The Model Shop Part 2: Norman Conquest 2066 sculpture by Grant Louden + interview
After an exceptionally long gap between posts, Sci-Fi-O-Rama finally returns with new material. Apologies for the extended state of dormancy, life gets in the way sometimes.
Let’s then not dwell on the forlorn and instead nuke 2015 with another flyby of master-craftsman and styrene alchemist Grant Louden AKA Betelgeuse.
A quick recap then on what the Betelgeuse workshop is all about. Well in a nutshell Grant takes the finest Two Dimensional 70’s Sci-Fi cover art and literally breathes 3-Dimensional life over them.
We featured Grant’s first mind-blowing evolution of Colin Hay’s this time last year. This time it’s science fiction artisan illustrator Chris Foss is in the crosshairs.
Grant kindly took some time out to tell us more about his latest creation, here’s the feature:
Q: It’s been almost a year since we last spoke, what’s been the primary creative focus for you in 2014?
2014 has been a rebuilding year if you’ll excuse the pun. I lost my wife to MS at the end of 2013 and this year has been about dealing with that and getting back into full-time work again. As a result time and funds for spaceship builds has been limited this year, but also allowed time to explore some new ideas and new potential collaborations. It was also a case of reassessing why and how I make these ships. I came to the conclusion that my target market for selling these is incredibly niche and specific, and sales have become an even more distant focus now. The passion to make more ships is even stronger, but production time is likely to slow down rather than speed up as I luxuriate in the design and build process, which for me is every bit as satisfying as the final results.
Q: Which was the most challenging aspect of realising Foss’s craft?
This ship turned out to be not half as straightforward as it first looked. I chose this Foss ship as I’d decided mid-year to make one to exhibit at LonCon3, the 72nd World Sci-Fi Convention in London this August. Mr Foss was a Guest of Honour, and in discussions with his daughter Imogene we agreed it would be fun to build and exhibit alongside his books and prints and gauge reaction from fans there in the flesh.
It transpired that a lot of those deceptively simple angles and shapes just didn’t work in real life. The box shaped air intake under the nose simply wouldn’t work as depicted – unless I made the adjoining hull panels bend or twist, which would have been even further from the shape required. So some angles just couldn’t be replicated in the model. The black domed bridge section at top also took a lot of educated guessing, and in fact I made that three times before being satisfied with it.
And finally the graphics and hundreds of windows scattered about the surface posed a big challenge to recreate.
Q: Do you feel your creative process is improving? what aspect were you most pleased with?
I’m getting more confident at interpreting the shapes of the ships from their single original viewpoints. I tend to spend less time on plan drawings and more on the cardboard test models, which sometimes are cut out with scissors and built on-the-fly and purely by eye, repeatedly adjusting, photographing and comparing, and refining again with further versions. Even when I have to-scale plan drawings they can be altered as I build and the various shapes come together. If anything the process is becoming more organic and sculptural.
Q: Does your experience of using digital modelling software ever come in handy?
I’m often asked if I make 3D models on computer first, and this has become a bit of a dilemma for me. For starters I had always wanted these to be as fully handmade as possible, in keeping with the tradition of the original illustrations which were done with brush and airbrush, long before the advent of CGI and Photoshop. For the same reason, I shun specialist tools, electric drills and the obvious use of butchered kit set parts, in favour of making as much from scratch myself.
At the same time, my copy of Cinema4D was rendered useless after a Mac OS upgrade and I’ve now switched to Blender, the excellent and free 3D application. I’m learning that now and will use it for particularly tricky subjects I’m sure, but only when I can’t get things to work by hand and eye.
Q: I absolutely love the Card Prototypes, how long do these take to manufacture? have you ever considered creating a set of these?
Funny you should ask that as this year I did explore the idea of making flat pack card spaceships with Mr Foss. I’ve started a couple of prototypes that would be printed flat and die cut to be folded and assembled, and it’s definitely a subject we’ll explore in more detail in 2015. There are a few licensing and production things to iron out but it’s still a project I’m quite excited about.
