Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Interview with Alan Dean Foster

Alan Dean Foster is an American writer known primarily for his work in fantasy and science fiction. Born in New York City in 1946, he was raised in Los Angeles and earned a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and a Master of Fine Arts in Cinema from UCLA.

Foster's published oeurve includes more than 100 books featuring excursions into hard science-fiction, fantasy, horror, detective, western, historical, and contemporary fiction. He has also written numerous non-fiction articles on film, science, and scuba diving, as well as having produced the novel versions of many films, including such well-known productions as Star Wars (Foster was the ghostwriter of the original novelization of Star Wars, which had been credited solely to George Lucas), the first three Alien films, Alien Nation, The Chronicles of Riddick, Star Trek, Terminator: Salvation, Transformers, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. His latest publications include the fantasy novel Oshenerth, and the young adult fantasy novel The Deavys. Other works include scripts for talking records, radio, computer games, and the story for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. His novel Shadowkeep was the first ever book adaptation of an original computer game. 

In addition to publications in English his work has been translated into more than fifty languages and has won awards in Spain and Russia. His novel Cyber Way won the Southwest Book Award for Fiction in 1990, the first work of science-fiction ever to do so. He is also the recipient of the ‘Faust’ - the IAMTW Lifetime Achievement Award.

Foster's love of the far-away and exotic has led him to travel extensively. Besides traveling he enjoys listening to both classical music and heavy metal. Other pastimes include basketball, hiking, body surfing, and scuba diving. In his age and weight class he is a current world and Eurasian champion in power-lifting (bench press). He studied karate with brothers Aaron and Chuck Norris. He has taught screenwriting, literature, and film history at UCLA and Los Angeles City College as well as having lectured at universities and conferences around the world. A member of the Science-Fiction Writers of America, the Author's Guild of America, and the Writer's Guild of America, he also spent two years serving on the Planning and Zoning Commission of his home town of Prescott, Arizona. Foster's correspondence and manuscripts are in the Special Collection of the Hayden Library of Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona.


  1. What aspects of your childhood inspired your prolific writing career? 
When I was four, my parents bought me a set of small paperback books called The Golden Nature Guides.  One each for such subjects as birds, insects, etc.  They began a lifelong fascination with the natural world, and with science.  A year later I received subscriptions to a dozen or so comic books.  These came in the mail.  I learned how to read from them, especially from the great comics done by Carl Barks (Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck).  Otherwise, I had a very normal childhood.

  1. Tell us about any childhood heroes. 
I didn’t really have any, except in books.  My parents had an old copy of one of the books by the famous world traveler Richard Halliburton, now little-read.  I poured over his tales and wanted to be like him. 

  1. How did your career begin? 
August Derleth bought a long Lovecraftian letter I wrote to him, just for fun.  He ended up publishing it, as a short story, in his semi-annual magazine The Arkham Collector.  Subsequent to that, John W. Campbell bought a short, With Friends Like These, that appeared in the June, 1971 issue of Analog magazine.  Those were my first professional sales.


  1. Tell us about your Humanx Commonwealth Universe. 
It started off as my first novel, The Tar-Aiym Krang.  At that time I had no idea if the book would sell.  When Betty Ballantine asked for a sequel, I ended up writing something a bit different, Bloodhype.  By the time I was asked for a third novel, which became Icerigger but which did not involve the character of Flinx, it was easier to utilize the existing background from the first two books instead of inventing an entirely new one.  At that point, the notion of writing other books in the series on a regular basis became viable.

The Humanx Commonwealth is a political and social amalgamation between two species: ours, and the insectoid Thranx.  As someone who has always rooted for the underdog, I thought it would be appropriate if, when we do go out to the stars, the intelligent species with whom we most readily get along turns out to look like creatures we have battled throughout our entire existence: namely, bugs.  The Thranx are not terrestrial insects, of course.  It’s a matter of convergent evolution.


  1. You have either novelised or created several of the most iconic stories in science fiction, including Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, Terminator, Transformers and The Thing. How have you developed and maintained your career for so many decades? 
As far as the novelizations are concerned, it became a matter of doing something well that others involved with similar projects also wished to see done well.  In other words, you acquire a reputation for being good at something. 

As to my original work, I think a large part of it has to do with the fact that I write in many different genres.  Those who enjoy my fantasy may not care for science fiction, and vice versa.  Those who read novelizations may not care for original fiction.  And so on.  When you go to a restaurant you may not like everything on the menu, but if the menu is large and the food is decent, you’ll find yourself returning.

  1. Tell us about your working regime. What does it take to produce such a great volume of exceptional work? 
I get up, take care of the house and the critters, go out to my study, and read the news from all around the world.  I go through my email personally.  Then I write.  Which means I stare at the computer, or my surroundings, or the scenery outside, until something forms in my mind, which I then set down in print.  As to volume, you have to work at it every day.  Doesn’t matter if it’s prose, painting, sculpture, music…do a little every day and you’d be surprised how much you can produce.

It helps that I am a fast typist, but these days you can dictate without having to type.


  1. I believe your love of adventure, travel, and exotic locations has been influential in your work. Tell us about some of the places you have visited that inspired your fictional world-building. 
Sometimes you get just a character, or a location, from traveling.  Sometimes, as with Into the Out Of (Tanzania) or Sagramanda (Northern India), you get an entire novel.   Bits and pieces end up welded together, depending on the storyline.  Interlopers utilizes locations I’ve visited in Peru, Papua New Guinea, and Australia.  The second and third books of the Tipping Point trilogy are set in South Africa and Namibia, respectively.

  1. Tell us about any underlying themes or messages in your work. 
As has been noted, ecology and the state of the natural world are of great importance to me.  Books like Midworld and Drowning World are good examples.  But I don’t preach.  It’s better to write a popular novel that reaches a couple of hundred thousand readers and makes one point than to write a critically acclaimed novel that reaches a hundred readers and makes dozens of points.

