Man Conquers Space, postscript

Just prior to the news of Columbia‘s loss this week, the black humor of the universe arranged for David at Surfaces Rendered to link my posting of the long email interview we did that became the basis for a short Cinescape piece.

As I was perusing Columbia-related links, I noticed an interesting section within Dan Shippey’s Delta 7 Studios site. Dan is the gent that made his very nice cardmodel of the Columbia available as a kind of memorial.

sturnada2.jpgDelta 7’s models appear to have a relatively high degree of detail along with a clarity of construction that leads me to describe them as elegant. I was examining his wares, thinking, “Boy, I wish I had time to build that,” when I noticed this subsection on his site amid the models of historic and designed-but-never built spacecraft:

Retro Rockets is the home of Dan’s collection of golden-era SF rocket models, including as may be seen here, the very Saturn Shuttle that figures so prominently in David’s Man Conquers Space project.

There’s a passel of other cool ships here as well, including the obligatory free model, “Rosie Retrorocket.”

Space Conquered Me

So there you have it. I dropped David a line that I was running the interview this week, seeking permission from him to use some of his images to illustrate the piece, but I never heard back. So, no eye candy, alas.

UPDATE: I basically totally forgot that I had posted a scan of the article on my Gallery server, with the kind permission of the magazine.

If you took the time to download and watch the trailer for Man Conquers Space, you’re aware that David has somehow excavated a new emotion: the future of the past is sad.

It’s what we make jokes about when we complain about the lack of aircars and silver-jointed business suits. As promised, you see. We were in fact promised these things: moon bases, orbital space stations, the commercial and scientific exploitation of space. It’s what I wanted to do as a child; it’s what I’d do this very second if I could.

My wife can’t comprehend why I think living – and dying – in Major Tom’s tin can is infinitely more attractive than actively participating in the day-to-day hurly burly of imperial America. It’s something I can’t specifically answer; but I think I can make some generalizations.

First, I think that computers are a surrogate for this lost future. My personal passionate adoption of computers is a substitute for what should have been, a reasonable substitute that provides that particular potential infinity. Yet in space, you can die. I don’t believe that carpal tunnel has yet resulted in a fatality.

The real loss of the possibility of general expansion into space is probably better for individuals in the sense of increasing their survival rate. But for people like me, and David Sander, who really only ever wanted to be granted the possibility of dying out there in the long dark, it’s one of the many little deaths along the road to that final, welcoming blanket.

This is a highly personal interpretation, of course: but as much as I enjoy working with computers, they remain a simulacrum. David’s use is in fact just such a simulacrum.

I must stop. I’m listening to a documentary about the loss of habeas corpus at the discretion of our military and political leadership, and the stars are singing to me. There’s distance there, from all this. From all of it.

Man Conquers Space: Business, Part V

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]: On the website, you have some intriguing information concerning the business status of the project, including what’s apparently a to-be-scrapped subscription funding model (which nonetheless showed impressive revenues of about $20,000) and the joining of forces with an exec producer to secure larger-scale funding for the movie.

David Sander [DS]: The current overall investment structure is in transition (with a final form yet to be properly determined), but the relationship between the current group of investors and Man Conquers Space remains, and will remain throughout, regardless of any additional investment structure coming on board. In essence, the original investment structure will be maintained as a separate entity to any new system, safeguarding the original investors to whom I owe so much.

MW: First, tell me a bit about the initial subscription deal and the current status of the original contributors with regard to what they can expect upon completion of the film.

DS: The initial deal was that for USD$100, a “Contributor” would earn one ‘unit’ or share in the profits of MCS. Three years from the completion date of MCS, the profits earned by the film in those three years would be divided up. A certain percentage allocated to investors – the total amount finally allocated divided by the number of units accumulated. A percentage of the profits would go to certain members of the production crew, and a percentage would go to individuals and organizations who were instrumental in bringing MCS to life.

To my mind I was hoping to at least double the money of those who provided funds. Many made the investment of just USD$100, but some individuals made greater offerings, increasing their chances to earn greater returns. For most of them in their communications with me however, their priority was not financial return – it was to simply see MCS made. They want to see the film. Indeed – a few investors deliberately withheld any means of contacting them, as they did not care about returns. They saw their funds as a contribution gratis.

