Mark Edwards lives in Mississippi and has used Terragen™ to create a magnificent portfolio of space art. Like many of us, he was greatly influenced by the NASA Apollo moon missions. As a 12 year old boy at the time of Apollo 11, with all the news and excitement around this achievement learning to love space and anything to do with it came easy.
The interview below was originally published in issue 7 of 3D Art Direct magazine. To get access to all the premium issues and gain access to over 1200 pages of in-depth interviews with digital artists in the science fiction and fantasy genres, see our Back Issue Access, which gives you superb value over a magazine subscription.
Terragen™ 2 is a powerful solution for rendering and now animating realistic natural environments. Version 2.4 released earlier this year includes a new animation module. With Terragen you can create entire worlds from your imagination, or import real world terrain datasets and use Terragen 2 to create the most realistic visualisations possible. You control the weather, landscape, rivers, lakes and oceans, suns, moons and stars! Alongside the professional version of Terragen 2, is a free or “classic” Terragen application available here for the PC or Mac.
Visit Mark Edwards to support and comment on his latest works by visiting his Renderosity Gallery.
3DAD: You clearly have a love for Space Art. Where did this passion for this type of art come from – was it particular books or media in the past that inspired you to create in this way?
ME: I was 12 years old when the first man set foot on the moon so, with all the news and excitement around this achievement learning to love space and anything to do with it came easy.
3DAD: Was Terragen your first introduction to 3D digital art? Were you impressed with what it could achieve when you first came across it? Tell me a little about your background. Did a previous interest in computer graphics lead into 3D digital art?
ME: I actually started with Bryce but found a free test version of Terragen and was amazed at how real the landscapes looked. Also Terragen can use digital elevation models (DEM) and render real places, like Mars, the moon or actual places on earth.
3DAD: What digital artists inspired you when you first started with 3D digital art?
ME: Don Dixon, Joe Tucciarone, Michael Carrol, Kim Poor, Chesley Bonestell and all the other artists whose art graced the numerous sci-fi books I read as a kid. I have collected some of the artists listed above in numbered prints. My office walls are full of space art!
3DAD: Were there any initial barriers as you started out with the learning curve in digital art? How did you overcome these difficulties?
ME: No difficulties really just experience. Its like playing the piano….you start out with “Mary had a little lamb” and with practice and experience you end up playing Beethoven. Hopefully!
3DAD: What do you believe is Terragen’s greatest strength? Conversely, what is a weakness of Terragen and how would you suggest it be improved?
ME: TG’s strength is its ability to create super realistic images with very little effort. Its weakness is it has too many settings and one slight adjustment usually effects two or three other settings. For improvement perhaps a simplified version without the settings for very advanced users.
3DAD: What were some of the “breakthrough” images that started to get you a lot more attention?
ME: Jungle Falls surprised me. I thought it was an O.K. image but, people seemed to really like it. I used a lot of postwork. The real breakthrough was “Ashkelon – Valley of Shadows”. I used texture maps on a squared terrain and very little postwork. It was different and I think it helped other TG users to branch out and experiment even more.
3DAD: Holst’s “The Planets” series. I think my favourite is Mercury out of this series – with the solar flare affects you achieved. Did Holst’s music directly affect your train of thought as you created these images – did it provide inspiration as you went to work on these?
ME: I would set down and begin work on an image in the series…stop…set back and realize that something was missing. I’d get up and put the Holst CD in the player and get back to work…smiling.
3DAD: “Many Moons”. Nice use of the mojoliths clip file and I like how the moons have been aligned with the angle of the rings and their placements behind and in front of the ring. Do you try to provide some elements of realism, according to science, in your planetary artwork?
ME: Realism is important to me but, space art can bend the rules a bit and I do. Fantasy images are the same way. Both genre’s stretch the limits of reality and possibilities. Maybe that’s why I love space art, I can screw up and write it off to weird science.
3DAD: “Early Morning Frost”. This image really stands out:- stark, well composed, with the angles of the ground terrain mirroring details in the sky or star field. How did you construct this scene and were you pleased with its outcome?
ME: I hate to sound “big headed” but I love all my images. If I didn’t like them, I wouldn’t post them or I’d re-work them until worthy. I do have favourites and am more proud of some over others. Early Morning Frost started with a spiky terrain that I tweaked with a twist and sheer shader. A wide camera angle made them flare out and I just had to place the planet in the centre. The colour blue seems to be made for space art….I just can’t use it all the time or the images would look repetitive.
