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Dylan Struzan on creative legacies, lost opportunities, and the rising threat of A.I.

When I first announced the documentary in late 2015, I was immediately bombarded with scores of messages resembling one of the following:


“Do you know who Drew Struzan is?” / “You should write to Drew Struzan.” / “Have you talked to Drew Struzan?” / “Have you interviewed Drew Struzan?” / “Do you know Drew Struzan?” / “You should talk to Drew Struzan.” / “I thought it was only Drew Struzan who did those Indiana Jones posters.”


For the record: Yes, I know who Drew Struzan is. And yes, we’ve met and talked at length a number of times. (You can read a little bit that history here and here.)

I consider myself very privileged to know both Drew and his wife, author Dylan Struzan. They’re wonderful, generous people, and I know many others share such sentiment. A number of my artist friends have exchanged stories about having colorful conversations with the Struzans over lunch, or the collective awe they felt upon entering Drew’s art studio. To an illustrator, stepping up to Drew’s drafting table is like entering hallowed ground. It’s a place of intense focus, imagination, beauty and creation.

In our early phone conversations, Drew spoke very eloquently about his thoughts on Richard Amsel and his work. (For those who haven’t heard it, Drew has a beautifully softspoken, mellifluous voice; I describe it as similar to Werner Herzog’s, but without the German and without the crazy.) Ultimately, Drew himself was regretfully unable to interview on camera.


Enter Dylan – whose lifelong partnership with her husband has not only made her the best authority on Drew’s work, but a firsthand witness to what would become the last “Golden Age” of traditionally illustrated movie poster art in the 70s and 80s. I don’t think it’s inaccurate to consider her as Drew Struzan’s muse, but Dylan herself is a creative force to be reckoned with. Take, for example, her work as a writer: the book A Bloody Business, which chronicles the rise of organized crime during the Prohibition era, was the result of years of exhaustive research, and is grippingly told.


I asked Dylan if she were willing to interview. Happily, she agreed – and was also willing to write a foreword to the forthcoming Amsel book.

“All of these guys working in Hollywood were able to bring such diversity and such different conversations to how you would advertise a film,” Dylan said. “And I loved that concept.”


Struzan and Amsel never met, but were each very familiar with the other’s work. When they heard that Amsel had relocated to Los Angeles in 1985, it was Dylan who decided to call him on him on the phone. “I had asked Drew, I'm like, it would really be nice to meet him. And Drew agreed like, yeah. So I got his number, gave him a call. We had a really nice conversation just about the appreciation for each other. I know that Richard appreciated Drew's work, and Drew appreciated Richard's work, and I loved Richard's work. So it would've been a natural thing for them to get together and have a lot to talk about, especially since they worked on so many of the same projects.”


Sadly, the in-person meeting was not to be. Amsel fell ill soon after, and returned to New York that October to seek medical treatment. He died in November, just a few weeks shy of his 38th birthday.


“I think we could have been friends,” Drew once told me. My heart ached upon hearing this. Like so many things with Richard Amsel, it was something that should have been, but never was.


Dylan agreed. “We lost a lot when we lost Richard,” she said. “It was very sad. Drew was very sad that we couldn't just spend time together and share the experience of Hollywood and just the creative drive. So that's very, very emotional experience losing him, even though we didn't know him that well, but we knew him through his work.”


There are many other topics Dylan discussed in her interview, which I’ll address in the film and book. But one, in particular, brings up considerable alarm. In just the past year alone, it’s already evolved into an existential threat to artists and illustrators alike: the rise of artificial intelligence in generating “art”.


“I have a computer instead of just a typewriter, but it doesn't write my stories and it doesn't know what I know,” Dylan said. “It may plagiarize all kinds of things in the universe and throw 'em all in a big pot, and you're going to get mulligan stew again. ... It's about how the story is laid out and what that person is trying to say. What is AI going to try to say? Oh, you want emotion in it? ... Well, who's going to look at that? Who's attracted to that? Except people who are just kind of sick themselves.”


Drew Struzan’s own work has been hijacked by A.I., allowing others to emulate his signature painting style through just a few computer prompts. Last January, a database of 16,000 artists used to train Midjourney AI was leaked to the public. Drew’s name, and other artists who’ve participated in this documentary were among them. It’s not just a matter of creative theft, but belittles the lifelong contributions of those who developed their own style, and jeopardizes their creative legacies.


“If you really want to understand the human nature, you have to go to a human,” Dylan said. “AI will never understand who we are.”


My sincere thanks to Dylan Struzan for her time and insight, as well as to Jim Sanders for filming the interview.












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