Self-taught artist Matthew Dix, aka Offtrack Outlet, spends his spare time designing old-fashioned covers for modern films – and even dubs them back onto VHS. Writer Garry Westmore recently caught up with him and asked him how – and why – he does what he does.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I live in central California. Growing up I was always interested in art and graphic design. I do most of my work from home, in between working for a local animal shelter.
What is it about VHS covers that got you into this project?
I grew up watching videotapes – they were a staple of my childhood – so the whole nostalgic feel and ’80s look of the VHS was what initially drew me in. I saw an opportunity to mix my passion for graphic design with the VHS videotapes I’ve always enjoyed.
Did you spend a lot of time perusing video store shelves as a child?
My mom used to take me to video rental shops and I always loved the experience. One of my favourite tapes was a film called Mac and Me. I actually have a cardboard cut-out of the movie poster in my office now. I think the movie box art was so well thought out back then, and not just a lazy photoshop. A lot of those movies had covers that were actually drawn by hand.
Where did the idea to create your own VHS covers for contemporary films come from?
This all came about when I had the idea of putting movies I had filmed onto VHS. I thought if I can put my own movies onto them, I could also put any other movie onto them, too. Then I thought that I could also design the boxes, which was exciting because I love graphic design and saw the opportunity to do some. The first movie I designed on to VHS was Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, which is one of my favourite films. That movie is based around a VHS tape the main character becomes obsessed with, so I thought it was perfect.
What’s the main design difference between old VHS covers and new DVDs/Blu-rays?
The main difference is the art style. DVDs today usually just have pictures of the actors clearly photoshopped. Videotapes seemed to have more character and an artsy feel to them.
Is there a quality about VHS that you prefer to newer formats? I personally love the graininess of the tapes versus the DVDs – everything down to the sounds the tapes make rewinding, and the fuzzy lines.
What’s the best bit of this project for you – the design element, or the physical process of putting the cover together?
The most enjoyable part is designing the covers; putting the boxes together after is a bit more of a daunting task. I like to make the tapes look and feel old using techniques like sanding, with sandpaper. I like to go the extra step and put the movies onto playable tapes, because it makes it much more than just a physical object.
Do some contemporary films you’ve recorded feel more at home on VHS?
It Follows, Drive and Inherent Vice are much more fitting on VHS. They feel more at home on tape because they have an ’80s vibe in the way they were shot, as if they were actually straight out of the ’80s.
What is the driving force behind this project?
Probably my combined love for graphic design and movies. It’s something I just enjoy doing that has taken off – a hobby that has been really well received, far more than I had anticipated. We’ll see if it turns into something bigger, but for now it’s just something to be appreciated.
For more of Matt's work, check out his Instagram account at OfftrackOutlet.