Growing up in the Bronx, Orlando Arocena was constantly bombarded by street culture and graffiti.
While waiting for the subway he would see high-tags, writings and goofy characters on one side, and movie posters and advertisements on the other. Over time, the two worlds melded together in his mind and became his unmistakable style of art. He joined the Poster Posse, as a creative marketing strategist back when they only had eight members. Today the group is 52 artists strong and a mecca for poster artists around the world.
Acena has worked on over 100 movie posters, including Detective Pikachu, Venom and his most recent work for Fox’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix film. The film which is coming to DVD and Blu-Ray on September 17th features cover art and a special commemorative poster by Arocena.
CGMagazine’s Alex Handziuk got the chance to sit down and talk to Acena about his work on X-Men: Dark Phoenix, how he approaches art, and the time he almost suffocated while attending his first movie.
CGMagazine: The majority of your work involves encapsulating a film in a single image, what is your earliest memory of the medium?
Orlando Arocena: I grew up with movies, and being a Bronx kid that was one of my escapes. My first movie experience was when my dad took us to a drive-In. I’m the youngest of three. and one night when my cousin William was there, my parents told us to get in the station wagon because we’re going to see a movie at the White Stone Drive-In theatre in the Bronx. We were told to hide under this blanket in the heat of the summer and my dad said don’t move and don’t do anything until I tell you to. We all lay there unmoving and sweating waiting to get the ok to come out of from under the blankets. After about 10 minutes he got the tickets and set up for the movie, then he walks out of the car and forgot about us. He went to get us all cokes, hamburgers, snacks, everything for us, which is cool but I wish he would have told us. When he finally came back he told us that the movie was starting and we emerged from that blanket drenched in sweat and gasping for air. And then we got some snacks and watched Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon. It was a memorable night.
CGM: Of all the posters that you’ve designed, which stands out most to you?
OA: This series that I’ve done just recently with Fox for the X-Men: Dark Phoenix film was something had me explore more about being a fan of the property, in the context of what was already established and what was going to be coming out in the movie. I did three pieces for Dark Phoenix but I didn’t do them all at once. I gave in my first submission and they came back to me and went, ‘hey, do you remember that second sketch that you sent me? Can you have it finished that in time for this event?’ I said yes, no problem and I thought that it was the last one. Then after that, they came back and said that they wanted to include a mini-poster for the DVD release but they wanted a whole separate piece. At that point, I was thinking about it in food terms. It’s like if someone asks you to cook them two fantastic meals, and then they ask for one more right away. But I decided to pull up my bootstraps and make something cool. What I wanted to do is represent the chaos and calm before the storm, of Jean Grey being wrapped between the polar-opposites that are Xavier and Magneto. I wanted to make sure that I could do it in a way that made it look like wasn’t choosing one or the other. It was more along the lines of these two established entities in Xavier and Magneto having to watch out for, Jean Grey as a new entity who completely revolutionizes the story.
CGM What was your relationship with the X-Men growing up?
OA: I was a big fan, and I would buy comics whenever I could afford them. Growing up in the Bronx, I was able to identify with the X-Men and thinking about it now it was because they were different. Being a Mexican, Cuban American in a very diverse. neighbourhood in the Bronx, a lot of my friends were very creative, as I was and we managed to all find each other and connect. We all pulled together and X-Men was one of those titles that we were able to identify with. There were a few rough moments where we would get in tussles over who is better between Wolverine Magneto, or what have you. But I think that that’s one of the points where I was able to identify readily with this platform and doing the poster for the movie brought me back to that.
CGM: Your use of vectors is very striking, what got you into the form?