3DAD: “Deep Freeze”. You mention on your notes with this image that you have a fondness for 50’s sci-fi style artwork. Do you have some good resources (particular artists or books) that you reference for this style of art?
ME: I read a lot of Sci-fi growing up, even into my teens and High School years. The cover art always drew my attention. Most of these artists were from the 50s and 60s and I remember some of those book covers and they inspire me to this day.
3DAD: “Blue Forever”. This includes in the post work an image of the Orion Nebula from Hubble. Do you do this quite often in your post work, adding in real world astronomical images?
ME: In the older version of Terragen you had to add backgrounds in postwork. With TG2 you can add these background images into the main render. It makes it a lot easier. A real image, especially the Hubble images, adds a wow factor as well as realism.
3DAD: “Before”, “After” and “Way After”. Great idea for a series to show the changes of how the planet alters over a significant period of time. Is this one of your favourite series?
ME: I like doing series or theme type images but, so far I don’t have a favourite.
3DAD: “Rare Rain”. You collaborated with WeeLaddie (John Robertson) on this one, whom we interviewed last year. Have you teamed up with other artists to create some of your other portfolio.
ME: I’ve done quite a few collaborations over the years. From the Renderosity community: Choronr, Buzzzzz, Corleonis, we did a 3 image series posted under his name. A few others that I just can’t remember right now. One series idea I’d like to start over is the Zodiac series. My idea was to team up with an artist from each month of the zodiac. That is: the artist had to be born in that month and we would render an image which fit that astrological sign/ with the stars aligned to the symbol in the background. Maybe I’ll try it again later this year……just have to find an artist born in each month and willing to team up and share files…..whew!!!
3DAD: “Tilt”. This sounded like a really challenging image to set up. Is your reference to Terragen 2.“I use to consider myself an intermediate to high end user until I used this program….its like programming….numbers without any box labels describing what you’re doing…its a guessing game”. Is there quite a high learning curve to Terragen 2 for beginners?
ME: There is a slight learning curve. Its just that I was use to using Terragen .9.43. TG2 is completely different. It takes a little time to get it under control and use it the way you want.
3DAD: “Starbase Crash investigation”. Many of your images don’t include as much detail as this one. Do your prefer to keep to other world landscapes, rather than filling up an image with models or creating more sci-fi urban environments?
ME: Sci-fi and architecture is another passion of mine, very close to space art. I just don’t have the modelling experience to make buildings or space ships. I would love to do more sci-fi type images.
3DAD: “Mars – Rebirth”. Displaying the great concept of terraforming Mars. I like how you’ve called out for honest feedback for this image in your post. How important has Renderosity been in helping you develop your skills since you started with digital art?
ME: Artists at Rero are very helpful and most share files or techniques. Feedback on the other hand is wrong. It consists of friends being nice and not wanting to step on any toes. Comments are not always honest but, they are nice. I think people should state both good and bad points of the image or what looks good and what area(s) need more work. Being too harsh on any image is just wrong.
3DAD: “Ashkelon – Valley of shadows” brought you the most amount of comments. There’s a note in your post mentioning that this was created using the expander filter in World Machine. Not being familiar with Terragen, what does the expander filter do and have you experimented with it much more in your images?
ME: The terrain was created with World Machine. It’s a terrain generator and a great program.
The expander filter can make blocks or circles and yes I have used it often. I then import the terrain files into Terragen for rendering.
3DAD: Looks like the expander filter was used in “Pirate’s Cove” as well (featured on your Rendo. Home page). You’ve created a back story for this image as well. Do you do this sometimes with your images? Is there a writer in you?!
ME: I tried writing a sci-fi novel once, never got past the first chapter…LOL.
I have a great idea for a fantasy/science type thriller and may begin working on it with the help of my sister who has a knack for the English language and for putting sentences together in an exceptional way. Its like I have a movie running in my head….I just don’t know how to put it down on paper. It really would be a page turner or as a movie I think it would do well.
3DAD: Finally What three tips would you have for those who are just starting out with 3D digital artwork?
Tip one: Go with what you love. If its portraits, people, landscapes, photography, abstracts, architecture, whatever, then do it. Specialize in a certain genre or style. Very few artist’s are masters of all types of art. You have to love it and have so much passion for it that you want to show others so they can love it as much as you do.
Tip two: Develop a style. This is hard because you don’t want all of your work to look the same. Yet it has to say “YOU”. When someone looks at your work they should know who did it before looking at the signature.
Tip three: Never give up. Their will be naysayer’s, good stuff and bad just keep going. Never stop reaching for something more or better. Just as I’ll never stop reaching for the stars…..