We spoke to Laurent Durieux, best movie poster artist working today
Take the recent poster for Captain America: Civil War. Now take a glance at the banner for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Notice anything? As we are force-fed more floating superhero heads staring angrily at each other as an increasingly fake-looking computer generated backdrop looms, we are reminded of the work of Laurent Durieux, the Belgian graphic artist who has carved out a niche for himself as perhaps one of the most admired designers of alternate movie posters in the world.
Durieux’s cyberpunk-infused world of noir grandeur is slowly but surely gathering new admirers. His universe (equal measure HG Wells and Batman: The Animated Series) is not made up of the faces of bland movie stars, million dollar smiles plastered across their billion dollar faces, but instead, of a beautiful vision where movies and art come together in ways that have never been seen before.
Here, Durieux speaks about his love for Mœbius, hailing from the land of Tintin, the pathetic state of current movie poster design and what getting praise from the likes of Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola feels like.
The best way to get to know a person’s taste, we feel, is through movies. So, to begin with, tell us some of your favourite films.
That question is very hard as there are so many in so many different genres. On top of my head, Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Rear Window, Francis Coppola’s The Godfather (part 1 and 2), Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, Roman Polansky’s Chinatown, Steven Spielberg’s E.T. and Jaws and about a few hundred more…
Who or what is your biggest influence?
My main influence, or at least the person who made me want to become an artist is the late Jean Giraud/ Mœbius as well as my mentor and friend, the Belgian comic artist François Schuiten. My other visual influence is basically the retro-futuristic illustrations from all these wonderful pulp Science magazines from the 30’s and 40’s, magazines like Popular Science, Modern Mechanics, or even many of the early issues from Fortune Magazine, etc…
What drew you towards movie art because there has always been a strikingly cinematic touch to your work.
I have always been into illustrative art and have always been inclined to tell stories in my images. My very first movie related poster was for a group show in Brussels about the work of French director Jacques Tati. Somehow some people saw it in the US and they felt I could lend my style to various licenses. It came to me, I never really looked for it, in fact, 4 years ago I had never heard of this alternative movie poster scene.
Perhaps our favourite of your pieces is the one you did for The Godfather, where the Don is just about to get shot. It is the moment that kicks the whole movie into gear and yet, not too many people would have chosen it for a poster. Tell us a little more about that particular piece…
You said it, This moment is the pivotal moment of the movie. Also to me it was a very good scene to illustrate what the mafia is like, you never know who (is going to hit you) or when you’re going to get hit. Also, I wanted the image to have a reference to the blood oranges which is the symbol for Sicily, Don Corleone’s home land. The orange is the red thread throughout the 3 posters. So the scene where the Godfather buys his oranges was perfect.
When you see some of the posters that you’ve made, there is a trend that emerges in terms of choice of films. Most of them are cult movies, with a devoted fanbase. Was it a conscious choice?
All the movies I have worked on are based on two things: the movies that are actually proposed by the publishers and the ones I have a special connection with. I only work well on movies I love.
Your series of posters for Hitchcock films are a standout. What draws you towards Hitchcock?
Hitchcock is probably my favourite director of all time, I grew up watching Hitch’s movies and also I am a huge fan of both Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. I have always been attracted by those movies, especially the ones from the 50’s and the 60’s. It probably has to do with the way movies were being done, the colours, the fashion, the photography. I don’t get the same pleasure when I watch Alfred Hitchcock’s latest movies (Topaz, Frenzy and Family Plot). I am a nostalgic for the ‘30s-’40s-’50s.
After seeing your recent poster for the Telluride festival we were curious as to which of your posters were officially licensed. How many of them are officially commissioned and if so, how does the whole process work? Are you given any guidelines or is it simply a blank slate?
Though I have done a couple of public domain posters (Metropolis, Phantom of the Opera), pretty much all of my posters are officially licensed. Whenever it has to do with any property or estate, it is licensed and authorised by the estates and studios. The creation process is pretty straightforward, people are intelligent enough to understand that I don’t like being told what I should or shouldn’t do. So yes, it’s carte blanche all the way. The publishers and clients trust my visions and artistic choices and that’s a great luxury! Obviously I need to be faithful to the actual property and so far I have never had any issues with that. I hope it stays that way, fingers crossed.
You’ve been at it all your life, so is the appreciation that came fairly recently from the likes of Spielberg and Coppola really special?
Oh yeah, hugely! To me that’s THE real reward! When someone you admire is appreciative of your own work, what better compliment could you get? It is very special to me!
You come from the land of Herge, whose work is huge in India. What does his work mean to you?
Of course, Hergé (and André Franquin) are the two Gods for all us fans of Belgo/French comics. Bande Dessinée (Comics) has always been my passion. I grew up reading Tintin books and surely his work is ingrained in my DNA. However, visually, Jean Girouad/Mœbius and François Schuiten are my true heroes. When I was 18 or 19 years old, my plan was to become a comic artist, a major publisher wanted to sign me right then, I read what was in the contract, that was just too much of a scam to sign it and so I moved on with my life. I attended the Art College and studied Graphic design and illustration. I never regretted my choice.
What is your take on comics? It would seem that your art is perfectly suited to the medium, especially since creator owned titles are becoming so popular these days…
My style is way too time consuming to be able to do comics and live from it, especially with how comic artists are being paid nowadays. It’s just ridiculous.
What are some of the films you want to tackle in the future? And are there any that are too sacred for you to want to touch?
I really would like to do more film noir classics. I’d love to do North by Northwest but it seems that this title is not available. There aren’t really any movies that are too sacred for me (I think), at least I don’t look at this in those terms. Instead I think, ‘Aren’t there enough alternative posters for this movie out there? Do we really need another Star Wars poster?’ I like doing movies nobody did before. I don’t do horror or gore movies, I’m not really into comedies either as I think my style doesn’t go well with that. I’m not into doing takes on animation movies either as again my style isn’t the best fit for this.
Denis Villeneuve is working on the new Blade Runner movie – We know the original is special to you – any chance of getting something on that?
I have no clue. I guess I’ll have to watch the movie first. I must admit, Denis is taking a huge risk doing a sequel to such a classic as Blade Runner.
What is your opinion on the current state of film poster design? Why do you think we don’t get artist driven material too often instead of the usual generic template based work that is churned out?
I think things are starting to change slowly. Studios and directors look at the alternative movie posters scene with interest. If you look at the posters that were done for Birdman or Inherent Vice, you clearly see the desire to bring the art back into movie posters. But yes, right now, the vast majority of the posters today are just lame, lack any originality and whose artistic direction is solely driven by marketing, huge bankable actor heads floating around, same colour codes, same fonts, same compositions, etc…
What’s next? You know, we have a marginally well-known film industry here in India as well! If you ever feel like trying something really unique, why not turn to a Bollywood film soon!
I am aware of the HUGE film industry in India but sadly have very little knowledge nor culture in that genre. But you know, if I see a movie that touches me that I really want to do as a poster, I’ll do it notwithstanding the country of origin of the movie…
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The author tweets @NaaharRohan