Sunday 31 July 2011

Interview with Fred Gambino


Fred Gambino has been drawing for as long as he could remember; and he still has some of his early drawings, often inspired by early British sci-fi shows like Dr. Who and the Gerry Anderson puppet series. It seemed that a career in Illustration, in particular a career in SF or fantasy illustration, was inevitable. After graduating from the Derby College of Art and Technology, now Derby University, he took a part time job delivering groceries, painting in his spare time. Trips to London with his portfolio, eventually led to his first book cover commissions. Fred continued to work as an illustrator for clients on both sides of the Atlantic. His clients include Penguin, Warner books, Little Brown, Thames Television, National Geographic, Scientific American, Leo Burnet, Der Speigel, DNA Productions, Paramount, Agent 16, Whizzkids, Lego, Mattel, AVP and The US Postal Service.

In 2001, Fred was approached by DNA productions to work on the Oscar nominated "Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius" for which he was concept artist and matte painter. From 2002 to 2003, he worked on a TV series with the working title: "Project X", for Tinopolis TV and Lego. He was responsible for early visual development of all aspects of the show, from environments to characters. 2003 to 2006, Fred returned to Dallas to create concept art, production art, and matte painting for DNA's and Tom Hank's Playtone company feature, "The Ant Bully". This was followed by visual development for two more features, "C Horse" and "The Star Beast "; and later in 2006, he worked as a character designer for the Dutch film company AVP. In 2007, Fred worked as concept artist for Enne Entertainment, Salamanca Spain, on "Life in a Pickle " and concept artist for JPS Studios, Austin Texas, for “Epic Mickey”. A post as Art director on " Escape from Planet Earth " Rainmaker Entertainment, Vancouver Canada, followed this. In September 2008, Fred worked at Framestore in London as a matte painter on “The Tale of Despereaux”. And, in 2009, he worked as Art Director and Visual Development artist for Turner Broadcasting LA on “Firebreather”. Fred is currently based back in the UK, working on various publishing and freelance projects. His interests outside of work are watching movies, hiking and cycling. A book of his work, entitled "Ground Zero", was published in 2000 by Paper Tiger.

  1. You are a well-known painter, illustrator and concept artist who specialises in science fiction and fantasy art. For the benefit of those who may not be familiar with your work, tell us about your career and the work you create.

I started out as a book cover illustrator, working in oils originally and then acrylics. I did all sorts of covers, including historical romance, war, science fiction and fantasy. I also did game box covers, when they became an option to do, and also advertising. Originally, I was just represented in the UK; but eventually I got an agent in New York and I started to get work from The States also. Eventually, I saw the writing on the wall and made the move into digitally produced art. I thought I had missed the boat, but it turned out I was slightly ahead of the pack and was considered to be something of a pioneer amongst my peers. This resulted in my featuring in a book called “Masters of Fantasy Art”, which aimed to contrast the work between traditional and the new digital art. It was that book that the director of “Jimmy Neutron” and founder of DNA animation in Dallas, John Davis saw. Something about my work struck a chord with him, and so I got a call to work on “Jimmy” and then “The Ant Bully”, which was my break into film and animation concept work.

Life-Size Dragons

  1. Why did you choose to produce science fiction and fantasy art, and what do you hope to achieve with it?

I didn’t really choose it. When I started, I was just hoping to be a jobbing illustrator, hence the variety of stuff I did; but I’ve always had an interest in SF, so I guess it was a natural progression.

  1. Is there an underlying theme or message in your work?

No, other than hoping to get paid for it. I am always working to a brief or manuscript, so any underling theme would be the author’s.

Empires End

  1. We are both Gerry Anderson fans. How did the sci-fi shows on television, during your childhood, influence you?

Hugely. I always wanted to be Steve Zodiac. I had a crush on Venus! No doubt the younger readers, and I mean anyone under 40, will wonder what I’m on about; or if they do know, will wonder what I was on; but there wasn’t much in the way of science fiction on the TV in those days and I just loved the escapism in those shows. Actually, John Davis is also a Gerry Anderson fan and I think my reference to Garry Anderson in the book was one of the things that attracted him to my work; so you could say I owe the last ten years of concept work to Gerry. I met him briefly when I interviewed to work on the CG version of Captain Scarlet; but before they offered me the job, I got the offer to work in Dallas on “The Ant Bully”.

