When you ask Robert Rodriguez, the visionary director of "Sin City" and "Desperado," how he was initially drawn to the graphic designs of legendary American illustrator Frank Frazetta, he'll tell you that he and his brother stumbled upon several volumes of artwork at a bookstore while waiting for their father. "We were both into art and drawing and we went to the art section and saw these books that were put out at the time called 'The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta.' We had never seen anything like it," Rodriguez recounts. "I used to cut them out and put them up on my wall." Coming full circle, Rodriguez is opening The Robert Rodriguez Museum during this week's South by Southwest Film Festival and showcasing original Frank Frazetta artwork, along with limited edition prints – like the "From Dusk Till Dawn" image, which we are exclusively unveiling.



For Rodriguez, Frazetta's influence cannot be overstated. "He set the flag for fantasy artists. Conan was created in the '30s but didn't become really become popular until the '50s with the paperbacks. And the paperbacks are some of the best-selling paperbacks of all time and it's because of the art. The art really defined the look of Conan, John Carter, Tarzan. He would do these amazing visual works that people still ape today – his style, his sense of composition, and you can sense his influence everywhere. You always hear about how George Lucas and Jim Cameron and Guillermo del Toro were so inspired by his artwork because he would just paint out of his brain. He's like the Jimmy Page of fantasy artists and probably the most influential arts of the 20th century."



More than being a fan of the artist, though, Rodriguez longed to collaborate with Frazetta. And he got the chance for his 1996 crime movie/vampire yarn "From Dusk Till Dawn" (which starred a young George Clooney and was written by some dude named Quentin Tarantino). "He had done posters for movies and I remember thinking, Wow, when I work in the movie business the first thing I want to do is get Frank Frazetta to get a movie poster out before he retires. And in fact I ended up getting the last movie poster he ever made. He had retired about ten years before but I got to work with him."



What's even more impressive was how Frazetta was inspired by Rodriguez's work (that was, of course, riffing on Frazetta). "I remember his first reaction to seeing Selma Hayek was, 'Where'd you get this gal? I wish I had painted her.' And I said, 'Well I based her off of your paintings.' We wanted that iconic princess of darkness look." Frazetta's work on the poster coincided with the artist's first stroke, so they weren't able to release it as the official one-sheet, but it circulated in comic book shops and through giveaways. "It's a little-seen item. But it started our relationship." Frazetta wanted the entire poster to be Hayek's character, "So if you look on the painting she's most of the painting and everybody else is really small on the bottom."



Rodriguez was one of a handful of filmmakers who were attached to direct "A Princess of Mars," based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels starring a plucky Confederate soldier magically transported to the red planet. (It would eventually be made as Disney's infamous flop "John Carter.") Rodriguez's version would have been 100% Frazetta. He then wrote an entire treatment for a Frazetta-inspired "Conan" reboot. That didn't take either. Finally Rodriguez settled upon a property that would really bring Frazetta's vision to life: an adaptation of his animated fantasy film "Fire and Ice," a collaboration between the artist and "Fritz the Cat" creator Ralph Bakshi that featured then-cutting-edge roto-scoping technology. He spoke with the artist before his death and development continued afterwards. "After he passed away, I spoke to his family, to continue what he always wanted – for people to see his paintings in person and to create IPs around his paintings. So that people would remember him and just promote his work that inspired me and so many other artists." ("Fire and Ice" is set up at Sony and actively being developed.)



The gallery at South by Southwest will offer fans a rare opportunity to see original artwork from Frazetta, some of which is personally owned by Rodriguez. "A lot of them are on loan from the family. When he passed away, these were in a vault and nobody got to see them. So a lot of these have not been viewed by the public in a long time. So this is a really rare thing for people to see it. It's a very rare experience to see this many masterworks in front of you."



Still, Rodriguez hopes that the gallery won't just be visited by the die hard fans. He's hoping people who have never heard of Frazetta will wander in and be blown away anew. "Sometimes people know without knowing. It's fun to connect the dots for them. Of course when the 'Fire and Ice' movie comes out, it will be like Frank Miller – somebody everybody knew his work again. His artwork became so much more popular and mainstream after the film came out."



Check out the "From Dusk Till Dawn" poster, plus a few of the limited edition prints, below. The Robert Rodriguez Museum, which also features original artwork by Frank Miller, Drew Struzan and Sebastian Kruger, will be open from Saturday 3/14 to Sunday 3/21 from noon-8 pm daily. Location is 920 Congress Ave, and there's a $10 entrance fee that will benefit Frazetta Art, to maintain and continue his legacy.