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I thought about how to answer this question for a while, anon. I thought about scratch-resistant glasses, and how their coating was first developed by NASA to protect astronaut helmet visors. I thought about ear thermometers, and how NASA’s Jet Propulsion lab helped adapt the same infrared technology they use to gauge the heat of stars to tell you if your child had a fever. I thought about the 200 communication satellites orbiting the Earth, and how NASA was responsible for the first. I thought about smoke detectors, water filters, LED lights, freeze dried food, solar energy, invisaline braces, safety grooves on the curbs of the highway, memory foam, baby food, the dustbuster…
Space travel, facing unique challenges, comes up with unique solutions. It is a shining example of innovation, of creative problem-solving, and how the ripple effects of such endeavors can benefit society as a whole.
But for me, this utilitarian argument isn’t truly satisfying. If space travel did nothing but took us into space, I would still consider it important, vital, worth doing. And it took a while for me to understand why.
I think my answer, the romantic answer, is “wanderlust.” Because 60,000 years ago, a small population of Homo sapiens crossed the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait from Africa into the Arabian Peninsula. Only 10,000 years later, Homo sapiens had reached Southeast Asia and Australia, mostly by island-hopping and hugging coastlines. 15,000 years ago, they braved massive ice shelves to travel across the Asian-Americas land bridge and down into Mesoamerica. Each generation moved a little further into the unknown—the profoundly unknown, untouched by any sort of humanity—and stayed. And the next generation moved a little further than that. Gene maps show that people went back as well as moving forward; that there was sailing and trade much earlier than anyone would ever have thought.
There is something in humanity that looks at a horizon and wants.
And then—well, then we looked up and saw the sky, we looked down and saw the depths of the ocean. Places no human being had ever been, never seen, never really known. But we had no way of going, and so we wrote stories about what was there, because imagination isn’t constrained by physics. (Don’t tell me that Icarus and Captain Nemo aren’t the same person; they typify the same human desire, to reach for something just beyond reach.) I don’t know whether the stories inspired the real-life inventors, or they were simply symptomatic of the same desire—I’m not sure it matters. Because we developed sonar and submarines and scuba diving, and descended to the deepest points of the ocean; we took to the sky on wings of steel.
And then we realized that there was a place beyond sky, that we still hadn’t quite reached the stars. So we built rockets and rovers, and we went. We wandered the surface of the moon, and sent satellites to be out eyes in the very distant corners of space. We could not see beyond our own solar system, and so we built better eyes—to see in every spectra, undreamed-of distances. Through them, we gazed at planets and nebulae and supernovae, we saw the universe without ever leaving our own tiny blue-and-green marble.
We stood in awe of the immensity of the universe, and never questioned that we had a place within it.
I am not trying to argue that space travel is some kind of manifest destiny. Only there are some things we do because we are human. Make art. Fall in love. Hunger for answers. Yearn for horizons. Asking why these things are important can be fruitless, because we do these things for themselves; the reason for art is ultimately art. For me, space exploration is the same, important because it is an expression of our humanity, because we have been wondering wanderers since the origin of our species, and show no signs of stopping.
Because space is there, vast and unknowable, and humanity has always loved a challenge.
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no but like
there’s a seraph who sleeps in the pews of the city’s churches because it’s the only place she feels comfortable stretching out her wings, feathers nearly blocking out the stained glass windows. At night, the prayers embedded in the stonework whisper to her, a litany of please and help and need, as inexorable and unceasing as the rattle of the subway beneath her.
and there’s an angel of the third sphere who plays pickup basketball with a young prophet—a young man who walks through metal detectors each morning to get to a high school where only fifty percent will graduate, but loves calculus and singing in church every Sunday. “Your jump shot’s insane, man,” the saint-to-be laughs, clapping the angel on the back, right between the wings. And the angel, who can see how the light catches on the young man’s halo, laughs too.
and there are ophanim sitting on the girders of half-built skyscrapers, unafraid of falling; passing sandwiches and thermoses of campbell’s soup between them, speaking in tongues about the traffic on I-90 and last night’s Bears game.
and Israfel sneaks away from celestial choir practice to attend concerts in the park, but he usually ends up absently sketching equations modeling the wavelengths into the grass. There’s an adjunct mathematics professor who sometimes attends, and afterwards they discuss hyperharmonic series in the gathering dusk.
angels in the public libraries, reading children’s books and touching the illustrations with just their fingertips, like beholding a sacred text.
angels moving along the cracks in the pavement and between the alleyways; going without fear into the worst neighborhoods, because they have walked in the valley of death and fear no evil—not even the mastery of it that humanity demonstrates through abject poverty, ignorance, social immobility.
angels glaring at potholes and rolling their eyes at delays (the work of the Deceiver, no doubt) and running to catch a subway that goes not even a hairsbreadth of the speed their wings could carry them.
angels looking up at the statues made in their image, grey forms on grey pedestals with granite wings, and snickering to themselves. (The artist missed a few hundred eyes, they think; mouths and limbs and grace and song and fire and flight—)
but then they gaze up at the brutalist skyscrapers with windows reflecting the flame-colored sunset and low-hanging exhaust, spindly radio towers forming a winking blue halo if you crane your neck just so. And the angels think maybe the humans caught a glimpse of the divine after all.
Q: Hi! I want to be an illustrator and do concept art/character design for animated films. Do you have any advice and/or resources? Anything is appreciated!
Here are some blogs/links that you may find helpful!
- Character Designer Interviews
- Character Design Notes
- Tulptorials - an Illustrator who’s worked in vis dev and concept art
- Muddy Colors - an Illustrator collective
- Gurney Journey
- ConceptArt.org - make an account if you haven’t and browse through the forums!
- The Illusion of Life - mainly focused on animation, but they cover concept art a lot. It’s a must-read for anyone in the animation field.
And if you ever do backgrounds or settings you should look at
You may want to look at the character design related questions under my FAQ also.
My advice to you would really be the same to someone who wants to animate or make storyboards or work in visual development etc—draw everything! Learn anatomy and drawing and painting techniques. People working in the animation field really have to do a little bit of everything!
I hope those links help you out and good luck!