OA: I got into it from doing logos for commercial agencies. Illustrator is a program that unlike Photoshop, is all math-based. You’re plotting out these dots, and you’re connecting them with lines . The thing is that it’s not like Photoshop where you’re able to use anything and then smear colours and get these beautiful blends, or bring photography in and manipulate it, vectors are very unforgiving. When I was starting with vectors it was all flat tones, learning how to highlight a mid ground and the shadow. As I went on I wanted to explore and bring in gradients. Each time that I play with Adobe Illustrator, I tend to want to break it. I don’t want to use plugins, I don’t like taking the easy route. I’m a traditional artist playing with digital art and my arsenal is my tablet. I wanted to make sure that if everybody was playing with Photoshop, that I would do the Robert Frost type of thing and, and take the path less travelled on. Because of that, there were some rough moments that involved a lot of cursing at the screen. But it’s become my art of choice and I was pretty honoured that Adobe called me up back in 2014, to do the opening splash page for them. Since I started doing art, vectors have become more and more popular and I’m just happy to be able to be one of those artists that twists it in such a way that people tend to consider it differently.
CGM: How do your poster projects come about?
OA: At the beginning, I would approach companies for work but now, particular studios are contacting me directly, or they’re contacting me through the Poster Posse. It’s pretty cool to be invited to play. I hate calling it work, I really do. I’m one of those guys believes that if you call it work, then there’s something wrong with it because you’re not enjoying it. For me, it’s just total playtime. It’s remarkable to get invited and to collaborate with people. I don’t like to take the reins and paint the vision myself. I think that egocentric, high and mighty road doesn’t add any benefit to the collective reasoning of why everybody has to come together.
CGMagazine: What are your thoughts on people voicing displeasure for things they don’t like on the internet?
OA: We’re all fans, general appreciators, and we’re all kind of romantically wrapped up with some of our comic book lines. I think that we got to learn to take a second and appreciate not only the movie but also what’s involved with making a movie. It’s important to put yourself in the shows of the actor shoes, story writers, directors, and accept that it’s not easy. I think that today, we get too high and mighty about wanting to quickly jump on the hate-bandwagon. You can take a look at the negative and make it positive. Regardless of whether it’s a movie or music, or a book, I think that we need to take time and be appreciative of what gets invested into making art.
CGM: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
OA: Don’t give up, and learn to have a little bit of backbone. You don’t have to be rude but just be happy and confident in what you’re doing. A lot of the artwork that I come across in portfolio reviews are awesome and then the person turns around and says that they want their art to look like another artists art. And to that, I say no no no no no, do it like yourself. The one thing that is proven in history is that uniqueness and oddness wins the game. If you’re a copycat living in somebody’s shadows, then you’re not getting the best out of your invested time. If you’re able to be yourself and be inspired by existing artists, or past artists, or music just culture in general, then that’s great. Part of it is confidence, part of it is being unique and looking what’s been done before you but also having that reverence and respect to understand that it is there for a reason and to not be afraid to invest your time.
Understanding that deals a lot with mutual support and helping your buddies that are also in the mix. Competition can be a really positive benefit sometimes as long as it’s not perceived to be an antagonist thing. The bottom line is that you gotta enjoy it and you got to understand that you’re always going to get criticism. I get criticism, sometimes ten times a day and I just look at it, and have myself think it through thoroughly and not make it personal. What are the hit points and why did I do it the way that I did? Reflection is important both inward and outwardly.
CGM: What’s your favourite film of all time?
OA: It’s hard to pick a favourite as far as movies go but Jaws has a very special place in my heart. My dad, who’s no longer with us was a fisherman from Cuba and he would take me fishing. He would always talk about the ocean fish and when we went to go see Jaws, he loved it. One day when we were fishing he said to me, ‘ I don’t know what you’re going to be doing when you grow up, I just hope you keep on doing something that you really like. In life, you got to be like a shark. Don’t be like the shark that we just watched in the movies, not a ferocious man-eater, has no regard for anything or anyone. Be the other side of the shark. Be graceful, majestic, strong, able to swim through any current, traverse any ocean. In order to survive a shark can’t go backwards, only forwards and that’s what I want you to do.’