Posts Tagged With: Art

World Building

city concept 3    DSC01001

World building is something that I’ve been fascinated with for years. From game design to creative writing it is quite literally the building blocks of all fantasy and fictional worlds. Between my film and illustration projects I will be exploring the idea of world building as I see it, from research to concept; map design, characters, location and inspiration to name but a few. Although I am essentially an artist and set designer I have an interest in writing and all forms of narrative such as game design. There will be posts that focus on all types of world building as well as visual inspiration.

Oni Demon internet     DSC00299

So whether you’re a concept artist, writer or budding production designer you should find something that suits all narrative research. It’s worth following the blog and also looking back over my MA work as there are many relevant entries about science fiction film and set design.

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The Creative Quarter Project: Phase 1

Last month Emma Bibby and I teamed up to take on a brief with Nottingham’s Creative Quarter initiative and Nottingham City Council in which artists work with apprentices from Nottingham’s various work sectors.

The Brief:- To work with the apprentices on designing and realising a piece of sculpture that would be installed for apprentice week at the beginning of March. Although it didn’t have to be a literal connection with their trades it had to encompass something about them.

We were also given £300 budget to work with.

We were assigned to the hairdressing academy and in week 1, once we’d meet up with Kathy from the Creative Quarter, Leanne from the council and all the other artists we spent some time collecting visual ideas as a starting point and as something to encourage the hairdressers to think of possible designs. We wanted them to have as much input from an early stage, so kept our ideas and visuals to the possible use of recycled materials and hairdressing styles, using visuals from Pinterest. Below is the mood/visual board that we put together to get the project started.


This was what we took to the first meeting, along with a selection of samples of plastics that could be used in the construction.

Meeting 1 mainly consisted of discussing the idea and CQ project, meeting some of the apprentices and their supervisors and leaving them with the task of coming up with an idea. We  were aware from the early stages that the apprentices didn’t have the building skills to do anything large-scale so Emma and I would take on the construction side. It was apparent that they had very little time to spare on the project, mainly Mondays.

Meeting 2 on the following Monday was when the idea was presented to us. They wanted to use old hairdressing heads that were no longer useful due to the thinning hair and build a larger head from those. There were practicalities to consider such as what paint to use, how much time they had to spare, scale and how many heads would need to be painted. We also discussed the possibility of doing some kind of hairstyle on top of the head, so left them with the task of designing an avant-garde hairstyle/piece for the following meeting.

head 1large-avant-garde-hair9

Above images are the heads to be used and an example of an avant-garde hairstyle.

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Science Fiction: A brief history

This last week I  looked at the origins of science fiction. What’s interesting is the way the genre reflects its time, not only socially but aesthetically. Science fiction as a genre began back in the 1890’s with writers like H.G. Wells with such novels as War of The Worlds and The Time Machine both of which show a cultural fascination with the future of mankind. Combining science and the power of the divine apocalypse, stories of dying worlds and alien attacks opened up the imagination and spurred on the continued growth and interest in the genre throughout the 20th Century. As cinema developed in the early 20th century novels were turned into film, with H.G. Well’s The Shape of things to Come. The visually bold  Metropolis in 1927 depicted the city as a vertical, mechanical image of capitalism, which aesthetically and socially was very much a product of its time. (BARNWELL, J., 2004, p100). Metropolis introduced the world to the city of the future.

hg wells npr images7U5SULWN met metropolis-from-above

Above images from Metropolis and War of The Worlds’s%20Influence%20on%20Future%20Film

It’s no surprise that aesthetically films took on elements of the decades in which they were made. Metropolis used art deco for its posters and Russian constructivist art, an art movement  that spanned the years between 1913-1940s. “Constructivist art is committed to complete abstraction with a devotion to modernity, where themes are often geometric, experimental and rarely emotional”


Art work by Vladimir Tatlin: Monument to the Third International” (1919-20, Moscow)

Science Fiction continued to reflect the social, political and cultural climate as it progressed through the 20th Century. During the 1950’s the film industry turned its attentions to the teenage audience also, producing low-budget B movies that were built on the popularity of magazines such as EC Comics and Weird Tales (1923-1954) (KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000. p4). So cinema was constantly drawing on inspiration from literature. It also drew on the political climate.

