His Hollywood career began as a designer for Glen Larson's Battlestar: Galactica. He was a major contributor on the planned Star Trek television sequel Star Trek: Phase II and the film Star Trek: The Motion Picture as concept designer/illustrator.
Probert's career has spanned numerous influential television shows like Airwolf and Street Hawk and films like Back to the Future and *batteries not included (1987). He's also the creator of the iTunes app "Concept 101: The Worlds of Andrew Probert."
He was kind enough to answer a few questions for my blog. He talks about his inspiration for Battlestar Galactica, how his being a Trekker influenced his designs of the Enterprise and his approach to "digital" drawing.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a production illustrator?
While attending Art Center College of Design, as an I.D. [Industrial Design] student, a bunch of us heard there were some amazing sketches down at Long Beach State college, I think it was, and we went down there to check 'em out. They were pre-production sketches produced mostly by Joe Johnston for Star Wars (the first film). That was when I wanted to do that, right then & there.
Q: Do you usually start with a lot of sketches before you draw, or do you just start and see what happens?
I always start with as much information I can get, regarding what it is I'm asked to Illustrate or Design. With that in my head, I usually get into my 'form-follows-function' mode and start sketching the item based on it's practical usage, operating mode, entry/exit methods, etc... everything an Industrial Designer does when looking for a Design solution.
Q: What was your most surprising inspiration for the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica?
I then came upon the idea that maybe the Cylon's helmet & armor influenced the look of Greek armor & helmets in particular so I developed that idea and it worked.
Q: You've done a lot of concept art, but you've also done storyboarding. Do you have a preference between them?
Even though I have a strong understanding of the cinematic story-telling process and the dos & don'ts of where to place the camera, maintain screen direction & all, I feel I'm more valuable in providing designs of hardware, props, and sets because of my Industrial Design training. I'm able to surmise how these 'products' might be manufactured and how, in my opinion, they would best be formed to satisfy the duties for which they'd be constructed.
Q: What went through your mind when you were redesigning the USS Enterprise for Star Trek: The Next Generation?
My first task was to design the bridge and I took as many details as I could, from Kirk's original bridge, and incorporated them into what Gene has asked me to come up with. When Herman Zimmerman came on board as Production Designer, he asked me to consult on the remaining sets in order to provide continuity with the look of the new bridge as well as provide as much familiarity as I could get into those other spaces, the transporter room layout & details, for instance, as possible.
At the same time, I moved into providing designs for the ship's exterior which was accepted & approved by the Producers rather quickly. As for design thinking, I wanted the ship to look like a very advanced version of Kirk's ship including the hull's general coloring while grabbing bits & pieces of newer Starships along the way.
Although painted kind of a pearl gray, the original miniature picked up a lot of blue from the SFX blue-screen background, making it look blue-ish on television so I called out colors to emulate that coloring. Then for some unknown reason, however, the FX team optically neutralized the coloring down to grey.
Q: While working on Back to the Future, how much of Ron Cobb's work remained in the final design of the DeLorean?
Q: What do you think is your greatest achievement so far?
My four beautiful children... all with families of their own now.
Q: Do you prefer digital or traditional art tools?
I'm still clumsy when "painting" on a computer. Therefore, the only 'digital' painting I do is using the digits found at the ends of my arms.
Q: You recently acted in the fan film Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II as Commodore Probert. How did you get involved and what was it like working on it?
I met James Cawley at a convention and we hit upon the idea of my doing a cameo in his next show. Well, I got a script and (fighting my notoriously bad retention skills) memorized my few lines.
When I showed up on set, however, several of my lines were handed to another actor, which really threw me to the point of not remembering anything.
I then ended up making kind of mess of my scenes and can only hope now that they edit me into some perceived cinematic glory.
Q: Are you still producing art personally or professionally? If so where can we see it next?
I do offer Art Prints on my website but along with that, I have, for a while now, been creating hand-painted Renderings for the calendar: 'Star Trek - Ships of the Line' every year or so. That's probably the most consistent showplace for my new pieces.
I am, on rare occasions, commissioned to provide a painting for someone looking for original Art. Last year I was invited to speak to the I.D. department of the University of Cincinnati and, of course, I'm still invited to speak at conventions, every so often, but since I haven't been involved in any current productions for awhile, my talks are pretty much retrospectives. Having said that, I'm developing kind of a Hardware Design Workshop to supplement those slideshows.
I just recently completed a series of Concept Designs for 'The Blue Man Group', working with another Artist/Designer Eric Wilkerson, creating new,... hmm, let's say 'props' for a show that is to debut in Las Vegas later this year or maybe in 2013.
And, lastly, I've just started creating a new website which I'm hoping will encourage me to post more materials and maybe even more art prints in the bargain.
Q: Thank you so much for your time.
You're very welcome.
You can see more of Andrew Probert's portfolio and work at http://www.probertdesigns.com.
Check out more of my interviews with amazing artists on my List of Interviews page.
What do you think of Andrew Probert's work?