MW: Have you heard a lot of complaints from these early-stage supporters about the alterations to their expectations?

DS: None at all – indeed everyone who contacted me about this issue pretty much expressed continued deep enthusiasm and increasing eagerness to see the project finished (with formalization of the revised structure also a priority).

MW: The revenue you mention on the site, is that total in US dollars or Australian dollars? About how much is that in the other currency?

The total quoted is in US dollars. For the duration of production, the Australian dollar has averaged in value to 50 US cents. In other words, double the US figure for Aussie dollars, which is how the funds are spent.

MW: If you could pick anyone in the world to provide substantial financial and business guidance on the project, who would that be? What can you tell me about the current exec producer? What projects has s/he worked on in the past? Is s/he working on any currently in addition to yours?

DS: The role has been ostensibly labelled “Executive Producer”, but Boyd Britton has requested to be considered co-producer rather than EP. Boyd is a young film maker, but already has a number of projects under his belt (primarily documentaries and commercial work), and knows the elaborate workings of the industry very well. He is currently working on a large-scale documentary for the Australian TV networks SBS and ABC, which in its final stages of post production right now.

MW: Can you tell me about your funding goal for this new round? How much money are you looking for to complete the film? When do you need the money by?

DS: Looking at what needs to be shot, and what needs to happen post-production-wise, the current goal is to raise about AUD$250,000. This will permit not only a highly polished (and highly marketable) product, but also enable me to shoot certain scenes I had been unable to shoot before because of lack of adequate budget. In order to have the film ready for the end of the first quarter of 2003, I need the funding to arrive by the end of November at the latest.

MW: What happens if the film can’t complete funding by that date you mention? Does it just delay the film, or does it jeopardize the production?

It simply delays the film. If I can’t get funding at all for whatever reason, it means continued delays, but not enough to kill off the film – it simply reduces the chances of shooting certain scenes, and prevents the production from affording the necessary services in post production to bring it to the level I would like. MCS will still be completed, regardless.

MW: Have you successfully secured additional funding sources? Can you tell me more about them?

DS: Not at this time.

Man Conquers Space: Creative, Part IV

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]: How many people have worked on MCS so far?

David Sander [DS]: Viewing the credits, you’d think half the population of Sydney. In actuality, the core of MCS production has been less than 10 people.

MW: How many do you anticipate being involved at wrap for the new, expanded production?

DS: Quite a few more – the expanded production also requires an expanded crew because of the nature of the new content.

MW: Are you only adding people to the production, or have there been replacements because of the amount of time the production is taking (keeping in mind it’s a garage-band flick)?

DS: Both – some people have stuck with MCS all the way through, some have moved on, but even so a rather significant percentage of the expanded crew will be accommodating new roles.

MW: Did you add a scripter for the new production?

DS: A second writer has joined the team to assist me and provide those fresh eyes I sometimes need.

MW: In the revised film plan, your site notes that the f/x shots and documentary sequences (such as suiting up, etc) will be intercut with “the astronauts” discussing their experiences. Are these astronauts genuine space vets or fictional players in the alternative timeline that MCS is concerned with visualizing?

DS: The latter.

MW: Will you be providing a more conventional theatrical trailer than the liftoff sequence currently provided on your site?

DS: I have yet to decide on that at the moment.

MW: My editors are after me to get rushes from you.

DS: So is half of the newsgroup (my internet stomping ground) πŸ˜‰

MW: Is there any possibility of taking a look at the film as it was shown in Spring, 2001, or at additional footage?

DS: I have material that was cut to be shown at StellarCon 26 in North Carolina earlier this year. They saw a 5-minute preview, with some nice material cut in sequential order, and a specially recorded music track only for audio (i.e. no sound effects).

MW: Do you have any additional creative assets, such as production drawings, storyboards, shooting scripts or notes, etc, that you could share?

DS: Other than the ‘conceptual art’ already published on the website on the “Production Graphics” page, there’s not a lot I’m prepared to release at this time. I will however go through my enormous piles of paper here and see if there isn’t something I can share.

MW: What has the creative process been in developing the scenes and script thus far?