“Many can be related to concerns about the cold war and/or nuclear weapons, including a large group labelled ‘invasion narratives’ ”

This was hardly surprising given the devastation seen world-wide at the end of World War 2 with the bombing of Hiroshima. We saw what was possible with science, both the good and the bad, and science fiction continued to feed on this.  Invasion films were also in the social arena at this time as the momentum of the space program grew., though this was not a new concept with the earlier works of H.G.Wells. Technological advances made it possible and all the more real. Space travel was driven by the cold war and space race between USSR and the US and in 1957 the world saw Sputnik 1, the first man-made object in space, closely followed by the first human in space in 1961.

Then came the films during the 1960′ and 70’s that looked at science fiction in everyday life with mundane suburbia being turned on its head with films like Village of the Damned (1960) and  The Stepford Wives (1975). This was a result of America’s sociologists fearing that the American suburban family was ” … sinking into a morass of suburban conformity and complacency.” ( KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000. p 6)

So science fiction continued to find inspiration in the social contexts and it seemed that audiences wanted more. The film industry knew that these kinds of films were a lucrative business. “Suddenly, science fiction films were viewed as financially profitable and audiences  flocked to the theatres and craved more” ( on-line)

Money had its part to play in the audience/popularity story and later in the 20th century cinema was able to take audiences to far off galaxies in a visually realistic and engaging way with Star Wars (1977). Star Wars used the age-old tale of good versus evil and was often referred to a ‘western’ in space ( KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000. p 10). It mixed genres including fantasy with the presence of a magical force that binds everything together known as ‘The Force’. Spectacle had finally arrived in Hollywood and technology seemed to be leading the way in terms of how things were being produced and were going to be produced in the future.

But the social context always had an influence over the story that was to be told. The years following saw Virtual Reality/ computer versus human films  like The Lawnmower Man and The Matrix Trilogy . Invasion films like Independence Day continued to pull the audiences with special effects and the post apocalyptic/dystopian futures have seen a rise in popularity again due to environmental issues/politics and the war on terrorism  with The Hunger Games , The Road , The Terminator  combining horror and science fiction and creating all too believable outcomes for humankind.


KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA Science Fiction Cinema: From Outerspace to Cyberspace. 2000. London: Wallflower Press

BARNWELL, J., Production Design: Architects of the screen. 2004. London/New York: Wallflower Press [sourced on 15/01/14] [sourced on 15/01/14] [sourced on 15/01/14]  [sourced on 15/01/14]’s%20Influence%20on%20Future%20Film [sourced on 15/01/14] [sourced on 15/01/14]

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Future Landscapes: Photoshop development

I want to develop my Photoshop skills  further as it’s a useful tool for the Production Designer when producing concept art. I am trained in the more traditional approaches to design such as hand drawn concepts/costume etc. and on Carcass I had a go at drawing concepts and altering them in Photoshop. This time  I have developed images that are made up entirely of photographs. Here is one of my attempts with a few variations on colour, showing some of the stages of adaption.

The sky, moon/planet and city were all different photographs pieced together to create a composite image.

moon background

A cloud scene that is altered in Photoshop using hues/saturation and gradients. Below, the moon is added in stage 2.

moon background 3

Below:- Colour variation. I like to save variations just in case they come in useful for another scene at a later stage.

moon background 2


The addition of the cityscape. Original photo above.

apoc city 1

…and colour variations below.

apoc banner 3

apoc banner 4

moon background weird

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Artists and the Apocalypse

Today I came across the Polish artist Zdzisław Beksiński (1929-2005) who produced apocalyptic/hell like paintings reminiscent of film concepts. They are incredibly dark in their subject matter and I love how he uses simple colour schemes and organic textures to portray horror.


Grim Reaper


Night Creeper


Derelict House



I will be adding this artist to my scrapbook/visual research for future inspiration.

Reference source:- FOSTER, R., 2013. Visions Of Hell By A Murdered Polish Painter.London. [sourced on 21/12/2013]

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The Production Designer and The Art Department

A breakdown of the modern art department courtesy of Alex McDowell. This image is from The Art Direction Handbook for Film (RIZZO, M., 2005) and shows how the design departments are organised in relation to everyone else.

the art dept

The Production Designer is the head of the art department, so this is a breakdown of a simple art department structure in regards to the roles and relationships.

