only way for distributors to advertise their films publicly, with professional illustrators employed to create them. These artists could capture the likeness of actors with photograph-like realism, and instil a flair which movie trailers – or in some cases, the movies themselves – were unable to provide.

Since then, marketing for feature films has changed dramatically. With the advent of photo-editing software like Photoshop, production companies and advertising agencies have seen little need to employ illustrators, saving time and money by creating the posters on their own. As of such, many of today’s posters are dull, unimaginative and worth about as much as the paper they are printed on. Examine, if you will, the teaser poster for the recently-released Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

A good poster would encapsulate what its film is about in a single image. From this black-and-white poster, it’s almost impossible to tell what Guardians Vol. 2 is about. It doesn’t explain who the characters in the image are, nor what genre it is, nor when and where the film takes place – those unfamiliar with the franchise can only speculate as to the tone of the movie.

Now compare that poster to the example below.

Immediately, those looking at the poster, or “one-sheet”, above have a clearer indication as to the content of Guardians Vol. 2. The strange-looking creatures, flying spacecraft and futuristic weaponry suggest that the movie is of the science-fiction genre, while the many colours suggest a light-hearted, upbeat tone. The poster sells the film by gaining the consumer’s attention and telling them what they need to know.

Additionally, because the second one-sheet is hand-drawn, it is immediately more than appealing than the former; it is much harder to appreciate a poster made of photographs, for it does not possess any artistic merit. Witness below the theatrical release poster for Spider-Man: Homecoming – while aesthetically similar to Guardians, there isn’t that same vibrant allure, and the use of purple succeeds only in making the poster garish.

After much research by yours truly, it was discovered that the artist responsible for the Guardians Vol. 2 poster is Bryan Morton, the same illustrator who designed the release poster for 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This design was influenced by the works of Drew Struzan, whose iconic drawings include the posters for Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hocus Pocus, the Indiana Jones series and the previous Star Wars movies. And just like Struzan’s posters, it is an intriguing and enchanting work of art that perfectly summarises what the movie is about.

Another of Morton’s works is the poster for the upcoming indie flick Ingrid Goes West. Once again, his design captures the actors with immaculate detail, and made more appealing by the use of bright colours. The pastels and neons may not be an accurate reflection of the movie’s tone, but the levels of artistry in the poster alone lead one to believe that the film is somewhat entertaining, at the very least.

Below is another example from the Star Wars universe, this time promoting last year’s Rogue One. While the internet is opaque as to who is responsible for this artwork– all that is known is that it’s not one of Morton’s drawings – it is clear that they too have been inspired by Drew Struzan’s designs. While not as lifelike as the work of either Morton or Struzan, one can still appreciate the effort that has been placed in creating the image.

Away from Star Wars, there are other film posters which are emulating the illustrations of yesteryear. Much like the movie it promotes, the IMAX poster for Kong: Skull Island is an homage to the iconic Apocalypse Now, its design borrowing heavily from Bob Peak’s promotional artwork.

What’s most remarkable about these fine drawings is that they have all appeared within the past two years – this desire to promote movies with another form of art is only a recent occurrence. With that in mind, this author is compelled to believe that we are entering a poster art renaissance, if we haven’t already. This could be an age where one-sheets are once more considered an artform, and the artists who create those posters – like Struzan and Peak before them – can become household names.

Of course, there is a long way to go before that can happen. Most features are still promoted through mundane methods; Bryan Morton is yet to be mentioned in the same breath as his fellow artists; and we are still unaware as to who drew the posters for Skull Island, Rogue One and Infinity War. But at the very least, these artworks are proof that studios are beginning to see posters not just as a tool to promote their films, but as a creative outlet for talented illustrators.

Trust in this author when he says, this article won’t be the last to mention Bryan Morton’s name.