  1. Is there an existing film or story you would particularly love to novelize? 
The 1940 version of The Thief of Bagdad.

  1. Tell us about your Spellsinger series. 
When I attempt something I’ve never done before, I’ll only do it if I can be different.  Having never written a fantasy novel prior to Spellsinger, I made a conscious decision not to do aged wizards with long white beards, princesses in distress, noble heroes waving magic swords: I wanted to do something different.  And there was that influence of Carl Barks and his anthropomophosized animals.  It all came together very pleasantly.

  1. What do you find most rewarding in the creative process? 
When the characters and the story take over, and write themselves on autopilot.  When I can sit back and just let them do the heavy lifting for me.  In order for that to work, your characters have to be real and fully-rounded.


  1. What do you find most challenging in the creative process, and how did you overcome it?
Sometimes you just don’t feel like writing.  It’s as if the mechanical process itself is holding you back.  When that happens, you just have to push on.  Bad writing is still writing, but it gets you from page 10 to page 15.  You can go back and fix it, revise, later.

  1. Tell us about your experience filming Great White Sharks in Australia. 
That was in 1991, with Rodney Fox.  Rodney is the world’s most famous great white shark attack survivor, and has dedicated his life to their protection.  The water was very cold, so you’re heavily weighted, and in a shark cage you don’t wear fins.  So if you have to get out, you can’t swim.  You just sink.  So you’re always wondering if the cage is going to stay afloat.  But once past that, it’s the closest thing to hanging with dinosaurs you can do today.  They’re such magnificent animals.  You can reach out between the bars and touch them as they swim past.  Given the opportunity to free swim with them now, I’d do it in a moment.  Sharks are really just big dogs.  They’re curious, and they check you out, but you’re not their natural prey, and they’re more wary than aggressive.


  1. Tell us about your collection of animals. 
All of our animals are rescued animals.  Current population is two dogs and eight cats.  I did once have a Columbian boa.  Very nice pet.  Doesn’t bark, doesn’t scratch, doesn’t  have to be walked, and easy to clean up after. 

  1. Where can we find more official information about you and your work?  Also, one of my publishers, Open Road Media, maintains a fannish Facebook page for me.  

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Interview with Alex Saberi

Alex Saberi is a National Geographic photographer from London, England. He began photography as a hobby, mainly taking photographs of Richmond Park, the largest of London's Royal Parks. Only recently, he turned this hobby into a profession and has published a photo book of the park, titled Richmond Park.

Alex has appeared in many digital camera magazines and publications, and has won several photography competitions, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s Wildlife Competition, as well as several worldwide online competitions. He placed second in Landscape Photographer of the Year with his photograph, One Man and His Dog, and appeared several times in both the British Wildlife Photographer of the Year and Landscape Photographer of the Year books.

With his Year in Richmond Park collection, Alex has been featured in the national press, including the Daily Mail, Metro, Evening Standard, the Times, the Sun, and the Telegraph. He also appeared in the November edition of National Geographic and is a National Geographic exclusive artist. His photographs are available for commercial use through his agent, Nat Geo Creative.

  1. Tell us about your work.
I am primarily a nature and wildlife photographer. Although I enjoy mixing it up sometimes by delving into street photography and more artistic styles. I am happiest when taking photos of animals with dramatic or atmospheric backdrops.

  1. Tell us about your photographic training, learning process, and particularly how your work evolved as a result of it.
I think I was always a creative person and originally worked as a web designer. I took up photography as a hobby and enjoyed the whole process of teaching myself. Although, a big help was using online photographic competition sites such as Here I could learn from other photographers, submit my own work and get feedback. Each week there were several different challenges, each giving you a chance to be creative and to learn different styles and techniques. This led me to develop and turn to what I loved most, nature.

  1. How did you make the transition from hobbyist to professional photographer?
Well, I was lucky really, in that a journalist picked up my work from Flickr. She ran a story on my time in Richmond Park, which was well received by all the newspapers in the UK. From there, I got a book deal and offer to appear in Nat Geo November 2011 edition with my Angel Swan photo. All this happened whilst still doing my day job as a web designer. Shortly afterwards, I got signed up to be an exclusive photographer with Nat Geo and decided to leave the day job to become a photographer.

  1. Tell us about the gear you use and your loyalty to Canon.
Well, I started with a Canon 300D and then continued down the 5D path. I now use the Canon 5D MKIII and the MKII as backup. I shot quite a great deal of photos using the Canon 100-400mm lens, which for me did a great job. For landscape shots, originally I used the Canon 16-35mm. I have now moved on to the Canon 200-400mm, which is AMAZING. I love to have the flexibility of a zoom for wildlife - I think a great deal of shots can be missed otherwise. I replaced the 16-35mm with a 14mm Canon and a Canon 24-70mm. I prefer that combination. I also have a few other lenses such as the Canon 85mm 1.8 and Sigma 50mm 1.4, plus a Canon 180mm macro.

  1. What’s always in your camera bag?
I usually carry with me both the MKIII and MKII bodies, a Canon flash, Canon 200-400mm, 14mm, and 24-70mm MKII lenses. Along with ND grad filters, polariser, tripod, spare batteries, and a cable release.

  1. Tell us about the challenges involved in shooting in exotic, foreign locations.
In Brazil, where I live now, I have had a few problems with the humidity. In fact, my Canon 5D MKIII stopped working several times due to this. I now use silica gel bags in my kit as standard. The main problem is actually choosing whether to go with a non-photographer, a photographer, or alone. Each has advantages and disadvantages.

  1. What do you find most rewarding in the creative process, and how do you overcome that which you find challenging?
For me, just being at an amazing location and having the sheer luck to have an animal walk into the frame at the right time in the right spot, that is always the highlight. Then, I suppose, the excitement of getting home to see it on the computer and find out if it was as good as I thought. With nature photography, I try to just go with the flow and not force things. It’s impossible anyway! That way, I never feel challenged, just happy if I get a few good shots at the end of the day.