Production Designer as head

The core Team:-

The Art Director:- Organises everything on behalf of the Production Designer from coordinating the designers to the logistics of set/property production on a day-to-day basis. The AD reports directly to the Production designer.

Set Designer:- Designs and supervises the set build. Depending on the size of production can design one or more sets and  also produces drawings/concepts/blue prints. They too collaborate with the Director and Director of Photography.

Set Decorator:- Responsible for the décor of the set or location from soft furnishings through to lighting fixtures.

Property Master:- Responsible for all objects and props that are used by the actors. Works with the Set Decorator and Production Designer and is responsible for obtaining the props.

Support Staff:-

Buyer:- The person who purchases all decorative items such as furniture, clothes, props etc. They need to be good negotiators and to have a good knowledge of sources and suppliers.

Construction Coordinator:- Responsible for the building of sets from the technical drawings. Supervises the construction crew.

Construction Crew:- Made up of the carpenters and painters.

Production Illustrator:- Artists that paint or draw the concepts of the Production Designer’s ideas. Generally, they are only used on larger productions and are particularly useful in Science Fiction and Fantasy when trying to raise more funds for the production.

Scenic Artist:- Responsible for painting backdrops, signage, illustrative materials, murals, props etc. They can paint out hot spots, shadows or anything that interferes with the filming.

Set Dresser:- Works under the Set Decorator and applies the décor to the set. They often have a background in furnishing and decorating.

Greensman:- Responsible for the care and maintenance of the grass, shrubbery, trees and plants on location. They also can be involved in any landscaping needed for the shoot.

Draftsman:- Makes technical drawings of all the sets to scale ready for construction.

Location Manager:- Responsible for the location during pre-production and during filming. They are also responsible for the security of the location.

Location Scout:- Collaborates with the Director and Production Designer in finding suitable locations from the script.

Costume designers, Make-up and hair are all separate departments but are still under the supervision of the Production Designer. The production designer needs to have a good understanding of these crafts and of how they fit in to the overall look of the film.

Notes taken from The Filmmaker’s Guide To Production Design. Vincent Lo Brutto 2002

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Contexts: Where to go from here

I’ve been giving my project some thought in regards to context and have come up with a list of potential avenues of research.

The question:- Given the post production techniques available today, what is required from the Production Designer at the pre-production stage in terms of scenic design?

Initially I can break this down into a list:-

Post-production techniques

Production Design/Designers


Scenic design

Each one gives me a vast amount of potential research. I have started to look at the role of the Production designer and art department, seeing where it fits in to the production as a whole. I am also looking at the Pre-production stage.  As my chosen genre is Sci-Fi- the post-apocalyptic/dystopian film/TV production, I will mainly concentrate my scenic design and Production Designer research within these parameters.


The genre choice also gives me a wide base of potential research:-

Science fiction in film and contemporary culture.

The role of Production Designer within Science Fiction/changing role?

The culture of Post Apocalypse/Dystopia in modern culture.

Scenic design in Science Fiction.

Post-production techniques in relation to pre-production.

Does Science Fiction differ from other genres in regards to design, pre/post production, the designers, knowledge etc.


Visual research for Science Fiction/the chosen novel (this will form the basis for my practical development in stage 2)


I also wrote down a few thoughts when I attended the past MA students lecture that relate to the above and my learning agreement.

-Do culture and politics impact on the books and films that are being produced…and why?

-What do Production Designers think in regards to above(this may become part of my case studies)

-Audiences/readers in regards to science fiction/dystopia/post-apocalyptic books, films, TV. What do they think? (a possible case study/survey/poll. This might be useful for the production designer when dealing with budgets/metaphors/pre-production techniques.

-Determine if there is scope for change within Production Design. The future of the film industry with Sci-fi in mind.

-Can we promote a more holistic approach in the design process, from pre-post production?


With this in mind, the contexts for research are as follows:-

Technology:- skills, techniques for sci-fi in a changing world.

Culture/philosophical/social/political:- an overlap of background research into dystopia/post apocalyptic ideas and how it relates to society and film.

Economic:- this relates to technology in regards to the changing film industry/design roles/budgets. Producers?

Audience:- aesthetic issues when turning books into films/how the designer uses visual metaphors/symbolism in design. The designer has to portray the directors vision while keeping audience in mind.

