Roger Kastel, Painter of Iconic ‘Jaws’ Poster, Dies
The creator of one of the most iconic posters in movie history has died.
Roger Kastel was as an acclaimed illustrator and artist whose work appeared in many forms — but his single most famous piece is the one that became the poster for Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, with its bullet-shaped Great White shark racing out of the depths at a beautiful swimmer at the ocean’s surface.
Kastel’s Jaws poster was originally made for the paperback edition of Peter Benchley’s novel. The publisher decided the book’s hardcover art — a shark set against a black void — would not work for the new edition, and commissioned Kastel to create a new painting.
In the Jaws making-of documentary The Shark Is Still Working, Kastel details how he created this unforgettable image.
“I did a very rough sketch,” he said, “and [the publisher] said ‘That’s great, just make the shark realistic and bigger. Make him very much bigger!”
For reference, Kastel went to the Museum of Natural History to photograph some of their sharks.
“I said ‘Do you have a shark exhibit in the building?’ [The employee] said ‘Yes we do,’ but they were all down. They were refurbishing, cleaning them. All the sharks were laying on easels. And so I had my camera with me. I knew what position I wanted the shark in and there was this great white that they had laying on a easel; I guess they were dusting it. And that’s what I worked from.”
As for the swimmer, Kastel asked a model he hired to pose for another piece in Good Housekeeping to spend an extra 30 minutes “swimming” on a stool in his New York studio as the reference for that component of the piece. That was it.
Even before the movie, the image became synonymous with Benchley’s novel. When the film’s producers asked to use it as their movie poster, the publisher agreed, thinking it would be great publicity for the book — which it was.
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According to his official website, Kastel was a native of White Plains, New York who studied at the Arts Students League in New York City, and became a freelance artist after a stint in the Navy during the Korean War. He produced over 1,000 illustrations for various publishers and novels; after Jaws he made posters for other famous movies — including the beautiful artwork for The Empire Strikes Back.
Legendary movie poster artist Drew Struzan paid tribute to Kastel on Twitter, writing “We lost another creative brother ... Roger Kastel who gave us the iconic Jaws poster among other wonderful pieces of art.”
Kastel passed away at the age of 91.