The Model Shop Part 1: Star Dwellers sculpture by Grant Louden + interview (with Dan McPharlin)

Grant Louden 'The Star_Dwellers' Interviewed By Dan McPharlin

Welcome to Sci-Fi-O-Rama 2014.

Here we begin with a totally exclusive feature courtesy of both Grant Louden & Dan McPharlin.

So without ado lets hand over the controls to Dan…


Guest post by Dan McPharlin

And now for something a little bit different. Sci-Fi-O-Rama doesn’t normally feature 3D work, but Kieran has kindly handed me the keys and let me loose on his blog to write this guest post on a subject that is very dear to my heart; Sci-Fi model making.

Ever since I first saw that monolithic Star Destroyer swoop majestically into frame in the opening minutes of Star Wars it’s a subject I’ve been fascinated by. While CGI has unfortunately all but rendered the model-maker’s craft obsolete in the movies, there are still a handful of talented artists out there burning the torch for this fantastic art form…

While trawling the dark recesses of Tumblr one evening late last year, I came upon an intriguing image. It seemed to be a model of the spacecraft from one of my favourite Colin Hay paintings Star Dwellers. A few google queries later and I discovered that I was looking at the work of artist Grant Louden, who after a successful career in advertising and graphic design has been quietly working away on a series of amazing sculptures based on classic spacecraft paintings by the likes of Tony Roberts, Peter Elson, and Colin Hay. Star Dwellers is Grant’s first finished build, and he has meticulously documented the process over on his website.

Grant Louden ‘The Star Dwellers’ interviewed By Dan McPharlin

(Above right © 1978 Colin Hay)

Painted in 1978 by Colin Hay using gouache and airbrush ink, The Star Dwellers was first used as the cover for a reprint of James Blish’s 1961 novel (hence the title). In 1979 it was published in the Terran Trade Authority book Space Wreck to accompany the story Victims of Space. Although relegated to a corner of the page, there is something about the vibrant colour scheme, composition and spooky atmosphere that draws one deeper into the painting. The ship is typical of Hay’s work at the time; although small in scale it is rendered in much the same fashion as many of the planet-sized behemoths that frequent his paintings, its jutting angular surfaces are plastered with all manner of multi-coloured inlets, panels and graphical symbols. The ship’s lifeless crew seem to be tethered to their sepulchral machine, destined to spend eternity drifting slowly through space, suspended in their moment of expiration. This macabre scene forms a striking silhouette against a vibrant yellow airbrushed sun.

In Space Wreck the ship is described as a maintenance scooter that had been used in desperation to escape a deadly virus outbreak aboard the research ship, Ceres. When faced with the prospect of an agonising death aboard the Ceres the two astronauts elected instead to perish swiftly in open space. I haven’t read James Blish’s The Star Dwellers so I can’t comment on the connection of art to story in that case. It should be noted that much of the art featured in the TTA books was ‘recycled’ from previous sci-fi book covers and generally a story was woven around the art, instead of the other way round.

Anyway, back to Grant’s spectacular model work. What particularly impressed me was his attention to detail in bringing the tiny craft and its crew into three-dimensional space. From the initial drawings through to early mock-ups and final build, there is a level of care and craftsmanship that you rarely see with these sort of projects. Of particular note are the wiring looms, harnesses, oxygen tanks and air hose fixtures; small details that are never seen in the original painting. Grant also consulted directly with Colin Hay during the build which no doubt added to the authenticity of the final product and surely gets him a few extra brownie points. But rather than me rambling on any further, let’s hear from Grant.


Q: Grant, first of all tell us a bit about your background. Where did you grow up, and what kindled your enthusiasm for science fiction and model making?

I was born in rural New Zealand, and raised on a dairy farm. Farm life, though pleasant enough, never held much of an attraction for me. But farm machinery did. As a kid I was always butchering my dinky toy cars and trucks and fashioning them into new mad creations.