  1. Tell us about your book, Richmond Park.
My first book, Richmond Park, was a collection of shots throughout the years in a park, near to where I used to live, in London. It is still one of the most stunning and atmospheric places I have ever been to; that, combined with having so many animals there, makes it a very special place. Even though I must have visited the park over a thousand times, each time I visited, it took on a slightly different feel. Another thing I really enjoy, that Brazil doesn’t have, is the seasons. This really makes photography in the same locations a lot more fun.

  1. How essential is Photoshop and other types of software to the contemporary professional photographer?
For me, I used Photoshop a lot more in the old days, when the digital cameras were struggling more to capture what you saw. Now, I am steering away from any real processing, other than slight contrast and saturation tweaks, cropping, and white balance control.

  1. I’m aware of at least one instance where your work was used without your permission. What advice can you give regarding copyright protection?
There isn’t anything you can really do, apart from sending a polite email asking if they can credit you. I do try to place a watermark on my shots in an area where cloning it out would be problematic.

  1. In the digital age, a lifetime of work can be lost in an instant. How do you store, archive, and backup your precious work?
Since I had a hard drive malfunction, a while back, I always copy each hard drive and store the copies in another location. I try to always have the work in two places, even three.

  1. Tell us a little about any good photography you’ve seen recently or good books you’ve read.
I am a massive fan of Steve McCurry. For me, he captures the essence of a person or scene.

  1. What advice can you give to aspiring photographers?
Just be true to what you love - combine the love of taking photos with a  passion; whether it is travel, a sport, people or animals. In that way, the passion will show in the work.

  1. Where can we find you and your work?
Online at, The vast majority of my photos are available for commercial use through my agent Nat Geo Creative. Alternatively, please use the contact form on my website to contact me directly.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Interview with Mike Thompson

Best known for his portraits of entertainers and celebrities, Mike Thompson has built a name for himself in the world of art.  His paintings have been featured on television, and in print and web campaigns. Mike began his career working as both Designer and Art Director in the fashion industry.  After creating top selling designs for companies such as Timberland, Ecko and Nike, the artist left the corporate world to become a full-time illustrator.

Over the past decade, his artwork has been featured in magazines, video game covers, movie posters and toy packaging.  Some of his clients include: Marvel, Hasbro, Warner Bros, Dimension Films, and Cartoon Network.

One of Corel’s featured 'Painter Masters,' Mike has hosted several webinars for the company. His art and techniques have appeared in many international publications, as well as the books: Digital Collage and Painting, by Susan Ruddick Bloom, and Secrets of Corel Painter Experts, by Darryl Wise and Linda Hellfritsch.

  1. Tell us about your work.
I am a professional illustrator. Over the past 15 years I’ve worked on pieces for the music, fashion, video game, television and movie industries.

  1. What aspects of your childhood inspired your artistic creativity?
I grew up reading comics and watching cartoons, which proved to be a constant source of inspiration. I was always a big fan of music, especially hip-hop, so I started my career painting rappers for magazines. I am also a very big sci-fi and videogame nerd, so later I transitioned into package design for action figures, and console games.

  1. Tell us about your artistic training, learning process, and particularly how your work evolved as a result of it.
Drawing and painting has pretty much been a constant for me since I was a child. I can’t really remember not doing it. So, naturally, I majored in graphic design in college. I am a fan of great art, so I look at other artists’ work to improve my own. I still use books, and tutorial videos, to learn new techniques. I am a big believer that you are never done learning. That and a desire to always improve is what motivate me.

  1. Tell us about your various creative roles and any important lessons you learned.
Over the years I have been a staff artist, art director, creative director and consultant. I’ve enjoyed and learned a lot from each position. Most importantly, the more people you need to direct, the less time you have to create. I like to create.

  1. What advice would you give to someone considering making a transition from traditional drawing and painting to digital?
Too many artists jump right into digital work with no foundation in traditional techniques. I think it is important to start with the basics before moving to digital work. Where should they start - what equipment and software do they need? Very simple; paper and pencil. Master that and your paintings will look infinitely better. As far as equipment for digital work, any PC with decent specs and enough memory will work. I would definitely suggest buying a drawing tablet, trying to paint with a mouse is not really an option.

  1. Corel Painter is an integral tool in your most recent work. What is Corel Painter and how does it help you to create your stunning images?
Painter is a natural media painting application. It mimics traditional drawing and painting very convincingly. One thing I am not a fan of in digital painting is the traditional “digitally painted” look. I think leaving in brush strokes makes your work less sterile and far more interesting. I also use Photoshop, usually for its transformation tools and color correction.

  1. Traditional artistic training or computer aptitude? What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in commercial illustration?
I believe you have to have some form of traditional training in order to succeed - even if you are learning from videos, books or online, that training is very important. Computer aptitude helps, but I know digital artists who know very little and are successful.

  1. Your image of the Joker, as portrayed by Heath Ledger, is truly iconic. Tell us about it.
Thank you. I painted that piece for Warner Bros. around the time that the Dark Knight was released. It was used for promotion of the movie and is still one of my favourite pieces. That is one of those pieces of art I mentioned earlier where leaving in all the strokes added to the impact of the painting. Unfortunately, it is also one of my most bootlegged paintings, but I guess that just means people like it.

  1. What do you find most rewarding in the creative process, and how do you overcome that which you find challenging?
The most rewarding part of the process to me is, stepping away from a finished painting and knowing I have accomplished what I set out to do. I’d like to say it happens more often than it does, but when you nail it on the first pass, I have to admit, it feels good. The challenging thing is going back to something that could be done better and reworking it. Over the years, it’s become less of a chore, or even an option. It doesn’t matter how much good work I’ve put out, the paintings people don’t forget are the ones that aren’t.

