Saturday, 3 September 2011

Blish, remastered

Last week I came across the work of Rob Caswell, on his deviantART page, where he is known as Arcass. Rob is an illustrator based in New England, who since the mid-eighties he has worked in many creative fields including printed role playing games, computer games, web design, and comics. That work even includes working on FASA's Star Trek: The Next Generation - Officer's Manual. But what caught my eye was a beautiful series, reimaging the covers of Bantam Books' TOS adaptations by James Blish, with new cover art inspired by the TOS-remastered episodes. Rob has kindly allowed me to share some of those covers with you, and also told me a little about his work:

Could you tell us a bit about the project; how and why you started it?
Well… I sure wish I had some sophomoric tale of how this image series came to be, but honestly it was all an accident… albeit a happy one. My 3D application of choice is DAZ Studio and for a long time I’d been looking for a good Doomsday Machine model that could be used by the program. I finally located one made by Raul Mamoru (via trekmeshes.ch). He seemed to use the “Remastered” version of the device as his design inspiration.

So with a Doomsday Machine model in hand, I started playing with it and creating a number of related images. Perhaps too many images, I began thinking. I sometimes can get obsessed with one subject, looking to make that perfect image, so I keep doing variations on the theme. I started to think my online audience at Deviant Art was starting to get tired of my Doomsday Machine picture parade, so I made the pledge that “this will be my last Doomsday Machine image – at least for a while”.

And then I made one more.

Not wanting to go back on my pledge, I didn’t want to just post this image as a straight up illustration. Looking at the picture I could see the potential for a book cover format and the idea sprang to mind: present the piece as a “Remastered” edition of the classic Blish Trek novelizations. Then it wouldn't be "just another Doomsday Machine image"... it'd be a "book cover'! And with that, the first step on the path was taken.

Once that I publicly showed the work, it proved very popular – and I really enjoyed doing it. But the Doomsday Machine appeared in Blish’s third volume, so I felt like I should at least fill in the blanks back to the first novelization. So I took on covers for numbers 2 and 1. I was still having a lot of fun with it and my online audience was getting petty excited, so I just dove in and took on the rest of the series.

It’s funny how quickly a project like that can materialize when one is energized. I think the whole project took just over a week and by the end I was smiling and barely breaking a sweat. It was very much a labor of decades-long-Trek-love.
What has influenced the designs you came up with?
Good question. I think my ideal for these was shaped by a few factors. My initial idea was simple: to create the kind of covers that I would have gone nuts for as a teenager in the 70’s when I first read these books. I used to study the old covers a lot but with few exceptions the cover painting had nothing to do with the stories in a given volume. So I wanted to make the images relevant. Each one is a subject based on a story within.

I wanted to try to pull on some of the “Remastered” imagery, if only because some of the new material lends more of sense of depth to the Star Trek universe, making it feel “lived in”. But I also wanted to try and show something new and not just recreate an episode’s FX shots. So in a way it’s like stills from a “Remastered FX outtake reel”.

Color was another factor I considered. I kept thinking about how these would all look lined up on a shelf together and tried to vary the colors and compositions to allow the covers to start apart from each other while still carrying a series family resemblance.

And last but not hardly the least, the subjects were driven by the available 3D mesh models, crafted and shared by some hugely talented fans. Chief among these is Aggi’s beautiful TOS Enterprise and many other supporting models by David Metlesits (metlesitsfleetyards.deviantart.com).
Do you have a particular favourite in the series?
Right now I’d say “3,4, and 9”, but if you ask me next week I may change my mind.
Thinking back to the original covers, or the later reprints, are there any in particular of those you like, or that inspired you?
I think all the (US) original covers inspired me, as a collective whole. While my works are a bit more crisp and accurate, I really enjoy the feel on those old covers and their loose, colorful, semi-abstract designs. They are both a product of their time, but also kind of timeless… which is how I feel about most TOS episodes, too.
I noticed you’ve also done a cover for the TOS novel The Abode of Life, might there be any more Trek covers up your sleeve?
They’re really fun for me to do, so I’d be surprised if I didn’t do another one, or two… or three. I have nothing specific planned, at the moment, but if you keep an eye on my Deviant Art page something may pop up when least expected.
Finally, you’ve done lots of other work, Trek and otherwise, some even with your own written narratives. Which of your projects and subjects are you particularly pleased with, and what’s coming next?
In the past I’ve worked at this as a full or part time professional, like back when I did a huge number of illustrations for FASA’s “Star Trek TNG Oficer’s Manual”. But now I’m doing this mostly for fun – just to help relax after a day at the job.

It’s hard for me to pick favorites. Once I’ve completed something, my mind is already running onto the next idea like an ADD puppy in a squirrel preserve. But this Blish homage series is certainly an easy pick for me. It was almost effortless and I still enjoy reviewing the results.

As for what’s next, I have no big plans at the moment… aside from following that puppy and see what he starts chasing next.

You can find much more of Rob's work on his deviantART page, including the rest of the Blish covers, lots of Trek stuff, from TOS, TAS, and the 24th century, and all manner of other art. If you're curious about the original covers that inspired the project, check out my companion article on the 8of5 Archives, which showcases all the original Bantam covers.

Finally, thanks again to Rob for allowing me to share his work.



1 comment:

Dayton Ward said...

Oh, wow, those Blish redos are great! I love stuff like this. I've always loved the art from the 70s versions of those books. I even have a poster of the art for #4 (no text) hanging on the wall in my home office.