James Beveridge talks about creative process for Eocene Station

As soon as I heard that this cover was for a Dave Duncan story, my mind went to the covers that he’s had on earlier novels. My memory sees them as having a classic feel. The story was described initially as a time travel romp, and the title placed much of the story in the Eocene Period. I knew that it was going to be a fun place to visually explore.

Once I’d read the first chapters, I knew it was something special. The future was wild and unique. I knew right away Gastornis was going to have a place on the cover. I could tell from Dave’s writing that he also found the creatures fascinating. Well, needless to say, my inner geek woke up to the chance to work with such a prehistoric predator. Gastornis isn’t your usual feathered, flightless raptor hunter. I did a few studies of gastornis to get to know him structurally, and work out a face there. Cruising through images online, many of which I remember from my father’s big book of prehistoric life, had me spellbound for hours growing up. You know the book, the one with the 3- and 4-panel foldouts of magnificently detailed reptiles, fish, insects and flora-filled environments. It was a gas to bring these wonderful scenes that I fondly remembered from my childhood back into my present.

In the beginning of the story, though, there was a description of a holographic display of an event where one of the beasts was threatening a child. I knew that it wasn’t the type of image that would make a cover, and the intrepid author felt the same way, but I had to see how it might look, which would allow me to envision how threatening a gastornis could be, as well as give me a perspective on a potential size ratio for the predator to human prey. Of course the scene needed volcanoes.
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Dave’s descriptions of Eocene Station and its surroundings were inspiring. The buildings were not what one might expect from the standard idea of a base station. The structures were frugal yet practical. The idea of an impenetrable jungle enveloping the station was intriguing.

The first sketch was just a single building, and though they were described as single story edifices, I went with a storied office type, with environmental sensors, and storage tanks on top, as the buildings were flat-roofed, hoping that there might be such edifices.

The book opens with a very interesting meeting, where one is a mysterious human hologram in military attire, yet disguised with a fully-animated bear head avatar, totally cool. That’s the fellow seen at the bottom as he might appear in a projector. Lots of fun things to draw in this story!

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I thought to try a cover style layout of a classic landscape with a couple of gastornis looking menacingly over the chain link fence. I went with a multi-story building and cliffs to make the jungle appear even more impenetrable. I had fun with the cheap pressboard look. The single taller 3-level building was also more extrapolation, but I really wanted to see it in colour. I figured that I could remove floors later if I had to, without too much fuss. With the denser and more humid air, I went with an atmospheric approach to the scene. I liked the idea that perhaps the moisture laden tropical air would allow shadows beneath small cumulus clouds. In the colour version, I had some fun adding the bug and the carcass even though the bloodied fur and bones were probably a bit too much for a cover.

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After playing with the new scene, I read more of the novel and couldn’t find any buildings that were more than one story, so I started to reimagine the structures. After wandering around the station in my mind, I pictured, still with the large avain beasts involved, looking through an opening in the jungle from behind one of the shacks. I brought the jungle in as looming dense shapes around the gastornis as they ready themselves to enter the compound, perhaps over the fence.

I also thought that we should see into what would essentially be a backyard. I wanted to give the composition a bit of a lyrical sweep with the elements in the foreground, but not too drastic, as I wanted to maintain a slight early SF, retro feel to the scene. The housing compound of the camp was described as open to a beach towards the west, where the residents would recreate, boating and swimming. I thought a late afternoon sun reflecting off the sea and striking the building, while the foreground with the wildlife was darker would add a nice contrast to the setting.

Dave liked the single-story building better, and made sure that I had the fence details in the right proportion to the critters. After that, all that I had to do then was dive enthusiastically into detailing everything, while trying to keep the right depth and atmosphere. I wanted it to seem inviting yet other-worldly, as time travel to an earlier epoch would appear. The one thing Dave impressed upon me, and what I also wanted to include, was the glassy stare of the gastornis’ “deadly-looking yellow eyes”. So, that were the crowning touch.

This was a wonderfully fun project, and I hope that this helps reveal my creative process, perhaps make it seem a bit interesting.

These last three pictures show how I developed the final scene from a quick thumbnail sketch to the final look.

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Eocene Station is now available for pre-order.

 

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