I built 1/25th scale model truck kits for a few years. Then 1977 came along, and with it ‘Star Wars’, and everything changed. As Dan said above, that opening shot of the star destroyer opened up new synapses in the brain that led to a lifelong passion for science fiction, and in particular spacecraft and model making. Dreams changed to becoming a professional SFX model maker, but New Zealand in the 70’s was no place to be looking for that kind of work, so I built kitsets and my own creations. Then came ‘Alien’ a couple of years later, and with it The Book of Alien, which featured a load of Chris Foss designs for the Nostromo that were never used, but I fell in love with. I used to browse second hand book shops, not for the novels but their cover art. So I was aware of this genre of brash, bold, colourful British SF illustration. The mad-glorious designs and shapes, and the wild industrial/commercial colour schemes. I always thought they would make fantastic subjects for model replicas, but I never had the time, money or equipment to attempt such builds.

Q: How did the Star Dwellers project come about?

Fast forward 30 years and I’m now living in Milton Keynes, England. I’d been working in graphic design here, taken citizenship and settled down with my Irish wife. Sadly she was struck down with MS and I eventually gave up work to care for her full time. In my free time I had begun buying back all my old TTA books from the 70’s on Ebay. Then Chris Foss had released a new comprehensive book of his life work and I had the spacecraft bug back again. And this time the time, experience and equipment to realise that teenage dream of actually building them.

I met Chris at a book signing in London and showed him some artist’s renderings I’d done of his spacecraft as 3 dimensional sculptures. He was, in his words, “wildly, wildly enthusiastic” about my plans to recreate them. I contacted Colin Hay, Tony Roberts, and the late Peter Elson’s sister, who all agreed to me licensing a couple of their spacecraft paintings to turn into actual large scale sculptures / replicas. (I still don’t know exactly how to refer to them).

Colin’s Star Dwellers had always been an absolute favourite of the TTA spacecraft and was an easy choice for my first build. I sent him impressions of what I imagined a sculpture of his ship would look like, and he agreed straight away.

Grant Louden ‘The Star Dwellers’ interviewed By Dan McPharlin

Q: I understand that you produced the sculpture with Colin Hay’s official endorsement. In fact he was a source of information and advice on the build. How did you find the process of working directly with the original artist?

So we agreed an official license for each ship, and a royalty to go back to the original artist upon any sales for use of their work. It was important for me to recognise, celebrate, and remunerate their original – in every sense of the word – artworks.

I chose to build Star Dwellers first, for a couple of reasons. It was always my all time favourite of the TTA illustrations. Solemn, sombre and begging questions, and beautifully designed and rendered. Also it posed a considerable challenge. Just one view to work from, an incredibly complex shape to reproduce, with it’s wild angles merging into a round nose cone, and intricately detailed. And two astronaut figures to model, so in doing this first I would gather and hone the skills and equipment needed to build any of the others.

Colin was absolutely fantastic to work with throughout the entire build. From commenting on prototype paper models, checking plan drawings, and constant enthusiasm and kind comments all along the way. He was invaluable when it came to building the unseen details of the ship. What would the interior look like for instance? Independently we had both been thinking WWII fighters and midget submarines as a look and feel. I asked if we should put floating seat harnesses in the cockpits, and Colin said indeed and wished he’d thought of them when doing his original painting. So it was wonderful to have so much input and encouragement, and it’s made for a far more accurate and sympathetic recreation. Colin will be signing a Certificate of Authenticity to accompany the piece when sold, as well as a signed art print of his original. And I’ll be passing on a two figure percentage royalty when it’s sold.

Q: What materials did you use for the build?

Styrene plastic sheet is my medium. As easy to work as paper card or balsa wood, but solid and able to be fashioned into any shape imaginable. And of course model kitset parts, the “greeblies” that bring such models to life, bond perfectly to the plastic sheeting. Apart from that I used some steel wire for the pneumatic hose support legs, and FIMO modelling clay to make the astronauts and details like leather seat cushions. A few fine details were bought from specialist model shops. Tiny scale rubber hoses and wiring, and the seat harnesses were a set of 1/12th scale F1 safety belts.

The philosophy for it’s creation was always ‘hand-crafted’ wherever I could. In fact I bought a Dremmel hobby power drill, but as yet have not used it once, instead using small hand drills, scalpel knives, files and sandpaper. Isopon car body filler is also an excellent medium for sculpting and carving forms that flat plastic can’t recreate.

I also built a vacuum forming unit for moulding sheet plastic into round and complex forms. I made moulds of the astronaut figures in silicone rubber and recast them in resin, just to learn the skills, and in case I ever build a copy of this ship.