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Final stages of Carcass: Technical drawing and props

It’s been a long time since I’ve drawn anything to scale so when we were asked to do technical drawings as plans and elevations I was a little apprehensive. The drawings that I was expected to do for theatre were quite simple in comparison. There was no need to think about the backs of flats and how flats would be constructed to allow them to be removed for cameras and lighting. The scale was also different–1:25 for theatre, 1:50 for film and television. Also I was a bit rusty.

I attempted to use CAD but due to inexperience and the deadline was not able to master the app in time to do even a basic drawing (I will however aim to spend some time during December and January producing at least one drawing on CAD for practice).

I’d also never drawn props to scale with construction measurements as I generally made props myself, sourced them or was there  in person in the past to oversee anything being built.

These scans show my ‘work in progress’ as they were not completely finished. I’m hoping to find suitable computer applications that will allow these sorts of drawings to be produced quickly. However, I do also want to keep my hand in with drawing in the traditional sense as it’s good to be able to use a variety of approaches. It can make a designer more adaptable to any given situation.

lucys flat elevation plan

Plan and extended elevation of Lucy’s flat.

mediknife prop 1

The Medknife prop.

box prop 1

Basic dimensions of the box prop to scale 1:20

The drawings show a progression of ideas, however, I do need to add more detail about materials, measurements, finishes etc.

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Final stages of Carcass: Storyboards

We were asked to produce  a notated storyboard of 12 frames depicting a scene from the script Carcass to get a feel for what is needed in a professional art department.

This is my first attempt:-

storyboard 1a

storyboard 2a

storyboard 3a

storyboard 4a

A few things that I have learnt from Carcass and the storyboarding workshop:-

Pictures are not enough. There’s a vast amount of coding, notes and information that needs to be added  to help the filmmakers do their job. The images need to convey information to the camera people, art director, props, lighting as well as director etc. So each department needs a certain kind of visual. This information needs to be placed at the side of the numbered image/frame so that everyone knows in what order each frame is to be filmed and exactly how it will look to the audience.

One of the good things about storyboarding for me is they are usually hand-drawn which uses my current skills. My usual  style has to now be adapted to a more sketchy approach which is much quicker and allows for whole scenes to be drawn out in an hour or two rather than a day. This is something that I need to practice once I have a firm idea of what is required notation wise.

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Carcass: Organic verses technology/past verses the future

sketchbook scans carcass 2

Above:- sketchbook work that shows the struggle between organic and machine and some of the Futurism art that inspired my first week on the project.

The world of Carcass is one without trees or nature, of humans playing God and their ability to control what they want to be; taking todays body beautiful/technology to whole new level through gender change, body restructuring etc. Whether it is a future of dreams or nightmares depends on your point of view. For me, any world without nature in its organic form can only serve to separate us from what it is to be human. I see elements of Lucy’s Carcass world as an attempt to return to nature but using technology. Maybe the buildings  have some kind of organic form that represents the past, that is metamorphic; buildings, people, ideas etc. in a state of transformation or growth. The main character seems at opposition to herself and to the world. The main characters are pulling in different directions. But Lucy wants to find herself, physically, metaphorically, historically. What or who is Lucy? What are her building blocks and can she control these?

Early on I was drawn to the Futurism artists vision of the future as much of their artwork as they embody elements of change, loathing of the past, love of speed, noise and mans triumph over nature which was a severe departure  from the organic art movement Art Nouveau a few years before. In a way it was a form of rebellion.

From internet source:-

The Italian painter and sculptor Umberto Boccioni (18821916) wrote the Manifesto of Futurist Painters in 1910 in which he vowed:

“We will fight with all our might the fanatical, senseless and snobbish religion of the past, a religion encouraged by the vicious existence of museums. We rebel against that spineless worshiping of old canvases, old statues and old bric-a-brac, against everything which is filthy and worm-ridden and corroded by time. We consider the habitual contempt for everything which is young, new and burning with life to be unjust and even criminal.”
Powerful words from the artist that painted these following works. His painting embodies the new by the use of strong lines, bright colour and seems to show a struggle between the old and the new. However, they are strangely organic and provide some interesting contrasts that could be useful when constructing Lucy’s world.
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