Early last year I created some concept art for a feature film. Unfortunately the prop I worked on has since been cut from the story, but I’m able to share it here with you.

The first three images were quite general explorations to get a feel for what the director wanted. I enjoyed thinking about the ‘why’ of each knife – why it was created, why it was made of that material, why there was decoration (or not).

There’s a page of quick rock studies, as the knife was to have been placed in a stone.

After I received feedback from the director I developed the ‘plain’ knife option further, extending the blade and creating different options for the hilt and sheath. These can be seen in the last few images below.

I would have liked to develop the knife further still, but (irritatingly) the story is better without it!

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.

Block3Wrap

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!

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.

I designed, storyboarded and animated this video for trypraying. The trypraying booklet is a seven-day prayer guide which encourages people to try praying for a week and see what happens.

Some of my concept art for the project is below.

CharacterDesign

I began with some rough character sketches from the script. From the outset I wanted designs that were simple but attractive.

BGDesign copy

BGDesign

I also began to explore the background environments and colour design. For the background, I wanted to have a very flat, “false” perspective. I wanted to tie the colours to the trypraying booklet.

02_01

02_01_02

03_01

I created colour keys using the storyboard, finding a range that would work through each scene.

Policewoman2

Once the storyboard and animatic were complete, and the colours approved, I made last-minute changes – like the policewoman’s new hat – and then began building the characters and backgrounds in Illustrator and Flash.

Characters

Characters2

J_02

I drew some sketches of how the characters would need to be broken up for animation.The minister only needed to wave his hand, whereas the main character had to be able to turn, walk and move his arms. The main character’s trousers were simplified as a result.

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Here are some of the final scenes in the video. I’m really pleased with how the colour and designs came out. This was a fun project to make!

And here’s a little extra: I added a caricature of myself sitting on the bus!

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 20.59.53

M.C. Escher

I first remember seeing Escher’s work while at primary school. We were given a piece of his to copy, so I dutifully started drawing some of the plants from the corner of his lithograph “Waterfall”. I ran out of time, and never finished anything else, but I did gain a love of his work.

Over the years I’ve seen bits and pieces of his art in books and on posters, but yesterday was the first time I got to see a real piece of his work. Currently the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is holding an exhibition called “The Amazing World of M.C. Escher” which has drawn work from throughout his life. I’d highly recommend it. Below I’ve shared some of my favourites from the collection. Click for larger images!Phosphorescent Sea

Phosphorescent Sea, lithograph, 1933

Despite being black and white, it gives the impression of somehow having more colour. Escher made thousands of tiny scratch marks to make it appear to glow. I love its apparent simplicity.

Inside St Peters

Inside St Peter’s, wood engraving, 1935

This picture was not in the exhibition, but was in the catalogue. I had to include it because it’s such a good representation of what it’s actually like to be inside San Pietro in Rome. It also shows his early fascination with the perspective on a scene or place.

Still Life and Street

Still Life and Street, woodcut, 1937

I like how cleverly this picture moves from desk to street: the illusion of reality.

Metamorphosis II

Metamorphosis II, woodcut,1939/1940

I think that Escher must have sparked my interest in illusions. Seeing this piece in person was incredible. I went along trying to figure out where the breaks in the pattern are (it was printed from twenty separate blocks on three sheets of paper) and could not see anything. There is such a sense of movement. I have a flipbook of the middle part of the design which shows how the design is essentially an animation. Indeed, Escher thought so himself:

“I see it {Metamorphosis}, other than a childlike association-impulse, also as a surrogate for a film. Most of all, I’d like to express my metamorphosis and association-mania in an animated film, and strongly believe that the animated film will become an artistic expression of great value for the future, in which thoughts of greater importance will be shown than Snow White or Micky (however, I have absolutely no disdain for those products, on the contrary: admiration for Disney’s talent!). Still, I often dream of the film I would like to make. What an astonishing metamorphosis you would then behold … ” M.C. Escher, 1940

Other World

Other World, wood engraving and woodcut, 1947

This at first struck me as an image made with a computer! This is one of the first prints Escher made that explored how to show several perspectives on a scene at once. What’s so fascinating is his ability to make it look ordinary.

