How do you make art that depicts exploring outer space?

Visualizing future human space exploration catalyzes the very thing it depicts. Suggestive imagery inspires future generations to advance humans’ expansion into the cosmos. And we live an era where visualizations are becoming increasingly realistic. With the aid of computer graphics, we can bring the future to life like never before. Filling Space asked Erik Wernquist, a well-known digital film artist who creates beautiful space-related visualizations, about his work.


How did space become a consistent theme in your work?

For all my life, since early childhood, I have been passionately interested in space exploration –planetary exploration in particular. Ever since I started working with computer graphics in the early 2000s I guess I was hoping for commissions in these fields, but space was very rarely a topic in the work I did. So, it wasn’t until I made a piece of my own – a short film called “Wanderers” – that I could dwell in these themes that I was personally fascinated with. Luckily, that film caught enough attention to give me opportunities to further develop this interest professionally.

Which piece are you most proud of?

I am particularly proud of the film I was commissioned to produce for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory about the Cassini/Huygens mission, called “Cassini’s Grand Finale”. I am very happy with how that film turned out, but above anything else it was such an unprecedented honor for me to be able to work not only with the people at JPL, but on an official piece about these legendary spacecraft. I had been following the adventures and findings of this mission for most of my adult life, I knew every scene and location, and it all had personal meaning to me. And to be able to take part in waving goodbye to this historic planetary explorer Cassini is something I still cannot fully understand that I actually did.

Your Wanderers short film is amazing – what were some of the most difficult challenges you faced when making it?

Thank you! That film was actually quite non-challenging to work with, other than accepting the time it took to make it. Since this was not commissioned work, there were no deadlines and I could just keep on working on it until I was happy with it. Usually, getting something to a good level of quality within a limited window of time is the greatest challenge, but I did not have any such limitation on “Wanderers”. I recall each scene was rebuilt “from the ground” at least two times (some I think were made in five or six versions), and a couple of scenes were discarded completely. That kind of process just doesn’t work when I’m working on the clock and a result needs to be achieved by a certain time.

Nothing in “Wanderers” was really technically difficult, I deliberately put it on a level I knew I was comfortable with at the time, so most of the work was artistic exploration of getting the visuals appealing and interesting, making sure they communicated what I wanted them to, and making them work with each other.