From movie art to fine art

October 25, 2021 § Leave a comment

A collage of Mark Matsuno’s movie art


Born and raised in San Francisco, I moved to Los Angeles at the age of 20 to embark on a career in corporate advertising as an art director for Young & Rubicam. I was soon introduced to the entertainment industry and began my own graphic design boutique, creating posters and other print advertising for big blockbuster films and smaller independent films. Some of the films I worked on include the Jurassic World franchise, the Fast & Furious franchise, Saving Private Ryan, Dances With Wolves and many others. I have won numerous awards from the prestigious Hollywood Reporter Key Art Awards.

I loved it: private screenings at movie studios, Oscar parties at the Chateau Marmont, being flown to art direct photo shoots as far away as Australia, Argentina and Tahiti, getting to know and working with so many famous actors. Kris Kristofferson telling me about all the odd jobs he had in his life, Charlie Sheen talking about all the guns he owns, Phoebe Cates explaining all the many ethnicities in her bloodline, Tilda Swinton describing to me her home in rural Scotland, going clubbing with Wes Studi in Queensland, being invited to a small party at Jon Voight’s house, talking to Brandon Lee about the death of his father, Bruce Lee. I had a large office at LaBrea and Melrose, a staff of around 20 employees and kept all the typography houses, copywriters, retouchers, photographers, photo labs and illustrators busy day and night working on projects from all the studios, including Disney, Universal, Fox, Warner Bros., New Line, Columbia, Paramount and others. The pace was insane, the deadlines were impossible, but I loved the challenge. For me, it wasn’t glamorous or fun, really; it was hard work. But it was all about creativity. It’s always been about creativity.

Throughout my career as a creative director in advertising, I never forgot my passion for fine art. In recent years, I have fine-tuned my talent as a painter and turned my attention to creating a body of work, which has proven to be a renaissance of sorts for me. I enjoy depicting recognizable icons and structures within the urban landscapes that surround me, in both Los Angeles and my native San Francisco, and turning them into works of art.


Mark Matsuno | This Used to Be His Town

‘Paradise’ poster an emotional project

December 23, 1990 § Leave a comment

From Hokubei Mainichi

LOS ANGELES — A Sansei-owned firm, Mark Matsuno Design Group, created the movie poster for the recently released 20th Century Fox film Come See the Paradise, which is about the internment of Japanese Americans.

Matsuno is the son of Jinx and Mary Matsuno of San Francisco. His firm has been creating print advertising for the entertainment industry for more than 12 years. Matsuno’s previous advertising credits include Sea of Love, Mississippi Burning, Gorillas in the Mist and Kiss of the Spider Woman. He recently won first place for the ad for Field of Dreams at the Hollywood Reporter’s 19th annual Key Art Awards ceremonies, held at the Directors Guild of America in Hollywood.

The Come See the Paradise poster depicts the love interest between the main characters, played by Dennis Quaid and Tamlyn Tomita. But Matsuno also wanted to represent the internment issue head-on. The background image of the exodus of Japanese Americans “makes a strong statement as well as a strong graphic device,” he said. The movie poster uses black and white photography hand-tinted in muted colors to give the appearance of old photographs.

Matsuno’s design studio, based in Los Angeles, worked with 20th Century Fox, whose marketing vice president, Kenji Theilstrom — also a Sansei — spearheaded the project.

“I was especially proud to work on this film,” Matsuno said. “I have an emotional bias on the subject.”

Avoiding the clutches of cliche

September 22, 1988 § Leave a comment

Poster design by Mark Matsuno

Excerpted from Creative Review magazine

“STUDIO PEOPLE enjoy playing it safe,” declares leading film poster designer Mark Matsuno from his Hollywood office.

Matsuno’s on a roll, lambasting American film execs for treasuring box office receipts more than creative ingenuity in poster design. “If it’s an action film, they want action. If it’s a star film, they want star photos. If it’s a Sylvester Stallone movie, the only real criterion is where do you crop him?”

Posters are an important ingredient in the selling of any film, whose every cropped inch of Stallone muscle could mean box office losses. But, as Matsuno makes it known, posters needn’t be cold marketing tools. The challenge for designers is to create a memorable image which manages to be true to the film at the same time.

“We try not to do the obvious,” Matsuno explains. “We look for something that gives an attitude about the film, without giving too much away. The trick is to come up with something refreshing rather than the usual tired montage of events from the movie.”

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