Making the card test models are generally a day or so in designing, then from that a model can be drawn up, printed out and assembled in half a day. Then it’s a process of refinement, photographing from the same angle as the original and checking how things line up when overlayed in Photoshop.
Q: The Custom transfer sheets looks like they were a lot of fun to create, something you’ve dabbled with before?
Previously I’ve used blank water-slide decal sheets that you print off at home, and by and large, they’ve worked just fine. But to apply literally hundreds of tiny black and white rectangles all over this ship wasn’t really an option. I’d seen the custom dry transfers before and realised that this would be the only way to get the graphics on with sufficient accuracy, alignment and sharpness. Because there is no three-dimensional surface detail on the hull this one would stand or fall on the quality of the graphics, and even at £120, I felt the dry transfers made that a reasonable expense for the results they produced.
Q: How ‘Into character’ do you get with these designs? Any ideas on what Foss’s ship is transporting and to where? (indeed is this ever discussed with ?)
I think it’s essential and inevitable to get into the mind of the painting and the artist when so much of the ship has to be interpreted from one single view. With this ship, I had the opportunity to send Mr Foss some cardboard model photos and sketches, which he kindly annotated with drawings and suggestions about certain details. At the same time, he got so enthused when he saw the finished ship that he started making suggestions that clearly don’t appear in the painting, such as adding piping detail to the surface or retro rockets under the nose! So we did discuss making a version 1.5 with the details and additions he’d have liked to have added to his picture.
When it came to building the unseen upper sections of the craft I had to absolutely put on a ‘What would Foss do’ cap and try and imagine how he might detail this. Taking his knack of utilising shapes from nature, (crab claws and limbs, and what I see as a shark-like look to this one), I opted for a ‘spinal cord’ of structures running down its back creating a battleship feel of conning towers to give it some scale. I imagined the craft as some kind of interstellar container ship, very commercial and industrial and the size of a small supertanker. Depicted as it is flying off from the ground I figured some atmospheric weathering would be appropriate and hopefully sell the scale as well. To this end, I imagined most grime and streaks would accumulate when it’s stationary in dry dock and so the direction of the weathering was gravity led.
Q: Obviously you’ve worked in close collusion with Chris Foss, Are more of his designs lined up for the Betelgeuse workshop?
When I met Mr Foss at LonCon and was able to show him the ship close up we had a long chat about this and other potential projects. The first of these could be a reloaded version of Norman Conquest, which I would build and paint and he would detail and weather himself by hand.
I also have designs with a little more creative license utilising his ships. These include half-shell ships mounted on mirrors, so that the reflection fills in the back side of the hull. His ‘Dune’ pirate ship and ‘Alien’ Leviathan craft would be examples of these. He has another favourite, ‘Catchworld’, which he would love to see built, and I have some faves myself such as the two mining trucks from ‘Bad day at Red Rock’ (shown above) and the very early ‘Coming of the Spaceage’ ships with its scaly plating and asymmetrical design.
One way or another there will be another Foss or two next year!
Q: And finally what does 2015 have in store for you?
2015 will see the Tony Roberts’ ‘Illuminatus!’ submarine finally finished, and then onto another Foss project, as yet undecided. I hope to get the flat pack fold-ups off the ground and must make a Peter Elson ship, either his NASA-like ‘Welcome to Mars’ (shown above) or the mad-cow-like ‘Babel 17’, both all-time favourites of mine.
I’m also starting to gather rare and obscure works by my favourite artists and starting to showcase those on my website, and have also doodled plans for a smartphone app based around the Terran Trade Authority worlds and illustrations. So I see some very exciting things to get my teeth into for the coming year.
Many thanks Grant!
In addition, you can also read Sci-Fi-O-Rama’s initial Model shop part 1 feature, with guest post by Dan McPharlin
And finally to end, here a side-by-side with Foss’s original cover art and the majestic Betelgeuse reworking