Stardust — From the Book to the Big Screen and Beyond
Fantasy hurls local artist into a realm of unbelievable proportions
By ANGELA WAMPLER | May 29, 2007A local artist is getting "star" treatment. In London and San Diego, Charles Vess has been chauffeured in stretch limousines, but when he agreed to an interview by A! Magazine for the Arts, we stuck him in the back seat of my SUV — no champagne, no bar. It wasn't as smooth a ride as the limos, but we enjoyed ourselves anyway.
We both love Celtic music, so when Vess learned that we all had tickets to a Lorenna McKennitt concert in Asheville, N.C., he suggested that we conduct the interview en route, have dinner at one of his favorite restaurants, attend the performance, and continue talking on the way home. Actually, since Vess has been working past midnight on a number of projects, he really wanted to take a nap. I joked that it would be all right if he could talk in his sleep.
While my husband drove, Vess and his wife, Karen Shaffer (a founding member of A! Magazine), talked about what it's like to have the world come knocking on their door once Paramount Pictures began making a film based on Stardust, an adult fairy tale illustrated by Vess and written by his friend, acclaimed novelist Neil Gaiman.
The couple lives in Bristol, Va., and Vess maintains a studio in Abingdon. His talents have earned him awards and international fame as an illustrator for comic books and fantasy writings. Vess has never lacked for work as an artist, but with the hoopla surrounding the film version of Stardust, the opportunities now appear endless. Karen says, "It's like going from juggling 25 balls to juggling 100," and Vess says he never sees the top of his desk anymore.
"It's wonderful," he admits. People he talked to in the past about projects that never materialized are now contacting him, and he stays busy talking about his work to everyone from the Kiwanis Club in Abingdon to the Society of Illustrators in New York City. He's always been a popular speaker in the fantasy/sci-fi industry, but Stardust is opening doors to other worlds.
After filming began, Vess flew first-class to London, and most recently to New York City, to private screenings. "International first class is unbelievable," he says. "The seats lay flat if you want to sleep, they give you sleep eye masks, and meals are served on real dishes and silverware."
What boggles Vess's mind, though, is the "star treatment" he's been getting when going to Stardust related events. Limousine service is nice, but Vess was surprised when they checked him into a hotel in London to shower and rest up from his flight, only to learn that it was strictly just that — a couple of hours to relax before being driven two hours outside London to accommodations near Pinewood Studios, where the film was being shot.
While at Pinewood in 2006, Vess joined actresses Michelle Pfeiffer and Claire Danes to watch some raw footage of the film. Vess recalls, "Michelle was still in full make-up. She makes a really terrifying witch. You feel that she could indeed rip your heart right out. But up close, you can still recognize her beautiful, liquid eyes."
As Vess wandered through production areas, he was so inspired that he stopped to draw in one of the workrooms where he was surrounded by miniature cardboard replicas of the movie sets. Afterwards, he presented an illustration of "The Fallen Star" to Danes, who portrays that character.
Vess is used to rubbing elbows with personalities in the literary world. Now his friends and acquaintances also include film stars. On April 28, he flew to New York City to attend a private screening of Stardust at the Tribeca Film Festival. The invitation came from Robert De Niro, who portrays a pirate named Captain Shakespeare in Stardust, and is a chairman of the film festival.
Each year, for the last 20 years, Vess has attended the San Diego Comic-Con, now a multigenre fan convention, the largest of its kind in the United States. Originally showcasing comic books, the convention has become a Hollywood blockbuster preview magnet, a gaming convention, a film festival, an art show, and more. It has expanded to include a larger range of pop culture elements, such as science fiction, fantasy, horror, anime, manga, animation, toys, collectible card games, video games, television, and movies.
Vess and his friend Gaiman are always big draws at comic book conventions and the 2006 San Diego Comic Con was no exception. More than 6,000 people showed up for the Stardust panel, which included Vess, Gaiman, screenwriter Jane Goldman, and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura (Transformers). They presented rough footage and a trailer-like montage, while they discussed the upcoming film.
"I was astounded by how many people were there," Vess admits. "Even though 125,000 people attended the Comic-Con, I thought maybe 500 people would be at our presentation. When they announced our names and we stepped out onto the stage, the roar from the audience was deafening."
More star treatment: Vess and his colleagues spent three hours in make-up and hair styling, then were driven in a stretch limousine complete with champagne to the Comic-Con presentation.
* A LITTLE BACKGROUND: Stardust began as a four-issue serialized short novel written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Charles Vess. Conceived as "a story book with pictures," Stardust was first published in 1997.
* ON THE BIG SCREEN: Stardust takes audiences on an adventure that begins in an English village and ends up in an imaginary world. A young man named Tristan (portrayed by Charlie Cox) tries to win the heart of Victoria (Sienna Miller) by going on a quest to retrieve a fallen star, which has transformed into a beautiful girl named Yvaine (Claire Danes, shown right). Stardust is scheduled for release on Aug. 10.
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Catch a Falling Star by Charles Vess depicts the "Stardust" character in the book.
Charles Vess and one of the witches at Pinewood Studio near London, 2006.