If you’re a fan of pop culture art, then you’re probably aware of artist Eric Tan. His bold, graphic style is both timeless and futuristic, with a nod towards nostalgic modernism while managing to be something altogether contemporary. But you’ve probably also seen his work countless times in the Disney Store, or in the Disney Parks, and never known it was him. As the Senior Designer for Disney Consumer Products, he’s been responsible for countless nifty pieces, from the super stylized Pixar notebook that we have in our bag to the great Chewbacca mug that you’re probably sipping coffee out of. He’s really done it all, and is the rare product designer whose name is used to sell the product (as was the case with his jaw-dropping Star Wars original trilogy print that debuted at the recent D23 Expo).
When it comes to Force Friday, you’ll be seeing a lot of Tan’s work on the shelves, especially since he created the packaging design for most of the products (featuring the fearsome Kylo Ren, complete with a reddish hue). Tan refers to these pieces of art as the “branding system” that everything falls under. And while it might be something that you tear through to get to the goodies underneath, it’s still a gorgeous design and something that Tan found incredibly cool. “It’s amazing because I grew up, as a kid, collecting all of those action figures and geeking out over the packaging and to be able to design those now, I can’t explain it,” Tan said. (And, of course, we tried to push him to explain it.) “It’s like you get to be a kid again and relive all of those memories you had, as a kid, looking at all that stuff on the store shelf and imaging what kids today will make of it.” After getting the story pitch for the new film about a year-and-a-half ago, it left Tan “speechless” and he was totally on board.
Tan says that he came upon the image of Kylo Ren (played in the film by Lincoln star Adam Driver) as the main component to the packaging pretty early. “We knew, early on, that Kylo was the big deal on this thing,” Tan said. “He is the most menacing, cool-looking character and there’s also a lot of mystery to him. In the past we’ve used Stormtroopers, we’ve used Darth Vader, it felt like he was kind of the perfect to keep the line going. And making it new, like, who is this character?” We’re wondering the same thing.
And while there are definitely Tan-created designs making their way to store shelves on Force Friday, he isn’t sure what, exactly, will be there, which makes it even more fun for him. “I do the artwork but I’m not necessarily a part of how it gets put into product,” Tan explained. “So it’s a mystery to me too and I’ve purposefully not asked questions, like, ‘What did you do with that poster?’ Or, ‘What did you do with that character item?’ I’m just a fan like everyone else. So I’m going to go to the store and see what made it in.” Still, he maintains that you will see his work come Force Friday: “Not only will the whole branding system be unveiled at all the retailers but we did a lot of new artwork, and we really focused on the new characters. It’s all about introducing this new group and we did a lot of art with these new characters.”
When we brought up how much fun it must be to draw BB-8, her spherical robot sidekick, Tan also surprised us. “He’s more difficult than you’d think,” Tan said. “Because he’s a sphere, everything to draw around him, the graphics and things, is hard. It’s not easy. It just looks wrong all the time. It’s easier to draw something on a flat surface. Once you get a sphere going and you are trying to get all the circles and the little buttons in perspective, it’s kind of a nightmare.” Still, he says a remote-controlled BB-8 is his number one Force Friday item. “I want one,” he said.
If you’ve followed Tan’s work long enough, chances are you’re familiar with his series of prints, depicting the original trilogy, that were limited edition pieces from the Disney Store. They were 12” x 36” and absolutely stunning (a cursory glance on eBay shows one of the prints dedicated to Star Wars: A New Hope going for a cool $1,500). When we asked if he would be doing new ones for the new Star Wars films, he seemed optimistic (giving us a new hope of actually owning one). “I think there’s a demand for it,” Tan said. “I’d love to keep the series going, because that was the whole goal.”
While Tan admits that he’s already “really heavy” into work on next year’s Star Wars: Rogue One, he’ll also be contributing to another really cool bit of Star Wars-related awesomeness that will be happening much sooner: The Art Awakens show that will be held at Gallery 1988 this fall. The show was teased at D23 Expo last month, where two new prints (one for the light side of The Force, the other for the dark side) were first sold. “I’m one of seven artists chosen to do a screen print, and the rest will be original paintings and there’s a fan component, too,” Tan said. “I can’t wait to see them all. I purposefully haven’t asked Gallery 1988 which artists they chose and what those artists are doing.” Like any good fan, he’s still ready to be surprised.