DS: It has been a fairly simple process of my going through the literature, be it the Collier’s, or a number of books I have related to the subject, or alternatively watching a movie or TV documentary, and being inspired. I would say to myself: “Wouldn’t it be great if we could see that?” and then sitting down at the computer and thrashing it out. For the most part it works. There have been a few times when I have worked on something, left it, come back and changed it, changed it again, and then turned the whole thing around to reveal something new and even better. Some of the best shots have happened like that.

MW: Did you start with a full script, or begin hacking at individual scenes?

DS: I began by hacking at individual shots (not even scenes). As an archival-style film, whole scenes seldom appear, individual shots instead strung together to help illustrate the narrative. I wanted to maintain the comparative disjointedness of this in MCS, even going to the trouble to vary film quality and grade to suggest different stocks and types from different times. Watching The Space Movie or For All Mankind (20th anniversary of Apollo XI) you can see this, and I wanted to emulate this in MCS.

MW: Do you use detailed storyboarding to prep f/x and live shoots?

DS: Not really. Since the FX shots are done by me and me alone, I already have the image in my head, or it emerges from my mind as I work and experiment. As for live shoots, I wanted that raw, unplanned edge that happens when you shoot real people in their real environments. Since the real environments were for the most part sets built for the film, I needed to be fairly spontaneous with what I shot, while at the same time ensuring the talent felt they belonged there. Consequently, I went into each shot unplanned (as to camera angles, lighting), so the camera could rove as with the genuine article, but the talent had enough of an opportunity beforehand to familiarize themselves with what was around them (or what equipment to operate) to look like they were the professionals they were imitating.

MW: Do you use multiple camera takes for live shots?

DS: Just the one camera for the most part. A second camera has been used in a couple of shots (including Mars field operations) as time was very limited on location, but essentially MCS has been a one-camera project.

MW: What kind of camera do you use?

DS: Of all things, a Sony DCR-TRV900 Camcorder (mini DV). The footage is so treated and effects-laden you’d be hard pushed telling this was the case. This is not to diminish to results from this remarkable little camera.

MW: Anything you’d care to add? What about the audio and music?

DS: The audio has yet to be done properly, so I don’t have an awful lot to mention about that just yet. The soundtrack is another thing. Blair Joscelyne has done an incredible job of the MCS ‘archival’ soundtrack, and will be returning to compose and arrange the ‘modern’ soundtrack when the film is finished its final editing phase. The story of Blair’s efforts in this is truly remarkable, and I recommend you have a look at this interview about it:

Blair Joscelyne Interview

Man Conquers Space: Release Date and Technical, Part III

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.

Man Conquers Space: Status, Part II

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]: I contacted you originally because I had seen the trailer for MCS on your website. Can you talk a little about how the film started, and what it’s becoming?

David Sanders [DS]: Some time ago, I was given original Collier’s Magazines as payment for a job I did for a friend of mine. I had heard of Collier’s and the space articles, and seen portions of them (or Bonestell’s corresponding artwork) featured in books on space history and the like … but here they were in the flesh, and they were quite stunning. It was pretty much at that point that I asked myself: “Gosh, I wonder what these scenes would have looked like if they had actually happened?” The thing is, Bonestell’s art (along with Klep and Freeman) had a luminous quality about it that was also viewed from points of view unattainable in reality – this gave each painting a certain surreality that was quite lovely, but at the same time fictional.

I wanted to see how these things would have looked as if they had been photographed by a photographer standing on the ground, riding in a vehicle, floating in a spacesuit, or if the camera was an automatic one strapped to the wall of the cockpit or launch support truss – where genuine footage tends to come from. How better to illustrate this than to make this imagery look like it was from documentary footage? Thus, MCS was born.

MW: Was it originally a demo reel? When you had the idea for the mockumentary, how much work had gone into the sequences?

DS: MCS was never a ‘demo’ reel. I have never used it to acquire paying work, and it certainly never started with being a demo reel in mind. From the beginning, it was thought of as a free-standing film, paralleling The Space Movie (1979) but shorter, and having this alternative view of history.

MW: You showed the film, in the half-hour format, to a US audience in Spring 2002. On your website, you note that a number of changes came out of this experience. What sorts of changes? What was the audience reaction?

DS: There were a number of emails that resulted from the screening in the US. Some made specific references – shots were too short, too long, too obscure, too grainy – others made comment on narrative and the like, still others discussed the audio (quality, clarity, content). The version that landed in the US was rushed, the audio track was all wrong, the soundtrack hadn’t been mixed properly, the edit was rushed, shots were missing, there were gaping narrative gaps, and whole sequences that should have been in there were not there.

