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Design from out of this world

IPFW instructor and professional designer Jim Martin shares his passion for the art of sci-fi

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


Jim Martin is an adjunct professor at IPFW’s school of Visual Communication and Design, with teaching experience going back to 1992. He’s also operated his own design business since 1999 — focusing mainly on industrial design — and has garnered several industry honors for his work.

That said, when he talks about his latest course offering, his enthusiasm makes him sound a bit like a kid who has just discovered this new field of illustration and design, and realized that he has a knack for it.

For IPFW’s continuing studies program this semester, Martin is teaching a course based around the book Mechanika: Creating the Art of Science Fiction with Doug Chiang by (of course) Oscar winning designer and author Doug Chiang. Chiang is a giant in entertainment design (more on that in a minute), and his book offers very clear, detailed step-by-step explanations and illustrations of the different processes Chiang goes through to create his final product.

The semester will culminate in a visit by Chiang himself, who will review students’ work, deliver a presentation of his current work, and participate in a Q & A session.

And it’s easy to imagine Martin in the front row, asking Chiang as many questions as his students. Not surprisingly, Martin’s interest in the “art” of science-fiction started with a certain movie released in the summer of 1977, when Martin was 11 years old. “That first scroll, and I was hooked,” he says.

And like a lot people, Martin found himself wondering where all the creatures and space ships and droids and settings that make up the Star Wars universe “came from” — who makes this stuff up? How do they make this stuff up? As the movie grew in popularity, Martin found himself fascinated with the conceptual drawings and illustrations that were used during the production of the movie.

Martin eventually got a degree from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning with a concentration in Industrial Design. “I went to a presentation where they were showing renderings of cars and all kinds of other stuff, and a lightning bolt just hit me,” he says.

And though he never pursued a job in entertainment design, and the work he does now isn’t directly related to it, the “art” of science fiction still holds an attraction for him. “It’s something that’s always interested me, and something I’ve always felt kind of close to,” he says, adding that the Art of Star Wars books, as well as the many other entertainment design publications available, are a source of inspiration. “For me, to be able to see someone else’s artwork and their ideas, the process they go through… it just gives me a charge.”

And Chiang’s book Mechanika is an especially useful teaching tool, says Martin, since it takes such a close, practical look at the various method Chiang uses in his work. “The thing I thought was most interesting is that the book really broke down his particular approach in a very clear and understandable way,” Martin says. “A beginner might find some aspects of it a little challenging, but intermediate and slightly more advanced designers and illustrators would find it really useful. It shows everything from a thumbnail sketch to the finished piece and probably 7-8 steps in between, illustrated, with a paragraph for each one.”

“You see final product from folks that are at the top of the industry, and it just seems really inaccessible to a lot of people,” Martin continues. “You see the final product and you think ‘I can’t do that. There’s no way.’ But it’s really as simple as the way he lays that out in the book. That would be one of the things I hope the students get out of it.”

Chiang may not be quite a household name, but you definitely know his work. He began his professional career as a Stop Motion animator on Pee Wee's Playhouse and a commercial director for and designer for Rhythm and Hues, Digital Productions, and Robert Abel and Associates. Chiang joined Industrial Light and Magic in 1989 and became Creative Director there in 1993, working as Visual Effects Art Director for films such as Ghost; The Doors; Terminator 2; Death Becomes Her; Forrest Gump; Jumanji; and The Mask, earning an Academy Award and a British Academy Award for Death Becomes Her, and another British Academy Award for Forrest Gump.

And all that was before he got the gig that any design geek with a sci-fi bent dreams about — Design Director for Lucasfilm LTD on The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.

Another thing Martin hopes students get from Chiang’s book is how he has used different processes for different projects. Martin says many design courses usually teach one particular process. “The process they taught me at the University of Cincinnati was very specific. And it’s a good one, very effective. But it doesn’t always suit every personality. So I hope students would take away at least one process that connects with their style.”

Enrollment deadline for Mechanika: Creating the Art of Science Fiction of Doug Chiang is September 27th.

Class meets Fridays, 4:30pm - 7:30pm, on 9/30, 10/7, 10/14, 10/21, 10/28, 11/4, 11/11, 11/18, 12/2, and 12/8. Final class with Doug Chiang attending meets on Thursday, 12/8, 6 - 9 pm.

For price, requirements, and more information call the Division of Continuing Studeis at 260-481-6619, Division of Continuing Studies or visit Facebook at tinyurl.com/Course-Mechanika

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.