Press > Escape From New York > Exclusive Interviews > Barry E. Jackson (Poster Artist)


Prior to your film career, how did you get involved in creating art for album covers, movie posters and magazine editorials?

I began by walking the streets with my portfolio making cold calls from recommendations and going anywhere and everywhere. My first job was in the animation business doing backgrounds for Ralph Bakshi's animated film The Lord of the Rings. After a few years I left there and began seeking work in the movie poster and album cover business. I just phoned people and asked if they would look at my work. That is very hard to do today.

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

I had done a number of assignments for a design studio called Seiniger Productions in west L.A. An art director named David Renerick had the idea of the Statue of Liberty's head in the street. I composed a rough drawing that everyone liked so they asked me to paint the finished poster.

How was the poster conceived and can you elaborate a bit more about the decapitated head of the Statue of Liberty?

There was a lot of competition to get the poster for Escape From New York. John Carpenter
(Director/Co-Writer/Co-Composer) was very hot at the time. I had even done other ideas for the poster for other design studios. When I heard David Renerick's idea I knew it was a winner. I did one rough and one finished piece that took about two weeks. It came back for corrections that took another week. I had not seen the film. I don't think David had seen it either. David knew the decapitated head was not in the movie but felt it was a valid metaphor. I am sure some people felt cheated that they didn't get to see that scene but the movie was not what you would call an effects extravaganza. It was more tongue in cheek. If people went to see the movie Cloverfield they actually did the shot with the Statue of Liberty's head! I read that J.J. Abrams got the idea from my poster! It's weird how this industry works.

What other ideas for the poster did you have prior to the final one?

I can't remember all the roughs but I did one finished B&W (Black & White) of a down shot of Manhattan in which the building tops spelled out Escape From New York. Not used. Prior to my poster an illustrator named Stan Watts had done an illustration of the Statue of Liberty's arm with a handcuff holding the torch. He was told he had the poster for the whole campaign. It was printed and used in film festivals I believe. I aced him out at the last second.

What reactions did you get from the poster?

As far as comments go they were all positive. I probably could have become a full time movie poster artist if I wanted to but I had plans to move to New York and try other things.

Did you ever get any comments from John Carpenter (Director/Co-Writer/Co-Composer) about the poster?

I never heard a word from John Carpenter.

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

The original art was stolen and still legally belongs to me. I never found out who stole it. Avco Embassy brought the job to Seiniger Productions. I made a deal to do the art but did not do it work for hire. I signed away rights to print the poster while maintaining the right to keep the original art. Seiniger Productions told me someone at Avco had the art. I went there and was stone walled at the reception desk. I called and called but didn't have the power to shake things up. Avco went under the next year. That art is in somebody's closet somewhere.

What do you think of the movie

The movie attempts to be nothing more than a classic lowbrow B-movie. It is funny and enjoyable if you watch it keeping that in mind.

Hand drawn posters have become rarer and rarer. How do you feel about this?

I don't have any big yearning to go back to the days of hand drawing and airbrush. That was very hard work and the only thing that made it worth while was that it paid well and I had my own freelance business. Today art is done digitally and most artists work in a corporate environment. That I don't like.

What made you quit making art for posters etcetera and move on with becoming a production designer, concept designer, writer and director for animatics for Electronic Arts etcetera? Also, how come you've ended up doing mostly animated stuff in your career?

The digital revolution effected the movie poster business and every other business. Photoshop enabled art directors who can't draw to paste together movie poster ideas and thus cut a lot of illustrators out of the business. There are still illustrators who photoshop imagery for movie posters but not many. I don't miss it. Working as a production designer on animated films is far more challenging. You are making a movie not advertising one. You are actually in charge of an art department and of what a movie looks like. Although it is the directors medium a production designer can have tremendous influence. 

What work of yours are you the most proud of and why? Also, in what field do you feel most at home with doing?

I am proud of the album covers I did for ZZ Top, Afterburner and Recycler. I am proud of winning the Telly award for best production design of a television feature for the movie Firebreather. I am very proud of the publishing of Danny Diamondback by Harper Collins. I have written a screenplay based on the book and the book has been recently optioned by a film company in Vancouver. I have hopes that it will reach the screen. Oddly enough my favorite thing to do is to teach art. Currently I teach at Art Center College of Design and at Cal State University Long Beach.

Purchase Barry's book Danny Diamondback here.

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

I have all CG (Computer-Generated Imagery) animated short film called the Warehouse Fly which I am directing, writing, animating, modeling, lighting, texturing etcetera. However, to pay the bills I work as a designer at studio called Yu and Company. I am doing a lot of art for the opening titles for The Great and Powerful Oz as well as the new 300 movie.
I play golf for physical activity. I work on my own animated film for pleasure.

Thank you for your time, Barry.

More about Barry E. Jackson here: