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Pixar Artist Eric Tan Talks to io9 About Wall-E and Retro Design

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Look closely at the posters above. Which one was designed for a Disney attraction of the 1960s, and which was was designed for a Disney attraction that's coming out this week? On the left, you can see an original poster for Disneyland's People Mover ride; and on the right is a poster for Disney/Pixar's new flick Wall-E, designed by artist Eric Tan. The resemblance isn't accidental: Tan has become something of a legend for his beautiful, retro-futurist remix posters for popular movies. You've probably already seen his posters for The Incredibles, Wall-E, Indiana Jones movies, and Ratatouille — they've been passed around a lot online for good reason. We caught up with Tan to ask him why Pixar loves the retro look.

First of all, it's probably no surprise that the people at Pixar are obsessed with Disney iconography and specifically asked Tan to incorporate it into his posters. Tan said:

A lot of the creative leads up at Pixar are huge fans of the Disneyland attraction (or ride) posters. A lot of the ones from the 60's were done in this very simple, colorful style. In fact, you always come across a few pinned up on the walls when you walk through the halls of Pixar. I've always been a big fan of those too and when it became a point of discussion during prep work for the Incredibles posters, I thought it made perfect sense. That film felt very retro as far as design aesthetic and I felt the posters evoked that and would work nicely as inspiration. Once we got to Wall-E, they brought up the same posters again! Which shows how hung up on them they are. The ad twist was something I thought would give them a point of difference from the Incredibles posters.


Here's another Disney ride poster on the left, with a Tan Incredibles poster on the right.


I was curious about whether Tan favors some historical periods over others, so I asked him if he would do something like a Terminator 4 poster in an eighteenth century style. Turns out the eighteenth century isn't on his agenda.

He replied:

I LOVE the Terminator flicks! I guess I got into graphic design and wanted to create posters of my own once I saw the work of Alphonse Mucha at the San Diego Museum of Art. His work was so gorgeous and he mixed everything I was learning in school at the time (typography, illustration, color, and design) so seamlessly. After that, I got really into film posters from Europe. They were really doing some experimental and striking stuff in the 40's and 50's. I do use these for inspiration in my own posters, but only if they make sense. An Indy poster would be based in the mid 30's western/adventure era and Ratatouille could only fit within the world of A.M. Cassandre.


Below, you can see an A.M. Cassandre poster to the left, and one of Tan's Ratatouille posters on the right.


Pixar is a company whose production methods are cutting edge, and their movies are often about futuristic or scifi topics. So why would they favor retro styles in their posters?

Tan mused:

I think retro advertising might work because they're based in something we're all used to seeing. There's a comfort in that. There was a defining look to past decades that immediately brings you back to those days. If our job as artists/communicators is to evoke a feeling and/or emotion out of a piece, it's a good way to instantly bring the viewer that feeling of nostalgia.


What will we see from Tan in the future?

He said:

Currently, I'm working on some work for Up (the next Pixar film), a video-game inspired piece for a gallery show, and a Beastie Boys poster (I'm a HUGE fan of theirs).


Below, you can see another one of the new posters Tan designed for Wall-E, to the right of a classic Disney advertisement for a flying saucer ride.


I can't wait to see Tan's next retro-futurist confection.

You can see more of Eric Tan's art on his blog.