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An 86-year-old movie poster artist's unlikely third act

The "Michelangelo of movie posters"
Renato Casaro on being considered the last of the great movie poster artists 05:22

"The less you give away, the better," says the Michelangelo of movie posters. Over the course of 50 years, Renato Casaro has drawn the first impressions of some of our favorite films – posters he likens to bait on a hook, helping turn movies into milestones, and mere mortals into stars.

Showing his illustration of Sylvester Stallone for the Rambo series, Casaro said, "You can't do this in Photoshop!"

Renato Casaro's illustration of Sylvester Stallone. Renato Casaro

Born 86 years ago in Treviso, Italy, Casaro got his start as a teenager drawing posters for local theaters in exchange for tickets. His big break came when iconic Italian filmmaker Dino De Laurentiis was making his epic blockbuster, "The Bible." 

"It was a colossal film," Casaro told CBS News foreign correspondent Chris Livesay. "My posters were put on billboards on Sunset Boulevard. After that, my phone never stopped ringing."

From James Bond movies to "The Last Emperor" and "The NeverEnding Story," his work come from a never ending list of commissions, thanks to an uncanny gift for building a film up by stripping it down.

Renato Casaro

"It takes a lot of scribbles," Casaro said. "The table gets covered in them. Then, you throw them away. Slowly you narrow it down. You subtract, you don't add. The poster of 'Nikita' shows a woman with her back turned, behind a bathroom door. It makes you wonder what just happened. The viewer says, 'I have to go and see what this film is all about!'"

Renato Casaro's artwork for Luc Besson's "Nikita." Renato Casaro/Penta Film

And see them they did – more than 2,000 movie posters bear his signature.

Until one day, the phone stopped ringing. His beautiful hand-drawn work fell out of fashion when studios turned to digital graphics; software like Photoshop, he said, had put him out of a job. "It's very easy to generate a spectacular image, but with no soul," he said.

Renato Casaro, whose movie posters include the Arnold Schwarzenegger film "The Running Man." CBS News

Then, after 17 years, his phone finally rang again. It was none other than Quentin Tarantino. He was shooting "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," in which Leonardo DiCaprio plays a fading movie star in 1969. For a fictional movie-within-the-movie, an Italian Western, Tarantino needed a vintage poster.

So, he turned to a vintage artist.

Renato Casaro's poster for an imagined Rick Dalton film. Renato Casaro/"Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"

Tarantino sent the artist a thank-you note: "It says, 'To Renato Casaro, thanks so much for your art gracing my picture. You've always been my favorite.'"

The spotlight, long overdue, was finally cast on Casaro.

A Casaro retrospective is now touring Italy, and even streaming services like Netflix are buying new works – new technology offering him a job, instead of putting him out of it.

"As a poster artist, we weren't considered part of the production. So, our names were never in the credits," Casaro said.

But now, thanks to an unlikely third act, his countless fans can finally know his name.

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