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Hollywood Loses Its Drawing Board : Technology: Computers are rapidly replacing artists who paint movie posters and illustrate advertising campaigns.

ROBERT EPSTEIN

March 19, 1993|ROBERT EPSTEIN

Only 46, Drew Struzan must feel like the last of a generation, a grand master too soon, a Hollywood survivor before his time.

Struzan is an artist. Some years he has painted 12 to 15 movie posters and advertising illustration campaigns. He's worked on more than 150 movies. Almost all of Steven Spielberg's and George Lucas' films bear his mark.

Last year, Struzan worked on two movies.

The year before, one.

His art, he feels, may be going the way of the all-too-true-to-life dinosaurs he once painted.

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For just a moment, please, try to tear yourself away from these words and study the movie advertisements that bejewel these pages. Note the number of ads using photographs. Note the number using illustrations only.

Multiply that by movie posters and mailers and, on any day and by any count, the photograph rules.

In this case, the computer-enhanced photograph rules.

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It all began to happen as the '80s became the '90s. One of the tools in how Hollywood sells itself began to change in significant ways. Studio marketing departments and private media agencies turned to a new artistic tool, the digital paint set--computers capable of taking any of the thousand images shot during a motion picture or shot during pre-production and then, through programmed software, enhancing them, manipulating them in instant ways, far faster than any air-gun retoucher, far faster than an illustrator using imagination, real paint and drawing board.

"It's like magic," is how Cynthia Wick, a partner in the film-oriented Aspect Ratio agency of Los Angeles, describes Hollywood's new romance with electronic paint kits. "We can do almost anything we want with a photograph. In one illustration for 'Dracula' we had a couple kissing inside an archway. But we wanted that arch to be of stones. We could have hired an artist to paint the background. Instead, we combined elements in the computer and were able to turn the photograph of the archway around the couple into stone immediately."

Wick recalls when she started in the media business almost all posters were done by artists. Now few are and those few are for special reasons, such as conveying adventure or a certain mood representing the picture.

"There's more reality to a picture," says Brian Fox of the film advertising agency B.D. Fox and Friends of Santa Monica, explaining why his company has turned more to photography than illustration. "All of our art directors work on computers and we have 25 terminals. Plastic surgery on pictures has always been around. In other times, we used retouchers when a star wanted her legs trimmed or her wrinkles removed or a man wanted to look more virile.

"We may be using reality and selling reality, but all is fantasy."

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It's called likeness or image approval and it's in almost every major actor's motion picture contract: The actor controls what our eyes see in film advertisements, on movie posters and in publicity pictures. In some cases, actors have 50% approval, contractually able to discard up to half of the thousands of images shot during the making of a film and its accompanying still photography when considered for posters or advertising.

Hollywood's new computers make likeness approval an easier solution. Working from approved negatives, a computer artist fashions a low-resolution image of how the actor will look in the advertising campaign. More starry-eyed gaze? Punch the correct function buttons. More breast? Hit the keyboard. A sterner look? You got it.

And all in real time. Translation: immediately.

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Joann Daley has been a Hollywood artist for 22 years. When she started, 40% of advertising and poster art was done by illustrators. Five years ago, she had her best earnings year: $160,000 for movie work. Two years ago her earnings dropped 60%. Last year 70%, when she earned $38,000.

She and her agent husband, James Costello, now work out of Oxnard instead of Los Angeles. There's not enough work in Hollywood but there is still a great demand for illustrated work from advertising agencies in New York and Chicago. Where once she worked on 14 campaigns for just one studio, now she concentrates on images for Dial soap and Motorola.

"In 10 years," James Costello says, "these poster illustrations will have far greater value than any photos."

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Eric Caiden grew up on Hollywood artwork. His father had a major collection of posters and he now runs the Hollywood Book and Poster Co. He estimates that 75% of new movie posters are from photographs. "We're getting away from illustrators," he says. "It's a shame. Artwork was great. We had great artists who specialized just in posters and most of them are gone.

"In the past, the value of posters was largely determined by the work of these artists. But that is no longer the sole determinant of value for collectors."

He says four factors influence market worth of Hollywood art.

One, advance word on some future hit, getting your hands on, say, a poster for "Jurassic Park" might prove valuable in the future.

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