Following on from my photos of Spain, here are some from a recent trip to the West Highlands of Scotland.
I’m back in Edinburgh for a few months, working as a Clean Up Artist (if you don’t know what that is, here’s an example) on a feature film I can’t talk about yet. It’s a really exciting project and I’m looking forward to sharing more about that, hopefully soon. One of the tricky things with working in animation is that a lot of what I do can’t be shown for one reason or another, so this is a glimpse at some of my personal drawings!
This afternoon I spent some time in one of my favourite places, the National Museum of Scotland. I went down into the early Scottish history section and sketches a few objects that caught my interest. Here are a couple of them.
Elaborate Viking sword hilt, Eigg
Pony cap and horns (which were added at a later date), Torrs
Move Summit is an industry-focused animation conference in Edinburgh now in its third year. In 2017 and 2018 I was a volunteer, but this time I was able to attend. This year it was a three day event jam-packed with speakers from Pixar, Axis, Aardman Animations, Blue Zoo, and many many more. The first day, Wednesday, was geared to students and those new to the industry, though they could also attend the other days.
Noah Klocek, Art Director at Pixar, spoke on Thursday about ‘The Importance of Authenticity in Animation’. Noah spoke in depth about considering the story when designing, but much of what he said could be applied to other areas of filmmaking. I found this talk particularly inspiring.
That afternoon Noah ran a workshop which recapped and further explored the idea of authenticity. Especially emphasised was research – he said it’s better to have great research and a bad drawing than a beautiful drawing without research. It was thought-provoking, and has challenged me to think about and change how I go about my projects.
Mike Sharpe, of Found Studio, spoke about how he split work into three categories: Base work, Investment, and Unique. The first is the general day-to-day work which pays the bills, the second work that’s more exciting but doesn’t necessarily have the budget, and the third the space to play and try out new things as part of personal projects. Other speakers, including Jon Yeo and Noah Klocek, spoke about this work/play balance. It’s something else I need to rethink, and challenge myself to do.
On Friday I attended the character design talk and workshop led by Kenneth Anderson. It was great to learn about his journey into character design, and pick up several of his tips. In the workshop we worked through a character design for an evil and eccentric hunter child zombie. Beginning with really simple shapes, everyone developed their own version of the monster. I enjoyed watching his process, and seeing how much was very loose and undefined. I think with character design I tend to rush ahead, and get stuck, when I need to spend more time at the basic stages to set a good foundation.
The other part of Move Summit is the networking! There are plenty of opportunities throughout the days to catch up with or get to know other artists and professionals, but there are also evening socials. At Drink and Draw, I took the time to sketch some of the others there as well as have fun doodling.
I had an incredible time, and came away full of inspiration! It’s a fantastic event for those studying or working in animation. Be sure to put it in your diaries for next year!
While my sister and brother-in-law were visiting, a neighbour told us where we could watch badgers. I’d always been under the impression they only ventured out at the dead of night, but he assured us that from around 7pm was a good time to see them. After one false start (we misunderstood his instructions and ended up in the wrong wood) and a wait of about half an hour my sister and I saw a family of four badgers running about, scratching, and playing. I didn’t take my sketchbook – next time I will – but I took my camera, and though my pictures weren’t great the footage I filmed worked pretty well. The sketches below are studies from the videos I recorded.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s been over a year since I last updated my portfolio and showreel so (thanks to the prodding of others) I’m finally sorting through my work. In doing so I uncovered this painting of Glencoe. From what I remember I abandoned it in frustration, but I quite like it now! It’s loosely based on a photograph I took the last time I was there.
I had an amazing time in LA, but didn’t draw the sky because it always looked like this. There were no clouds, there was no rain, there was nothing but sunshine.
Returning to Scotland was a bit of a shock. It’s cold, wet and grey. But our sky is much more interesting.
Yesterday I went on a Timberbush Tour of the Scottish Highlands, seeing places like Glencoe and Loch Ness. I’ve been to Loch Ness before, and through Glencoe lots of times, but this is the first time I’ve done a tour of my own country – and certainly the first time I’ve been up through the Highlands and back home in one day! I also enjoyed the stories and legends told by the guide, some of which were new to me.
I think that if you’re visiting Edinburgh and have only one day spare this is a fantastic way to see more of Scotland. But, if you’ve more time, it’s worth hiring a car and taking the journey a little more slowly. Glencoe is beautiful, and a wonderful place for a walk (even a short one) and a picnic. I didn’t like piling out of the coach and being herded back on again five minutes later. However I did manage to dash off two quick sketches! The first is below.At Loch Ness, there was an option to go on a boat tour. I stayed behind to sketch, but again only managed two …
By this point the scenery was descending into cloud and there was little left for me to draw. A few seconds later it started to rain, and then the thunder and lightning began. My second plan of having a walk in the forest thus destroyed as well, I went into the hotel cafe for a hot chocolate. This is the second Glencoe sketch – I was back on the coach at this stage, and managed to jot this down before it pulled away.
Kelpies feature in many Scottish myths, though similar creatures can be found in other cultures under different names. Unpleasant in nature, they trick their victims and then drown and eat them.
I’ve been writing a story about a kelpie and when the challenge of drawing one came up I had to take part!