In the mid-nineties, British artist Fred Gambino was working 24/7, with a backlog consistently ten jobs ahead, producing dozens of advertising illustrations and book covers in acrylics and oils per year for clients on both sides of the Atlantic. So busy was he, he says, that he was “pretty much unaware of changing trends around me, until one day, bleary eyed, I looked up and noted a new player in town, the computer.” He recalls a magazine article with what was – at the time – state of the art, stunning computer generated images of landscapes . . . and they “stopped me in my tracks. This was the way of the future, I was sure.” Fearing he had already been left behind, “in something of a panic” he cashed in a long-term savings plan to fund the acquisition of an Apple mac, printer, scanner and appropriate software. And set himself to work . . . and . . .
Surprise! It turned out, his fears were for naught. Fred learned he was actually ahead of the pack – and what’s more, found he was, instead, something of a digital pioneer . . . which led to his inclusion in a book called Masters of Fantasy Art (HarperCollins, 2001), a book chronicling the increasing use of the new digital media. This book in turn was seen by John A. Davis – at that time a producer looking for concept artists for his new animated film, the Oscar-nominated Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (2001) – and just like that (!) Fred found himself taking the first step on a road leading to his new career as concept artist for film and games.
He sold his airbrushes on eBay (without telling me!) and never looked back. 🙂
All I knew, as the agent selling his originals, is that one day in 1999 (when we began our relationship) I had my pick of 20 years’ worth of original cover paintings to offer, whether itwas hard SF or entertaining fantasy . . . and ten years later . . . he was digging around his cupboards for whatever he could scrape up of work that hadn’t been shown, and sold. Collectors took note of the dwindling supply: by 2009 we had worked through paintings of the 90s, and by 2010 we were plumbing the early 80s for inventory. And now, even fewer are left (I show a few of those here)
It was inevitable, it was proof of Fred’s successful career switch, and the consequences were unavoidable: whatever there was of his painted illustrations, was all there would be.
At first, Fred was able to work “remotely” – which enabled him to stay in his studio in the UK and work on other projects. This worked for the Jimmy Neutron movie, but when Davis’s production company DNA was commissioned by Tom Hanks to make the film The Ant Bully (2006) Fred ended up working in Dallas, TX for a year and a half. There he met Barry Jackson, who became the production designer, and it was with him that Fred later worked on Firebreather in Los Angeles (2010) and Escape from Planet Earth in Vancouver, British Columbia (Rainmaker Entertainment, 2012). By then, Fred had already worked in visual development for two more features, “C Horse” and “The Star Beast ” and as a character designer for Dutch film company AVP in 2006. In 2007 he worked as concept artist for Enne Entertainment Salamanca Spain on “Life in a Pickle ” and concept artist for JPS studios, Austin Texas for Disney Interactive Studios’ Epic Mickey, an action-adventure platforming game for the Wii™ console. Fred worked for Framestore in London both as a matte painter and concept artist, beginning 2008 with work on The tale of Despereaux, and most recently helping to design environments for Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).
Nearly 15 years have now passed since Fred’s last solo art book Ground Zero: The Art of Fred Gambino (Paper Tiger, 2001). In that time he’s evolved from an illustrator working
traditionally in paint, and mainly for book publishers, to an illustrator and concept artist for film and game, working mainly digitally.
He’s gone from the hermit like existence which is the lot of most freelance illustrators to the hustle and bustle of busy film and game studios working all over the world. In fact, working with such extremely talented people, he says, is something which has benefited his work immensely. He even enjoys the tension and occasional clash of egos. Here and there, and between film gigs (and even during) he’s still managed to illustrate some book covers; “since it’s all digital nowadays,” he says, ” I can carry my entire studio around virtually in my lap top and so can work anywhere. (That work) has helped to keep me entertained on long haul flights or sitting in airports waiting for connecting flights. I once sat and worked for 8 hours at the Chicago airport.
Here we are, 2014, and Fred is evolving again, and gearing up for something totally new. Seems he’s discovered “his story”. Like the Hollywood folk he’s come to know, who always seemed ready to share their “story” – some script, book or creative project of their own devising, that kept them up at nights – and that was, Fred says, something he realized he lacked . . . he no longer lacks.
He’s not sure when it happened, but one day a few years ago he was out cycling (where he does his best creative thinking) and this idea more or less “popped into my head”. And just like that, Fred had his very own “story.”.
He wasn’t sure what to do with it next so he sent it to his long time licensing and commissioning agent, Alison Eldred, to see what she thought. Never lacking in enthusiasm or encouragement Alison asked me if it was ok to send it to a literary agent. He came back saying, “I love this, but what is it, a novel, graphic novel, a screen play? We need to turn it into something ”
And so Fred did. He decided to turn it into a script and that’s what he’s been doing, in his spare time, on and off, ever since. The script had been left to languish recently, owing to the film and game projects, until “out of the blue” Titan Books came into the picture, interested in doing a brand new Art of Fred Gambino book, a retrospective of his work over the last 15 years. This was certainly great news (and overdue) but Fred had a suggestion for Titan: why not do something extra and include parts of the script, now called Dark Shepherd, with new illustrations especially created for it? It was a terrific opportunity for his creative invention to see the light of day, albeit in an unexpected form.
The new art book will be debuting at the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention, LonCon3 next month, Aug 14-18. (PS: I will be there, too!) In anticipation of that debut, Fred has allowed me to preview the “Dark Shephard” images you see there. They are terrific. More of his astounding images can be see on his website at www.fredgambino.co.uk/ And if you want to meet Fred personally he will be iat the Convention, as well. And just so collectors of his painted paintings don’t despair – he tells me he’s also gearing up to paint again, finally.. . . “in a new style”. Amazing! Says Fred, “The last 15 years have been a wild ride, here’s to the next 15.” !