  1. Tell us about your contributions to the Verizon Interactive Fan Wall at the Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey.
That was a really fun project. The concept was pitched to me as kind of Tom Cruise in Minority Report. The ad agency had me paint full sized versions of the Verizon actors for a 10’ x 30’ wall. They then mounted three HD touch screen monitors vertically on rails in front of my painting. As you slide the monitor over my painting, it appears on the monitor then transitions from a black and white static image into a live action feed talking about the service. Very cool! As a tech nut, I was all over this project.

  1. You have worked on animated television series such as Green Lantern and Beware the Batman. You have also created posters and iconic images for the film industry. What aspirations, or reservations, do you have regarding the continuing application of your work to film and television?
My aspirations are to continue doing it as long as possible, hah. I am a tremendous comic fan, so working with DC and now Marvel has always been a dream of mine. I don’t really have any reservations, what is not to like about superheroes and movies? Working on the Guardians before the movie came out was fantastic, so I couldn’t be happier.

  1. Tell us about your work exhibited at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.
I painted an illustration I called the 4 Elements. The concept was four legendary figures of hip-hop: a graffiti artist (Lady Pink), a break dancer (Crazy Legs), a turntablist (Grandmaster Flash) and a rapper (Jay Z). I chose to unify them with the colour orange. Since my origins were with hip-hop, this piece meant a lot to me.

  1. What other interests do you have?
I’ve always been a big gamer, so in what little free time I have I’ll jump on one of my consoles or watch a movie.

  1. Tell us a little about any good art you’ve seen recently or good books you’ve read.
I see fantastic art every day. Pinterest has proven to be both the best and worst thing ever. I spend way too much time there… “Do you like this awesome painting? Well here are a thousand more you might like!” I have to set limits or I will blow my entire day. The last book I read isn’t new, but it was awesome, Ready Player One. And, I just heard Spielberg will be directing the movie!

  1. Where can we find you and your work?
Everywhere; but my site is a good start: I have links to everything else from there.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Interview with Ian Miller

Ian Miller is a British artist, illustrator and writer best known for his macabre sensibility, and surreal, quirkily-etched Gothic style. He is a graduate of St Martin’s School of Art Painting Faculty, and is noted for his detailed book, magazine, and graphic novel illustrations, including covers for books by H.P. Lovecraft, contributions to David Day's Tolkien-inspired compendiums, work for various Games Workshop-published fantasy gaming periodicals, role-playing and war gaming books and supplements, including popular Warhammer titles. His experience also extends to feature films such as Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards and Coolworld, and pre-production and production work on numerous short films and highly successful movies including ‘Shrek’.

  1. What aspects of your childhood inspired your artistic creativity?
My mother worked for one of the leading theatrical costumiers in London during the early part of the fifties; so I was, from the outset, caught up in the most intimate workings of the Illusion Machine. My toy chests overflowed with the cast offs and oddments from a score of film and theatre productions. I was receptive to everything that was weird and wonderful. Fact and fiction were not in contention. Strange worlds could still be reached through the backs of cupboards, if you knew where to look. Bubble gum was made from Everglades swamp water - that was a fact. I remember, whilst travelling to Manchester on a steam train, seeing a herd of headless cows from the carriage window. When I mentioned it to the other occupants of the carriage, they just smiled, and said such things where commonplace in the North of England.

  1. Your work is meticulous, highly detailed, dark and often humorous. What creative works inspired you or first drew you to your preferred forms of artistic expression?
Most everything, if truth be known. We are bombarded by detail wherever we look. I have always had an enquiring mind, and for me, making marks seemed like an appropriate response (making sense of, if you will). I used whatever tools were to hand; and by elimination, found the ones that best suited my needs. I do not think I set out with any preconceptions about how I wanted to express myself as an artist, nor how I should achieve that. I studied painting at Art School, but seldom went near a canvas. I think I got lost in seven years of Art History and Theory and always found myself painting like, after, or in the manner of, some other person or school. Etching and dip pens felt more like me, a more direct conduit to expression if you will. That said, however, I have a wide remit and my studio is cluttered with a plethora of large images and constructions. I started off at St Martin’s in the Sculpture Department and switched to painting in the second year. I think of this as a slow meander to God knows where? But I’m still drawing; so, “Huzzah!” for that.

  1. Tell us about your learning process, and particularly how your work evolved as a result of it.
First, magic colouring books - you added water and the colours magically appeared. My father bought them in London somewhere. After this, twelve coloured pencils with a different colour each end. It was my sixth birthday. The vivid quality of the colours was startling; and even now, all these years on, I can still remember the excitement they aroused in me. Their arrival prompted my ‘Ancient Egyptian Phase‘. Frontality, hieroglyphic pillars, pyramids, and Ancient Egyptians was all that mattered. It must have been the desert yellow that started it. But whatever the reason, sand, asps, striped towels, palm trees and pyramids, filled the pages of my drawing books until every one of those twelve pencils was all used up. That was a very sad day for me. Then school, and those bloody awful powder paints, and small yard brooms they passed off as paint brushes. I remember I used to paint papier-mâché buns with the paint then eat them. I seem to remember I liked brown paper bags as well.

I took up etching in my first year at Art School and flirted on and off with the process for the next seven years of study. Needless to say, I was wholly intrigued by the process, but eternally frustrated by the difficulties of securing time on an etching press. The printing facilities at St Martin’s School of Art in the late sixties were not brilliant, and always heavily oversubscribed. This was a real shame because the staff and technicians were really very good. In any event, I came across one of my friends drawing with a Rotring Rapidograph and after trying one out myself, knew I’d stumbled on the solution to my problem.

