In October 2002, I interviewed David Sander, the creator of Man Conquers Space, a mockumentary chronicling the first fifty years of an alternative-history space program that takes as its’ inspiration a series of articles published in Collier’s magazine in the 1950s and featuring the art of Chesley Bonestell, among others.
Cinescape ran a short piece by me drawn from the interview, but I wanted to provide the complete interview as well. You can read the article in issue #68 of Cinescape, which features either a Daredevil or a Frodo cover (they issued it with both versions).
This introduction will be published prior to each section of the interview, which will be presented over a period of five days.
Mike Whybark [MW]: So when can we expect to see the film? Spring 2003 is cited on the website at the moment as a wrap date. Is that a realistic date?
David Sander [DS]: At the current rate of progress (slow – I seem to be perpetually sidetracked with paying work – my abilities are well in demand and I am not in the best of positions to refuse), maybe. As I have expressed to the film’s investors, I am determined to make the best film I can, and if that takes a bit longer, then so be it. They have unanimously supported me on this.
MW: How much additional footage needs to be shot? Edited? How long will the final film be?
DS: I am shooting/generating enough material for the film to be edited down to a maximum duration of 53 minutes. There exists at this time 51 minutes of material, but this lacks the narrative material, so once that has been done I will probably have enough to fill about 3 hours. It will still be trimmed down to a run time of 53 minutes though.
MW: How have the structural and planned changes affected both your production schedule and the completed footage?
DS: The original schedule had the film finished for the 50th anniversary of the premiere Collier’s (March 22, 2002). This didn’t happen for reasons explained before, and it wasn’t until after a number of meetings with production staff when I resolved to alter the format that next year figured as a time to wrap this thing up – though the idea of finishing it by April or May was based on certain assumptions, mainly to do with funding the last portion, distribution possibilities, pre-sale opportunities, and whether or not MCS was going to attempt competitions and festivals (and if so, which ones).
As for structural changes, the revision in content and format means of the material created so far, a good 60% will end up on the cutting room floor. I have been very conservative with what I have shot though – making sure to cover multiple angles, multiple ideas and the like, so this figure may not be as tragic as some might fear. Rest assured, all the good bits will stay, to be joined by new good bits.
MW: The MCS website provides some interesting details about your production process. It looks as though the majority of the f/x sequences are being produced on a straight consumer-grade Macintosh production suite. Is that correct?
DS: Absolutely. Shortly after they were released in this country I bought a Mac G4-500, with 750Mb RAM and a 27Gb internal drive. It went fast, it was easy to use, and it was compatible with everything I had. It solved the problems rapidly, and it’s still great fun to use. I am not a systems expert, programmer, technical wiz or otherwise. I just need things to work, work well, work reliably, and work consistently. This system filled those criteria, so it’s what I have.
MW: What apps are you primarily employing?
DS: The 3D side of things is covered with ElectricImage Universe. Many people I have met have either never heard of it, or deride me for not rushing off to use Maya or Lightwave. I started 3D awaaaay back when, using RenderMan when there was no interface for it (writing RIB code … aargh), but didn’t really get cracking on 3D things until I played with ElectricImage.
It was great fun, bloody fast, and the quality of the results were outstanding. By the time I was introduced to other apps, I knew enough about EI to not only get by, but recognize just how good EI was when compared to other apps in certain areas. It had its limitations, but they were pretty well aligned with my own limitations (though recent upgrades have all but eliminated these), so this happy coincidence has left me chugging along cranking out some pretty decent looking stuff – not only for MCS, but for paying work in general.
The 2-D and compositing side of things are handled by Adobe Photoshop and Adobe After Effects respectively. Again – off the shelf, but more than capable of handling the job. The downside: no real-time working environment. The plus side: it costs a tiny fraction of the real-time equivalents, while earning the same dollars.
MW: OS9 or OSX?
DS: OS9 for the moment, plug-in compatibility holding me back from making the great leap to X.
MW: How does the Mac fit into the physical fabrication processes you’re obviously comfortable with?
DS: I see it as just another tool. Okay, it’s a bloody expensive tool when compared to a hammer, but it’s a tool nonetheless. To me, it integrates seamlessly, though it resides in the office instead of the workshed like the rest of the tools.
MW: Just one machine?
DS: Just the one.
MW: What Mac publications do you read?
DS: None – I don’t have the time. I see them on the news-stands, but most information I need about Macs and how they’re going comes from the local Apple reseller, and the occasional visit to Apple’s website (where I’m also an avid viewer of the film trailers).
MW: How long have you been using Macs?
DS: Since I started university – 1988.
MW: What was your first Mac?
DS: The university library had serried ranks of Mac SEs, each with no HD, two floppy drives (one floppy for OS and apps, one for files), all networked to that greatest of appliances for essay-writing students: a laserprinter. The first Mac I owned (and still have) was a Quadra 950, bought at the end of 1992. It had 1Gb hard drive capacity, 250Mb RAM, and a 33MHz 68040 processor. For that era, it was an impressive rig, and certainly handled many complex graphics jobs (primarily Photoshop, and Aldus PageMaker for my desktop publishing work) admirably. I still use it occasionally, as it’s SCSI, which is what my Umax scanner and Nikon slide scanner are, and it all still rocks along just fine.
MW: Can you remember favorite names of some of your machines?
DS: I haven’t ever ‘named’ my machines. Being tools, they tend to be used to get the job done, end of story. The hard drives are unimaginatively called “Macintosh HD”, and things like that. It hasn’t been until just recently that I’ve even perched odd objects on top of my monitor…
MW: Do you do any gaming on your Macs? If so, what games interest you?
DS: No games. I’m not a games person.
MW: Any experience with other OS’s? Linux? Un*x-family? Wintel?
DS: I occasionally find myself driving Wintel systems, but for the most part I am able to stick with Mac. To me, the Mac GUI has become almost second nature, so finding myself in front of a Wintel system all of a sudden can be a little problematic (“Where’s the @#$% Apple key on the keyboard, dammit?!”).
MW: What was your experience with _____; what brought you to Macs, in comparison?
DS: Before I found Mac, my father had a PC running DOS, and my high school had Apple IIs. It didn’t take me long on either system to discover I am NOT a CLI person. DOS irritated and frustrated the life out of me, and when a friend at uni[versity] led me into the library room where all the Mac SEs were and introduced me to a GUI, I was hooked.
MW: How much drive space to you have, and how’s it broken up?
DS: I still have the original 27Gb internal HD that came with my G4, and it keeps all my apps, resources, system files, textures and the like. When MCS really kicked in, I bought a 60Gb internal HD, and that has pretty much become the MCS hard drive.
MW: What do you use for backup?
MW: SCSI or Firewire?
MW: Have you installed Jaguar (OSX 10.2) yet?
DS: Not yet. While all my apps are fine for X, many of the precious plug-ins are not X-friendly and will not function (or even be acknowledged) under X. Until their manufacturers provide upgrades, or different manufacturers come out with even better plug-ins that are also X-friendly, I’m having to stick with OS9.