t’s a little rare, I think, for productions of our size and budget to go the extra mile to produce concept and pre-visualization art for a film. I also think it’s incredibly important, and I’ve found that I’ve made decisions about the production based on the art we’ve produced.
I’ve been very fortunate these past few weeks to work with Richard Makoto Sashigane out of Japan on a series of concept art panels. The script is only 25 minutes long, so we picked eight images that we felt best conveyed the story. Some of them came very easily. Others took more work. Here’s an example of the one we wrapped last night. This is the seventh art panel out of eight, so we’re at the climax of the story here!
The script here called for a dramatic scene to be played out between our two characters where one of them has imbibed a [redacted] from a small vial and the other has fallen to his knees in a moment of anguish. In the film, the actor may or may not make the choice to go so far as to hit the floor, but for the sake of the concept art, we need to tell the story visually and it really has to drive the performance home. Richard sent me these thumbnails based on the script and I thought they were good, but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.
I took the second panel into Photoshop and did a quick edit. Job number one was tilting the camera to convey a sense of unease. Leaving those lines static the way they were in the panels he provided didn’t give us enough drama! Second was the distance from the scene. This is a very emotional scene and a crucial moment between these two characters. Putting the camera all the way across the room would divorce us far too much from the emotional impact. We needed to get close. Third, and finally, I wanted to change the position of the camera so that we were behind the man enough so that he overlapped her. The scene is about connection, and about their relationship, so having them appear to be so separate on screen would actually have the opposite effect than what we wanted! I kicked this back over to Richard and gave him some time to get to work.
When Richard came back with this piece, we knew we were getting close, but both of us were bothered by the position of the hand. Luckily, I had asked him to make sure he did all the art of the man on a separate layer so we could change him as needed. Good thing, too!
Here we go! Much closer! The hands-to-the-head is a universal symbol for anguish! Or she could be arresting him and telling him to “assume the position.” Luckily, this was an easy fix!
Something as simple as dropping the elbows changed the whole attitude of his reaction here. We were really close. Richard, being the consummate professional and real perfectionist, said, “Actually now coming back to it I can see multitudes of things wrong with this picture. Well mainly the colors, and there’s not really any depth to it.”
Personally, I thought the piece was already gorgeous. But as an artist myself, I understood where he was coming from, and I saw an opportunity to help tell the story better. This story is set largely on Shadow, one of the rim worlds, and it’s got all the Old West charm. But that means a lot of brown. Lots and lots of brown. Nothing but earth tones. The woman in the shot is a Companion, and she represents the Core worlds, and the clash of their cultures is what drives a lot of the conflict in the story. Also? The vial she’s letting fall from her hand is a very important prop in the scene and it was getting lost here.
Here were my notes to Richard: “I think if you put her in a blue silk dress it would cure a lot of ills. Just that sudden contrast would give us a focal point and separate her from the background. I think it’s better than you think it is. My only real complaint is that the vial is completely lost. It may not help much, but let’s get a hard rim light on that vial. Should take you about 8 seconds. Haha!”
And so, eight seconds later…
Seeing this panel completed helped us make wardrobe decisions when we go to shoot. A red or tan dress in this scene doesn’t work. We needed a color to contrast with the frontier-like ambiance. It wasn’t why we did the concept art to begin with, but it’s been a great unexpected benefit!
So what do you think, Browncoats? Isn’t it shiny?