The drawing point of the technical pen, although different in so many ways from that of an etching needle, provided a precise substitute. Although every image was now an edition of one, it did allow me to create the type of line work I wanted; and most importantly, when I wanted. This was a sheer joy. Admittedly, the mono line quality of these pens imposed limitations; but they were clean and efficient tools, and I found I quickly compensated for any shortfalls. In fact, building up surfaces / veneers, was so much easier and so much faster that my image production quadrupled. Laying down one pattern of lines on top of another, for so many years, in all manner of configurations and permutations, was perhaps the perfect preparation for understanding and manipulating the levels feature in Photoshop. Some might say, “What about working a knitting machine?” and I would have to say, “Yes, but I prefer the former.”

  1. Of the work you’ve created, do you have a favourite? If so, why this particular work?
I do not have a fixed favourite. Mood dictates ‘favourite’ and, for the most part, all I see are the shortfalls in my imagery. That said, I always view this as a healthy state of mind, because it motivates me to try harder. My favourite painting is Mr and Mrs Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough in the National Gallery. I love this image in any mood.

‘Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.’ ~ Walt Whitman

  1. Tell us about The Broken Diary.
The Broken Diary is a natural extension of my working practise, a necessary development. I have always loved storytelling, and picked the right tool and vehicle for the job. Transposing my thoughts and images into words is always an exciting process. I was inspired many years ago by Alfred Kubin’s book, The Other Side. The Broken Diary is a real life diary, juxtaposed against a twisting tale of delusion, dream and nightmare. Perhaps they are one and the same thing?

It was a very generic process. There were no real constraints. All things were possible. I’m now reworking a theatre project, which nearly made it to the London stage some years back, called The Shingle Dance for an animation project/film in the Netherlands. I also adapted it for opera, but the lighthouse collapsed in the Shetlands. Third time lucky, maybe?

  1. You are a writer and artist who successfully applied imaginative skills to several creative outlets, including graphic novels and feature films. Tell us about any challenges you have faced with the adaptation of your work.
The creative imperative, in my view, is to push constantly at the boundaries of one’s practise, beyond the comfort zones, if you will. I try hard to do this. I do not always succeed, but I do try. I find the process of image making hard, and always have done. Sometimes I’m astonished I found a way through, despite a lifetime of application.

A tale about Hollywood?

It was whilst my wife and I were wandering penniless around San Francisco in 1974 /5, that Ralph (Bakshi) tracked me down via London and New York, and offered me a job working on his film, Wizards in Los Angeles. At that time, the working title for the film, as I recall, was War Wizards. This hunt was prompted by Ralph having seen a Gormenghast Castle image I had created for Pan Books some months earlier. After our frugal time in the old Gaylord Hotel near Union Square, where the lift threatened to die every day, and the event of the week was the free doughnuts and coffee on Sunday mornings, West Hollywood was a startling contrast. Although the scenery was not so good, the material gains were quite dramatic - in short, a fairytale transformation.

Seeing my work enhanced and animated was astonishing, as was interacting with so many talented people in the Bakshi studios. Ralph allowed me immense freedom of expression; and I worked all the better for it, I think. Such licence is rarely given or found. My association with Ralph was a dynamic, and never to be forgotten experience. Sometimes, I liken it to trench warfare for the artists. You lived ever second of it - whizz, bangs, screams, and all. It was sometimes exhausting; but it was never ever boring, or middle of the road.

  1. Where do Orange Monkeys come from, and why are they so dangerous?
They pop into your head when you’re dreaming. Some people dangle them in cocktails by their tails and giggle a lot. I suspect that that pisses them off, big time. I swore I’d never say a thing, if they left me in peace. Even the spiders are frightened of them. Just pray they never visit you in your dreams.

  1. What do you find most rewarding in the creative process, and how do you overcome that which you find challenging?
By taking a very deep breath, three in fact; and saying mantra style, “I can do this,” as many times as it takes to get me moving. I remind myself I have served my time and that I have the skills and discipline to follow through. The magic comes through application. The experience is always different, tantalizing even. There is always so much to learn, so much to hone and perfect, then there is magic.

  1. You have worked on popular films such as Shrek. What aspirations, or reservations, do you have regarding the continuing application of your work to film and television?
My last stint working on a film was in Vancouver. It was a wee bit ‘humourless and sweat shop’. I went to work on development imagery, and everything was being pushed to finish from the very start. I did not feel it was an environment I could function well in. I left early. I have no problem with applying my work to film or any other medium. As I mentioned earlier, I’m adapting a script and imagery for an animation project. Wonderful stuff, if we get the funding. I’ll be working with some superb and talented people. It doesn’t get any better than that. I love the vital interaction these situations throw up, and I am always open to suggestions and offers. If somebody thinks I can contribute something useful, then why not give it a go?

  1. Who, do you imagine, would be your ideal client?
Somebody who trusts me to do what I do well, pays an equitable fee, has a sense of humour, and sees beyond the pound or dollar signs associated with the project. Whether you attach a small or big ‘A’ to the word art that is what I try to do. I care a great deal about the process of image making.

  1. Tell us a little about any good art you’ve seen recently, and good books you’ve read.
The Matisse Cut-Outs exhibition at Tate Modern is a superb exhibition in my opinion. I hope to see it several more times before it finishes. I loved the Mira Schendel show, also at Tate modern, and the Lowry at Tate Britain, a month or so back.

Books: The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk, Berlin Letters by Robert Walser, and A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit. I’m about to start reading What is Madness? by Darian Leader, and War and Cinema by Paul Virilio, if the madness doesn’t take me first.

  1. What other interests do you have?
Walking, sailing, staring at the sky, and talking to rabbits and dogs. Also, planning my next move in the search for my long-lost green sock, with the orange windmills on it - last seen by the ornamental lake, in Victoria Park, Rangoon.

  1. Where can we find you and your work?
In dark cupboards; and if you look me up on: Wikipedia. In places I’ve forgotten I’ve even been. I’ve been scratching away for a very long time. Some of it would perhaps be best buried and forgotten.

