Interview with Movie Poster Designer Tom Hodge

Tom Hodge Hobo With A ShotgunAs Hobo with a Shotgun is released on DVD and Blu-Ray to the unsuspecting public we caught up with Tom Hodge aka The Dude Designs the amazing artists responsible the movies retro-tastic poster and eye catching cover art along with a whole host of other excellent artwork all of which you can marvel at on his website Here.

Tom Hodge or should I call you The Dude Designs, how did you get into designing movie poster?

You know, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.

I’ve been in the graphic design business for over 10 years now, jumping around various agencies trying to find my niche but they all tended to get dry creatively so I started up ‘The Dude Designs’ blog about 3 years ago as a sort of virtual gallery to give me a platform to experiment more creatively. I started doing flyers for the Midnight Movies (late night cult cinema screenings in London), which got me playing around with pseudo posters for cult films like Night of the Living Dead, An American Werewolf in London, Drag Me To Hell (Lions Gate actually ripped of my flyer design for the DVD release press ads on Drag Me To Hell. I wasn’t impressed!!!). It was cool because I was able to give the creative my own twist.

Through doing that I then rediscovered my love of video cover design, so I started playing around with some of my own covers for mock film titles. I was still working mostly with photos in my designs at this point (having worked for so long in design I’d lost all my confidence in illustrating anything) but it got to a stage where I needed to go down a more illustrative route to really give these designs the same vibe as you used to get in the glory days!

So the Cannon was a bit of a turning point, which led me on to Kim Newman’s piece for Empire magazine and then the Arrow Video covers and, in turn, onto the Hobo gig. I’ve been on the run ever since!! I’m still learning and (hopefully) improving with every poster. My painting technique has changed since Hobo already!

What VHS boxes or posters from your childhood inspired you the most?Tom Hodge Obsession

Well, Return of the Living Dead as I always say. Rats: Night of Terror was awesome trash… Cobra, The Wraith (the UK box went all out and was printed on this reflective card, very fancy back then), Fright Night, Black Roses… even films like National Lampoon’s Vacation had killer box art. I actually remember seeing the first home video for sale in a supermarket, which was Schwarzenegger’s Raw Deal. Before that you could only rent this stuff and rental videos where something ridiculous like £50 – £70 to buy!

I’m still discovering new covers online all the time which inspire me. The great thing about the web is you can now see all these designs from all over the world (Greece had some sweet covers).

You have been quoted as saying you want “to bring back the lost magic of the video cover and poster art.” When do you think was the heyday for poster art and why do you think it died out?

The heyday as far as I can see was the 70s and early 80s before photos started to take hold really and EVERYTHING was illustrated. Then the illustrations shifted to the video market through the 80s. It was always best in the virgin markets before it all became big industry and big money, then people start to get paranoid, wanting to control every aspect of a release and consequently creative quality, along with character and individuality, go out the window. They used to think, ‘What artist can we get to create an amazing poster for this film?’ Now they think, ‘What demographic are we going to appeal to?’ Mainstream film posters are becoming more like print ads than posters these days. It’s like we just don’t trust posters to do their job any more and BE posters!

What makes an iconic poster?

Something that jumps out at you, embodies the style and vibe of the film and that you would want to hang on your wall. Something that will actually have a life span of its own beyond the cinema run and DVD (Video) release is over.

Which Artists either from the past or working now inspire you?

It’s well documented I’m a big fan of Graham Humphreys work on such films as Return of the Living Dead, The Evil Dead and lots of others!! He has a real distinctive style, brilliant use of colour and these great bold brush strokes! Stephen Romano. I love his book Shock Festival. The trouble with a lot of the old posters/video covers is that they didn’t let the majority of the illustrators sign their work so it’s not easy to find out who did what! John Alvin. I had the Blade Runner poster up as a kid – such an amazing illustration, so that was a big influence. He also did Cobra, which I loved and Raw Deal. And Drew Struzan for The Goonies and Rambo!

Tom Hodge Fathers DayWith classic posters selling in shops and online for tons of money and artists and cartoonists creating alternative posters to classic movies on their websites do you think posters are finally becoming respected and recognised as works of art and not just as an advert to sell a film?

Yes… I hope! But it’s all definately started to raise attention again and people are turning round and saying ‘What happened to all those great posters you used to see… these are all SHIT now!’ or something to that effect. But, like I said, there’s also still this big sway towards even more advert style posters. Take the new UK poster campaign for Bad Bosses. It was awful and looked more like a bunch of tampon ads rather than a film!

Lots of your work is for Exploitation movies be it action like Hobo with a Shotgun, Battleground or Troma’s Fathers Day or other types such as Russ Myer’s Pervert. What is it about those films that inspire such epic and artistic posters?

Well these types of films seem to ‘get’ the importance and power of a poster, plus there’s a solid fan base which really appreciates and talks about them (you don’t get many sites devoted to rom-coms and discussions about their posters!). There are also a lot of independent productions around this genre, with directors who are VERY passionate about the film, so they go out to source the creative, even paying out of their own pocket for the artwork!