I sat down and watched the cut again just the other day, and I remain convinced it was nowhere MCS needed to be before being seen publicly. My own problem was I had been staring at it for so long I had become too familiar with it and not critical enough. It took fresh, experienced eyes to see what needed to be done, and those emails, combined with some help closer to home has changed it around to what is currently being worked on.

MW: Can you summarize the film’s current plot and structure for me?

DS: Well, here’s where it’s going to get a little sticky, as I’m not releasing certain information until the film’s release. What I am prepared to tell you though is that the way the narrative is told is very different to the way it was before. I had originally looked to The Space Movie for the narrative structure of MCS, as it was the closest to what I was aiming for (and it remains one of my favourite films, too). The mistake I made with that idea – that I have realized more recently – was that with The Space Movie, it told a story known the world over of real and well publicized events that had happened only a decade earlier.

MCS on the other hand was of events that never happened, purportedly many decades earlier, and there were things that needed to be explained or described in ways different to what I was doing so that the film would connect properly. Now that this issue has been addressed, the narrative is very clear, very straightforward, and this means it should connect on a number of levels with a broad range of viewing types. How exactly this is achieved is something I’m going to keep for the film’s release, which is why portions of the website remain the way they are even though they are now superseded and therefore technically incorrect.

MW: Who created the original art, and for what purpose? How influential was it at the time?

DS: Cornelius Ryan, a senior editor at Collier’s (who also penned many great books in his own right – including some remarkable accounts of events during WWII) managed to attract a group of eminent scientists, technicians and professionals to help put together the series of articles that would run in Collier’s from 1952 to 1954. Chesley Bonestell, already well known for not only his space art but works for Hollywood and even Collier’s itself, was approached to illustrate these articles, with Rolf Klep and Fred Freeman providing many of the illustrations as well.

The most prominent exponent amongst all the authors was Dr. Wernher von Braun, whose astonishing spacecraft designs would feature as the most outstanding elements throughout the whole series. Dr. von Braun was arguably the most vigorous space advocate of the group – even more than the well published Willy Ley. With his infectious enthusiasm, optimistic approach and starry-eyed dreamer visage (certainly a very potent form of escapism in the era of post-war recovery), Dr. von Braun’s space exploration epic became even closer to reality than his ebullient text could manage through the vivid illustrations provided by Bonestell, Klep and Freeman. The effects on the reading public (this happening only a few years before television was widespread and popular enough to become the preferred medium) was sensational – here was presented something that was so fantastic and yet achievable at the same time.

Here was something that was a project on a grand scale, but was not war-oriented (although it could be used militarily if the need arose); could benefit a large number of people; and could pave the way to the next great frontier of space. There is little doubt that the Collier’s series had a deep impact on society, paving the way for understanding, acceptance, and even support of the real Space Age when that kicked in some years later. I also have no doubt many of those who pursued roles in the space program were themselves motivated to do so by the Collier’s series.

MW: Was the Bonestell art used in conjunction with a series of Disney films made sometime after the original magazine series? Are the films in print or available today, if that assumption is correct?

DS: The Disney Man in Space series did not use any art that featured in the Collier’s magazines, and no art by Bonestell, Klep or Freeman features anywhere in them. The Disney studios in fact altered the designs of the spacecraft slightly to avoid any problems that may have arisen otherwise, even though their designer (Dr. von Braun) appeared in one of the films. I have seen them, and they pop up on TV from time to time, and there was mutterings made some time ago that Disney intended to release them on DVD (and presumably VHS), but I haven’t come across any reference to that recently. I certain hope if they haven’t done so already they consider doing so – they are quite excellent.

MW: Has the fact of these movies made getting the rights to the Bonestell designs more difficult? Are you having to deal with Disney? Have they contacted you?

DS: I have secured rights to using artwork by Chesley Bonestell from the owners of Bonestell’s estate, who have been astoundingly helpful with MCS all the way along, and have been my guidance with issues of rights and so forth. I have not had to deal with Disney at all, as MCS is suitably different from the Disney programs. In fact, except for one shot where Bonestell’s space art features (deliberately as a ‘Bonestell gallery’), no material from anyone outside the film’s production actually features in MCS – all shots are created for the film from scratch. There are a number of shots that deliberately mimic Bonestell – composition, content and so forth – but this is deliberate tribute. I am not ‘animating’ Bonestell’s paintings as such – I am creating what those scenes would have looked like if they had been shot for real.

