With great honor, we present our interview with Paul Shipper, often hailed as the new Drew Struzan, renowned for creating iconic posters for movies like Blade Runner, Back To The Future, and Star Wars. Our journey with Paul Shipper began with his work on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, just a glimpse of his extensive portfolio. His most recent masterpiece is the artwork for Marvel’s film, Doctor Strange. In this interview, Mr. Shipper shares his journey, insights into working with top Hollywood studios, his artistic influences, and the unique approach that defines his work. Enjoy reading!
Retro Synthwave: Hello Paul, can you introduce yourself?
Paul Shipper: My name is Paul Shipper, I am a freelance illustrator working primarily in the Entertainment and Advertising industry.
How did you achieve such a tremendous level in your work?
I graduated from an illustration/Animation degree at Manchester Metropolitan University back in 1997 and since then I have been pursuing this career with a few bumps along the way but always with a clear focus in mind working on my art in the evenings while having a full time job, working in other fields but still honing my craft, until eventually dropping everything to focus on my illustration around 6 years ago… that’s when things started to happen really. I come from a traditional background, working on illustration board, airbrush, pencil, very much in the style of my illustration idol, Drew Struzan who’s work inspired me to follow this path and ignited my love for the movie poster. Around the turn of the millennium I was approached by Penguin books to work on a Gunsmoke series they were releasing and they asked if I worked digitally, I didn’t, but work wasn’t coming in thick and fast so I said, Yes! I quickly went out and bought a Wacom tablet and a copy of Corel painter and quickly began experimenting to get the traditional style recreated as authentically as possible within the computer… Penguin were really happy with the work and we did a number of covers for the series together… it was the start of a new way of working for me that has continued to this day. I think one of the last illustrations created traditionally for a job was in 2008.
Are you pro-technology and computer science with more and more advanced softwares, or do you prefer working with some good old paper and pens?
I love both! The computer is another tool that helps me get where I want the vision I and my clients have into a reality… It’s not that you click a button and it’s done, there is a lot of work involved honing the image, drawing, painting in the computer can take almost as long as if you you were painting and drawing on gessoed illustration board… it’s just more flexible in many ways and freeing to get to where you imagined the art would be. It’s a great tool and I truly believe if the great masters were living in this time, they would be embracing it too!
« drawing, painting in the computer… I truly believe if the great masters were living in this time, they would be embracing it too! »
So what is your creation process? What are your favorite softwares?
Today almost all of the process is within Photoshop CC, I used to use multiple pieces of software to get where I wanted to be with a piece, but Photoshop has come a long way with tool presets that simulate real media, pencils feel like real pencils, there is a wonderful spontaneity to my way of working that emulates the way I used to work traditionally, which is of great importance to me.
Can you tell us which movie posters you had in your childhood?
In my room the posters I remember having on the walls included Drew Struzan Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade advance poster, Adventures in Babystting, Empire Strikes Back by Roger Kastel, I didn’t have a whole lot of wall space so I had a lot of them in tubes and would take them out, unroll them on my bedroom floor and with a magnifying glass would drool over the amazing art which inspired me to experiment and play with ideas, techniques, you name it! This was before the internet was really available and so I became a movie poster detective figuring out how things were done so I could try and emulate the art I loved.
You’ve worked for Marvel Studios, delivering a fantastic poster of « Doctor Strange » and more recently for « Star Wars: The Last Jedi » by Lucasfilm and Disney. The highest level that we can imagine in one’s career. How did your collaboration went on?
Yep, it’s all downhill from here, right?! Well, yes it could definitely be, but I feel like I am just scratching the surface on what I have to bring to the table on these amazing IP’s I love working in this World of Movies, it’s what I have always wanted to do, so being given an opportunity to work on some of these fantastic projects is something I do not take for granted… some people may say I’m living the dream…
I actually can’t argue with that.
We see you as the « Drew Struzan » of modern times. For those who don’t know, he’s the creator of the Blade Runner, Back to the Future, The Thing, Star Wars and many other great movie’s posters from the 80s. Do you have any opinion about him?
Drew and his work is what really inspired me to find out more about this illustration job… It’s been a life long ambition that my passion for has never wavered… It’s as strong now as it was when I first realized the beautiful art on a movie poster was created by somebody… I was fortunate enough to actually be invited to Drew’s studio back in 1997 and we have stayed in touch over the years. I owe a lot to that man and his great work. He has undoubtedly inspired so many of us over the course of the last 40 years and his work inspires me just as much today.
What do you think of the ‘Stranger Things’ posters created by Kyle Lambert, who also seems to be influenced by the ‘Drew Struzan touch’?
Kyles work on Stranger things was wonderful to see, especially that it got so much of a wonderful response from the public. He is a fellow Brit and I have yet to meet Kyle but yes, we are both certainly inspired by the works of Drew and his contemporaries… There are a number of us trying to keep the art of the film poster alive in many ways… Looking back at the past but bringing the love of the poster into the future with us too… I have always wanted to be able to keep the aesthetic alive and yet keep it as fresh and relevant as possible for this time in our lives.
Except Drew Struzan, do you have an ultimate reference as a painter, your mentor, your Jedi master?
Has to be the kings of the illustrated poster for me. Richard Amsel, Roger Kastel, Bob Peak… The work of JC Leyendecker and Norman Rockwell is always inspiring to me also… I love the great American Illustration work… It’s what excited me the most!
« I love the great American Illustration work… It’s what excited me the most! »
Warren Fu, the official graphic designer of Daft Punk, created a very nice poster for the song « Lose Yourself to Dance », what do you think about it?
I remember seeing that! I loved the album and that poster definitely had the vibes that I thought fit the subject and time period perfectly!
We represent the turnover between the so-called SYNTHWAVE music and RETRO graphics. What do you think about Synthwave music?
Synthwave isn’t something I was aware of as a genre of music until now, but I love synth music. I am an avid soundtrack fan and listen to scores while I work… I have a Korg keyboard myself and l have always loved playing and making my own music… if I wasn’t an illustrator I would love to be a film composer!
You’re part of the 501st Legion from Star Wars. In which hero of this legendary saga do you transform yourself as?
I was inducted into the 501st as an honorary member. As yet I don’t have a suit, but I have always wanted a New Hope Stormtrooper armour, so one of these days I will get around to that and maybe even join in the fun with the great folks at the 501st around the world!
What do you think about « Star Wars: The Last Jedi » that had a lot of bad reviews? Can you describe your work for the poster?
The Last Jedi can be best described int he words of Luke Skywalker in the movie “this isn’t going to go the way you think!”… on my first viewing of the film I will say it caught me off guard… I fell into the trap of imagining Luke behaving in a different way… however, on my second viewing, I got it and I LOVED it!
Getting to work on a poster for Star Wars was a dream come true, having grown up loving all the art that has been created for the saga over 40 years, my whole life!
A few words about your future projects? What are you preparing and for when?
I have a number of projects on at the moment due out in the coming months with Disney, Shout! and Arrow Video… Sadly I can’t talk about any of them.