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Inside the Design Adventure of Reyn Spooner’s New Indiana Jones Shirt

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The creative team from the iconic Hawaiian shirtmaker discuss creating this new product inspired by Raiders of the Lost Ark.

From the beginning, Indiana Jones and the islands of Hawaii have overlapped. It was 1977 when George Lucas and Steven Spielberg first agreed to make Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) while building a sand-castle on a beach near Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawai’i. Three years later, they were filming the iconic opening sequence of Raiders in the jungles of Kauai. And over two decades after that, the Indy cast and crew ventured to the Big Island for work on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).

It’s only fitting that the artists at Reyn Spooner – Hawaii’s own beloved maker of Aloha shirts – have unveiled a new piece of clothing inspired by Indy’s adventures. Incorporating memorable scenes and elements from Raiders of the Lost Ark, this Aloha shirt was made with careful attention to detail by Reyn Spooner artist Carole Amrhein and creative director Doug Burkman in collaboration with the team at Lucasfilm.

“I love Indiana Jones and all the movies,” says Amrhein, “so when the opportunity came up to work on the print, I was very excited.” With Reyn Spooner for over 25 years, the Ohio-native studied traditional art and illustration before moving with her husband and child to Oahu in the early 1990s. She answered an ad in the local paper to join Reyn Spooner during a time when the company was busily taking on new licensee partnerships. “It’s a wonderful fit for the way I like to work,” she says about Spooner. “We have this canvas we have to adhere to and there are color restrictions. I love those kinds of challenges. It’s like putting together a puzzle in reverse and making everything look right. That appealed to me a lot.”

A self-described child of 1980s cinema, Doug Burkman came to Reyn Spooner five years ago by way of Gap and Uniqlo where he worked in print and pattern development. Living in New York for years, he’d always loved Reyn Spooner’s Aloha shirts. Now working from California with regular jaunts to Hawaii, he looks back on Indiana Jones as one of his first great adventure movie experiences. “At the time, I also had a real fascination with ancient civilizations and discovering old ruins and artifacts,” he explains. “I suppose for a brief moment I even considered being an archaeologist because I was so excited by what was going on in these films.”

Every new creation at Reyn Spooner has its own unique process, and the Indy product was exclusively designed by Amrhein with Burkman and Lucasfilm’s oversight. “For Indy, there’s a lot of detail and storytelling that needed to be included,” Burkman says. “Everything we do at Reyn Spooner is all about thorough research. We check facts, we look for fan-favorite scenes and possible Easter eggs to include. The goal is to make the storytelling come to life in the shirt. The highlight for me was getting to watch Indiana Jones films during work hours for inspiration. Who gets to do that for their job?!”

As a fan herself, Amrhein identified a number of key Raiders moments from the beginning. “There’s the moment when he’s flying, and it shows the plane traveling with a red-line across the map from the U.S. mainland, through Hawaii, and onto Nepal,” she notes. “I knew I wanted to have the image of Indiana cracking his whip. There’s the market in Egypt, the moment when he jumps from the horse onto the truck, and another important one is when he’s holding the medallion on the staff and he’s looking for the exact location of the Ark. Lucasfilm provided us with a lot of the imagery to reference.”

Though she works primarily with digital tools nowadays, Amrhein did illustrate an initial pencil sketch of the design. “Depending on the project, I still like to do some pencil and paper work,” she explains. “Then I’ll scan it into the iPad and the fun starts. When I start painting is the really fun part for me. It’s relaxing. Once you have everything figured out, what the color palette is, you can just sit there and do it.”

When most people think of Indiana Jones, specific colors likely come to mind, and it was Amrhein’s job to ensure the palette fit within Reyn Spooner’s strict limit of just 15 colors per shirt. “It’s a very earthy kind of palette,” she says. “There are a lot of golds and browns. You want to have as many colors as possible to give meaning to the different scenes. You need a black for details. You need skin tones. Sometimes you can cheat and use the tones for skin shading elsewhere, so there were golds for the medallion and oranges and tans. It actually worked out okay. The challenge came when I needed green for the trees and plants and blues for the skies and water. I was lucky that it wasn’t a crazier color palette.”

The final result is an Aloha shirt design stuffed full of details (and a few surprises). It weaves together everything from snakes and tarantulas, airplanes and trucks, and swords and bullwhips. At the heart of the design, of course, is Indy himself, which brings everything together. “He is the glue,” Amrhein says, to which Burkman adds with a laugh, “You won’t find a shirt like this anywhere but at Reyn Spooner, I can guarantee that!”

The creation of a shirt like this wonderfully illustrates how Indiana Jones has been part of the cultural fabric (pun intended) for over 40 years. Artists and designers around the world like Amrhein and Burkman have loved and enjoyed Indy’s adventures from the beginning, and their familiarity with the stories brings authenticity to their own work.

“Indiana Jones is smart, he’s got the intelligence, but he’s also flawed,” Amrhein concludes. “He sometimes gets himself into these terrible messes where he has to work his way out. He’s always a smart aleck with some quick comeback.” Above all, an Indy story is fun. “It’s the perfect reason to go the movies – to be thoroughly entertained, to laugh, and the good guy wins in the end. It’s the perfect movie.”

Visit Reyn Spooner’s website to order your own shirt today.

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