Editor's note: I found Ian on his official website: and you can too.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Interview with Christopher Guinness

Christopher Guinness is an animator and director from Trinidad and Tobago. Graduating from Sheridan College in Ontario, Canada, he is a multi-award winner in the advertising and animation circuit and a former President of the Caribbean chapter of the American Advertising. Having worked as an Art Director at McCann Erickson Port of Spain and Lonsdale Saatchi & Saatchi, Christopher now operates a design, film and animation agency, Bepperton.

His work has won over 70 awards including two Animae Caribe Awards, the Advertising Agencies Association of Trinidad and Tobago Campaign of the Year Award, Caribbean Advertising Federation Best of Show TV, Print and Overall Award, Ads of the World Best from Emerging Market, Adobe Cut and Paste People’s Choice Award and three American Advertising Federation US National ADDY® Awards.

Recently his short film, Pothound was selected as a finalist at the 2012 Vimeo Awards.

  1. Tell us about your studies in Trinidad and Canada that led to your career choices.
My interests in visual mediums have always seemed to direct my educational choices. Art class was one of the few I showed up for in secondary school. Otherwise, I was notorious for being absent and always in some arcade throwing Hadoukens. So I pursued studies that complimented that artistic expression in college, which was truly a joy. An expensive joy but the experience was wonderful - the people, the mentors, the creative energy. Advertising and filmmaking both rely on similar principles, getting the story across in an engaging manner.

  1. Tell us about your work as an animator, art director and filmmaker.
The majority of my work has been corporate. The art director/ad-man projects pay the bills. The filmmaking stuff is a recent development, a throwback to earlier days. I’m only now getting to the fun stuff, doing work that speaks from my conscience.

  1. How was Bepperton Entertainment Productions realised?
My wife and I decided to form a company! LOL. No epic story behind it.

Captain T&T

  1. Growing up in San Fernando, I immediately identified with the connection to the ocean in your films. What other aspects of your childhood in Trinidad inspired your artistic creativity?
The natural curiosity I hope never dies at the hands of complacency; that insatiable yearning to know why, when, where, how. And well, like most kids, media - the endless stream of cartoons, comic books and novels. Also, my family - the contrast of their personalities; my grand father was a strong silent gentleman, my father a cussing loud mouth with a chip on his shoulder, my mother a hypochondriac. Real characters. Lastly, experiencing the diversity of a Trinbago culture. I’ve been jarayed, baptised, attended a Muslim school, and lived on a Carnival route since a baby. The sum of my experiences shows in my work.

  1. Tell us about your learning process, and particularly how your work evolved as a result of it. 
I learn from doing. Usually, I pick a project first and research how to get the technical stuff done along the way. I get stuck all the time in the process, sometimes in the heat of the moment, but improvising usually saves the day. College was kind of the same thing - more discovery than instruction.

  1. What are the underlying themes and messages in your films, and why are they important to you?
Oh man, so many - from overcoming adversity, redemption, good conquering evil, taking responsibility, but most importantly, to love. To practice love, that kind of encompasses everything good.


  1. Bubbercin is every bit the star in her titular role as ‘Pothound’. Who owns her, and what were the challenges involved in filming her?
She belongs to Leizelle, my wife. She handled Bubbercin on Pothound. She’s a really smart dog and somehow comprehends what needs to be done. The biggest challenge though was getting the shots before she got bored! Yes, this dog gets bored, so we have two or three chances to get whatever, then she’s like, “I’m bored, what’s next?”

  1. “Never work with animals or children” is the stern advice of the American comedian W.C. Fields. You have valiantly ignored his advice and produced superbly heart-warming and inspirational results. What is your secret?
Ha! Yeah, I’m well aware of that piece of advice. I like kids and animals though, so I was like, “Fuck it, the worse that can happen is failure.” My pig headed ways don’t always work out, but on these occasions they did. Kids are harder to work with than animals though. You have to be patient, and be really good at bribing.

  1. You’ve won many prestigious awards. Tell us about them.
The three National ADDYs were pretty special, still unprecedented in the Caribbean at that tier. Also, the Adobe Cut and Paste Award, and the Finalist selection at Vimeo.
But BS elitist classifications aside… they’re nice call cards for more work. They open doors - little testaments for new clients and investors to put their trust in you. Besides that, just another ornament on the shelf that gets dusty.

  1. What advice would you give to anyone considering a creative career? 
Go for it. Things fall into place. Be sure to experience stuff. Whether it is through travel or just on your computer or at the library with a book. Transport your brain to a place where it can learn and grow. Creativity is the sum of your knowledge and technical skill moulded into something unique.

  1. Who, do you imagine, would be your ideal client?
Someone who actually knows what she wants and pays on time, without reminders, threats or lawsuits!

  1. Who is your biggest fan?
My wife first and foremost, she supports all my little ideas. And Brunty, a dog that took an entire year to get off the street. She was the untrusting type. When I finally got her, I couldn’t leave a room without her following. She was my shadow. Very attached, very loving. She died though.

  1. What aspirations, or reservations, do you have regarding the continuing application of your creativity to film and television?
Just to continue doing work I’m proud of. I’ll strive to do bigger stories and larger formats.

  1. Tell us a little about any good artistic work you’ve seen recently.
Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park. Just wonderful!

  1. What other interests do you have? 
Guy stuff I suppose - football, combat sports, and video games.

  1. Where can we find you and your work?

You can check our website at and I can be reached at, thanks Wayne.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Interview with Dr. Camille Wardrop Alleyne

Dr. Camille Wardrop Alleyne currently serves as the Assistant Program Scientist for the International Space Station (ISS), a science laboratory in space.  She is resident at NASA- Johnson Space Center in Houston Texas.  There she is responsible for managing the communication strategy for ISS Research and Technology that conveys the benefits of ISS scientific research to stakeholders, the public and potential users.  She also leads the integration of all international education programs across the ISS Partners (US, Japan, Russia, Europe and Canada).  Prior to this, Dr. Alleyne has held several positions at NASA, most recently as the Orion Crew Module Systems, Integration and Test Technical Manager at Johnson Space Center, the Systems Engineering and Integration Lead for Constellation Systems Requirements at NASA Headquarters and as a Flight Systems Test Engineer at the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida. She has also held positions as an Aerospace Systems Engineer at the Missile Defense Agency and the Department of Defense, where she led analysis and integration of several ballistic missile defense projects.  

