Few artists out there can perfectly capture the lurid aesthetics of exploitation’s formative years. Creatively dense, vividly colorful and exceedingly retro. In other words, the antithesis of the charmless poster art that invades today’s theater vestibules. UK-based artist, Tom Hodge, has stepped up to the plate. From his noteworthy Hobo with a Shotgun poster to his work for Ti West’s upcoming The Innkeepers, he’s evoking the vintage tones of cinema’s yesteryear. It was a pleasure to interview him, he was insightful and informative. Ladies and gentlemen, the dude designs…
The obligatory question, how did you first become interested in film poster/cover illustration?
Well it has been quite a round trip, I’ve been drawing since a very early age, when i was eight my cousin and i used to bunk off of school to watch bad pirate copies of Rambo (who needs censorship). Then I would have these sketch books full of Rambo dismembering soldiers in the jungle, mum hated them but she never threw anything I drew away. She’s still got boxes full of all my old drawing in the loft.
So naturally I became a total film and horror nut and used to collect old sample video covers from the local video shop. I’d also record films off the TV (buying a video back then was expensive), I literally ended up with a wardrobe full of videos and I’d draw my own video covers for them. Which I guess led me into graphic design after finished school. I did two years at college and then a further three years at Uni doing Visual Communication/Film Studies. The funny thing is, the more I got into design the further and further away I got from illustration and doing film posters, there just wasn’t consider any real merit behind it or that industry. Design was all about minimalism, new wave, clean lines and overly clever concepts. Well that was the way i saw it!
After Uni, I jumped around a few different design jobs but actually spent most of my time working in the games industry working on the print side of things (packaging etc). I had been getting frustrated with design over the years and couldn’t see a way to combine what I loved and what I did (I know it seems obvious now), but I hadn’t drawn for about nine years. The breakthrough was when I started doing flyers for the Midnight Movies, which was cool because I got to really experiment with the work and find a style. Through that I then rediscovered the art of video covers and how much I loved them which is where I began my project to design video covers in an arty way more than anything commercial. So out of necessity I started to draw again. I really found my feet with my CANNON project which lead onto the Video dungeon piece for Empire Magazine and then onto Arrow Video where I really started to expand my drawing style more and gain the confidence to work on Hobo and the Innkeepers. I’ve still got a long way to go though and get nervous every time I start a big job! So we will see what happens!
Can you describe your thoughts on modern film posters and the creativity (or lack thereof) in the industry?
The problem with modern film posters is basically MARKETING! It controls everything now, but they are numbers and figures people. It’s all ‘market research’ and ‘demographics’ not creatively led. Not to piss anyone off, but you have someone who can’t draw or design telling people who can how to do it. So what do you expect?
In the past you would have to higher an illustrator to do a poster or video cover (there was no other alternative) and you’d have to trust what came out of there creatively to some extent. Which gave the work personality and individuality, now with computers and Photoshop, ‘creatives’ have lost a lot of the control as marketing can request what they like, designs are kind of used like tools a lot of the time so we end up with super head posters!
Don’t get me wrong, I use Photoshop for my work, but I try not to let it use me so no layer effects. I think, “how would they achieve this effect in the old posters and go down that route instead?”
There’s a great article from Creative Review about it all, which says “multiple executions and a tortuous approval process, this remains a complex and frustrating industry to work in”. As many as 400 to 500 pieces of artwork can get produced for one poster. That’s just too many choices man, can someone just make up their mind?
I think poster art is coming into its own again though through the use of the web with things like forums, blogs and newsletters etc. They will all happily link to the poster, people want to write and read about this stuff. You just need to provide them with an image that has a hook, which people can write about and want to see. That then raises awareness of a film like free ad space, which is what a poster is supposed to do. Boring posters just won’t make the cut and if they do it will just get laughed at, not doing the film any good.
I want to produce some sweet, detailed, thought through and passionate designs which can speak to people. I’m going to be working on a few lower budget films next which is cool because it gives these film a voice that wouldn’t normally get heard due to some awful Photoshop composed poster that no one would pay attention to.
I’m still working on getting my name about at the moment, so hopefully I’ll continue to get great responses online and make enough ripples to rock that boat. The more people are vocal that they don’t want to see a star’s face with a bit of grain and a colour wash to sell a film, the cooler the posters will be again.
A personal favorite of mine is your cover for Jaguar Lives!, you perfectly capture the retro action VHS cover complete with Joe Lewis’ iconic flying kick. I recall the outlandish claims in the trailer where they compare him to Bruce Lee and Clint Eastwood. What’s one of your favorite tag lines or trailer quotes?
Hey thanks man, I’m working on a real retro video cover at the moment complete with tacky type!
Obviously IT’S ONLY A MOVIE, IT’S ONLY A MOVIE…is a legendary tag line, but I do love the strapline on the little known horror film ‘The Lift’. “Take the stairs, take the stairs. For God’s sake, take the Stairs!!!”