Illustration: Rick Guidice/NASA

Did you see those slick animations of space colonies that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos showed off yesterday? They were, not surprisingly, inspired by Gerard O’Neill’s ideas from the 1970s. And if that kind of thing interests you (and of course it does, you’re reading Paleofuture right now) then you have to drop everything this moment and watch a new documentary series on Amazon Prime called Artist Depiction. And if you can’t drop everything right now, at least put it in your queue for this weekend.

Artist Depiction talks to three artists, Don Davis, Charles Lindsay, and Rick Guidice who have had an enormous impact on the way that we look at the future. You may not recognize them by name, but you almost certainly know their work.

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All three men have done work for future-focused clients, including NASA, and their art has popped up again and again here at Paleofuture. I even published some of Don Davis’s artwork on the Paleofuture blog all the way back in February of 2007, when my silly little experiment in blogging about retro-futurism was less than a month old.

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Working for NASA is largely an anonymous endeavor, whether you’re building spacecraft, developing software, or drawing some far-out vision for space colonies. So it’s really interesting to hear from guys like Don Davis and Rick Guidice, people who have had a huge influence on our predictions for space travel dating all the way back to midcentury. Charles Lindsay’s work is much more modern, but it’s still fascinating to hear his perspective on technology and the future.

“Don and Rick are really the yin and yang of 1970s space settlements,” Brett Ryan Bonowicz, the director of Artist Depiction, told Paleofuture over the phone.

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“They often get confused for each other and they often get thrown into the same pile of space colony art. So I really wanted to take this opportunity to show their differences and show how their approaches were different and everything else.”

Bonowicz’s last project was a documentary about the classic Sunday comic strip Closer Than We Think, which ran in American newspapers from 1958 to 1963. And the Closer Than We Think documentary, which is available for rent and purchase on Vimeo, is another one to check out if you haven’t seen it.

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“I think Don’s approach starts with the technical details, I think he’s very technically minded, whereas I think Rick looks at it with more romance. There’s a real romantic feeling to his paintings,” said Bonowicz. “Not to say that Don’s art is dry, but you can be sure to know that the stars in the background are accurate with his paintings, whereas with Rick, I’m not quite sure that they are—and definitely space isn’t red.”

The series dives into their artistic philosophies, their workflow, and their influences over the years. Both Davis and Guidice were heavily influenced by Chesley Bonestell, whose space art came to define the golden age of space travel paintings in the 1950s and 60s. Bonestell’s work graced the cover of Collier’s magazine and helped to define what the American public came to expect out of space exploration before the Apollo program was even a twinkle in NASA’s eye. In fact, Bonestell was drawing futuristic space colonies before NASA was even formed in 1958, imagining trips to Venus in 1950 and expeditions to Mars in 1954.

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Despite having very different approaches, it’s interesting to learn in the series that both Davis and Guidice knew Bonestell personally and relied on his advice for their own work. Bonowicz told me that it was fascinating to see how their generation was influenced by the generation that came before them.

“In the same retro-futuristic way that we look at Bonestell’s work, we can look twenty years into the future,” said Bonowicz, describing the way that Guidice and Davis helped the look of futuristic space travel evolve.

The music in each episode was done by different musicians, but all of them have a decidedly retro-futuristic feel. The Rick Guidice episode, in particular, has an amazing soundtrack if you like darkly ambient soundscapes. That episode features music from All India Radio.

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You really just have to check out the series for yourself, and there’s no excuse not to when all three episodes are available to stream on Amazon Prime and the trailer is on YouTube. It’s a must-watch for this weekend.

What’s next for Bonowicz? He’s already planning more episodes of Artist Depiction with episodes on space artists Pamela Lee, William K. Hartmann, and Pat Rawlings. Artist Depiction also has a Twitter account if you want to keep up to date on the latest with the series.

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Again, there’s no excuse for Paleofuture fans not to check out Artist Depiction. It’s finally putting names and faces to otherwise anonymous people who have helped shape our world. And we thank them for that. There obviously wouldn’t be a Paleofuture blog without them.

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