  1. Of the artwork you’ve created, do you have a favourite? If so, why this particular work?

I’ve been asked this a few times and I have to say no. I don’t have a favourite, I’m always most excited about the thing I’m working on at the moment, and when it’s gone I move on to the next thing. I tend to dismiss my earlier work but sometimes when I’m forced to look at it, I find a few gems in amongst the other stuff; but they are few and far between. Mostly, I tend to just see the flaws and how I would do it better now. You never stop learning, or you shouldn’t anyway.

  1. How is creating science fiction or fantasy art different from creating other genres?
It isn’t really. Although you are creating machines and worlds that don’t exist, the most successful, in my opinion, are the ones grounded in reality; and all the rules concerning, perspective, composition and colour, apply to any representational genre.

  1. What do you find most rewarding in the creative process?

I like coming up with the initial concept and getting the reference material together. In the old oil and acrylic days, the actual process of producing the art was work intensive and tedious although absorbing. I much prefer working digitally, I enjoy 3D modelling and rendering, and it’s great adding those finishing touches that bring the whole thing alive.

  1. What do you find most challenging in the creative process, and how do you overcome it?

There isn’t any one thing. Sometimes the whole process just flows and works without a hitch, sometimes I can get stuck on an idea or design. My favourite solution to that is to get on the bike and cycle 40 or 50 miles; I do my best thinking on the bike. The worst problems are when you have everything in place but it just isn’t working. In these digital days that isn’t quite so bad, as you can try anything to save the day. Replace the sky, no problem, move the figure, make it bigger, again no problem. In the old days it could be a disaster if after a week or more painstaking work you stepped back and thought, this just isn’t right. It was necessary to work things out very well before you started. Working digitally gives you so much more freedom.

  1. Tell us about your book, ‘Ground Zero’.
The book was published by Paper Tiger in 2001. Paper Tiger were having something of resurgence after a period of time in the doldrums. I just happened to be the new “digital” guy just at that time, so I was in the right place with the right work at the right time. It was a lot of fun writing the text and putting it together and to get some great artists and writers to participate, like David Brin, Elizabeth Moon, Robert J. Sawyer, Jim Burns and Chris Moore, who each wrote an introduction to the different chapters. It’s still available from Amazon. Although there are some acrylic pieces in there, most of the work showcased is my early digital stuff.

  1. Evolution is an inherent facet of science fiction art. What new developments are you aware of, with regards to the application of technology, in this genre?

The speed and quality of what can be produced digitally has increased enormously since I started just over ten years ago; but I think that as far as illustration for books is concerned, there is a move now to produce animated art for new media like the iPad and iPhone. With publishing finally becoming a digital medium, big changes are in the air; but at the moment it isn’t clear how things will turn out. On a negative note, the facile nature and ease with which digital art can be produced nowadays has cheapened it in some eyes and that is reflected in the fees you can expect. Concept art, which is all about ideas rather than a polished finished product is where the action really is for illustrators at the moment. Most of my contemporaries, who are still doing well, have moved into film or TV.


  1. You were the concept artist on the 2001 Oscar-nominated computer animated film, ‘Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius’; and you produced concept art, production art and matte paintings for DNA's and Tom Hank's Playtone company feature, ‘The Ant Bully’. What aspirations, or reservations, do you have regarding film and television?

After spending decades working on my own as an illustrator, I have really loved working in a studio environment; and I’ve learned such a lot from all the very talented people I have worked with. My work has improved enormously as a result. I have also spent time working in Dallas, Vancouver and LA, which I have thoroughly enjoyed. My only reservation is that the projects have to end.

  1. What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in art?

Despite all the technical wizardry available today, all the old skills of colour and composition still apply. Learn those skills, learn how to draw and paint, as it will stand you in good stead and put you above the others. It’s no accident that a lot of job ads looking for concept and texture artists, also ask for good traditional drawing skills as well proficient computer skills.

  1. Tell us a little about any good science fiction or fantasy art you’ve seen recently.

There is so much of it on the net these days I hardly know where to start. I am a fan of the Concept Ships web site.


  1. What do you do, when you’re not being artistic?

As mentioned previously, I like to cycle a lot and hike. We also go to the movies three or four times a month. The little cinema we have in town, shows a huge variety of films from Hollywood blockbusters to obscure subtitled foreign films. We watch all sorts of stuff.

  1. Where can we find you and your art?
My web site is, and a list of publications with my work in it can be seen here Otherwise, watch “Jimmy Neutron”, “The Ant Bully” or “Firebreather” from Cartoon Network and “Escape from Planet Earth” from Rainmaker, due to be released next year, I think.

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