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
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
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."