Dr. Alleyne holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Howard University in Washington DC.  She also holds a Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, FL, a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Houston. 

Ms. Alleyne is a licensed Private Pilot whose accomplishments include being a Finalist in the 2004 Astronaut Selection Program.  She is the Founder of the Brightest Stars Foundation, a non-governmental organization dedicated to educating, empowering and inspiring young women around the world to be future leaders through the study of science, math and technology. She has received numerous awards and commendations both from NASA and other national and international organizations.  She has been honored as a Caribbean Woman Icon in Science and Technology by the National Institute for Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology in Trinidad and Tobago.  She was also honored as an Outstanding Woman in Aerospace by the National Society of Black Engineers.

  1. You were born in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. How did your life and upbringing in Trinidad equip you for your successful career in science and assist in the realisation of your achievements?

My early childhood was very instrumental in helping me to become the person I am today.  Besides an innate curiosity about the natural world around me and about space, I had parents who held deep values for education and for allowing me to nurture my gifts and talents.  My mind was very mechanical and analytical and so I gravitated towards building and fixing things around the house, which my mother encouraged.  Additionally, I attended all-girl schools in Trinidad and Tobago, which I believe played a critical role in building my self-confidence that allowed me to navigate the career path I had chosen.

ISS and Earth (Credit: NASA)

  1. During your childhood, was there a film, television show, comic or novel, which acted as a primary catalyst to your passion for science and your desire to venture into space?
My affinity for science truly was one that was innate.  Along with maths, these subjects were just things I naturally excelled in, again because I think my brain was wired to think that way.  My love for space started long before I knew what I was dreaming about, when at the ages of 6 and 7 years old I would sit on the trunk of my dad’s car and stargaze every night – wondering what was “out there”.  Two of my favourite shows growing up were The Jetsons and Star Trek, both of which seemed far-fetched at the time, but I enjoyed tremendously.

  1. You are a role model. Did you have role models of your own?

My mom was my first role model in a very subconscious way.  I say subconscious because I was too young to know what being a role model meant.  She was a very strong and independent woman who along with my dad raised their three daughters to be strong, independent and self-sufficient.  In the last 20 years or so, my other role models were people who gave their lives in love and service of humanity – Dr. Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

US Spacewalk / 1st EVA on ISS (Credit: NASA)

  1. You were a finalist in the 2004 Astronaut Selection Program. Please tell us about this program and your desire to be an astronaut.

My desire to fly in space (the job of an astronaut) started when I was a freshman in college in 1986 when the Space shuttle Challenger accident happened.  At the time, just having moved from my home in the Caribbean, I did not know anything about NASA, the space shuttle or the career of being an astronaut – but I was hooked! I had just commenced my undergraduate studies in aeronautical engineering but the tragic event of the Challenger, opened my eyes, and instantly moved me, to switch my major to a focus on space and aerospace.  Six years later, after completing my college and graduate studies, I was driving into the gates of Kennedy Space Center to start what has been an amazing 18-year career.

The Astronaut Selection program is NASA’s process for recruiting candidates who train to be astronauts.  In the 2003-2004 selection process, I was one of 100 finalists who were selected from a pool of 4000+ applicants and who were invited to interview and undergo medical evaluation.  This was a week-long process that resulted in the selection of 12 of the 100 who undertook 2 years of training to be US astronauts.  Even though I wasn’t selected as one of the 12 candidates, going through the final selection process was one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. 

  1. Tell us about your role within the International Space Station Program.

The International Space Station (ISS) is a multidisciplinary (biology, physical sciences, human research, just to name a few) laboratory in space where we conduct scientific research and technology development in a microgravity environment.  As an Assistant Program Scientist, I am responsible for the development and implementation of the communication strategies that effectively convey the benefits of microgravity scientific research to stakeholders, the public and potential users.  I also lead the integration of all international education programs across the ISS Partners (US, Japan, Russia, Europe and Canada) that have engaged and inspired millions of students globally, in their studies of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
  1. What is an aerospace engineer?

An aerospace engineer is a person who designs, develops, integrates and tests rockets and spacecraft vehicles and their systems.

  1. What advice would you give to someone with a desire to pursue a career in engineering?

Firstly, your career choice should be something that you are passionate about.   Engineering itself is a very challenging but fulfilling career.  Engineers are trained to analyse problems, develop solutions and think critically about the world around us.  It requires determination, perseverance and tenacity to successfully complete a college engineering program, especially for women, because it is traditionally a male-dominated field.

  1. Tell us about your role as a designer.

In the design of rockets or spacecrafts there are many sub-areas or subsystems that need to be designed first and then integrated to make a whole system.  The subsystems of rockets include the structures, propulsion, navigation and controls, aerodynamics (flow of air over a structure), avionics, thermal protection (specific to spacecraft).   Each of these areas is a sub-speciality in itself.  Then there are systems engineers who are responsible for integrating each of these parts into a whole and testing the whole to ensure that it meets the requirements it was designed for. Most of my career was spent involved in the design of spacecraft systems, rocket systems and the integration and testing of both.  In the last few years however, I have moved away from engineering into leading and managing projects and programs.

  1. As a child, I expected jet packs, flying cars, sub-orbital commercial flight and moon bases to be a part of our everyday life by now; but after just 6 missions, manned lunar landings ended in 1972. Since then, we’ve seen Concorde retire in 2003 after 27 years of service; and after 30 years of service we’ve witnessed the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011. Is science fiction unreasonably optimistic with regards to human technological potential?

