John Alvin was one of the most celebrated contemporary American cinematic artists. He illustrated multitude of film posters for American cinema. He is credited for designing posters and key art for over 135 films. Alvin’s trademark style came to known as Alvinesque by his associates and friends. His notable illustrations include E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Lion King, Rainman and Star Wars.
Born on November 24, 1948, John Henry Alvin grew up in Hyannis, Massachusetts. Since his parents belonged to US military, they had to often move from one base to another. Upon their permanent settlement in Monterrey, California, Alvin went to Pacific Grove High School and graduated in 1966. Sunday newspapers held attraction for young Alvin as it featured movie advertisements which led to his growing interest in movie poster creation. In 1971, he earned his graduate degree from Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles and soon after took up a job as a freelance artist.
While he was working at an animation studio as an animator, Alvin was invited by a friend to work on his first official movie art campaign. It was a poster creation job for Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles. Alvin came up with an unusual concept for the poster because it employed quirky elements from the film, as he depicted Brooks wearing a headdress. The idea was suggested to him by his wife. Alvin’s work was appreciated not only by Brooks but also by other filmmakers. He ended up signing up contract with Brooks to design posters for his further films including Young Frankestein.
Over the years, Alvin landed several noted official movie art campaigns. One of the most memorable of his artworks was his poster for Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, released in 1982. The poster illustrated the extraterrestrial creature, E.T’s finger touching his human friend Elliot’s finger. The touch of the fingers creates a rich glowy effect which lends the poster a magical touch. Reportedly the idea for poster was suggested by Spielberg himself, inspired by The Creation of Adam painting by Michelangelo. The human hand featured in the poster is modeled after Alvin’s own daughter’s hand.
In the span of thirty years of his professional career, Alvin produced artwork for over 135 films. He worked with some of the prestigious film studios in Hollywood, such as Disney Studios, Warner Bros. Entertainment and New Line Cinema. Some of his remarkable projects included Jurassic Park, Predator, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Beauty and the Beast and Cocoon. Moreover, on the 30th anniversary of Star Wars he created celebratory posters and other artworks for the franchise. It was followed by Peter Jackson’s noteworthy Lord of the Rings trilogy film art campaign. In fact, he invested his creative energy into some of the most extraordinary film projects of the decade, Walt Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean films and the Warner Bros’ Harry Potter film series.
Some of Alvin’s colleagues believe that his creative force was the sole reason behind the success of film projects like The Lion King and Hunchback. The National Collection of Fine Arts selected his poster of The Phantom of the Paradise to be part of their collection. A collection of posters that toured Europe as part of the US Bicentennial, entitled Images of an Era (1945-1975), included some of his artwork as well. A portfolio of his work is published posthumously, titled The Art of John Alvin (2014). John Alvin died of a myocardial infarction in 2008.