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Interviews > Stan Watts
(Poster Artist: Escape From New York)
How did you end up
being an artist and a poster artist?
Well, I wasn't really a poster artist. Freelance meant you did a lot of
everything for anybody.. From label art for toilet bowl cleaners, to the coolest
rock covers and big name portraits. I was interested in making money to pay
bills and took on any project I could, and did so for 35 years. Not too many of
my contemporaries made it that far. The onset of the computer wiped out most and
then just killed me at a slower rate of time. Most posters were a nightmare, but
they paid great, and you just put up with the sometimes poor concepts ENDLESS
and MEANINGLESS changes. The deadlines were ALWAYS unrealistic, and the
quality ALWAYS suffered. They were never my favorite assignment (except for
The Howling) but they were lucrative and I always said yes to Hollywood. As
far as them being used: there are a couple of thoughts. Sometimes, after doing a
piece of art that HAD to be done over the weekend.. you would then spend the
next week and a half doing bullshit changes. By then, you didn't care if it went
to print or not, you just wanted to get paid. The joy and pleasure of a movie
poster was stripped away early on in the process. I much more preferred to do
comps. They paid great, they were little mini posters, and there was generally a
little more freedom there. That's how The Howling was created. They
looked for images for months and couldn't find one, I was asked to do a comp
that I just experimented with and did. Turned out to be the one. Those were the
How did you get the assignment to do an Escape From New
Art work was commissioned through Craig Butler Design.
How was the poster conceived and did you
have any other ideas or drawings prior to the final one?
Well, there isn't a lot to talk about, when it comes to that particular image.
The concept was comped out, and I just did the finish. It wasn't one that I had
much creative ownership to.
How long did it take to make the poster art and what
reactions did you get from it?
As I eluded to, there was never enough time to do a project with care and
attention, and as I recall, this was no exception. My average time on any
project, was 5 to 7 days. That included gathering photo reference, props,
models, etc. and approval times. Actual rendering time, was usually 3 days.
Is it true that you were told that you had the poster for
the whole campaign only at the very last moment being aced out to Barry E.
The B. Jackson piece was the kind of crap they would always land on. Not that it
was a bad concept, but it was a dated piece the minute the paint dried. Somehow,
loosing out to a piece like that made sense in a weird way... As standard
procedure, they always chose a couple of comps to go to finish, so you never
knew who was doing what for whom.. they must of had mountains of money in those
days. A comp could pay 2.5k to 5k.. the finish 10k, 15k, 20k. So, you can see
why the 'dance with the movie industry' was a bitter sweet arrangement.
Were you disappointed that your poster wasn't used except
for film festivals which I believe it was and do you have any recollection why
another artist called Ben Bensen did the portraits on it?
As far as EFNY, I didn't have any input on the image. I like K Russell,
and was somewhat hopeful about the image. The K Russell image I was SICK about
loosing out at the last minute to a really CRAPPY image was The Thing. I
did this sophisticated image of a steel door, in a sub arctic setting, being
smashed into from the outside, bright iridescent light coming in through a
breach in the door... loved the movie, loved the image. It just wasn't meant to
Here's the deal, as far as the inset illustrations (portraits).. I barely had
enough time to do the poster.. they always 'subbed' things out that way. As far
as them making sections to use it or not, it was a industry standard, happened
all the time. Like I said, usually didn't care what they did with it, as long as
they paid. Hey, and as an industry, they sometimes tried NOT to...
Are there any other anecdotes you'd like to share with us
about the poster?
I think I still retain the art.
What do you think of the movie
As far as the movie. I wasn't a fan. It was a caricature of a film, to me
anyway. My fav K Russell films will always be Big Trouble in Little China,
and The Thing. Met him once at a dinner party, a nice man.
What are you currently doing and
what do you enjoy
doing in your spare time?
Well, as far as my career, the computer killed me, slowly. I was
convinced that I needed to convert, which I did, and began the slow spiral down.
As more and more people piled on Photoshop, respect for the media plummeted. It
was just a push button approach to illustration, and very few of the younger art
directors actually had a background, or understood real illustration. Prices
dropped, deadlines diminished, and the ability to show new work to new ADs
became impossible. My last portfolio showing was with a local Austin agency. It
was a Monday morning.. showed my slides, and when the house lights came on, half
of the 'twenty something's' ADs were asleep. I didn't say a word, just loaded
up, and left. Humiliating. That was it for me. I had seen older illustrators
when I was a young illustrator at art shows in LA, and I would always say to
myself 'what the fuck are you doing here?' Well, I came full circle, and it was
now my time to gracefully take stage left.
It was traumatic for a number of years, a few straggler jobs came in from
NY, which I would KILL myself doing, shitty budgets, shitty art direction, only
to have a ho-hum reaction to the finish. Tough. So, I quit in midstream of a
series of illustrations for a Japanese video game, character development thing.
So not me to do that... and I knew then, I had no business in illustration any
don't sketch, cartoon (my first love) or have any appreciation for art, fine or
otherwise any longer. It stole 30 plus years of my life, spent hunched over a
desk, 7 am to 2 am, every day, even holidays. I will give it no more of myself.
I retrained on a CAD (Computer-Aided Design) program, and work for a traffic control company,
designing highways/streets, and doing traffic control for major utilities like
PG&E and AT&T. I love doing it. It's mentally demanding, still involves building
something from start to finish, and I'm not dealing with anyone's egos,
including my own. Well, there it is. More than I talked art in a decade at
least. Not sure if this is what you wanted to hear, you were probably looking
for something flashy and upbeat. That's just not my reality.
Thank you for your time, Stan.