The Art Of Fred Gambino
- Dark Shepherd
Titan hardcover £24.99
review by Christopher Geary
This fabulous large-sized art-book begins with a section of illustrated screenplay pages from artist-author Fred Gambino's untold SF story, 'Dark Shepherd'. Highly
impressive visuals offer tremendous genre impact, depicting an industrialised future in space where a first-contact episode, about a militarised salvage crew and
a derelict alien starship, results in an orphaned human created by extraterrestrial means. The baby grows to adulthood as a heroine named Breel, who becomes a sort-of
space combat-scavenger, looting - and apparently collecting - artefacts from dead planets. On one such mission, she meets a sentient humanoid named Mech,
and soon forms a partnership with the big alien robot.
That chapter is followed by supporting material for Dark Shepherd, including concept art, character sketches, and some details of the futuristic technologies. There's
also an introduction to a graphic novel version of Dark Shepherd. In only six pages, Gambino creates an impression strong enough to intrigue, so I really hope that this
comicbook project develops further, even if the plans for a movie do not. If there's ever really going to be a space opera renaissance for today's cinema, this material
has just the right kind of baroque stylisation for a 21st century movie that goes beyond the increasingly tired 'shiny' clichés of
Star Trek remakes and Star Wars sequels.
The monographic text continues exploring other aspects of Gambino's diverse works. His notes on publishing, professional or amateur models, dragons, use of 3D effects
and photographs enhanced by Photoshop techniques, and military SF, all feature an impressive variety of stunning paintings and striking, evocative scenes. It's only one
of Gambino's gifts, to present human figures against eerie or sometimes dangerous backgrounds, whether it's a cataclysmic stellar event or merely an exploding starship.
I say 'merely' but, of course, Gambino's imaginative renderings of such tech disasters have more than sufficient hot or cool light, subtle colouring on textured surfaces,
and fascinating design specifications, so that his witty SF worldview forms a bridge between the charming juvenile fantasies of pulp sci-fi and the broader considerations
of hard-SF imagination.
In the second half of this book, Gambino comments briefly upon his illustrative work for the BattleTech series, and MechWarrior in the war-game franchise. On the
subject of action-figure merchandising samples received for visual reference, Gambino notes, amusingly: "As you can imagine, a photo of a two-inch model requires
a lot of work to make it look like a one-hundred foot mech in a battle-torn environment." But there is a clear sense that Gambino is a genre artist very much is in
his element, anyway. The accompanying images might seem a little theatrical and posed, but - as the filmmaker John A. Davis (creator of animated feature, The Adventures
Of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius) states in his foreword to this volume - Gambino's artistic licence is geared to engagingly cinematic, larger-than-life concerns. Giant
robots fighting in defence and attack modes are always exciting.
Gambino also displays examples of 'speedpaints' - works completed as fast exercises, even before a day's main jobs are tackled; a selection from adverts and commissioned
pieces, 'air whales' from Star Wars; album covers for band Operahouse; inspirational 'art-jams'; sketches for Lego Media's abandoned 'Project X'; and contributions
to the children's animated sci-fi movie Escape From Planet Earth (2013) - including scenes that were not used in the final cut. Short chapters about CGI TV-movie,
Firebreather, Robo Dragons for a novelty activity book, hardware designs for Alienology (from Templar Publishing), and, last but not least, eight
pages of work for un-filmed movie, 'Star Beast' - based upon Heinlein's 1954 novel, take us to the end of this book like a busy tour of amazement and wonder.
Dark Shepherd is a delightful collection of pictures with a wide genre diversity, and it effectively updates Gambino's followers on his rapidly developing career
since a previous book, Ground Zero (Paper Tiger, 2001).