Talented Movie Poster Artist – James Goodridge
James Goodridge is a really a talented illustrator. He never got any formal education for his art because of the lack of illustration courses in the UK. Being influenced by his admired artists as Drew Struzan, Richard Amsel, John Alvin and Brian Bysouth, James keeps pursuing his art by self-learning and has become an illustration master finally. Up to now, he has created lots of stunning movie poster and character portraits. eg. The recent “Inglourious Basterds” movie poster. We are so glad to have James here, let’s learn more about him now. (Check out James’s web site for more stunning artworks Here)
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Q1. First of all, thank you for taking up the interview. We know that you started first in London, then in Hollywood, California. Could you first provide us a little background of yourself and tell us how did all these happen?
Without getting into UK political history, for reasons beyond my control the privilege of a college education was not an option. To this day it is something I wish I had been able to experience. I recall one college tutor at my interview saying “It looks like you know what you want to do, you’ll be fine.” At the time it sounded complimentary and it wasn’t until some time later it became clear that the attitude of the interviewer was going to result in a great deal of struggle. Although I wasn’t aware enough to recognize all the advantages to a college experience the teaching faculty should have been familiar with. Having several years to explore is crucial to an artist reaching their potential.
Anyway at the age of 18 I created a portfolio of would-be movie poster illustrations over the summer and got a job with the leading movie poster studio,FEREF,
in London at the time. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by the magnificent work of work of illustrators Brian Bysouth and Mike Bell and Tom Chantrell. A great deal in one’s career can come down to good and bad fortune particularly (I must add) without the benefits of a formal education and the resulting access that provides to creative directors, agencies and galleries.
While good fortune and hopefully talent had resulted in me working at FEREF, sadly their bad fortune resulted in many of their employees losing their jobs but the experience of working
there was of benefit.
I now unexpectedly had time on my hands and before the internet, if you wanted people to see your work you couldn’t email it or create a website, so I visited Los Angeles where I was well received and encouraged particularly by David Reneric the creative director who had worked with Drew Struzan on so many successful campaigns. Returning to the UK I subsequently worked for several years primarily illustrating book covers but returned to work in Los Angeles in the early 90s and met with Drew whose work I had admired since childhood seeing his Alice Cooper album covers, subsequently I came to know John Alvin and it became clear that illustrators were still in demand, as John described it, “We’re now Hollywood’s best kept secret.”
Q2. Our readers may not have a clear mind of what a traditional illustrator’s work is in Hollywood. Could you describe a bit for us of what you do?
Nowadays my role is primarily to sketch the ideas of art-directors. Usually this means getting a thumbnail and a little reference for mood, sometimes it’s just a sentence and it’s up to me to compose it and bring it to life. Some clients are happy for me not just to communicate their ideas but to conceptualize myself: Wall-E, King Kong, Defiance and Inglourious Basterds are examples of this. But mostly it’s a question of just making their ideas work. These concepts are presented to the client and photoshoots are arranged and that’s the end of my involvement.
Q3. Do you think the even more widely used of Photoshop a threat to traditional illustrators in Hollywood? And what do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of the two respectively?
Although finished illustration is seldom used for a poster the work of the illustrator is still very much respected and I have been fortunate to work with people who, when the rare opportunity arises, will push for an illustration. There are the unexpected occasions such as with the Dogma DVD when I was asked to illustrate a cover but overall yes, photoshop dominates. Naturally I wish it wasn’t so dominant and there are many projects where I think illustration would have been a better option. Photoshop itself is not a problem and, in the case of many contemporary movies which rely so heavily on soul less CG effects, the creating of digital images seems in keeping. Just as drum machines have no soul neither does photoshop but the person operating it should have, and when one sees “paintings” created with computer programs by some artists it is stunning. So it’s not the program but the thinking behind it and the aesthetic which has changed. Remember these are for the most part graphic designers not illustrators. It’s like comparing a tennis star with a basketball star. The “danger” of photoshop is when rather than expanding options it restricts them and a certain “laziness” creeps in until the concept is dictated by the limits of the medium rather than the concept dictating the medium. Though no one would want all movie posters to look alike (if one looks back to former eras where illustration and photographically based posters shared the stage equally there was a great deal of diversity in styles), it does seem a shame that posters to a large degree now blend in with all the other forms of advertising which scream for our attention rather than creating something with a life of it’s own. Storytelling is an important part of any culture and it would be nice if some of the advertising of those stories reflected that “specialness”. Occasionally and Ironically I have received calls for non entertainment advertising projects where they want “that movie poster look”. I think that means the “old fashioned” montage. This isn’t to imply that there is only one way to advertise a movie nor that the montage is the only use for illustration. When you use an illustrator you immediately have interpretation, a personality and a style but now that we live in an era where brands are everything there is less room for that personality.
