Interview With Former Vice President of Universal Advertising – Tom Martin

We spoke to Tom Martin, the former Vice President for Creative Advertising at Universal Pictures, about his contributions to Jurassic Park in 1993. 

Can you talk a little bit about how you got involved with Jurassic Park?

In 1993 I was the Senior Vice President for Creative Advertising at Universal Pictures and responsible for the creation of print marketing materials for all theatrical films. This was in the pre-internet era and included posters, billboards, newspaper ads and magazine ads. Jurassic Park was just one of 21 films that were released that year with a schedule that included, Schindler’s List, Army of Darkness and In The Name of the Father.

I managed an in-house art department as well as overseeing and art directing several outside freelance designers and boutique advertising firms, several of which participated creating materials for the JP print ad campaign and including the logo.

You worked on the logo for Jurassic Park and worked on a lot of big movie designs prior. What made Jurassic Park different than all the other films you worked on?

What was unique about the Jurassic Park logo was that it part of the film’s story line that included a gift shop inside the Park. The filmmakers needed JP branded merchandise props which would include the final logo. Normally, a film logo is created after the film is done filming and not an actual character in the film. This also meant that the logo had to be designed without having seen a single frame of footage, simply based on the script description of the park.

I read that you visited the set of Jurassic Park to get inspiration for the logo. What was that experience like? Seeing all the animatronic dinosaurs and being on the set of such an iconic movie like Jurassic Park must have been a special experience.

JP was one of the first films to extensively use computer animation for the dinosaur characters, so there were just a few full-size animatronic dinosaurs on the set, with mostly bits and pieces and a lot of green screen sets. It was quite groundbreaking technology for its time.

The Jurassic Park logo is so iconic. As someone who was a major contributor to its creation, why do you think it works so well and has endured for so long? Is there anything you can pinpoint as a major reason why it has made such an impact on popular culture?

The ultimate goal in creating any successful movie poster or logo is to distill a 90-minute film down into a single, distinctive, unique and compelling image. The JP logo hits all those notes. It’s simple yet lets you know exactly what you can expect from the film. It’s going to be scary, dangerous, epic and take place in the wild. It’s similar to a pirate flag or poison label in that it graphically conveys danger in a simple, visceral graphic design.  That’s why the skeletal depiction of the dinosaur works better than if it had been a fully rendered beast.

The jungle, tree line silhouette below the title gives the dinosaur scale; it’s going to be huge.

Were there any other logos are pieces of art you pitched that you really liked or thought would have worked well? I read that you pitched a lot of different things before the final logo, which borrowed from the book, was chosen.

Several outside designers worked on materials, including illustrator John Alvin, who painted E.T. and other Amblin posters, dinosaur artist William Stout, who contributed ideas and designer Mike Salisbury, who submitted logo designs. In the end, nothing we had was as strong as the simple logo. A classic case of ‘less is more.’

The original book cover art was created by designer Chip Kidd. There’s a humorous TED talk that Chip gives where he explains the evolution of the book cover. (BTW, the poster for Spielberg’s Jaws was also based on the book cover.)

25 years later, when you look back on your time working on Jurassic Park, what is the one thing or memory of the experience that stands out?

The billboard I designed for Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood was memorable. I replaced the film title with the release date of the film which created a bold and memorable image.  They’ve even reprised this concept for the latest Jurassic World film 25 years later.