Zina Saunders and David O. Miller

Written by: Matt Hutaff · October 24, 2006

Zina Saunders

Zina Saunders is the daughter of renowned Mars Attacks! artist and painter Norman Saunders. An established artist in her own right, Zina has contributed her talents to countless projects including trading card sets, magazine illustration and children’s books — as both a writer and illustrator! Recent projects also include a stylized report on the people that inhabit her hometown of New York entitled Overlooked New York as well as a serious retrospective of the plight of Zimbabwe entitled Africa Closeup. Samples of her work can be viewed at her website, zinasaunders.com.

You were surrounded by art growing up. While obviously influenced, did you think you would work in trading cards like your father did?

No, I never did. When I was a little kid, all I wanted to do was draw horses. As I got older, I started to focus more on portraits, and then when I began my professional career, I initially fell in to painting the cover illustrations for video covers.

What other influences leaned upon you?

I loved working in pen and ink. Heinrich Kley was my god. Back then, I used a crow quill pen and india ink, and I never drew a pencil sketch first; my dad used to be impressed by that! When I was in high school I got my first rapidograph, and I sued to sketch people on the subway, on my way to school. And then, when I started to work in oil, I was in awe of John Singer Sargent.

What kind of art training do you have? Are you self taught?

My dad taught me a lot, but, being a kid, I wouldn’t listen. I went to the High school of Music and Art, in New York City, where I grew up. I was accepted into the Cooper Union, and went to college for about a month before dropping out to go live on a commune in Upsate New York.

How does it feel to be following in your father’s footsteps? Do you feel his talents guide you from time to time?

I often feel like my father is leaning over my left shoulder, making suggestions or giving me a little praise. When I got my first call from Topps to do a trading card I got off the phone and cried. And when I did my first Mars Attacks! card, it was such an eerie feeling, seeing myself paint the Martians that I had watched my father paint back when I was a little kid. I felt like we were collaborating!

David O. Miller

David O. Miller has worked with art for close to three decades. After stints at television stations and advertising agencies, Miller worked for 5 years as Art Director for the U.S. Space and Rocket Center/U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, where he “was very fortunate to meet and work with several … heroes including Alan Shepard and Buzz Aldrin.” During this time he honed his skills as a freelance artist, illustrating a number of pieces for magazines and books before donating his talent to the Sliders universe.

What attracted you to art as a career? Were you always an artist?

I was always drawing when I was young and I knew from an early age that I wanted to go into art as a career. It really never entered my mind that I was going to do anything else. I was an extremely shy, skinny kid growing up in Eastern Kentucky and I found out early on that art was a way I could get people to like and respect me. They always thought my drawings were cool. So that motivated me to draw more and more. And the more I would draw the better I would get. It was sort of a self perpetuating thing interestingly enough. In that regard I consider myself self taught when it comes to actually drawing or sketching. Of course being a big fan of science fiction and fantasy my drawings tended to lean in that direction.

Did you embrace any other forms of art growing up? What other influences leaned upon you?

I actually have a minor in film-making. I had won a state wide film festival with an animated science fiction film when I was a senior in high school and was offered a scholarship, but only if I majored in film. I had a choice, art or filmmaking. Both satisfied my creative need, but at the time I could only see making a living as an artist. I was scared that if I went into filmmaking I would wind up waiting tables somewhere like L.A. (Ah, the road not taken.)

What kind of art training do you have? Are you self taught?

I have a B.A. in art with an emphasis in painting. After I graduated I realized that I had wasted way too much time in college and had no idea how to paint the way I wanted to paint. I took a job as a graphic designer at an ad agency just to pay the bills and at night I would experiment by doing paintings from some of my favorite stories. I remember the first being Gandalf vs. the Balrog from the Lord of the Rings. It was a lot of trial and error but I learned so much more than any art teacher had ever taught me. I learned to look at other artists works and deconstruct them. I would ask myself “if I was painting that what would be the first thing I would do, then the second,” and so on. I would then try to apply that knowledge to my own work. One of the things I do now is teach. I think all of those years working things out for myself taught me a lot about learning and how to impart that learning to others.

The Artwork

How and when were you approached by Inkworks to contribute artwork to the Sliders card set?

ZS: Greg Goldstein called me. He and I had worked together on several sets, back when he was at Topps, and I loved working with him, so I was excited about the job.

DM: I had just finished doing a Star Wars Galaxy 2 trading card for Topps (it was of the “Wort”, the road creature outside of Jabba’s palace) and Inkworks liked it so much they offered me the Sliders job. That and a friend of mine had recently left Topps and gone to work for Inkworks and he had shown my work around there.

Were you a fan of Sliders prior to the assignment?

ZS: Nope, I had never watched the show. In fact, I’d never heard of it! But this isn’t out of the norm for me: I have painted many video covers for movies I’ve never seen. This has always seemed perfectly normal to me, since my dad used to tell stories about pulp magazine covers he did to illustrate stories that hadn’t even been written yet.

DM: I had indeed watched several episodes but never on a regular basis. I was familiar with the premise and the characters and always tried to watch it when I could.

What guidelines were you given as you began the project? Was the text that accompanied each illustration written before you began?

ZS: I wasn’t given the text, so I’m not sure if it was written first or not. I was given specifications for each card, and I drew rough sketches for each one. If I needed some photo references on the main character I went over to Ohlingers, a Hollywood photo reference agency that no longer exists, and got some pictures.

DM: I was sent a rough outline of all of the scenes and given the oppurtunity to pick the ones that I would like to do. As for the text I think that was written later, before the card went to the graphic designer.

What kinds of materials were used in the creation of the cards? Is there a particular medium you prefer to use to create with?

ZS: I painted them in gouache, which is what I used for all my illustration work until I switched over to working digitally.

DM: The art for these cards was done with acrylics on double weight, cold-press illustration board. I did all of the sketches on tracing paper and then transfered the approved sketch onto the board to paint.

How much of each episode you illustrated did you know about before you began? Did you read scripts and/or watch the televised broadcasts?

DM: I had caught a few of the episodes I was asked to paint from, but not all of them. Inkworks provided me with a VHS tape that contained parts of the various episodes they wanted me to illustrate. Some of the segments were very short but it contained enough information for me to work with.

Zina, your cards depict scenes not in the episode(s). Was this by design?

ZS: I was given the titles of the cards, and discussed them briefly over the phone. So I just came up with images I thought were dramatic.

David, your cards give the worlds you illustrate a “travelogue” feel — was this Inkwork’s intent?

DM: Yep. I was instructed to make them look like “movie matte paintings.”

Did any of the cards change radically from start to finish?

ZS: I don’t think things changed much from rough to finish.

DM: I was very lucky in the fact that my sketches were pretty much approved as is. The only one I had problems with was the one showing the dinosaurs attacking the hunter. The original concept showed the dinosaur standing next to the hunter as if it had just snuck up on him. Inkworks wanted to see a more dynamic scene with the raptor jumping in on his surprised victim which is the way the final art is.

Are there any you’re particularly pleased with?

DM: I’ve always been pleased with the shark scene with Professor Arturo on top of the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco.

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