- May 2000


Marc Gabbana - Machineries of Joy
By Karen Haber

Marc Gabbana hears things -- in his paintings -- while he paints them.

You know: ticks, tocks, screeches. The sort of noises that metal would make as it comes to life under some wizard's -- or artist's -- command.

"I've always heard things in the pictures that I paint," the Canadian artist says cheerfully. "The clicks and whirrs, even the music. I know the stories, what happened before and what's going to come next."

And if all goes according to his plans, fairly soon, we'll all be hearing -- and seeing -- his metallic critters capering across the big screen. After all, Gabbana knows where his metallic monsters are going, where they've been, and the bad company they've been keeping, and he's eager to show us.

"I think hardware is wonderful," he says. "There's something about giving life to an inanimate object that's really satisfying. Animation just seems like the next logical step for me."

Foremost among the factors motivating him to make the jump from 2-D to 3-D animated art has been his experience working with George Lucas on "The Phantom Menace." Gabbana was concept designer for the interior of Otto Gunga, the fabulous underwater city featured in the most recent Star Wars movie.

"I fulfilled a boyhood dream by becoming a Star Wars designer," Gabbana says. "I've joined the ranks of the select few artists who help George Lucas to visualize and shape his saga into reality."

"Working in movies is a natural evolution for me as a 2-D artist. Film is a much more collaborative effort where one works very closely with the director. Once designs are approved on paper, sculptors, modelers, and other artists take them and translate them into other media. It may take months or years before the film comes out -- a sharp contrast to the week or two I spend on one illustration!"

"Star Wars" wasn't Gabbana's first foray into film. He made his debut with "Spawn," in which he learned how his designs could be successfully translated into full-scale costumes, weapons, and exotic motorcycle armor. More recently, he was production designer on IMAX's first 3-D computer-generated (CG) movie, "Cyberworld." "I designed the main female character and the whole environment where all the action takes place."

Although the artist specializes in painting what some might call "boy's art" -- violent encounters between detailed, deadly machinery, creepy creatures rendered in lovingly lurid colors, monstrous tusked "dogs" urinating on fire hydrants -- what the viewer notices right away is the humor of it all. Marc Gabbana may hear his machinery clicking and whirring, but the viewer is more likely hear the sound of one artist, laughing.

Gabbana agrees: "Humor is always an important element to me. I enjoy my work and I want it to show. If I'm not enjoying myself, how can the viewer?"

Consider, for example, the illustration in which a hen-pecked robot is drinking an orange "slurpie." Off to the side stands the poor guy's robot wife, looking grouchy and in need of a face repair. Or take a peek at the giant green child depicted in the robot nursery, the monstrous center of attention. Gabbana said this picture was the result of watching his sister and brother-in-law on round-the-clock nursery duty.

"If I had to describe my work I'd call it narrative humor looking out for the underdog."

He came to science fiction art by accident and proximity. A resident of Windsor, Canada, Gabbana started out studying architecture at Lawrence Tech in Southfield, Michigan, but swerved into art, and transferred to nearby Detroit's Centre For Creative Studies to concentrate on illustration. He was already working as a professional commercial artist by the time he left art school.

Several Detroit car manufacturers became his clients, and to Gabbana's surprise, the sleek and highly stylized vehicles he was depicting for pay began to invade his imagination. "On my own time, I began to see obvious science fictional images developing in my personal work."

Gabbana also began to dream of a book filled with fantastic futuristic images, pictures of such magic and complexity that, upon wakening, he felt compelled to attempt to capture them. "The book in my mind just opened and somehow I knew. I had to do this work."

Foremost among the artists who have influenced him is Ralph McQuarrie, famous for his seminal work on the original Star Wars movies. "Back when I was in high school I saw the book on the making of Star Wars and was totally impressed by Ralph's work. Then I finally got to meet him and I'm really happy that we've become friends." Gabbana also admires the work of Syd Mead, a concept artist known for his work on "Tron," and the first "Star Trek" movie, and H.R. Giger, renowned for the look of the movie "Alien."

Gabbana relishes working in many different fields including advertising and publishing. Among his non-motion picture clients are FASA, Hasbro, Image comics, and Dark Horse comics.

"Having clients who trust me and my abilities to produce world-class illustrations for them is very satisfying and also affords me the time to pursue my own visions between projects. I would find it very difficult to achieve my goals in a prescribed 9-to-5 environment."

Currently, the artist is working on the next Star Wars movie, tentatively titled "Episode Two," and in his spare time is getting his website together. Somewhere in between the battling machines and henpecked robots, he's got plans for a book or two. "Soon I will paint all of the pictures in my dream book. And maybe do a book full of pictures called "Impossible Spaces."

However, his primary future goal is best described in terms made famous by fellow creator, Viktor Frankenstein: "Give my creation life!"

"My primary goal is to develop an animated computer-generated movie populated by all my little critters," Gabbana says. "Some of them exist already, and others need to be born."