Book - Andrea Alvin Interview

Art of John Alvin - Bladerunner

Having reviewed the book, The Art of John Alvin, Susan Omand had the huge honour last year of asking author, artist (and John's wife) Andrea Alvin some questions...

Read Susan's book review here.

Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions.  First of all I must say congratulations on producing a stunning book. Why did you decide to do it?

Thank you for asking me. John had such an incredible career and made a great contribution to the film industry, yet people did not connect his name to his work. When he died so young, I felt that if I didn’t do something to change that perception, his story would never be told. Creating a hand painted movie poster is a lost art today and there seems to be a fascination with how it was done. I was a witness and a participant, so I was able to tell the story.

With such a large body of work to choose from, how did you pick what to include and what to leave out?

That was difficult. I had discussions with Titan Books about what I wanted to include, and they expressed their preferences. I did not have materials, such as sketches and comps, on everything. We tried to include significant films on which I had the most material. John worked on some films and did not do a final poster. I thought it would be interesting to include the work from some of these films such as Jurassic Park. We worked on it for months, and as John was painting the finished art, Spielberg decided that he wanted only the logo from the book cover. They used his art for theatre standees and my copy line, “An adventure 65 million years in the making,” yet after all that time and energy, he didn’t get to claim a finished one sheet. Even though I had little or no supplemental material on Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein, they had to be included.

Where did the ideas come from? Was there a written brief to work from with either fixed or general ideas or was he able to see rushes or photos from the films and come up with concepts himself?

John’s role often varied. Sometimes he was hired to illustrate someone else’s idea but more often than not, he was involved in the concept stage. Ideally he would get to see a rough cut of the film or a video screener. If that was not possible, he would get a script to read and at a minimum, we were provided with a short synopsis. There were generally production stills available to use as reference. After viewing these materials, we would have a brainstorming session where ideas, both visual and copy, were gathered. Several ideas would be culled from this session and John would do rough concept sketches to show the studio.

Batman sketch

As an artist myself, I really liked seeing the concept sketches and work in progress images. Were there any campaigns where the end result was radically different to the initial concept?

It usually went through a progression of ideas beginning with very rough concept sketches and evolved, by a process of elimination, to a final poster. A film like Disney’s Aladdin for example, ended up with several finished paintings. This often happens when the marketing department has different ideas of how the film should be sold and what audience they should target. There was one painting with the two kids on a flying carpet with the Genie in the sky, another of the desert with a small image of the kids flying through the sky on a magic carpet, and the painting of the hands holding the magic lamp. Ultimately, they went with the more mature and sophisticated image of the hands holding the lamp. One of the other paintings was used for the Japanese market.

You are an artist yourself. What was a normal day like when you were both working on projects?

A normal day would start with lots of coffee, and then we’d get to work on our specific projects. As a working artist, one cannot wait for the inspiration to strike. I love this quote from the artist Chuck Close, “ Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.” We painted on opposite sides of the same studio. If we were working on our own paintings and not a poster campaign, we would’t bother each other unless we needed another “eye” on the painting. Artists often reach a point where we get too close to our work and need a trusted opinion to see what is working and what is not. John and I filled that role for each other. A painting didn’t go out of the studio without both of us casting an eye on the other’s work to give it that second opinion. 

ET

When you and he were working on a campaign did you have any idea how big some of the films were going to be? Any that really surprised you?

There was really no way to know the future success of a film. There are great expectations when the director and actors are of great renown, but there is no guarantee. There was a lot of positive buzz about ET, but I don’t think anyone expected it to be the blockbuster that it turned out to be. It was the highest grossing film for many years. The real surprise, was the extent to which John’s image was used on merchandise. I was at the Los Angeles wholesale gift fair and it was everywhere and on everything from bath towels to keychains. At first I was ecstatic and then it occurred to me that John got no residuals on the use of the art. If only…

Was there “one that got away?” Something that he wanted to work on but didn’t?

John turned down the original Star Wars movie because he was too busy on The Turning Point which was predicted to be a very big hit. Once he saw the Star Wars, he became a huge fan. He was able to work on various special projects for Star Wars which became an opportunity create whatever he wanted, without art direction. His Star Wars Concert poster is considered one of the most collectable posters. George Lucas bought most of the original art from these projects for his personal art collection, and several of John’s personal paintings from a series he called “The Force of Influence.” So, even though he never did a Star Wars one sheet, he is considered one of the key artists of the Star Wars family.

Finally, I know this book is fairly new out there but are there any plans for a second book or an exhibition of the work? I’m sure there’s so much more to see.

Right now I am basking in the glory of the book being released to such wonderful acclaim, and have no plans to start on another book. However I do have had some ideas when the time is right. I’d love to do a career retrospective featuring all the finished posters that he did. Obviously we could not include everything in this book. Someone at Disney Studios suggested a book on the animation posters that John worked on. I’m an official artist for Disney and Warner Bros fine art, and I need to get back to the proverbial drawing board…and easel.

I would also like to say that I am thrilled with the attention and great reception that the book is getting. There was always a frustration to see his work credited to someone else or artist unknown. John would be pleased.
Images - Amazon