Dewdrop

Dewdrop, mezzotint, 1948

Rippled Surface

Rippled Surface, linoleum cut, 1950

Puddle

Puddle, woodcut, 1952

I’ve grouped these three together because I think they share many similarities. Though they show familiar things they are otherworldly.

Double Planetoid

Double Planetoid, wood engraving, 1949

Escher said of this piece: “The entire image is contained in a dark-blue circle, giving the impression of looking at the planet through a telescope.” I like the story at play here: the city-part with its buildings and people entwined with the forest-part with its vegetation and creatures.

Print Gallery

Print Gallery, lithograph, 1956

There is another story in this picture, with its never-ending loop. I love how it flows so well from place to place.

 

WaterfallWaterfall, lithograph, 1961

I think it’s appropriate to end where I began, with the first piece of Escher’s work I saw. Even now I still think “Well, perhaps it could work … “

You can find many of Escher’s prints, including much of his earlier work, online. I’d recommend doing so if you can’t make it to this exhibition: his early exploration of Art Nouveau and Cubism gradually gave way to something that has the appearance of Surrealism (though he never had contact with any surrealists) but has links to illusion, architecture, mathematics, and animation. I enjoyed seeing the development of his work, and appreciate the end results all the more.

Escher’s work still appeals to me now not just because it’s clever and highly skilled but because the illusions still trick me. As I’ve learnt more about filmmaking and animation I’ve found that I can see the “gaps” when watching films and television – particularly if the story or the characters don’t grab me. Perhaps that’s why partly Escher’s prints work so well; he creates a world, a story we can believe in.

How do I delete the white background from line art?

Over the last year I’ve been Googling the sentence above – how do I delete the white background from line art? I know that I know how to do this, but I keep forgetting. So I’ve decided to write it down so that I can reference it in future, and hopefully help others as well.

I’m using Photoshop CS5.1 on a Mac.

Technique No. 1
Black line with white background, on Multiply to show colour.

This is the way I was taught, but kept forgetting because it’s a string of keystrokes that if done in the wrong order doesn’t work at all.

Black line with white background, colour and background layers turned off.

First, turn everything off except the layer you want to cut out. In the example above you can see the white areas behind the black lines that I want to get rid of.

Duplicate Line layer.

Duplicate your line layer, so you have a spare, and turn the original off. I like to duplicate by Alt+drag while clicking on the layer. (It took me a long time before I realised I could do that, hence why I’m writing it here!)

Next, select the entire layer (Cmd+A) and cut it (Cmd+X). Fill the now-empty layer with black (Alt+backspace).

Quick Mask button off / on. (Use Q.)

Turn Quick Mask on by pressing Q, or selecting the button under the colour picker (as above).Paste line art.

Paste (Cmd+V) your line art into the layer. It should look like the above.

Turn Quick Mask off (Q).

Press Q again to turn Quick Mask off.

Invert line art (Cmd+I).

Inverse the image by pressing Cmd+I.
Cut background (Cmd+X), leaving line art.

Cut (Cmd+X) to leave the line art, like so!

Colouring line art.

The reason this is my preferred method is because it’s the best way to recolour my line art. For the purple example above I Cmd+clicked on the preview window in Layers (which selects the entire painted area on a layer) and then filled it (using Alt+backspace again) with purple.

If, however, you aren’t interested in painting the line, then you may prefer one of the other methods.

Technique No. 2

This begins in the same way as No. 1: Duplicate your line layer, copy it and cut it, fill the layer with black.

Create a mask.

Then you select the layer, and add a mask to it using the button highlighted above (“Add vector mask”).
Alt+click to select mask.

Alt+click on the white mask to select it.

Paste line art into mask.

Paste (Cmd+V) into the mask.

Cmd+I to invert line art.

Invert (Cmd+I).Click on ordinary layer to view.