Man Conquers Space: Background, Part I

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]: Can you tell me a little bit about you and your background, David?

David Sander [DS]: I’m a 33 year old Melbourne-born Sydneysider, and have lived in Australia all my life. I consider myself first and foremost to be an artist, and have worked with various techniques and materials over the years, these days using a computer as a fairly elaborate paintbrush.

Flunked exams in high school redirected my original career aspirations from aeronautical and astronautical engineering to the world of film and TV (though I’ve never lost my enthusiasm and interest for the fields of air and space).

MW: What’s the history of your f/x house, Surfaces Rendered?

DS: After graduating from university (Bachelor of Arts, English major, Wollongong University), I worked for a company selling computers for all of three months before saving enough money to kick-start my own business. In February 1993 I opened the doors of Surfaces Rendered, a small one-man business, providing the Sydney CBD with desktop publishing services. With property prices skyrocketing shortly after the awarding of the 2000 Olympics to Sydney, I ended up having to move from the CBD to a suburban location. Declining custom in my new location forced me to investigate alternatives, and with increasingly affordable desktop video effects software available, I invested in some basic equipment that would let me work in that area.

After a chance encounter between a friend of mine and the representative of a TV production company, I found myself providing services in the TV effects field as an independent contractor. Things pretty much snowballed from there. These days I provide effects work for a company in the north-west of Sydney that produces TV commercials, corporate videos and cinema ads.

MW: What other projects has SR got under its’ belt?

DS: There are a number of other projects under consideration, including a rather daunting number of scripts and treatments being developed, but MCS dominates all available time at this moment. MCS is the first Surfaces Rendered-led project … hopefully the first of many.

MW: Any involvement in or awareness of the f/x for (or of the f/x community that contributed to) The Lord of the Rings?

DS: I had an email from a friend suggesting I visit Weta’s website (I hadn’t looked too closely at anything to do with LOTR up to then) while they were still deep in production. The prerequisites Weta described fell outside my area of experience and expertise (basically I use different software than that which they considered necessary), and while I know New Zealand to be a wonderful country, I had no real desire to move there (another prerequisite), so I didn’t bother to investigate any further.

I confess it did annoy me somewhat when later as I was reading the film’s credits in the cinema a number of names and companies outside New Zealand (including here in Sydney) came up as production contributors – there was certainly no indication on the Weta website when I saw it that they considered going outside Weta to get anything done. How things might have gone had I applied is something I’ll probably never know – though being a freelancer not wanting to move to New Zealand would likely have earned me a refusal anyway. I’m certainly not bothered by it – MCS has dominated my time as it is.

MW: What was your impression of the f/x in The Lord of the Rings?

DS: The film is beautiful. There are a couple of FX glitches, a couple of winces, but for the most part it is just beautiful. It rapidly became clear to me this was a project made with both a lot of money, and a *lot* of love, and I was deeply impressed with what was achieved. I anticipate LOTR The Two Towers to be absolutely stunning (the sneak peeks already available certainly suggest this to be the case), and goodness only knows what they have up their sleeves for LOTR III…

MW: Can you tell me how you got into developing space f/x?

DS: Having had a long-standing interest in space, FX work relating to space just seems to be a natural progression of my art. The tools I work with are reasonably complex, but I am definitely no computer programmer, so I rely on off-the-shelf everything to service my needs. This forces me to be very clever with the way I achieve what I want to achieve, as I don’t have the ability to create the necessary tools as the big effects houses do to solve particular problems. I certainly couldn’t produce a film like Shrek or Monsters Inc, but there are elements in those films and films like them that I feel would provide me with no difficulty if I were asked to take such work on.

Man Conquers Space has had its own challenges, and when I have encountered a limitation with either the software or hardware that I use, I have simply worked the problem and devised alternative ways to realize the results. This might mean – for example – going out and shooting live action where I might have otherwise attempted a CGI solution, but in the end the issue is not so much one of how one does the job as how to make it look the best on screen.

