Commission: Trekkie Troubles with Tribbles

Tribbles
Make it soft…

If you cornered me inside a Sci-Fi convention and forced me to pick between Star Wars or Star Trek, I’d choose the first any day of the week and twice on Tatooine. I was just four years old when I watched A New Hope on a Mexican movie theater, and although I probably picked up a fraction of what was going on, its mythic imagery and sounds changed me forever.

That being said, during the 1990’s I also became a huge fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Thanks to the glory of cable TV I could tune in every Thursday and watch the adventures of Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the USS Enterprise (D). Its symphonic music intro still moves me to this day. As for the films, Generations was pretty good and a decent way for William Shatner to say farewell to his alter ego, James T. Kirk; First Contact and Insurrection were also entertaining —Nemesis? um, let’s not go there, shall we…

Which is why when film producer Andrew Mark Sewell asked me to create a parody commission with a TNG theme, I was more than happy to engage (I promise I’ll keep the puns to a minimum). He wanted to be portrayed with Riker’s uniform (sans beard) and also wanted to include his producing partner Helen Quigley. The gag in the illustration would be brought by introducing tribbles, a species of furry and adorable non-sentient aliens, which can quickly become a pest onboard a Federation starship if left unchecked. The idea would be to show Andrew with a type of “tired distress” expression over the Tribble infestation (like in Kirk’s image below) while Helen would be shown petting one in utter delight.

I’ve got a bad feeling about this (oops, wrong franchise!)
Uhura holding a tribble. I also studied a lot of images of women holding bunnies and guinea pigs.

First we needed to find an appropriate setting: I wanted the kind of background which would be immediately recognizable as Star Trek TNG, which would NOT require an insane amount of hours to complete. In the end, we decided that the Enterprise bridge was our best choice.

The image I used for my background reference. For simplicity’s sake and to focus on the main figures, I ‘zoomed in’ on the two chairs.
One of the things I love about the TNG interior designs, is how they perfectly convey Gene Roddenberry’s optimism about humanity’s future as a space-faring civilization. Unlike other sci-fi series like Galactica BSG, in which the starships are fashioned like Navy battle cruisers or even submarines, the USS Enterprise is designed to look SPACIOUS and a comfortable working environment: NO ghastly pipes or cables visible. The tan colors on the walls and carpet floors were also nice detour from the greens and grays from the original series, as if meant to reflect how humans were no longer perceiving outer space as a harsh and inhospitable environment (WOODEN control panels, need I say more?) and the double level used in the bridge is to me the Sci-Fi version of a 70’s living room pit –which were awesome.
Approved sketch sent before starting the final illustration. Like I’ve said before, even though I like to make a ‘clean’ digital painting with a ‘soft’ tone that is obtained by removing most of the ink lines and leaving the rest on ‘Multiply’ at low opacity, I wish I could retain the gritty ‘vitality’ of these rough drawings.

In every new project, there’s ALWAYS something you’ve never done or tried before. In this case, even though I’ve already had experienced portraying furry animals, I felt I needed to experiment with new tools so that I wouldn’t end up spending hours and hours painting one single Tribble (like in the case of the image below). In the end I found that using the “hair” blurring brush found in Sketchbook’s “Designer” brush set allowed me to combine colors in sufficiently convincing manner with relative ease (in retrospect I would have also add an extra layer on Multiply using other soft brushes, just to add some ‘single hair’ highlights here and there).

Painting realistic fur can be a ‘hairy’ experience, indeed! (yeah, that was lame)

Once I finished, I sent the final high-res version of the file to Andrew, who was very pleased with my result. He’s already asked for another commission, but this time we’re gonna use one of my favorite super-hero characters as theme (stay tuned!).

And remember, if you too want to have your own Star Trek portrait, leave a comment or boldly send me an email to absurdbydesign[at]gmail[dot]com (okay, done with the puns… and this post!)

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