Grant Louden ‘The Star Dwellers’ interviewed By Dan McPharlin

Q: How long was the build time, and what what was the most challenging part?

Please don’t ask how long this one took! It was two years from conception to completion, but that is working very irregularly. I also had a recurring eye complaint that left me unable to work for a couple of months! But I would estimate if doing full time would have been about three to four months solid work, with the workshop equipment design and building that went with it.

The most challenging part was extrapolating three dimensions from the single view I had to work from. I did a few rough sketches of what I imagined the top and interior would look like and with a few comments from Colin was able to make paper card models to check the shapes, then onto full size plan drawings.
The battle damaged wings and fins also posed a problem. How to make the joins neat and tidy, not soldered, but still be robust enough to be handled? I used hollow plastic tubing, 2mm diameter, and inserted copper rods to give them rigidity. That way I got the strength of wire and the neat joins of plastic.

Q: In Colin’s painting, the geometry of the ship is rather strange with some difficult angles. Did you have a hard time extrapolating these into three dimensions?

By far the most difficult part was working out the overall form, and executing the transition from round nose cone to angular midships section. I built three small paper model prototypes till I got it right, with help from Colin in honing the shapes. The nose was made using a flat card skeleton cross section and filling it with filler and sanding down the shape to match the plans. I then made hollow moulds from these using heat formed plastic sheeting so that I was always working with the same material throughout. Then it was a matter of carefully measuring and cutting and bending panels to integrate the round nose to the rest of the hull. All done by eye and careful measuring. Like a three dimensional jigsaw, where you have to make each individual piece on the go.

Grant Louden ‘The Star Dwellers’ interviewed By Dan McPharlin

Q: Are there any venues where we’ll get to see your work?

I am planning on exhibiting several ships at Loncon 3, the World Science Fiction Convention in London, August this year.

Q: Are there any model-makers past or present whose work you particularly admire?

Martin Bower was always my favourite model maker. I came across his name in ‘Alien’ and slavered over his Nostromo and other models in that movie, and ‘Outland’. And of course unbeknownst at the time I’d been admiring his work on all those Gerry Anderson shows since childhood. (Dan’s note: Also be sure to check out the fantastic Alien Makers documentaries by Dennis Lowe – a must watch for any fan of Alien and model building)

The other is Gerald Wingrove, who has for decades been hand crafting the most exquisite 1/10th scale model cars from metal. Though he works in totally different subjects and materials to me, his work has long been an inspiration and byword for craftsmanship.

Grant Louden ‘The Star Dwellers’ interviewed By Dan McPharlin

Grant Louden ‘The Star Dwellers’ interviewed By Dan McPharlin

Where’s the best place to follow your builds online, and what will be your next project?

I’ve created a comprehensive build diary for this ship at my website. There are 24 pages of the entire process from plan drawings to finished piece. My next build is a Tony Roberts ship, used in OMNI magazine in the 80’s, called From Ruination’s Fires. It’s just passed the paper model stage and about to go into production any day. You can follow progress on that one here.

I also have a Facebook page – 70s Spaceship Replicas – where there are duplicate progress photos and current news.

Many thanks Grant!

Many thanks Dan and Kieran, for giving me the opportunity to display my first piece to a wider and, in SF terms, wiser audience! (Grant Louden)

Moebius: Transe-Forme @ Fondation Cartier, Paris

Moebius arzach 1975 drawing lessspace

Moebius arzach 1995 drawing

Moebius: Transe-Forme @ Fondation Cartier

Moebius: Transe-Forme @ Fondation Cartier

Moebius AKA Jean-Giraud Portrait 2010

Ok so this is something of a re-post lifted from the excellent designboom.com. Re-posting content in such verbatim fashion is something In which I tend to shy away from, but since it concerns quite possibly the worlds premier Sci-Fi Illustrator I’ve made an exception! We are of course talking of French comic artist/legend Jean Giraud, better known as Moebius and this article relates to his current exhibition “Transe-Forme” which is running now at Fondation Cartier in Paris until Saturday the 13th March, 2011. So as of time posting you have roughly a month too experience it.

Read the full article over at DesignBoom with a much larger selection of images of this simply stunning exhibition.