I work on projects very early so I see the degree to which the concepts strive to be something special and become watered down by the studios themselves until you have a couple of actors faces on a big piece of paper. Photoshop isn’t the enemy but blandness is. It shouldn’t be assumed that creative directors or art directors are not trying but it would be nice to think that the mention of the word ‘Illustration” wouldn’t be followed by an uncomfortable silence. There are those who maybe consider illustration old fashioned or dated and there is a generation now working on posters who have grown up in an era dominated by photography who are in a sense unfamiliar with what illustration can do but maybe they wouldn’t care, I don’t know, we live in an age of in your face attitudes in our culture where subtlety and notions of beauty are easily drowned out. Most big budget projects are designed to appeal to a mass audience, that didn’t used to mean a mediocre campaign but sadly the public has become used to a certain shorthand. “Cool” is the buzzword so campaigns become indistinguishable. It is the movie studio which is responsible for dismissing concepts and pursuing bland or, as they might describe it, “safe” campaigns. I understand that I am the dinosaur in this situation. For me if you’re selling clothes then a fashion shoot is ideal, it presents the clothes, the “attitude” and the style you are trying to promote, the idea that you can be as cool and beautiful if you wear these clothes. It’s perfect. But when you’re selling a movie it is in theory about more than that; it’s about story, characters etc. but when the movies have become not about character but about seeing celebrities rather than the characters they play then it’s over. I’m sure the demographic that Twilight is intended for loved the poster, it wasn’t a poster it was a pin-up, a fashion shoot. Taking a picture of a beautiful person is not the same as creating a beautiful picture. The public has been well trained , they know their cue and they get their wallets out. Illustration is considered dated or to be used on a very narrow genre of movie. Since the unused Inglourious Basterds poster came to wider attention I received both positive and negative comments likening it to a Star Wars poster. This is inevitable when people have grown up seeing illustration used almost exclusively for those films whereas in fact the inspiration for the poster was pre 1970 as was the inspiration for the movie itself. There is seldom anything inherently dated in the work itself it is simply that it has been out of the public’s consciousness for a number of years. In fact it is often art that attempts to keep pace with fashion which is more likely to date, and faster given the transient nature of fashion.
Q4. Part of your work is to bring the clients’ ideas to life and visualize their concept. What do you think it’s the hardest part through this process?
Hardest part of the process? Probably simply the volume of work that is needed. In terms of the individual concepts it’s easy for someone to communicate what they want but they don’t always understand the mental demands to make it happen but that’s the job so you get it done. Sometimes making it look easy can be a problem as the impression is given that it IS easy. But it’s not as if I’m mining for coal miles under the earth’s crust or spending months away from my family. This is my profession and artists over the centuries have drawn or sculpted the subject they are asked to produce but what the artist brings to it is something that communicates on a subliminal level as well as a gut level. It’s one thing to communicate the “who, when, where” but to do that and simultaneously create a piece of art to be appreciated in it’s own right is something else. Creating something memorable is maybe not what it’s about in today’s culture but to create something beyond simply a large flyer, something with a life of it’s own is the art. I’m not sure that it’s possible to produce something of value in an atmosphere more like a factory than a community of artists. I know the environment I prefer.
Q5. Among the works you have done so far for the so many films, which one do you find most challenging? What makes it challenging?
Most challenging? Saying no is sometimes hard as you don’t want to let people down. Changing from one subject to another; while variety may be the spice of life, changing from a movie about the conflict of good and evil to a broad comedy or intimate drama in some cases within minutes is not easy. Also there have been projects which are surrounded by so much secrecy that I am not permitted to see the production design (paintings and sketches are all that exist at the point of my involvement) which results in me designing characters, costumes, creatures etc. which I enjoy but takes more time and often time is the one commodity in short supply. Again it’s an example where an idea may be communicated in a sentence but when there is nothing to work from it’s becomes a very intense request.
I’m fortunate that I work with creative directors who do their best to create something of value which both serves the purpose of communicating with an audience and produces something of aesthetic value. Also as I am involved at the earliest stages of a project there is an enthusiasm and a mass of ideas before what I would think would be the soul-destroying process of producing a piece which is compromised. The idea is to create something that you feel to a degree hasn’t been seen before otherwise what would be the selling point? I’m out of step with the reality that the nature of consumption is all about branding and once you have a brand you don’t mess with it, just repeat the process and sell people more of what they’ve already had. As long as I get to work with honourable people where there is mutual respect and I get to draw and paint for a living I still consider myself lucky. After all to a great extent it’s provided me with a life I could not have had in England.