MW: Can you tell me about your space suit replicas? Are these for hobby or professional use?

DS: Well, they started out as a hobby. I always thought spacesuits were just too damn cool – especially the A7LB (used in the later Apollo J-missions – Apollos 15, 16 and 17), and I just plain wanted one. In my more fanciful moments I envisaged a book-lined study in my dream home punctuated by alcoves bearing spacesuits instead of the more traditional medieval armour as decoration. To me, they are far more wonderful, inspiring and forward looking than brutish ancient weapons of war … and better made, too. Then “Man Conquers Space” came along, and it didn’t take me long to realize that what I had in hand would make great props in the film, provided certain alterations were made.

Consequently, the Mercury spacesuit became the launch and re-entry suit for astronauts riding the ferry rocket; and my Apollo EMU – stripped of its outer covering ITMG to reveal the blue PGA underneath – became the Mars spacesuit. The Apollo PLSS backpack was stripped down and altered to be the odd spindly thing worn on both the Moon and Mars, and consequently my original spacesuit ‘collection’ is no more. The Mercury is now on display in the US; the Apollo (now Mars) EMU is sitting close by to where I am sitting in desperate need of attention after weeks of abuse on film sets and various exotic and less-than-benign locations; and the Moon suit – made by me expressly for MCS – is currently mounted on a mannequin in the corner of my home office.

MW: Are the replicas, such as the Apollo suit replica, intended to be fully functional?

DS: The original intention for my Apollo EMU was to make it as accurate as possible, to make it as functional as possible – to make it as indistinguishable from the real thing as I possibly could. A friend of mine in the UK even lent me a genuine ITMG for a while, and with it I learnt a huge amount about how such things as the stitching was done, the layering was organized – even how the thing sounded and smelled. The fine folk at Hamilton Sunstrand sent me some astonishing technical drawings of the PLSS backpack, and through various people I have met on the internet, I accumulated a rather sizeable quantity of reference material.

I felt confident that with all this in hand and access to certain materials and tools, I could actually make a working replica of the Apollo A7LB (working as in someone could wear it and not expire). I couldn’t guarantee the thing would function as a genuine spacesuit (to achieve that would require more than I could afford or access in this country), but it would nevertheless be something to use (for educational purposes perhaps – or even for film or TV if the need ever arose), something to cherish, something else that I had made that was space related, and about as tangible a thing as I was ever going to have from the Apollo era.

With MCS, the whole suit project was sidelined, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if once done with MCS I resumed building an Apollo EMU – albeit a new one (I couldn’t bring myself to tear apart the MCS Mars suit now – even in its tattered state it is also very cool).

Man Conquers Space: Intro

Sometime in the early fall of 2002, MetaFilter ran a link, seen on Slashdot too, about the mockumentary-in-progress entitled Man Conquers Space.

Unfortunately, MeFi’s search is unreliable at present, so I can’t link to the original post. But it caught my eye, and I went to the creator’s site to see what could be seen. What I found surprised me.

In a short sample clip I viewed, I was astounded to see the strange, missed-chance vision of the 1950’s idea of what a space race might produce, persuasively brought to life and framed as a documentary.

Poking around a bit, I noticed that the creator of the film, David Sander, had also built his own space suit replicas! I immediately pitched a story to my editors at Cinescape, who on seeing the same clip green lighted it.

So in October I was told I’d need to have the story in by midmonth, so I fired off a batch of questions via email to David. He graciously replied, and I completed my article and submitted it. Months later, the magazine is on the shelves, and I can present the balance of the material here.

To quickly summarize, David is using a series of articles originally published in Collier’s magazine in the 1950s which featured space art from Chesley Bonestell and other visionary space and SF artists of the day in visualization of a projected space program developed with input from the most influential space and rocketry professionals of the day, including the ever-controversial Werner von Braun.

The images from the magazines played a large role in establishing the fifties’ idea of what the future should look like – after all, if rockets in the future would carry enormous planar tailfins, why can’t the family sedan? This gives the visualizations a peculiar impact, both in the context of the original art and David’s meticulous recreation of the future of the past.

I’ll save my personal critical analysis for the conclusion of the interview material. For the next five days, David will hold forth on his project, Man Conquers Space, and the inspiration for it. I hope you find it as interesting as I do.