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Kees Veenenbos

Digital Artist
Web Content Manager
Apeldoor, The Netherlands

Where did you grow up?

I was born in 1950 and grew up in Zwolle, a small provincial town in The Netherlands.

What were your favourite subjects in school?

My favourites were topography, chemistry and history, especially the evolutionary things like dinosaurs.  I still like to look in atlases and always, when I am wandering around, I like to spot and unearth fossils.

What were your most difficult or least favourite subjects?

It depended often on the teachers whether I liked or disliked subjects.  But I didn't like math.  Math just didn't appeal to me at that time.

What do you do for a living when you are not working on your "hobby" of creating artistic renditions of Mars?

I work on the website for the local government of Apeldoorn, a city of about 150.000 people.  We call that profession "content manager", so its not technical work but we work in a team of eight for the Intranet and Internet.

Do you have natural artistic talent or is your "artwork" limited to computer graphics?

I very rarely took the pencil to draw, but made some water-colour paintings.  A few years ago I discovered the landscape program Terragen, and since then I "paint" digitally.  As I liked to photograph landscapes, using this program I could make my own landscapes in the way I liked.  I dove into the virtual world of imagination.

How much math is involved in your artistic renditions of Mars?  How much math do you, as the artist, need to know to do the work?

The programs with which I work don't need a lot of math, but to use all the possibilities of the program you need to understand how it works for you.  One can compare it with photography: you don't need to know how the camera was built, but you have to know how it works.  There are thousands of possibilities to change the settings.  You have to master the program before you get the landscape you want.  You can work with a random made landscape, but I prefer to work with existing terrain maps (Digital Elevation Maps) that are available online. (The USGS has detailed DEM's of the whole USA online.)

How do your renderings differ from the doctored images people claim show something that NASA or other agencies are "covering up"?  Do your images ever get mistaken for the real thing?

I have to smile when people think that they discover something alien or cover up stories.  The images I make are not part of that.  I use information of the agencies and explorers to come to certain realistic visualisation how Mars looks today and a possible ancient Mars.  With what we know today I can fill it in and propose landscapes of a wet or an icy ancient Mars of 3,5 billion years ago.  They look so real that often people ask me how I photographed Mars that way.  To look at the existing photo material of the Mars missions you can visualise in a realistic way these different landscapes.

Do you earn an income from the work you do related to Mars, or is this strictly a hobby?

I earn some money out of this hobby, but it is not my main income.  I am often asked for use of my work for educational purposes, but magazines and television companies pay me a fair fee for the use of the images.  I need to invest in time but also in the computer so that I can continue to make better work.  So every two years, I buy a faster computer that can do the job.

How many languages are you fluent in?  How is being multilingual helpful in your life or career?

I prefer to use English as it is the Internet "esperanto" language, but can speak some French and German too (and Dutch of course!).  But I see that all my contacts, even in China, use English, so in communications I rarely write or speak other languages.

Do you believe investing money exploring Mars is worthwhile?

Humanity has evolved to explore Earth and will not stop just there.  People will go to Mars just because it is there.  People get to all places in the solar system and will live there challenging the opportunities, even when its hazardous and dangerous.  Just a few centuries ago we discovered and went also to another continent... called America now!  And it's not the money that counts.  In such adventures you must not look at "how much its costs", but realise that humanity will eventually profit from going elsewhere to explore and to evolve.

If human beings eventually travel to Mars, under what circumstances do you think they would do so?

The first voyages will be scientific, but later on people will stay on Mars and form a new community.  They will live differently as they will live in difficult circumstances.  All this will take thousands of years and not hundreds.  The reasons to go there will be numerous, economy included.  The US may be the first country to challenge this next frontier, but in the end I think it will be a joint effort with Europe and maybe China?

What words of wisdom would you like to share with the students around the world who read this interview?  Is there any particular quote that inspires you?

Carl Sagan's book Pale Blue Dot starts with "We were wanderers from the beginninng.  We knew every stand of tree for a hundred miles.  When the fruits or nuts were ripe, we were there."  And further: "Working together, we protected our children from the lions and hyenas.  We taught them the skills they would need.  And the tools.  Then, as now, technology was the key to our survival."

It just shows what we are: wanderers which will need other wanderers and all the technology and skills to go together to futuristic worlds, wherever they may be.  We will know how these places look and in a way profit from their existence.  Mars could be one of those worlds.

Kees's Mars homepage:

Sites where you find a few wallpapers:

Software which Kees uses:



Digital Elevations Models (DEM) USA (USGS):

MOLA data:

Kees' Q&A

- 5 October 2003


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Last Updated:
8 October 2003

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