As the cover artist for Amazing Stories and many other pulp magazines, he created candy-coloured universes of honeycomb landscapes, bulbous space ships, and bizarre creatures that has never left me.
Enormously productive and endlessly inventive, Paul's work influenced concept design in film, television, and comics for decades after.
|Frank R. Paul's magnificent alien landscapes.
The result I think of as 'Vector Deco': it uses gradients to define form rather than line, which is hardly evident at all, anywhere in the book (not counting word balloons). It's a drastic change in approach from Nil.
The approach fits with Retro-Future design, with its smooth spheres and sweeping curves. Major relief! I scaled everything down into a cute mini-verse, where life's round and cuddly and slightly impractical. Or hugely impractical, the sine qua non of cinematic concept design.
That's right. You heard me. When it comes to movies, the cool factor is inversely proportional to the design's practicality. Form is at odds with function.
|Retro-Future scene from Warlord of Io. You can see the Frank R. Paul influence.
It's about making stuff that looks neat. It doesn't have to actually work. I mean, who wants that, anyway? Much harder to write.
Once I had a look developed for the characters, I plunged into backgrounds and had a blast. But I also needed spaceships, lots of them, for the numerous chase scenes. Nil: A Land Beyond Belief was very flat and graphic, and I took a shot at doing it that way, but discovered I needed depth. I was altering the viewpoint continuously, and the ubiquitous gradients emphasized volume.
Unfortunately, drawing complicated spacecraft from multiple angles and perspectives would be a grueling and time consuming process, and I was already trying to squeeze a great deal of work into what little free time I had available.
I decided to execute the ships in 3D. Once a design was complete, I could rotate and light it however I needed, reducing the work load and improving the integrity of the ships appearance from shot to shot.
|Design of Maximillian Zing's flagship, The Terror. A mash up of Frank R. Paul, Buck Rogers, and a US Navy battleship. Must have been quite a collision.
|The Terror integrated into a panel.
In this case, the child like simplicity of the designs worked for me.
Anything too elaborate wouldn't mesh with the mini-verse.
|The Terror in colour; lense flares to cover my low end 3D models.
|Flagship of the villains: big, bulky, bulbous, and bad ass.
Once I started work on Max Zing (for Maximillian Zing, the boy emperor from Warlord of Io), I needed ships in colour. That meant going back to Swift 3D and colouring the vessels. Max Zing was intended to be a 3 panel strip comic, however, and doesn't require changing camera angles.
|Battlebrick and escorts come zooming out of the sun.
This is one of the unfortunate things when you experiment: you can lose a lot of time going down a dead end and wind up with nothing but experience and bruises.
The colour tests I threw together wound up not being used in Max Zing, although they may be at some future point.
|More lense flares. It is the JJ Abrams era after all.
Test shot of Space Wiking ships. Each has free wifi connection to Wikipedia.
Available for sale from SLG Publishing here. Heck, it's on sale for only five bucks right now! The deal of the 25th century, I tell ya. Fire up your jet pack and get on over there for a dose of Retro-Future adventure!
UPDATE: And now there's also Max Zing, available online from Amazon.