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The artist behind Hollywood's most beautiful movie posters

You don't know John Alvin's name, but you've seen his work

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Movie posters aren't what they used to be. In recent years, the most interesting and innovative work is coming from the fans, not traditional advertising departments. Through shows like Comic-Con and outlets like Mondo, talented artists and designers are creating wonderful posters that help fill the gap left by the drab marketing material put out by major studios. But it wasn't always that way.

For decades, John Alvin crafted some of the most iconic images in Hollywood, and they were almost all destined for promotional posters. His work has included everything from Blade Runner and Star Wars to The Lion King and Jurassic Park. The films were often very different, but his approach was the same. "Somehow, John was able to capture the emotion of an entire movie in a single image," says Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, who worked with Alvin to help make Disney films like Beauty and the Beast appeal to adults as well as children. "He loved finding that one image that evoked the element of the movie that would draw the viewer in and make them want to see the film," adds Andrea Alvin, his wife and design partner. That includes everything from the iconic touching fingers from the poster for E.T. to a hand rubbing a magic lamp in Aladdin.

Six years removed from his death in 2008, Alvin's work has been collected in a new volume called simply The Art of John Alvin, authored by Andrea. Unlike many artists, the creators of movie posters aren't always closely associated with their work, making this a rare opportunity to see his best stuff in one place. In fact, Alvin often wasn't allowed to sign his paintings, though he often snuck in an "Alvin" in hard to find places — you can find his signature hidden along a building in Blade Runner and on the surface of the Earth in E.T.

"John was able to capture the emotion of an entire movie in a single image."

The book not only collects some of his most important work in one place, but also includes many pieces that never made it into a marketing campaign. There are several unused sketches and paintings from Return of the Jedi, for instance, that were done so early in the process they still feature the original title Revenge of the Jedi.

The iconic quality of Alvin's work is all the more impressive considering the constant limitations put in place by the movie business. He was given no story details when working on Return of the Jedi due to fears of story leaks, for instance. And when he put together a poster for Batman Forever, Alvin had to contend with the egos of the Hollywood elite — contracts stipulated that images of Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones had to be no smaller than 50 percent of star Val Kilmer. Nicole Kidman and Chris O'Donnell, meanwhile, had to be even smaller than Carrey and Jones. Despite the handicaps, the poster turned out fantastic.

The Art of John Alvin is available on August 28th, and it's a wonderful celebration of an artist whose influence far exceeded his acclaim. Even if you've never heard his name , you almost undoubtedly have come across his designs. "The world should know that there was one man responsible for so many of the iconic posters they admire and have hanging on their walls," says Andrea.


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