The Force is Awakened in Paul Shipper’s Fan Art

As many of us have been anxiously awaiting, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is finally in theaters everywhere tomorrow. Can I get a high-five and a “Hell yeah!”? While there are certainly many passionate Star Wars fans out there, it’s not often you see someone turn that passion into art, which is why we were stoked to learn about illustrator Paul Shipper’s work.

Paul channels his film fandom into incredibly detailed film poster art. Though his recent Star Wars poster for Fandango caught our attention, his scope of work covers everything from Back to the Future to Game of Thrones. We caught up with Paul to talk about his passion, his technique, and even his favorite movie.

Where does your passion for film posters stem from?

From as early as I can remember I loved to draw pictures. I became impressed with the artwork on display in the movie theatres and on many VHS covers, recognising it as art. It became an obsession of mine to collect movie posters starting around the mid to late 80’s.

One day I realised that many of the posters I had collected stylistically had a similarity, a signature that read “Drew”… they were created by the same person, Drew Struzan. He was easily my favourite film poster artist judging by my collection. It was around that time that I came to realise this was his job and he was something called a ‘freelance Illustrator.’

As a young teenager it was a eureka moment and I decided that I would love to do something like that when I grew up. I studied his posters with a magnifying glass for hours and hours, laying them down on my bedroom floor. I was mesmerized, trying to work out how it was possible to create this art, like trying to discover how a magician does a trick. I would study the posters and create my own work based on what I had learned from my findings. I would experiment with papers, board, paints and pencils until I would even come just a little bit close to what I was trying to achieve. It was my passion and dream to try and nail this and become a freelance Illustrator one day.

Tell us a little about your journey as an illustrator. Have you always specialized in film posters or did you explore other avenues first?

Through school and college I drew inspiration from many places, but mostly it was my love of film posters that would dominate my subject matter on a project. I of course have drawn and painted many things, from the obligatory still life to what became my favourite lesson of all, life drawing. Throughout my school life, to art college and then University for a degree in Illustration, my passion remained true despite a great many people voicing their aversion to the idea. I also had the support of those who encouraged me and challenged me in ways that made me who I am today.

I can remember one project that came up in my three years at University, a brief that actually felt like it was created for me. We had to read a novel, cast the movie of the novel and illustrate a poster for the movie. A dream project! Especially when compared to the many other things we had to do…this one was set by our Literature tutor Bill Robb. At the end of the project we all put our artwork on display and Bill and our illustration tutors walked the floor looking at everyone’s work. It was a nerve-racking moment for me in particular, as this project brief was so close to my future aspirations.

We all joined as a group to hear what they thought. Our tutor went over a few pieces that really stood out to him, but mine was not among them…oh no…well, I kind of expected that as he was never a champion of my work. Just when I thought it was over, Bill, who set the brief, was asked to comment on which illustrations HE thought had met the brief. He went on to say, “Well, the only one in here that looks remotely like a film poster is Paul’s.” Those words were like a bolt of lightning to me – YES! His thoughts on the matter were of great importance to me because he was not an artist, he was an everyman, and a well read everyman at that. He was my audience! It was quite the turning point for me.

How does your creative process begin? Do you sketch first on paper or do you create everything digitally?

Sometimes I sketch ideas on paper, other times on my iPad and sometimes I just dive straight in with the idea already in my head. Prep work is obviously important and I have found it can be different on every project. I think a lot about my work and how I want it to look. Even when I’m asleep I can be dreaming about the composition and in the morning I know what I must do. I also have meetings, Skypes, and email conversations about the project with the client to get a good grasp on what we want to try and achieve.

Your work has crazy amounts of detail. How do you make sure you’re getting all of the details accurately?

Mostly referencing photographs alongside my drawing, using images supplied by the client or sourced/photographed by myself. I try not to make the artwork look photo-real – I want it to be more than a just a photograph. I want it to be a little rough around the edges, distilling an image to get the essence, the feeling and then harmonised in one design. I use the split view in Photoshop to help me have my reference image on one side and sometimes drop the reference into a layer and lay it side-by-side with the portion I am working on.

What tools do you use the most in Photoshop?

Probably the brush tools and predominantly brushes created by Kyle T Webster. It is the power of the brush tool presets that made me move into Photoshop for almost all of my creative work – from comp to final art, I can do everything under one roof now. It revolutionised things really and brought into it the possibility of a real painted surface in my final work.

I paint gesso board, photograph it and use that surface within my work. It helps keep my traditional aesthetic to the work along with Kyle’s brushes, which also have a look and feel of traditional media that I absolutely love. The power of Photoshop has given me the ability to work faster and become more productive with my work, the ability to alter things in a heartbeat, but keep things as spontaneous and alive as possible. Working with Photoshop CC and my (relatively new) Cintiq has been a joy – the closest I have come to drawing on paper.

Can you tell us more about the Star Wars piece you did for Fandango? What did you enjoy most about creating it?

I’ve created a few pieces for Fandango now and they asked me to do something Star Wars. I was of course excited! YES! “Okay, we’d like you to create an image containing all the movies…from Episode 1 through to the new one coming out, The Force Awakens (Episode 7)”. Okay, wow, how do I do that without taking a 6 month sabbatical? I thought about it for some time, how to best do this…a simplified single image for each film that all tie together? That was one idea, but I love portraiture. For me, Star Wars has so much to do with the many characters in that Universe, so ultimately that is the road I went down.

It is probably the largest composition I have ever tackled and it took quite some time to complete. Fandango let me live periscope some of the early underdrawing sessions so a lot of fans got to see me work first-hand for the very first time. It was fun! I don’t get a chance to share a lot of my work in progress with fans so it was a rare thing and I think everyone enjoyed it.

We’ve got to ask – do you have a favorite movie?

It’s a tough call and I don’t like to say I have one favourite, I love so many films. Films I have watched over and over. But when push comes to shove I would have to say my favourite film would be Raiders of the Lost Ark. I never tire of it. I’m a huge fan of Spielberg’s work and this film really inspired me – and the poster campaign for the whole Indiana Jones trilogy knocked my socks off time after time.

To connect more with Paul Shipper, find him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.