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Well if you’re a movie buff of any bearing you would be aware of the most excellent Indiana Jones flicks and their iconic classic 80’s movie posters. You would also have definitely seen some of legendary poster artist Drew Struzan‘s work (bow). His art for the Indy series is classic Jones, classic action adventure, they’re brilliant. Hell, everyone should have their own Indy Poster. In homage to Struzan, let’s do it.

A quick analysis of a few movie posters – you’ll notice a trend in either warm or cool gradient backgrounds with one highlight.

For this tutorial you’ll need:

  • One skull or suitable spooky image
  • One Aztec/Mayan type carving
  • One hero shot, preferably backlit (of course yourself!)
  • Shots of rocks, walls, trees, steps for a backdrop
  • The SF Fedora Font set (get it here)

A standard movie poster is 27 x 40″ (68.6 x 101.6cm) with about 150ppi (pixels per inch) but that’s a big file so choose a size that suits.

The Background

We’ll start with a gradient of warm color. Bring up the gradient editor and add color points as shown, then apply.

Drop in and clearcut the skull, then use the EDIT>TRANSFORM>WARP tool to distort the image to a suitably scary state. DESATURATE to lose the color. I applied a PLASTIC WRAP filter to give it some sheen.

SKULL COLOUR – We’ll place the skull large at the top, and add a layer style by double clicking the skull layer in the layers tab. We’ll give it a COLOR OVERLAY (we’ll use a lot of these) setting the color to a bright orange and using a vivid light blend mode.

SKULL SHADOW – Duplicate the skull layer and erase all but the areas you want deep shadow. The eye sockets in this case. Then adjust the layer style to a deep brown with a COLOR BURN
blend mode

SKULL HIGHLIGHT – Duplicate the original skull layer again, remove the layer styles and crank the contrast right up to get a few strong whites for highlights. Set the layer blend mode
to SCREEN. This will give the teeth some punch.

Now we’ll flatten the image and apply a little DRY BRUSH filter and some NOISE to give it a painterly gritty effect.

Ok that’s the background. Now a backdrop to frame our ‘hero’. Drop in some background rock or tree life, and DESATURATE. Apply plenty of contrast for deep highlights. Now apply another COLOR OVERLAY layer style using a deep brown color and linear light mode. Set the layer mode to SCREEN.

Now DUPLICATE the layer, remove the styles and set the layer mode to HARD LIGHT. A little DRY BRUSH can’t hurt either. Erase the edges a little to blend with the background.

Now let’s add some steps for our hero to stand on – another greyscale image with a COLOR OVERLAY layer style. This time set to SOFT LIGHT mode and a light brown color. We set the layer mode to LUMINOSITY on this one. As you might be starting to guess, there is experimentation here. Play. Learn. Enjoy.

Now we pick up speed. We take our Aztec carving, color it rich blue using the HUE/SATURATION tool, hollow it out using the eraser tool and place it at the base. Then we create a new layer and paint over it with black (with some opacity) so it’s subtle.

Now we’re ready for our hero. Create a new layer and airbrush in a white glow to sit behind the character. This is our focal point. Now add a layer style to this and use an OUTER GLOW with a yellow color. Glow on glow. Now we’ll paste in our character (handsome fellow…) To give it some inky grunt, I like to apply UNSHARP MASK with a high radius. Adjust LEVELS to a point you’re happy with, where the hero looks a part of the scene.

Now DUPLICATE the hero layer. Set the new layers mode to LUMINOSITY, and then apply a layer effect. In this case we want three effects to “style like Struzan”.

Outer Glow – This will give the character an ink-like outline. Set this to a very dark brown, blend mode to OVERLAY, a little SPREAD and a little NOISE until you get a rough brown outline

Color Overlay – This will give the character the same tone as the rest of the image. Set blend mode to OVERLAY and choose a soft brown to blend the character with the scene.

Stroke – this will mimic the halo outline of a backlight. Set color to white, blend mode to OVERLAY, position to CENTER.

Now to give the character a painterly feel, apply a little DRY BRUSH filter, excluding the face with a feather selection. A little NOISE and UNSHARP MASK perhaps for good measure.

Almost there! Just the text to go. For this you’ll need the Fedora set which you can find here.

Enter name here! To this text we’ll apply another layer style, this time with a heavy black DROP SHADOW, a GRADIENT OVERLAY (as shown) and a black STROKE.

Now we’ll select the text and click the CREATE WARPED TEXT tool in the text tool bar. Here we can use the ARC selection to bend the text slightly. Then rotate a little for lift. Indy would be proud.

Using the FEDORA TITLE font, we can complete the movie title… and our poster! Drew often uses paint spatter to soften his work, you could mimic this for a finishing touch by downloading or creating your own photoshop brush. Might cover that in another tutorial.

All kudos to Drew Struzan for this incredible style, his posters have been an integral part of cinema for as long as I can remember. Hell I grew up on them.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Look forward to more in the future.