What would a ruined Martian city look like?
This was the challenge that faced me when John Panton (@Meatbingo) asked if I would like to illustrate his latest film project, Valentina's Dream starring Rebecca Front. David Quantick wrote the script, comprising quotes from Russian Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space.
Valentina dreamed of travelling to Mars, with the prospect of never returning. At the time this was a sci-fi dream. Today it is a real possibility and there are those who are considering the consequences of taking a one way ticket to what we now know is a barren planet.
I've been drawing a lot of imaginary cities recently, so while I relished the idea I was also aware that envisaging Martian cities has a huge legacy in sci-fi – not an area that I have any great knowledge of. I suppose my main reaction was not to try to conceive of what kind of creatures a Martian might be and what kind of city they might inhabit – there was a risk that if you go down that root the results could be laughable.
Instead I decided to take an aesthetic approach, albeit one layered with ghostly resonances. I took my inspiration directly from the Shivering Sands sea forts which I'd once seen from the shore at Whitstable in Kent. Unaware of their existence, these strange stilted creatures seemed to suddenly appear as distant smudges, away on the horizon out to sea.
I've always been fascinated by ruined military buildings, and have always found them strangely unsettling, exciting and alluring. Growing up in Essex there are many concrete bunkers dotting the fields. I loved their brutal architecture, their sense of previous inhabitation now abandoned to nature. The rusting remains of the sea forts held a similar appeal and my idea was simply to try to draw them in my own style. They are buildings, but on their spindly legs they also resemble creatures. I liked that ambiguity, and the visual contrasts between sticks and bulk.
For the purposes of the project I wanted to draw in Adobe Illustrator, which seemed to suit Graham Salisbury whose task it was to animate my stills, as the files would be compatible… er… ok, I'm getting into technical detail which is beyond me. I'm sure Graham would be happy to explain, although I understand in the end it was no easy task. Perhaps if we ever do this again there's a much easier way! Nevertheless, it allowed me to build up each image in layers with the idea that the camera could move past each layer into the next.
This set the style for the other scenes – a kind of imaginary Moscow, the interior of a Soviet apartment, a Soyuz rocket and its capsule interior. John envisaged the camera constantly moving forwards, past Valentina to reveal her within the ruined city when the camera would pull back, leaving her behind. A simple but beautiful narrative device to accompany David's sparse but thought provoking script in her own words.
I enjoyed drawing these scenes immensely. It was in the nature of the piece that I would only see them as part of the whole when it came together from its constituent parts. In the last few days John has assembled my drawings, Graham's painstaking animations (and sound effects), Jeremy Marshall's cyrillic subtitles and Martin Carr's haunting, melancholy music, the perfect soundtrack to the journey, which ends with a joyful, life affirming call from Valentina to the heavens: “Hey, sky, take off your hat… I'm coming!”.
In 1963 Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to go into space. Fifty years later, she gave the interview which forms the basis of this film, Valentina's Dream, hope you enjoy it.