Sometimes it seems that our human potential lags what we coin as “science fiction” and sometimes we have surpassed science fiction in many ways.   There is nothing wrong with human beings dreaming big and using our imagination; in fact, it is a part of our nature! But there are scientific and physical realities of how our universe works that, regardless of how innovative and imaginative our thoughts are, the universal laws always dictate. Having said that, in 2013, we are on the verge of sub-orbital commercial flights for everyday people; we have smart phones in our pockets that are revolutionary- I never would have imagined 15, 20, or 25 years ago, this small device would allow me to respond to voice commands, access the internet and give me a capability to video conference with friends and family across the globe.  We have athletes with artificial limbs competing in able-bodied Olympics.  There are cars that don’t require gasoline. Finally, something that’s near and dear to my heart, and that is our Space Station in low Earth orbit built and operated by 15 countries working together to explore and further human knowledge.

  1. What does the foreseeable future of aerospace engineering and manned space exploration hold for us?

The development of a transport capability that would take humans to an asteroid by 2025 with the goal of reaching Mars by 2030. Our goal and objective is to advance space exploration capability that would allow humans to travel beyond Low Earth Orbit.

  1. What do you find most rewarding in your career?

Most rewarding about my career is being in the very unique, specialized and highly technical field of human space exploration.  Also, I have had the opportunity to work with some of the most brilliant people on the planet.

  1. What do you find most challenging, and how do you overcome it?

Most challenging is the fact that I am a woman in a very male-dominated environment and career, and one that has very, very few people of color (male or female).  One is not always given the benefit of the doubt because of those physical attributes.  But what I know for sure is that there is no substitute for excellence – it transcends ethnicity, gender, culture etc.  So striving for excellence is the way to overcome those barriers.

  1. Tell us about your involvement with the Caribbean Youth Science Forum.

The Caribbean Youth Forum is an annual educational event that hosts about 300+ Sixth Form students from all over the Caribbean.  The weeklong event hosted by the Trinidad and Tobago National Institute of Higher Education, Science and Technology, provides students with the opportunity to be exposed to various aspects of science and technology through a mix of academic, social and cultural activities.  In 2011, I was invited to participate as the keynote speaker at the event’s opening.  I was also able to organise for the students, with the assistance of the Trinidad and Tobago Amateur Radio League (TTARL) and NIHERST, their participation in one of the International Space Station education programs called Amateur Radio on ISS (ARISS).  This allowed the students to talk to astronauts on board the space station in real time, as it passed over Argentina.  This was an historic event for the region, as no Caribbean students had ever conducted this type of contact with the ISS.  Later that week, I also gave a public lecture on ISS Research and its Benefits to Humanity, to the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.

  1. Rationalism versus mysticism and the intersection between science and religion is often explored in works of fiction. Do you come from a religious family background, do you have strong religious views, or do you believe that there is no place for religion in science?

I do come from a strong religious background and was raised Catholic, but I believe strongly that there is an intersection between religion and science and they are more tightly intertwined that most people are willing to admit.  I am not religious even though I am deeply spiritual (there is a distinction) and am extremely open-minded and consistently in an “inquiry” about our place in the scope and vastness of the universe.

  1. Tell us about the Brightest Stars Foundation.

The Brightest Stars Foundation is a non-governmental organization I founded in 2007 with the mission of education, empowering and inspiring young women to be future leaders through the study of science, technology and engineering.  I travel all over the world, on behalf of my foundation, advocating for the rights of girls to have access to quality education, specifically STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).  I also spend time speaking to and inspiring youth (boys and girls) to believe in themselves and live up to their fullest potential.  A vision of my foundation however, is the establishment of Science Academies for Girls in the developing world, the first one being in Kenya.  These are residential high schools that will educate girls in highly scientific and technological fields, with the goal of educating the next generation of Nobel Laureates in Science. This project has been slow getting off the ground because of the financial commitment needed, but this year it is finally taking off and I am hopeful and determined that by 2016 we would be opening our first school.

  1. Do you read science fiction or fantasy? If so, tell us a little about a good science fiction or fantasy book you’ve read recently.

No I do not read science fiction or fantasy.  I often read biographies of extraordinary people and books with social consciousness like “The End of Poverty” By Dr. Jeffrey Sachs.

Mt. Etna Eruption from ISS (Credit: NASA)

Eye of Hurricane Isabel from ISS (Credit: NASA)

  1. What new developments, in the world of science fact, excite you?

In the world of science, what excites me is something I am exposed to on a daily basis and that is the discoveries we get from conducting scientific experiments in the microgravity environment of space.  What we don’t often realize is that gravity affects every biological, chemical and physical process that occurs on Earth.  So when we take gravity out of the equation and are able to control it via the International Space Station – a science laboratory in low earth orbit – we advance our knowledge significantly on terrestrial systems including human beings. The new discoveries such as vaccine development for Salmonella bacteria, candidate treatments for a certain type of Muscular Dystrophy, development of countermeasures for osteoporosis patients, the possibility of finding real evidence for how our universe started, the ability to take images from 400 km above the Earth that assists us in natural disaster response.  All these and more are new developments courtesy of the International Space Station and ones that excite me daily.

  1. Tell us about your other interests.

Besides space exploration, I have a passion for travelling the world and experiencing people of other cultures and traditions.  I also have a passion for dance (hip-hop and jazz) and flying planes (something I don’t get to do as often as I would like).  But as a mom to an amazing teenage girl who is an extremely gifted athlete and excellent scholar, I spend most of my time investing in her upbringing and ensuring that she has the supportive environment (like I did) that will allow her to realize her capacity for greatness.


               ISS Research and Technology

               The Brightest Stars Foundation