Adventures in sci-fi

Published:  January 13, 2011
Adventures in sci-fi

A friend of mine is a real sci-fi geek – from Battle Star Galactica and Star Wars to HG Wells and HR Giger, there isn’t much he doesn’t know about the genre. While he’s not quite into dressing up like a storm trooper for fancy dress parties or chasing ‘silebrities’ at Comic-Con, his commitment to the genre is, at least in my eye, unquestioned. The reason? He’s completely infatuated with sci-fi design.

Lately I’ve been feeling a little uninspired by a lot of the pre-packaged, boring template-controlled and lazy design going around, and seeing me suffer this same friend decided to introduce me into a little more of his universe – beyond the more obvious worlds of Star Wars and Avatar. So he gave me his copy of Sci-Fi Art: A Graphic History (Steve Holland), and my journey into the world of the weird and wonderful began.

Science fiction has inspired so much in the 20th and 21st centuries. It’s amazing to read old masters like Jules Verne or watch the original episodes of Star Trek and Dr Who and see how many of their technologies are now commonplace in our world. Philip K Dick predicted the use of satellites, George Orwell envisioned a world filled with surveillance cameras and as for Captain Kirk’s communicator – look no further than the ubiquitous iPhone.

Yet the design, art and illustrations from books, movies and television shows have pushed our imaginations far out of everyday expectations of what we see in the backyard and inside the house. Some of the greatest, amniotic-flowing images were originally inspired by artists who subverted the iconic ideas of mythology and religion, which are in themselves a kind of science fiction (just think of Zeus living in the clouds and throwing lightning bolts at people, while Ganesh with his many arms battles demons in India – it’s brilliant stuff!).

After Jules Verne and Lewis Carroll wrote their many adventures under the sea and down the rabbit hole, in the early 1920s pulp fiction began appearing with illustrated book covers, giving the genre a new avenue in which to inspire. From pulp then came paperbacks and comic books, and from there it transformed into movies, television and video games. Who doesn’t remember the posters for 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner or Soylent Green? It was these that gave additional life to the set designs and ‘other worlds’ in which the actors would find themselves. A combination of animated sci-fi films then also begat anime, which now lives in its own, brilliantly designed universe.

Some names to look up include Richard Powers, Bruce Pennington and Jim Burns (all in the pulp/book illustration area), Dick Calkins (the first sci-fi comic book artist with Buck Rogers), Syd Mead (whose designs appeared in Tron and Aliens), Ralph McQuarrie (the artist who gave George Lucas his Star Wars), along with Wayne Douglas Barlowe (whose background as a natural history illustrator helped him create the most divine creatures) and finally Drew Struzan (who gave us the posters for Blade Runner, Back to the Future and more). Realistically, the list is endless, but these are a few names worth checking out if you’re at all interested in extending your knowledge of the sci-fi design world.

After having been introduced to this world by my ‘geek’ friend, I feel refreshed about where design can go. It just goes to show that the limitations you can feel when approached by a client for a design job can instead be an opportunity to be experimental – sure the brief says baby food, but is there any reason why you can’t give it a subtle bit of sci-fi treatment? Hell no! If it’s subtle enough people won’t even notice. But you will.

From Desktop magazine.

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