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Richard Livingston GALACTICA.TV interview
Written by Joel Cooke   
Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Some time ago Joel Cooke had the chance to speak to Richard Livingston, known for his work as a concept designer on all seasons of the Battlestar Galactica 2003 series. They discussed how he got started, his work for Disney and of course the work he has done on the batteries of the Galactica and the design of Colonial One.

When did you really know you wanted to start drawing?

Well, That decision was made by my mother.

Really?

Yeah. she used to leave pens and paper, blank paper and pencils around the house. So that's how I ended up doing this... drawing.

So, I guess they were pretty supportive on this?

Mom was, Dad wanted me to be a machinist or something. Gainfully employed. But Mom said: "Hey, do whatever you want!"

 

Battlestar Galactica concept designer Richard Livingston

Battlestar Galactica concept designer Richard Livingston

 

Did you have any formal education in drawing?

I went to Sheridan College in 1980 to study animation. Then I started working in the animation industry for television in 1983, early 1984. I was in television animation for eleven years and then I went to Disney feature animation here in Florida and was there for nine years and then they shut the studio down. Up from then until now I've been designing 3D features and now I work as a concept artist for a video game company.

Did you try out many styles before you got to your current present state?

No! I wasn't all that bright when I was a kid. I always thought that copying people was verboten. I didn't draw comic book artists. I didn't try and trace. I just did my own tractors and farm machinery, because I was on a farm. That's all I drew, machines and stuff like that.

Since you said you had nothing, you never had any influences, do you have anything now that helps shape your form?

Now I'm starting to get into some of the concept artists out there. There's some phenomenally talented people: Ryan Church and guys like that. And I only started working in color a year ago, or so. So now I'm starting to bone up on the color work.

I also noticed when looking through your website, that the majority of the concept art seem to be from a picturesque military field. Is there any particular reason for that? Especially in contrast to your Disney work? 

It's cool stuff. I like the machines, I like planes, I love the aviation. Anything that flies, crawls...works for me.

Sounds good.

It works for me.

I also saw you did a lot of background work for Disney, from forests to spaceship and stuff. You do a lot of precise work. Do you have any background training in all that technical kind of stuff?

Actually in television I was a layered artist and designer, mostly designer. So we had to put out a show every week and you'd have a binder of maybe three inches thick from the design department. There was like myself and maybe seven or eight other people working on the show. So you had to draw a lot and quickly. So I learned to draw quickly in television and when I went to Disney I learned to draw precisely, and slow down. I started to think more as an artist and less as a technician. So I got my artistic training at Disney and I got my speed training in TV.

 

art for Brother Bear by concept designer Richard Livingston

art for Brother Bear by concept designer Richard Livingston

 

I saw you worked on Little Bear. Do you just walk into the forest and start drawing?

No, there is no opportunity for that. It was just... They sent you, you know... You get materials and stuff from the preliminary artists. You get story sketches to work from. You have like reference material, if you're lucky and you kind of like go from that.

So it's pretty much coming from your imagination?

Hmmm.... On something like Little Bear, Brother Bear, Brother Bear II, there's a lot of reference material so you want to... With things like Little Bear or any of the other Saturday morning shows, usually they're styled after something an artist has done. Like Care Bears are done by American Greetings, so you're looking at their material and you try to stay close to their style. On of the good things of being a layered artist in 2D is that you kind of learn how to draw all kind of different styles. Every new film was a different style, so you became very proficient in changing styles. That's why I say I don't really have a style because it would only last for a few months and then you'd be drawing in somebody else's styles.

Do you still work for Disney?

No, the studio shut down three years ago.

I also noticed on your website: Tugger: The Jeep Who wanted to Fly animation. Did you complete that yet?

That's a good question.

Is it a work in progress?

No, the movie is done. It's also in the middle of a large lawsuit, actually a bunch of losses. So, whether it actually gets released or not officially-officially... It's already been sort of officially released, although the fellow that released it is now battling and saying that it wasn't released. So, I'm not sure if it is or it isn't.

 

art for Tugger: The Jeep Who wanted to Fly by concept designer Richard Livingston

art for Tugger: The Jeep Who wanted to Fly by concept designer Richard Livingston

 

How long did it turn out to be, I mean like the film?

The length of the actual movie? I think it's an hour and ten minutes or something.

I saw you restored a pedal car and made it into [a big model of] Tugger. Do you normally do that? Do you like visualize your work?

No, that was just a promotional gimmick. A thing that somebody thought up. I thought: "Well, that's fun. Let's give it a shot. Let's do this."

In 1995 you moved from Canada to Florida. What made you do that?

I was called by "The Mouse" (Mickey Mouse).

Since you were not living in Canada at the time Battlestar Galactica was starting up. How were you approached for this series?

A friend of mine that I had worked with in TV a billion years ago needed somebody who could draw spaceships and stuff. So he tracked me down through another friend who was sitting beside me in Disney. He had his phone number but he didn't have mine, so he got a hold of Jeff, and Jeff got a hold of me, and he got a hold of Eric and...