Click out of the mask onto the ordinary layer. As you can see above, though the line art is now free from white the background that was transparent is now black. This is easily solvable by filling in the transparent areas before beginning, but it’s one of the reasons I don’t tend to use this method. Also, there is no way (that I have yet discovered) of colouring the lines.

Technique No. 3

This is the simplest and perhaps best method if all you want to do is get rid of the white. It’s quick and requires no cutting, pasting, or inverting.

Double-click preview window.

Double-click on the line art layer preview window.

Layer Style window opens.

The Layer Style window will pop up.

Select top white slider and drag a couple of degrees.

In the Blend If: Gray area at the bottom, select the top white slider and adjust it by a couple of degrees. I moved it from 255 to 253. The white background will disappear.

Exit window.

Exit the window and, as you can see, only the line art remains.

Example of painting using this technique.However, as the background still exists on the layer and is only hidden from view, it means that painting the line art is not possible.

In the past I have had problems with this method – jagged white remains in corners and so on – but recently it’s been working beautifully.

I hope this is helpful to someone out there! Please let me know if you know of other / better ways of doing this, I’m always looking to learn!

New Portfolio and Showreel

I thought it was time for an update of my portfolio and showreel!

Here’s a peek: click on the image to view the full portfolio.

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My latest animation showreel, featuring Maya and paper animation:

Music: “Dial Up” by Kris Oliver www.krisoliver.com

Paper Animation (Photoshop / ToonBoom): All character, background and colour design by myself.

Maya – Personal Project (1): Character (Morpheus) from here: www.joshburton.com/projects/morpheus.asp, chair prop provided by Aardman.

Maya – Personal Project (2): Horse rig by Tomasz Jurczyk and Carlos Contreras, from www.mothman-td.com/portfolio_items/horse_rig/

Maya – Aardman / NFTS: All characters and props provided by Aardman.

All sound effects from www.freesfx.co.uk

Life Drawing

These are a few sketches from the life drawing club I went to yesterday and the fortnight before. It’s nice as they have some excellent models and shorter pose times, as well as a very relaxed atmosphere. The club is called All The Young Nudes.

The pencil sketches are from a fortnight ago, and the pastel ones are from yesterday.01 02 03 04 05 06

Alp

Three sketch studies and the finished painting, created on commission. Though I like the looseness of the quick studies I really enjoyed spending time adding detail into the final picture.Rough_02 copy Rough_03 copyThe pink sketch I rejected for being too pink, though I used some of the light suggested by it in my final composition. I still like the blue one above, but it feels very cold and this painting was intended to hang in a living room!Rough_01 copy 2 Alps_03 copy 2

Animals

Yesterday I found a link to the site artists.pixelovely.com which has photographs of people, animals, expressions, etc. that can be viewed as “classes”. This morning I tried out a 30-minute figure drawing class, followed by a 30-minute animal class. There are different things to pick from – clothed, nude, horses, birds – but I chose the most general options. The classes both began with several 30-second poses, followed by gradually lengthening poses. What I really enjoyed about them is that they replicate the drawing-class feel. It’s hard to keep track of the time I spend drawing sometimes! I would recommend checking it out: the site’s free, and though the photographs used wouldn’t be great for very long, high-detail drawing they are great for quick gestures.

Here are some of the drawings I did. My animals ones were generally better (perhaps because I’d spent most of the figure class warming up). I added the colour later.

30 seconds:

Wombat copy Horse01 copy Dog copy Rabbit2 copy

5 minutes:
Dog3 copy Elephant copy Horse copy Dog2 copyI’ve been thinking I need to do some drawings with figures AND background … I seem to usually do one or the other …

Mount Hood

Using some family holiday photographs for reference, I painted Mount Hood (vaguely based on it) for my father’s birthday present. I used gouache and a stencil made from paper which gave interesting gloopy results, especially each time it was reused. Here are the final results below, in the order they were made.Hood1_01 copy Hood2_01 copy A close up, below: a wet wash underneath created these wonderful splodges. This is the painting I chose to give to my dad.Hood2_02 copy At this point, the stencil began to disintegrate.

Hood3_01 copy

Here I flipped the stencil over and used it to print with as well.Hood4_01 copy

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