Spaceflight Insider

Imagining the future: How illustrators shape visions of the future

Illustrators: NASA's Space Launch System super-heavy-lift rocket lifts off from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39B in Florida. Image Credit: James Vaughan / SpaceFlight Insider

SFI has developed a team of more than 50 contributors – several of whom provide professional illustrations for our articles. Image Credit: James Vaughan / SpaceFlight Insider

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Oftentimes, the public becomes inspired about space by seeing fantastic imagery, photos, and illustrations. Men like Robert McCall, Chesley Bonestell, and Alan Bean have lit the fire of imagination in a million minds. It was with this firmly in mind that SFI sat down with our team of graphic and photo illustrators and asked them: What got them interested in sharing their excitement for space exploration with the world?

Illustrators: The International Space Station. Image Credit: Nathan Koga / SpaceFlight Insider

Koga’s work has been used in numerous motion pictures. Image Credit: Nathan Koga / SpaceFlight Insider

Keep in mind that SFI is staffed almost entirely by volunteers. Men and women who understand the concept of loyalty and who see what we are doing and want to help us tell the story of spaceflight.

These folks are all highly-skilled in various methods of illustration, the foremost of these usually being computer modeling or photo illustration. Nathan Koga is one of three illustrators who currently contributes his time to help improve the quality of work that SpaceFlight Insider provides. Koga’s work has helped in the production of a number of blockbuster films.

Koga’s passion for computer-generated imagery, coupled with an interest in the technical aspects of what is required to provide a more accurate portrayal of space, was what compelled him to contribute to our efforts. While Koga might volunteer for SFI, he has to earn a living and his work has allowed him to be involved with some rather impressive projects.

“I work for a company called Proof Inc. that provides Pre-Post Visualization, and sometimes final visual effects,” Koga said. He went on to provide some specifics about his work. “I don’t really do very much in the way of ‘final VFX’ [Visual Effects], which is to say what makes it to the screen directly.” (Star Trek: Beyond, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Fast Furious 8 were movies in which Koga has contributed to.)

Koga’s computer-generated imagery for SpaceFlight Insider is always sleek and professional, adding yet another layer of professionalism to SFI’s efforts (Koga serves, in many ways, as a pitch hitter – producing images for vehicles and programs that have not had many, if any, imagery generated). The work at his ‘day job’ is far more involved and complex.

“Most of what we do at my stage in the process is to take the footage that has finished shooting and to bring in preliminary animation work and attempt to make the shots work. This allows studios to do rapid-iteration work with editing before committing to the final product,” Koga said. He went on to describe a bit about what has motivated him to provide his skills to SFI.

“Space travel is a unique challenge in that it often involves ideas, plans, or concepts that are very unintuitive and difficult to visualize. I enjoy taking those concepts and bringing a sort of reality to them in a way that people can appreciate.” Koga often provides his services whenever good imagery of a certain event, vehicle, or system is not readily available. “The world of space exploration is often dominated by technical terminology, and I hope to try and artistically highlight the truly awe-inspiring aspects of even the most mundane activities.”

Koga is not alone in being inspired by the promise of exploring deep into space; he is joined in this by the other members of our illustration team. One of these is Joel Håland who lives in Gothenburg, Sweden. Håland’s work has helped one of SpaceFlight Insider’s latest efforts, our database on launch vehicles, spacecraft, and space centers – The Hangar.

Illustrators: Joel Haland has worked with SpaceFlight Insider, providing stunning imagery of rockets and spacecraft used in The Hangar portion of our website. Image Credit: Joel Haland / SpaceFlight Insider

Joel Håland has worked with SpaceFlight Insider, providing stunning imagery of rockets and spacecraft used in The Hangar portion of our website. Image Credit: Joel Håland / SpaceFlight Insider

Håland said: “Since I was a kid I have always had a vivid imagination, I liked drawing and photography. In my early teens, I started playing around with photoshop, inspired by the work of impressive digital artists such as Dan Luvisi.

“Later, in the beginning of my professional career, as I learned different CAD tools I started involving 3-D models in my work. My style nowadays revolves around model renderings, matte painting, and photo-manipulation, with the subjects of most of my art being space-related, vehicles, and landscapes.”

SFI’s longest-serving illustrator, James Vaughan, has provided a wealth of images to our articles and social media efforts. His work has a depth evocative of paintings – something that helps to provide a more personal and emotional touch.

Vaughan said: “Someone asked me what has inspired me in my illustrations of aerospace and aviation. I have a lot of fun and I do feel inspired. Each morning I can hardly wait to get started on a new voyage into the heavens. I distinctly recall the fascination I had as a child with the space program’s illustrations I saw in major magazines like LIFE.”

Vaughan noted that one potential reason for his style could be the motivators that got him interested in space illustration in the first place.

Vaughan said: “This was the heyday of the Space Race and a very popular subject for the media of the time. I especially loved the work of the illustrator Robert McCall and, as a kid of 8 or 9, would cut out the pages of the magazines and pin them up to bulletin boards in my room.

“There were many other influences that ultimately contributed to my ‘out-there’ imagination. I got to go to Expo-67, perhaps the last and greatest of the big World’s Fairs. Seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey as a twelve-year-old, when it first came out in theaters, was [a] huge moment. Like a lot of people, I think that Kubrick’s masterpiece really expanded and altered my mind.

“When I first began to shift my efforts from advertising to space subjects I got a ‘fan-letter’ from astronaut Story Musgrave. To have the man who saved the Hubble Telescope saying that I was getting the feel and look of traveling in space just right was a big boost for me! Overall, it is my sense of optimism and excitement that drives my artistic work. It is what I talk about when I say I want to bring back the ‘gee-whiz’ quality to aerospace illustration.”

These artists, along with SFI’s writers and photographers, work to not just tell but to show the importance of space exploration to the world. Their stunning graphics, detailed illustrations help to add color, tone, and essence to the written word and captured moments. With NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Commercial Resupply Services, and its efforts to send astronauts far beyond Earth’s influence set to inaugurate a rebirth of U.S. crewed space flight, SFI’s team will use their diverse skills to write this new chapter in space exploration history – as few can.

A Soyuz spacecraft apporaches the International Space Station. Image Credit Nathan Koga SpaceFlight Insider

Image Credit: Nathan Koga / SpaceFlight Insider



Reader Comments

Christine Signore

Nathan, I am your mom’s cousin Chris. I just wanted to give you a shout out on your wonderful work! We have never met and I had no idea what work you were doing until I read this article! I am very impressed and wanted to let you know!

⚠ Commenting Rules

Post Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *