A couple of weeks ago I watched Jaws for the first time. I’m not a fan of horror, which is one of the reasons I avoided the film for so long, but I found it to be much more of a thriller (with a couple of bloodthirsty scenes). One of the things I really liked was the development of Chief Brody, especially in relation to the Mayor, Larry Vaughn, so I’ve gone back to study the cinematography and acting in some of the scenes where they’re together.

There will be mild spoilers below, so if you’re like I was and haven’t yet watched this classic from 1975 you may want to avoid this post!

The first scene I sketched from is when Brody is cornered on a ferry by Vaughn and various others. Brody has just reported a young woman’s death as by shark attack, but Vaughn and the medical examiner try to convince him that her death was caused by a boat’s propellor. He’s unconvinced, but he’s overruled.

From the beginning of the scene Brody is trapped in the corner of the screen. He’s trapped on the ferry, too. He’s surrounded by the car and by Vaughn and by a whole crowd of Vaughn’s cronies. Though he’s the taller man, Brody’s always leaning on something or leaning out of the way. Vaughn even grabs at him at the very start. The Mayor is completely in control, and Brody is unable – and unwilling – to do anything about it.

 

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After the second attack there’s a meeting. The islanders are angry, mainly because they don’t want the beach closed. Vaughn doesn’t want it closed either. Brody has the whole island against him – even the sign in the hallway at the beginning of the scene, which he walks into. Like the previous scene, he’s constantly surrounded by people and pushed to the side. Even when he’s in a position of authority when he stands to speak Brody is a small figure squeezed in a corner, dwarfed by those he’s speaking to, and in one shot even trapped between a door and a window.

At the very end of the scene, after Quint the shark hunter offers to track down the man-eating shark (for a fee), Brody’s finally given a ‘hero’ shot. The camera looks up, slightly, and he’s no longer stuck between the door and the window. It’s Quint, or his experiences with Quint, that will help turn Brody into the hero.

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After Brody and Matt Hooper, the oceanographer, go out to search for the shark they confront the Mayor, telling him that he must close the beach. Throughout the scene – mainly one, long shot – the three characters move around each other as the power dynamic shifts. Vaughn ultimately remains in control of the situation – he usually has the most space on screen – and Brody, as ever, is powerless – ending up squashed to the side and dwarfed. The beach remains open.

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A dramatic shift occurs after the third attack when Brody’s child ends up in hospital. Chief Brody forces Vaughn to hire Quint, using all the body language that Vaughn previously employed against him. It’s now Brody who dominates the screen and has all the space. He even reaches into Vaughn’s pocket for a pen, echoing their first scene where Vaughn grabbed at Brody’s arm. Near the end of the scene, Vaughn’s crushed into the corner of the screen. At the very end, Brody walks directly into camera, filling the screen as he enters the second half of the movie and joins Quint to hunt for the shark.

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If you’ve enjoyed this you may also like to see the studies I drew from The Sound of Music.

While boarding the Pigeon Crumbs animatic I posted a few weeks ago I drew these reference sketches and character models to help me figure out how the character would look, feel and act.

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Recently I’ve been working on an storyboard about a pigeon who finds the mother of all crumbs, but discovers eating it isn’t all that simple. Here’s the result!

Based on a true story …

Sound effects copyright BBC

While watching The Sound of Music again recently I was struck by the scene where Mother Abbess sings ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’. I decided to do a tone/composition study because the lighting and cinematography of the scene is so lovely.

When Maria enters the room, it’s very dark. The lighting is harsh and dramatic, and all that’s highlighted are the faces. Maria spends a lot of time with her back turned and her head bent. As the song begins Mother Abbess moves closer to the window, bringing more light into the scene. Maria follows, until she is also lit by the window.

The shots at the beginning, while Maria and Mother Abbess are talking, are fairly short and change position frequently – much like Maria’s answers. Once Mother Abbess sings, the cuts slow.

I began with rough but quite detailed studies. However I became aware I was focusing more on the poses and acting than I’d wanted to, so I did the latter images with a broader brush.

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If you’ve enjoyed this you may also like to see the studies I drew from Jaws.

The Gaelic King is now available through Amazon, iTunes, HMV and Zoom in the UK!

It’s exciting to know the film is out there, and people are watching this story for the first time. I thought I’d share some of the work I’ve done on the film from the last two years. There are some mild spoilers below. Click on the smaller images to see a larger version.

I first heard about Dalriata’s King (as the film was known then) in May 2015 through its director Philip Todd, with whom I’d worked on a documentary feature called Knox.

The first job I had on the film was sewing costumes. I have made a couple of dresses, so brought along my mum’s sewing machine for a few hours of costume making. Despite sewing one pair of trousers inside out and having to unpick them and try again, my efforts seemed to be appreciated …

I was asked if I would be interested in joining the crew as a storyboard and concept artist. After reading the script, I agreed. I met with Phil and with John, the art director, in early July and began by creating concepts for the Tree Demon characters.

Exploratory sketches and concept drawings of the Tree Demons

Next I began storyboarding, feeling much as if I’d been dropped in the deep end as the first sequence I worked on was a complex battle scene when Alpin and Lachlan fight with the Picts against the Tree Demons for the first time.

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Part of the thumbnail storyboard for the Demon Battle

Over the next couple of months I storyboarded only a couple of different scenes. The time it took to do these was surprising, and frustrating. I also drew some Celtic-inspired designs for Lachlan’s standing stone, ideas for Pictish paint tattoos, and some designs for the Demon Lair.

Concept drawings for Lachlan’s standing stone and the Demon Lair

Just before the first block of shooting in September I was asked to board an action scene that was literally being shot a couple of days later. This was the moment I feel, through a combination of urgency and sheer panic, brought about some of the best story work I did on the film. My thumbnail drawings are barely legible and all out of order, but the experience helped me to speed up my sketching and make cinematography decisions very quickly.

Thumbnail storyboard for the Horse Charge

Towards the end of September I came on set in Airth for a day. I was camera assistant, which meant operating the clapperboard and making sure the camera equipment wasn’t in shot in the 9th century roundhouse. Up until this point I had been very firmly in pre-production and it was exciting to see the story come to life. One scene that stood out when I first read the script is when Finn and Alpin talk about whether the story of the King’s Power is true. Watching Noah and Jake make this real was thrilling. This was also when I first got to experience the wonderful camaraderie of the shoot. As a film student I spent a fair amount of time on shoots that went awry for one reason or another. Yet despite damp and late nights and forgotten lines the cast and crew were cheerful, encouraging and focused. Excellent catering created a perfect package. I decided I would try to help out more on the second block.

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Building the village

About a month later I was again on my way up to Airth, this time to help build the Gaels’ village. This involved thatching, heaving stuff about, and nailing things together. Most of this was all right, but the hammer defeated me. I hit my thumb more than the nail. I think there’s a good chance it was mostly the fault of the rusty, blunt nails … but nevertheless I gave up on that and stuck to thatching and holding the bottom of ladders.

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Village complete, ready to shoot

At the end of October I was back on set as runner and camera assistant: people-herding, rubbish collecting and holding an umbrella over the camera. During the course of the day I got to know a lot of more of the cast and crew.

I continued to storyboard during the shoot, drawing Alpin’s reaction to Finn’s capture and part of the final battle that took place in the village.

My sister joined me on the set the next time I went. She played a villager while I went back to clapperboard. Despite mud and some accidental blood the celebration ceilidh was great fun to shoot. We both drove up again the next weekend for the final day of block two, my sister having spent another day on set during the week. As we’d brought a car I was put on driving duty, picking people up from the train station and ferrying them from base to set. Once I was on set I did some umbrella and horse holding, the latter of which was more fun even if he did stand on me and knock me over.

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Wrap photo for block two (courtesy of Fellowship Film)

Two days later I was in LA for the CTN animation eXpo, as part of a delegation from Scotland. It was a fantastic experience but there was something special about going from a rainy film set in Scotland to Hollywood, the ‘dream factory’, and knowing that what was being made back in the UK was just as good as anything being made there.

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Part of the thumbnail storyboards for the Prologue

In early March in 2016 I was asked to storyboard the entire third block, which was the prologue and several flashback scenes. Phil and Nathan, producer, were heading to Cannes in May so they wanted something to present. I offered to spend more time on the storyboards so they could be made into animatics. The process began in much the same way, with rough thumbnails, but I then took these drawing and worked them up digitally.

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Part of the finished boards for the Prologue

Adding tone, to give a better sense of time and atmosphere, I then handed all the images over to Phil who edited them as if they were video. The result is a kind of previs which shows the final result without the cost of shooting. I worked on these boards through March and April, and though there’s lots of things I’d fix now I’m still pleased with the final result. (You can view two of the finished animatics here.)

I got to join Fellowship Film as they visited the Celts exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland in June. It was hugely inspiring, and humbling. The beauty of the artwork made me realise there really is nothing new under the sun. Indeed, in some ways, it seems we’ve artistically gone backwards …

While I was through in Glasgow for the Animation Base Camp, I was asked if I would create the opening map animation. Perhaps foolishly I agreed, despite having a fairly basic knowledge of After Effects. While in Glasgow I made a placeholder test, which satisfied me at the time. I didn’t spend much time on the map until after the third block of shooting.

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Shooting a scene from the Prologue at the Dunadd set

The shoot began in early September at a location very near where I used to live, Gilmerton Cove. I recommend a visit if you’re ever in the area. We spent two days at the Cove, followed by three at the Dunadd location. I was in charge of the unit base, keeping track of people going to and coming back from set. At the Cove, with minimal cast and crew, this was a fairly easy job – except when we had a bit of a panic when the camera appeared to stop working. The Dunadd days, especially the final day of the shoot which was a mammoth operation, involved the juggling of many more people. It was especially tricky keeping track of what was going on at the set when the distance and rain interfered with the walkie-talkies. There was also one close call for Jake’s character Alpin, who had to appear both in his ‘present-day’ form and as a younger version of himself. All the present-day shots had to be filmed before his costume, hair and makeup were changed, but due to a mixup he almost had his hair cut before all the scenes were complete. Thankfully this was straightened out before his hair was. Unlike my previous times on the shoot I didn’t get to see much of the filming, but I did go up for a short while on the final day to see part of the destruction of Dunadd.

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Wrap photo for block three (courtesy of Fellowship Film)

It was encouraging to see how useful the storyboards were during the final block. During the previous shoots my thumbnail images were only used by Phil and by David, the cinematographer, because no one else could decipher them. Because these storyboards were complete, everyone could have a look at them, understand what shots were coming next, and see how it would all fit together in the end.

Initial sketch and design of the map

After we wrapped, I went back to working on the map animation. I ended up creating enormous files in Photoshop and After Effects as I had to zoom in on the map at a 4K resolution. My computer complained throughout the process, as did I. Yet I’m pleased with the result, and it allowed me to learn much more about the software which I’ve since put to use in my other work.

Screenshots from the final map animation – view the final video at the start of the trailer

In October, as I had free time, I asked Phil and John if there was anything more I could help out with. Shortly afterwards I began work on some visual effects clean-up shots, including removing green screen, pylons and modern roads from frame.

Green screen and pylon removal, before and after

This was another steep learning curve, though I often had to resort to old-fashioned painting out or over methods rather than relying on an After Effects preset.

The cast and crew screening in November was a wonderful night, and allowed me to bring along my family so they could see what I’d been up to for the previous year and a half. It was exciting to see The Gaelic King, as its name had become, as a film and not as bits of a film – script here and storyboard there – as I had for most of the time. It was also great to see people enjoying the story so much.

However there was still a little more work to be done … from January to March of 2017 I continued to do some fixes and clean up on visual effects.

Adding blood to Alpin’s face, before and after

It has been a long wait since then, but I’m thrilled to finally hold the DVD in my hand and be able to share it with the world. It’s been a wonderful experience – hard work, but great fun. I’ve also loved being able to work on so many areas of this film from near the beginning to the end. Though I’m sad it’s over I’m pleased to be doing some concept designs for Fellowship Film’s new project, and I look forward to what’s next.

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The shiny new DVD

Many, many thanks to everyone who was involved and who made my time on the film so great. There are too many of you to mention!

Scots warrior-king, Alpin, must fight to rescue his brother and regain the kingdom of Dalriata.

The Gaelic King is an independent feature I was a story and concept artist on. Truffle Pictures has closed distribution deals for the film across North America, the UK, Japan, Italy and the Middle East. It’s releasing in the UK on the 10th of July, and you can preorder it from Amazon and other retailers.

I also created some motion graphics and effects work for the film, such as the map at the beginning of the trailer. You can see some of my other work for the feature on my Storyboards and Projects pages.

I now have a new portfolio and two new showreels online! My portfolio has a range of gesture and life drawings, concept sketches, and animal drawings as well as a range of final art from some of my projects. The showreels page has both a character animation and a motion graphics reel, both which feature work I haven’t yet posted on the site. I’ve also added a storyboards page where I’ve collected together some of my story work.

The image above is from a map I created for the beginning of the feature film The Gaelic King. I hope you enjoy taking a look at what I’ve been up to!

If you haven’t seen my previous storyboards from the Animation Base Camp, you may want to start here or here.

The story revolves around odd-couple animals at a therapist’s office. The scene below, featuring a bee, was worked on by several different people throughout the Base Camp.

I’d recommend looking at Erin’s version – she’s the one who came up with the bee/flower gag in the first place, and developed the bee’s wonderfully pathetic character.

The background of the alleyway was a sketch of Hajnalka Szanto’s beautiful design.

If you haven’t seen my previous storyboards from the Animation Base Camp, you may want to start here.

The story revolves around odd-couple animals at a therapist’s office. Throughout the camp I worked on several different versions of a scene involving a shark.

Here’s my first, rough, pass:

A cleaned up version with a different take:

The final version, from the animatic:

In the final version the shark became female, the length of the scene was condensed considerably, and a lot of the humour came from the audio rather than the visuals. (Imagine the shark’s line read in a strong Glaswegian accent.) Given the overall pacing of the story it was the right way to go, but I missed the fun I had drawing the therapist’s reactions.

During the Animation Base Camp we had opportunities to come up with additional gags which were, in some cases, added to the story. Here are some of my shark ones:

See another board from the Base Camp here!

I had the privilege of taking part in the first-ever Animation Base Camp, a trainee programme in Glasgow with mentors from Sony Pictures Animation, during July to September this year. It focused on creating visual development art and an animatic for an original idea directed by David Feiss. I worked as a storyboard artist, creating ideas and gags for the project.

You can find out a little more about who was involved at the link above, but I’d like to particularly thank Fraser, Elaine and Will, as well as Jenn, and of course all my fellow students.

The story revolves around odd-couple animals at a therapist’s office. This is one of my scenes from the final animatic, featuring a talkative bear.

We also had the opportunity to develop lots of gag ideas of how some of the couples might have met. This was one of my ideas:

See more storyboards from the Base Camp here and here.

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