Many thanks to Manchester based Illustrator/Designer Ben Lamb for originally pointing me towards the article…

*** Quick amend thanks to Micheal Van

Official Home page of exhibition: http://www.moebius-transe-forme.com/

Check these videos from/of Moebius for exhibition http://dai.ly/e86lED

The World of the Dark Crystal

The World of the Dark Crystal

The World of the Dark Crystal

The World of the Dark Crystal

The World of the Dark Crystal

The World of the Dark Crystal

The World of the Dark Crystal

The World of the Dark Crystal

The World of the Dark Crystal

The World of the Dark Crystal

A selection of imagery scanned from “The World of the Dark Crystal” a 2003 compendium of conceptual art, design and illustration produced for Jim Henson’s 1982 fantasy movie masterpiece “The Dark Crystal”.

For those of you not familiar with the story of the Dark Crystal – it’s a powerful and dramatic tale of a lost world and Jen, a young ‘Gefling’ who set out on perilous quest against sinisterm dark forces. 28 years after it’s original release the award winning Dark Crystal is firmly embedded as a true cult classic and even to this day a is a tour de force in special effects featuring breathtaking animatronics and puppetry… The whole film just oozes quality – there’s never been anything quite like it since – a remarkable odyssey suitable for adults and children alike, although I have to be honest, parts of it still freak me out!

I’d really like to write more here but I’m once again I’m a little time restricted, I think I’ll post here and then revisit again soon – anyway I’m guessing that most of you a familiar with the film. If not – wow! – your in for a treat! I recommend the 25th Anniversary Edition DVD with excellent special features http://is.gd/cTgLX or the BluRay version http://is.gd/cTgXX

The award winning design as shown here is the work of Devon based English Fantasy Artist Brian Froud, who in addition to producing of 20 illustrative book has also lent his considerable fantasy artist talent to several other famous film projects including as Labyrinth (1985) and Peter Pan (2003).

Ok so some notes on the Images I’ve featured from top to bottom (some spoliers here!):

Top: A conceptual sketch of an ‘Ur-Ru’. The Ur-Ru are the ying to the Skeksis yang, Ur-Ru represent light and good, the Skeksis dark and evil. Each Ur-Ru is inextricably linked to it’s Skeksis counterpart, both share a divided soul and are part of the higher being known as the ‘urSkeks’. This omnipotent super-race was violently spilt apart in an attempt to harvested the full power of the planets three suns known as “The Grand Conjuction”

2nd Top: A conceptual sketch of a ‘Skeksis’. For me creature and costume design doesn’t get much better than Skeksis – it’s not that the regal/Afghan hound looking Ur-Ru aren’t beautifully designed too (they are!) – there’s something memorably horrific about the Skekis, their shrill voices and bloated, twisted bodies wrapped inside fantastically elaborate but rotting clothing!

3rd Top: A perfect example of the fallen decadence – “skekEkt the Ornamentalist who made clothes above all for himself, rich fabrics that dripped jewels, the death of a 100 birds for 1 cloak. He first discovered the art of anointing the skin with a paste of clotted blood and diamond powder, to restore the sparkle of youth.”

4th Top: Another superior sketch, check the ruff, ruched sleeves and carefully balanced Tri-Spectacle action! “skekOk the Scroll-Keeper kept the record of the Skeksis; he was the smallest finest-featured, least honest of them all. He wrote and and rewrote his accounts, and kept changing them one or another of his shifting allies, The truth was soon lost.”

5th Top: A close up detail sketch of Skeksis head. A fair visual description would be to say the Skeksis are a kind of avian reptile, perhaps like an Archaeopteryx but also taking the most heavy visual cue from the Vulture .

6th Top: The contorted chaos of “The Castle of the Skeksis”.

7th Top: A design for the floor plan of the Crystal Chamber, the symbols of the original 18 urSkeks can be seen around the edge whilst the crystal hangs above the inner ring…

8th top & Bottom: Concept drawings for Jen the Gelfling, his costume and accessories – love the man bag!

***

For more on Brian Froud visit his official website: http://www.worldoffroud.com/ or read more about him over at Wiki http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Froud

And finally, for nostalgia purposes here’s a youtube video of the original 1982 trailer…

***