Marc Gabbana has spent much of his life using airbrush (and any other suitable tools) to propagate a gaggle of inventive, amusing, and often alarming creatures. His latest and perhaps most prodigious creation is a Hollywood career-something even more extraordinary for his refusal to abandon his home in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
Gabbana’s paintings, known for sly wit and technical virtuosity, have the look of outstanding sci-fi illustration: relentless detail, a punchy and provocative use of line and perspective, meticulous attention to surface. In fact, Gabbana has seldom accepted commissions from science fiction publishers. A near-obsessive concern over the increasingly dicey distinction between flesh and machine means that these are pictures at a very personal exhibition- gallery of monsters, halfanimal freaks, cyborgs, and things that go I bump in the mind. This work, though produced for his own satisfaction, has paid handsome dividends; it’s been key to his penetration of the first rank of moviemaking.
Except that he was born in France and lived there until age 11, Gabbana’s background is distinctly small-town. A gifted artist since his youth in Windsor, he dumped an architecture scholarship to draw and paint at Detroit’s Center for Creative Studies. Like many Vargas winners, he was favored upon graduation with all the advertising illustration he could handle-but it wasn’t enough. “Soon it was getting really stale,” he says.
“Everything I did was in the service of someone else’s agenda.”
Ad business–art for game manufacturers,automakers, and other big-name consumer and industrial clients-paid well and helped keep him current on the airbrush technique so central to his independent painting. Whatever the project, he has always sprayed for smooth color gradation or for something special like spatter effects.
When he got introduced at George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic in the mid-’90s, the strong story element of his personal work was at least as important as his technical abilities. The whole package helped him win a place as conceptual artist on the live-action science fiction feature Spawn. Once established, he became a hot property for some of the highest profile film projects of recent years. In rapid succession, he signed on for Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace and Episode Two: Attack of the Clones, as well as the upcoming Matrix sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and Matrix 3. While unable to discuss specifics,Gabbana says he is in line for several more maior assignments.
When he got introduced at George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic in the mid-’90s, the strong story element of his personal work was at least as important as his technical abilities.
Gabbana thrives in the high-pressure, high-reward atmosphere of the movie concept artist-he packs up for California, settles in for the duration, and hammers out hundreds of drawings and directions a week. When it’s over, he withdraws to the relative peace of Windsor for some much needed R&R.
There’s one more river to cross in his career. His ultimate ambition is to make his own feature film, and he feels he’s moving closer to realizing that dream. “I’m building more and more contacts, growing my reputation in films,” he says. “The screen is a new canvas for me-a natural transition from illustration board. Someday I’ll have the opportunity to delve far deeper.”
Editor’s Note: This article was published in the May – June 2002 print edition of Airbrush Action magazine.
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