Did you watch any of the original Battlestar Galactica?

I watched the whole series. I went out and bought the DVD and watched it.

What did you think of it?

About one third of it gives me that warm and fuzzy kind of nostalgic thing. When I was like 14 or 15 it was like really cool and it's still kind of cool. The other two third of it is almost unwatchable. 

 

art for Battlestar Galactica by concept designer Richard Livingston

art for Battlestar Galactica by concept designer Richard Livingston

 

Did you watch that just to give you inspiration for the new series, because they [the original series] did is used props from other movies for the original series?

I watched it because I just sort of wanted to revisit it and it was available on DVD and I thought: "Well, let's watch it.", because I really enjoyed the show when I was a kid. I have to say I like the new show an awful lot better.

So you do watch the [new] show?

Oh yeah. I record it and the whole bit. It's very, very good.

Do you only sketch or do you do the CGI work as well?

No.

How close are you involved in the realization of your Battlestar Galactica sketches into CGI from the original concept art?

They followed my sketches exactly. It was creepy how closely they followed my sketches. It really weirded me out. Those guys are really sharp. They're very good.

Did they go to you for advice on what colors the ships should be or did they just...?

Their art department made all decisions. I just provided the design and they built them.

Did they go to you to design anything else for Battlestar Galactica? Other than the ships?

I did the railguns for the Galactica. After that it was all just spacecraft.

 

art for Battlestar Galactica by concept designer Richard Livingston

art for Battlestar Galactica by concept designer Richard Livingston

 

Are you also working on the soon to be prequel series Caprica?

Presently, no. I did some pitch art for it.

Can you say what it was?

No. Sorry I can't.

So it was just some concept art for that as well?

Yes, but that was just done to sell the concept of the show. I haven't worked on the actual production of the show. I don't know if it's in production yet. I don't think it is. I'm assuming they're writing it. That's about all I know.

I also saw you do realistic and detailed work and also like to do cartoon kind of work. Is there any reason why, or is it just because you worked at Disney?

I like cartoony stuff too. It's fun.

Are you working on any projects at this moment?

Personally? Well, there are a couple of things my wife and I tried to get launched. That's a slow process, because you're kind of pitching around and whatever. Other than that... Well, actually there is another project I'm working on and doing concept art for but I can't mention what it is. It hasn't been announced yet.

Any other thing you can talk about? Any concept art you can talk about and are currently working on?

Everything is under non disclosure so I can't really...say

Okay.

I hate non disclosure! I really sometimes think: "Oh, I can tell you everything!", but I can't.

...like the next Cylon, or who's going to be killed...

Yeah, you know, but the thing is, there's the keyword. If I told you I had to kill you. See? Being in the military you should know that.

I also saw you did some World War II drawings. I saw Spitfires and some battles with Marines in it. This is like an interest of yours?

My father was a veteran in World War II, so I have a healthy respect for the people that fight wars and support the people that fight wars. Even though war in itself is probably the worst thing you can do, it has to be done some times. And the equipment is just darn cool. It's just totally cool.

 

Spitfires by Richard Livingston

Spitfires by Richard Livingston

 

That was something that caught my eye. I saw all the futuristic stuff and then there's this great photo of a Spitfire, because I'm a history major and World War II was my focus. So I have some interest there. Have you ever visited the set of Battlestar Galactica?

Nope. I'm in Florida. They're not. Well Eric [Chu], he's been to the set. There's even a photo of him besides one of the vipers or raptors... Raiders! Cylon raider. Lucky dog. He actually talked to Grace Park. Lucky him!

Anyone you want to meet from the cast?

Well, it would be cool. I saw Lance Henriksen today.

Next month at the MegaCon, Jamie Bamber and Mary McDonnell will be there.

Yes, yes, yes! I think we will go over and try and talk to them... Yeah, that's going to be fun.

So are you trying to get them over and do a little presentation with you guys?

I don't know if my wife does have any plan hatched to do that, but I'd certainly like to go over and meet them. They're cool and I really respect their work.

Any favorite episodes of the new season or of the [entire] new series I should say?

I like them all! There's been a couple where I've been a couple of ones that have been a little bit slower, but for the most part they've been super good. So I can't really say if anything really sticks out above anything else.

Any favorite season, one that really stands out?

Well, every single ship I've designed for them, they've blown up with the exception of Colonial One. That always hurt to see your babies ...fried, blown up. So, I kind of get passed that and get some more popcorn and enjoy the show. (crying voice) But it really hurts when they blow them up.

Do you have any favorite characters that you like on the show?

Baltar! You just love to hate him. You just want to punch his lights out, because he's such a slime ball, but he's fun to watch. Totally! Oh and the first officer, the drunk, he's fun too.

Tigh, yes. A loveable drunk. You love them, you hate them. Thanks for doing this.

Thanks.

 
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