Welcome to Issue 13
An early inspiration for spaceship art for me came from a collection of large illustrated science fiction books called the “Terran Trade Authority” (TTA) series. These were published in the late 1970s and written by Stewart Cowley. They described a future history of mankind’s expansion into our galaxy and were written in the pretext of a future trade organisation cataloguing various spacecraft. The artwork was bright, imaginative and adventurous.
The books were wonderful collections of some of the best sci-fi spaceship book cover art at the time, with illustrators such as Chris Foss and Peter Elson featured. A great by-product of these books is that the sci-fi illustrators at the time had their work promoted, concentrated into these volumes. It was a great way to discover sci-fi art!
One of the books in the TTA series “SpaceWreck : Ghost Ships and Derelicts of Space”, served as the inspiration and theme for this magazine issue. It sets down a history of future space disasters, with some logging of mysterious happenings in a series of unrelated short stories.
One of the challenges of digital art is to “dirty down” a model and there is an extra level of work to “un-perfect” a 3D model and make it looked crashed, broken, dirty and dusty in a scene. The artists we have found for this collection of work shows some great examples of getting that “dirtied down” look right.
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Vikram is a spaceship designer and modeller working in Blender and Zbrush, and inspired by the 1970s TTA ship style.
ZBRUSH | BLENDER
“A writer friend of mine once described creativity like the faucet up at the holiday cottage. You have to turn it on and let all of the brown water flow out for a while, before you get the good, clear stuff.”
Xistence is an accomplished digital painter of stylised sci-fi landscapes, with a strong taste for spacewrecks!
CLIPSTUDIO | SKETCHUP
“… I do also use SketchUp, but only to speed my work flow. I don’t build everything in detail, just create a raw scene, then import it into my 2D program and work over it with brushes..”
We talk with Craig Farham about spacewrecks and classic science-fiction, plus the Vue software’s atmospherics and more.
VUE | DAZ STUDIO
“My scientific training makes me very open to criticism of my pictures — science demands that you put ideas out there in order to have them shot down, so only the most robust concepts survive.”
TERRAN TRADE AUTHORITY
NASA’S NEW RESCUE-BOT
Sample Interview from Issue 13
VIKRAM’S DEVIANTART GALLERY
DAL: Vikram, welcome to this interview with Digital Art Live magazine.
VKM: Thank you!
DAL: How did you start your interest in 3D art? I see fractals in your gallery? Was it fractal art, or something else?
VKM: No, not fractals. I’d say that my interest in computer graphics came out of an interest in film visual effects. When I was a kid, I was really inspired by the visuals in the Star Trek movies, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, Alien, Dune, and others in that vein. I had a lot of curiosity about how those were done, and I read a fair bit about the clever ways in which effects artists create the worlds they depict. It inspired me to build model kits and to play with simple visual effects with a video camera, but there was only so much that one could do at home, at that time, with limited analogue tools. When I was a teenager, films were moving more and more towards digital effects, and home computers and software tools were starting to be powerful enough to allow a hobbyist to try to reproduce those sorts of visuals without studio equipment. So I started out making little animations of spaceships from Star Trek, Star Wars, or 2001 for my own amusement, and eventually progressed to original designs. Fractals weren’t really a focus for me until later on. Like many digital artists, I eventually found that realism and aesthetic appeal often depend on having a certain level of visual complexity.
The fractals patterns and fractal geometry provide a way of adding that visual complexity to an image without having to place each tiny detail by hand. They also seem to provide a type of detail that the eye finds natural and is willing to accept as realistic. In my 20s I also spent a while playing a bit with the mathematics behind fractals. But my first inspirations were definitely in the science-fiction realm.
DAL: I see, thanks. And I must say… awesome spaceships! When and when did your interest in spaceships develop? Did you receive a Chris Foss art book, one birthday?
VKM: Well, I’ve always been interested in space exploration and in the manned NASA and Soviet missions. This blended naturally into a love for science fiction – particularly for films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, which depicts space travel with both incredible realism and with a sort of eerily beautiful aesthetic. As I recall, I stumbled across a collection of science-fiction art, which included Chris Foss illustrations, on my father’s bookshelf at some point. It was the first in the TTA series and was called Spacecraft 2000 to 2100 AD. There, too, I was really struck by the aesthetic. The TTA books were a big inspiration. I don’t remember how young I was when I encountered Spacecraft 2000 to 2100 AD, but I definitely sought out some of the others in the series (Spacewrecks and so forth) later on, in my teens and 20s. Usually, you see that sort of artwork in the context of a movie poster or the cover of a novel or anthology. I think the TTA books started me thinking about science-fiction artwork as a medium that can stand on its own, independent of a medium that it’s supporting (like a film or a novel). This discovery decided me to try my hand at simply illustrating fictional spacecraft of my own design, without needing to place them in a broader context.
I also have an Omni magazine issue from October of 1992 that I’ve kept, largely for the cover illustration by John Berkey. The mixture of organic and mechanical shapes in his spacecraft, and the fine detail that faded into painterly suggestions of detail, appealed to me very much.
DAL: So what’s your background in terms of your wider interest in science fiction? What influences your current art? Films? Star Wars, I imagine?
VKM: Oh, Star Wars of course – though there, the ships are treated less like characters and more like backdrop for the sword-and-sorcery fantasy story. Star Trek tended to be a bigger draw for me, as far as science fiction was concerned, and 2001 was a mild obsession – it’s an incredibly idea-rich film that’s also very beautiful to look at. I also loved the works of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Frederick Pohl, and many other classic sci-fi authors. I have a very visual imagination, so I associated a very definite ‘look’ with each story. Clarke’s Rama books spring to mind as a source of some very visual ideas, as do some of Asimov’s short stories – “Marooned off Vesta”, “C-chute”, etc. Some, like Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations”, have such a strong visual style embedded in the descriptions and the atmosphere that it’s possible I’m remembering my visualization of the story better than the story itself.
DAL: You also make very cool art from 3D folding proteins, which as you say on your DeviantArt profile is what you do in your day job as a molecular biochemist. “Digoxigenin” for instance. They look superbly surreal to a non-chemist, but no doubt you can visually ‘read’ all sorts of things from the structures. Do you find that your professional grasp of such 3D shapes and shape-making informs your other creative 3D work? For instance, are your spaceships more organic, or otherwise differently-looking that they might be?
VKM: Hmm. I’d say that there’s more influence in the other direction, though I would never have anticipated that would be the case. When I first started playing with digital art, I didn’t think it would be anything more than a hobby. In the course of teaching myself the technical side of computer graphics, though, I picked up bits and pieces about the mathematics and algorithms underlying computer graphics software, and of course a lot of skill in manipulating 3D shapes. In my professional career as a biochemist, although I started out spending most of my time in the wet lab, I’ve also moved in a computational direction. I currently design molecules called peptides (which are smaller versions of proteins) that can “fold” into three-dimensional shapes that confer unique functions. While a big part of this is wet-lab work, another big part is developing and using the peptide design software (which we call Rosetta) that makes this work possible. Many things that I learnt as a digital artist carry over to the problems that I have to solve now in order to build the Rosetta software and to apply it to the peptide design problem.