Press > Escape From New York > Exclusive Interviews > Kim Passey (Poster Artist)

How did you end up being an artist and a poster artist?

As a child, my mother would draw pictures to keep me from squirming around during church services. I was about four years old at the time and the proceedings were a little too long for my attention span. While sitting in the pew one Sunday I received a revelation. While watching Mom draw, it came to me like a bolt from above... I can do better than that! Sorry Mom.

From that time on, I was drawing constantly. I started out by copying cartoon characters from TV, and books. Later, I started drawing from memory (Popeye was the first character I remember drawing). By the time I got to junior high, I graduated to comic books and started drawing super heroes. In the eighth or ninth grade, I discovered a massive book in the school library filled with Norman Rockwell's paintings. That was it, I was going to be an illustrator! My destiny was set.

We were a military family and moved around the country during most of my school years. I'm not an extrovert by nature and making new friends wasn't easy. Each time we moved I had to establish a new social network. Drawing helped in a couple of ways. It allowed me to entertain myself when I was feeling isolated. It allowed me to retreat into my own fantasies/reality. On the other hand, my ability to draw attracted a lot of attention. It didn't really matter which class I was in, I drew all of the time. Without intending it, I received a lot of positive feedback from kids sitting nearby. This type of encouragement only reinforced my artistic ambitions.

After my fourth year in college, I determined it was time to move to the "real world" and start my career as a freelance illustrator. In the Spring of 1979 with $1500.00 dollars in my back pocket, I put two suitcases, my drawing board, and some art supplies, into my 1973 VW Beetle and left school to seek my fortune in Los Angeles.

I won't go much into the proverbial "starving artist" stereotype, but the first year or two was pretty rough. However, with a lot of luck, a few crucial connections, and an introduction to an inexperienced but eager agent (known as an artist's representative or "Rep" for short), I managed to get a foothold in the industry. By my second year, I actually starting to make a living as an illustrator.

To build a career in Los Angeles, it was necessary to seek assignments in as many art markets as possible. Over a twenty year period, I worked for entertainment studios, advertising agencies, editorial clients, and toy manufacturers. For clarity, the “entertainment industry” includes movie studios, television, theme parks, and video games.

By my second year, I had the opportunity to do a number of movie posters and movie poster "comps". Comps were generally half the size of a full-sized movie poster (30” X 40”). They were usually full-color but not intended as finished art, mainly to flesh out a concept. Most movie related work came to me through my hard-working agent.

How did you get the assignment to do an Escape From New York poster?

As mentioned, the chance to do a comp for Escape from New York came through my Rep. Back in the day (1980s), movie studios didn't produced posters "in-house". Creating a print campaign usually was left to small advertising agencies known as "boutiques". Seiniger Advertising, B. D. Fox, and New York West were three agencies I had a chance to work with. The Escape from New York assignment came to me via New York West.

How was the poster conceived and did you have any other ideas or drawings prior to the final one?

The total creative process isn't in the hands of an individual illustrator. There's just too much money on the line and too little time for individual illustrators to be involved early in the process.

Instead, a Creative Director or a small number of Art Directors at a boutique will come up with a number of ideas for several posters. These ideas can be crudely drawn on a napkin during lunch. In many cases, ideas are given to a studio concept artist who makes a fast pencil sketch or loose marker rendering. Later, these rough layout sketches will be turned over to an illustrator. Between 6 to 10 poster ideas are settled on.

Illustrators are contacted at this point. Illustrators are chosen because of style, but more often than not, availability. Because illustrators are independent freelance talent, it's likely they are already committed to project and unable to accept a job when contacted. There's a certain random aspect to the whole thing. However, if the artist is available and interested, he'll jump at the chance.

When an illustrator comes to an agency, he is briefed on the movie's plot, who's staring in the film, given idea sketches and reference material (usually black and white movie stills and photos). Rarely does an artist get to prescreen a movie. Prior to release, studios want as little information to get out to the public as possible. With limited background, a hand full of reference, and a deadline, the illustrator leaves to start work on the particular concept assigned to him.

The Escape from New York assignment I received followed the procedure above. Each artist comes to the agency alone. We don't know what the competition is doing nor do we know what the other ideas are. There's not much leeway to interpret the concept assigned. The central figure, cityscape, laser blasting through the metal door, the key hole, and metal rivets were all part of the assigned layout I received. Without a prior screening of the movie, I had no way of knowing whether or not the laser had anything to do with the storyline or not. All I had to go on was the briefing I received from the Art Director. Whatever originality or creativity I brought to the assignment was usually due to technique or execution. Once the comp was completed it's delivered to the boutique on or before the deadline.

All comps are gathered by the Art Director and delivered to the Movie studio for review. A final comp is chosen through a process of elimination. Sometimes additional comps are done, but it's usually a refinement on one or more of the original pieces. At this point, a specific artist is chosen to create the final movie poster. There's no guarantee the artist who did the original comp will do the finished poster. The finished poster may be handed over to a "big-name" artist to execute.

How long did it take to make the poster art and what reactions did you get from it?

