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Fred Gambino

From paint to pixels, from books to film, Fred Gambino has led a legendary career in sci-fi illustration and concept art.

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Born in 1956, Fred Gambino has been using traditional and digital techniques to illustrate book covers for 30 years. He’s illustrated books for Asimov, Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury and Anne McCaffrey. Now, he’s taking his talents to Hollywood. 
Web: www.fredgambino.co.uk
Back in the mid-70s, a young Fred Gambino left the Kedleston Road School of Art and Technology in Derby with a graphic design course under his belt, but a very different course of action in mind. Though he had no formal training in illustration, he decided to give creating sci-fi imagery a shot. He took a morning job delivering groceries and devoted afternoons to painting in gouache and airbrush.
“It was actually easier for a while than I thought it was going to be,” says Fred. “At that time there was a huge amount of work. The publishing industry was going really crazy; it was at the height of Chris Foss and all those science fiction covers, and they were just [being] churned out in enormous amounts.”
Following advice from one of his lecturers, he showed some work to Pan Books and ended up with his first commission: cover art for Michael Bishop’s Beneath the Shattered Moons. More followed, but if you’re expecting us to say, “and the rest was history”, the decade culminated in recession. “During those winter years I shared a studio with a landscape painter and so, for a while, I did a lot of landscape painting, using oils,” Fred explains.

Reinvented once

The 80s arrived and his lean years came to an end with a commission to paint covers for a series of Frank Herbert titles including The Dosardi Experiment and The Jesus Incident. Around the same time, he moved to acrylic and airbrush. “I kind of reinvented myself in a way,” he says.
For the next 10 years, he worked 10-11 hour days, seven days a week, and built up a fantastic gallery of work, not to mention a fan following. Countless sci-fi authors had Gambino art gracing their covers. To rejuvenate sales, he was called in to re-cover Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series and created a painting that spread across the six covers. Buy the set and you can assemble the full picture – they’re still on sale today.
The 80s drew to a close, and the airbrush spluttered out of paint. “Work started to die down a bit. I actually didn’t notice until I got to the end of some jobs I was working on that nothing was coming in,” he says.

Reinvented twice

Less work meant Fred had time on his hands. Impressed with the program Bryce, he decided it was time for a change, cashed in an endowment policy, and bought a PowerMac 6300, Bryce, Photoshop, a scanner and printer, plus Alias Sketch.
“I found the experience invigorating. Having worked in the same way for about 20 years I felt I was getting a little stale,” he says. “The tools you use will have some effect on what you produce. I found the computer freed me up and enabled more experimentation. Dramatic perspectives that had been difficult or time-consuming in the past were much easier to achieve.”
Work flowed again and Gambino’s star continued to rise. His images made it into Fantasy Art Masters in 1999, leading to another big break. Another artist featured in the book showed it to John Davis, a movie director, who invited Fred to do concept work on the 2001 film Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. This in turn led to a one-year stint doing concept art, matte painting and prop design on the film The Ant Bully, which premiered this summer.
Fred continues to do sci-fi covers. He’s done over 30 for the BattleTech series and has recently worked on Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Moon titles. But with many publishers now looking to image libraries rather than illustrators, film is the way forward. Accepting an invitation from the production designer on The Ant Bully to head out to Portland, Oregon, to start a new project with a studio called Laika, it looks like Fred has reinvented himself a third time.

From issue 11.
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