Tom Hodge Savage StreetsYou have done some amazing work for Arrow including Savage Streets, Obsession and the awesome Fantastic Factory Collection box set covers. What are the different challenges and advantages of designing a cover for a released film which has already had artwork made for it?

Well thanks man! If anything it makes it more of a challenge. You have to go out of your way and create something totally different to what is already out there! And a lot of these titles do have awesome poster art already. Take a film like Savage Streets. That has about 6 different posters/covers produced for it, so I then have to explore a route which won’t draw too close comparisons to those!

I find I approach Video covers differently to posters. For a start there are issues of scale so you have to make things bolder in the composition to compensate and get the most impact out of a design. With Arrow I seem to get the best results when I just have fun with it and really try to capture that 80s video art vibe, going O.T.T. with weapons and camping up the typography. Creating the film titles is great fun because it’s like, forget everything you know about modern type. The don’ts become dos, so it’s the most cheesy and outrageous thing you can think of… yellows and reds were used about 90% of the time. Oh, and don’t forget that chunky drop shadow!!

You have also done a lot of horror films such as the brilliantly titled The Legend Of The Psychotic Forest Ranger, The Innkeepers and Vamp, are horror movies posters more fun?

Well, so far all my posters do have that touch of horror or peril element to them (someone’s having a bad ride somewhere in the design) but I suppose what appeals most is they do tend to have all the fun plot lines and visual style to play about with… you know the real meaty shit!!Tom Hodge The Legend of the Psychotic Forest Ranger

How do you go about designing a movie poster, what does the process involve from when you are approached to the final finished product?

Well, it depends on the film as a lot of these pictures are still in production when I’m contacted about doing a poster, so you can’t really see the finished thing. I usually work from stills for reference and watch the trailer, which helps as you don’t really want to give any more away than you can see in the trailer. The guys behind Madison County, which I’ve just worked on, said ‘It felt as if I was watching a video’ when I sent the final designs over, which is great as I really aim to give these posters a strong narrative.

I also usually get into a discussion with the directors, etc. to find out what sort of vibe they want to portray and send over some visual examples of other classic posters, etc. is great for references!

However, with films like The Innkeepers there wasn’t even a trailer to go on. I had some stills but the film is from the ‘slow burn’ school and most of the shots were of the two actors just sitting around at the desk, I took directional lead from Ti West and threw in my own take on the classic ghost story vibe, with elements of humour thrown in. I’m still quite eager to see what actually goes on in that film!

I some times do the old Drew Struzan trick of taking some body shots for reference and rope my girlfriend Linda in for the female roles! We’ve starred in quite a few movies now!

Do you watch all the films you do posters for and do you have to like the film to create a great poster for it?

Well, like I have just mentioned above, really, I go through the trailers but sometimes it isn’t an option to watch the film. I’m a designer not a film critic at the end of the day and it’s like they say, ‘There’s no such thing as small parts, just small actors’ so any job or size of film I give it my all!

What is your advice to budding artists and designers who want to get into making movie posters?

Keep drawing/designing or whatever you do! Stick it online, get it out there for people to see. A lot of creatives I find are afraid to show their work for fear of criticism (someone saying it’s shit) but you are always going to get your critics, unfortunately. Art is VERY subjective. But fuck it, you know man! As long as you get a buzz out of doing it and feel it’s good, someone will appreciate it, even if it’s your mum! There’s nothing that can’t be achieved without a little bit of sweat!

So take on little bits for small bands or cinema nights… that sort of thing so you can work to a purpose (I find that helped drive me on). Make up you own mock films! Try and create a style to your work which is different. You need to get an angle on it to make it stand out from the crowd.

What’s next for you?

Well, I’m going totally freelance, so that’s going to be a big gear shift, and you will probably see me outside of Iceland asking for you spare change!

But there’s a few titles coming up so I’m going to be very busy sorting out the business side as well and designing new posters/video covers. I should be speaking alongside a panel of poster artists at Empire magazine’s film expo in the 02, which is going to be exciting, so if anyone’s going down there feel free to say hello! There are also a few other creative projects I’m hoping to get off the ground.

Thank you so much and keep up the amazing work.


Alex Humphrey

Alex studied film at the University of Kent and went on to work for Universal Pictures in their Post Room gaining an inside look at the movie industry from the very bottom. Constantly writing reviews in everything from local magazines to Hip Hop sites Alex honed his critical skills even spending a brief period as a restaurant critic. Read more

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1 Comment

  • After too many years of boring posters with cut and paste photos from sedate publicity stills, the ART of the movie poster is back, and Tom “Dude Designs” Hodge is leading the charge! Tom Hodge is a fantastic example of how movie art can be made relevant again. Exceptional work by a very talented creative artist!

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