It's a little difficult recalling exact circumstances surrounding a piece I did 30 years ago. Typically New York West would give me a call on a Friday afternoon around 3 pm and need finished art by Monday morning at 9 or 10. That meant I would leave my place immediately and drive 30 minutes to New York West's location in Hollywood. We'd spend around an hour going over specifics and gathering reference. I'd leave their office around 5 or 5:30 pm just in time for rush hour traffic. Getting home would take twice as long as my drive into Hollywood. That meant another hour or so would get eaten up in transit. At this point, it would be around 6 pm before getting home. I'd eat an early dinner and start working by 7 pm. From that point on it would be crunch-time until I delivered art on Monday morning. Over-nighters were just accepted. Often, the Art Director would drop by on Saturday or Sunday to check my progress. That might eat up another hour. Of course if he/she had issues, my work-load would be increased. That didn't matter, the deadline remained the same. This was the typical turn-around time for New York West.

Less frequently, they would call in the middle of the week and need a project done by the following Monday. Instead of a two and a half day turn-around, I might have 3 or 4 days plus a weekend to complete a job. I want to say my EFNY assignment benefited from this schedule, but it's hard to recall. I'd always heard horror stories about deadlines in connection to the advertising industry, but ad agencies have nothing over entertainment clients. Anything connected to movies always put me under a lot of stress. On the positive side, budgets were usually better than other art markets. The entertainment industry's solution to a problem, just throw money at it. Problem solved!

I wish I could recall the exact reactions to my EFNY comp when I turned it in. I felt fine about it considering the circumstances and turn-around time. Typically most Art Directors are very non-committal until studio executives have a chance to reviewed things. At that point they sometimes get back to you with feedback. Obviously, the comp chosen was the "winner". All other contenders are thanked with a paycheck. Whatever the outcome, it's yesterdays news. On to the next movie!

Were you disappointed that your poster art wasn't used?

I never took things too personally. I always assumed that if they called me back for another project (which they did numerous times), they must be satisfied with my work. Without major creative input from the start, I really couldn't become overly invested in the end result. I did my best to do what was asked of me with the information I had, in the time allotted, in a professional manner. I'm not sure I could have done much more.

I know this isn't how movie fans like to envision things. Movies are certainly entertainment, but unfortunately, much of the time, it's just business.

Are there any other anecdotes you'd like to share with us about the poster?

No real anecdotes per say.

Looking back 34 years, I see things I'd approach differently with my poster. Given the same parameters, I'd stress a much grungier look. The reflective door and rivets are too clean. I'd go with a rusted boiler-plate look with plenty of corrosion. I'd enlarge the central figure more and make his pose more crouched and dramatic through the keyhole.

The laser beam would still be there but the blast would have more molten metal, smoke, and sparks shooting all over the place.

Better yet, there's a scene in the movie where Kurt Russell shoots an automatic weapon through a wall and creates a perforated oval opening. Perhaps the laser should have been replaced all together with something along these lines. I think these changes would still be in keeping with the original assignment and better reflect the overall character of the movie.

Keep in mind, the first time I viewed the movie was when it was released to the public. Had I seen a trailer prior to painting the poster, it would have been a big help.

What do you think of the movie personally?

I enjoyed it back in 1981 when it first came out. Plenty of action kept things moving. I have not seen it in years. I went to YouTube to view a trailer just to remind myself. These days it would get a bigger budget, even more dramatic camera angles, and more computer generated special effects. For the most part, it holds up well.

What are you currently doing and what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I began my career as a Freelance Illustrator in 1979. The world of commercial art today bears little resemblance to art markets of the 1980s. Few artists could have predicted the impact of computers on commercial art back then. Most of us were working for clients in the entertainment, advertising, packaging, and editorial markets. Nearly all artwork we produced was intended for print media. Print media was king. The work we created was reproduced in the form of posters, magazines, album covers, point-of-purchase advertising, greeting cards, and product packaging. In other words, our livelihoods depended on getting artwork distributed to the public through printed materials.

This ended with the digital revolution. By the late 80s, hand painted illustrations for movies posters was a thing of the past. You may have noticed, there are no hand-illustrated movie posters hanging at theater entrances or in lobbies these days. Instead, nearly all posters are photo-compositions assembled in Adobe Photoshop today.

Through the 90s, the same trend moved through advertising agencies and product packaging. By the end of the decade, "the writing was on the wall". Print media was the dead for illustrators. The future was digital media. That meant computer monitors, TV sets, game consoles, laptops, tablets, and smart phones.

Many of my contemporaries either left commercial art, transitioned to art galleries, or found a niche in the developing digital world. Because there was a shortage of trained digital artists, many found work as concept artists in the computer game industry and from there, received on-the-job training using digital media and software. This is the path I took.

Starting in 2000, I found work in the computer game industry. I started as a concept artist, learned 3-D modeling software (Maya), UV layout, and texture painting (Photoshop). I gradually moved from concept artist, to character modeler, then art director, and finally, to creative director. In 2008, the Great Recession hit and the company I worked for went out of business as a result of the collapse of Lehman Brothers Bank.

From 2009 to 2014 I bounced around between freelance work, contract work, odd jobs, unemployment, and a 2 year stint as an art director working for a small company making games for social media and smart phones. While there, I gained experience using Adobe Illustrator and learned to created vector assets for online games.

Finally, in June of 2014, because of my Adobe Illustrator experience and thanks to a wonderful art director, I was hired as a concept artist at Wildworks Studios (Salt Lake City, UT). I really enjoy my work and the people I work with. As of this writing, I have been part of the studio for just over a year and I love it!

Outside of art (and employment), I enjoy traveling, dinning out, movies, social dance and outdoor activities like hiking, fishing, and camping. I also enjoy studying philosophy, religion, mythology, sociology, and psychology.

Thank you for your time, Kim.

More about Kim Passey here: