Forty years, I recall that one storyboard assignment was particularly unique and very challenging. Like most illustrators then, I preferred doing advertising or editorial illustration for print, however storyboad work was a welcome filler between the more gratifying assignments. For the most part, all my storyboard assignment were fairly typical.. mostly generic average people or character studies but generally nothing really “off the wall”. That changed when I began doing storyboards for the movie industry, with the advent of special effects.
Phil Tippett, who had worked for Lucas Films, started his own computer special effects and annimation studio in Berkeley. He needed an experienced storyboard illustrator for a movie assignment he was working on. So, he went to Doug Chiang, the CD at Lucas Films, for a recommendation. Previously, I was part of the team under Doug Chiang, that illustrated storyboards for Star Wars, Episode 1, The Phantom Menace, in the late 1990s’. Doug recommended me to Phil Tippett, who contacted me to work on a developmental segment for the remake of the 1960s’ film, “The Haunting.”
Phil wanted me to visually create and illustrate an evil entity, a ghost or shroud that is morfed from a wisp of smoke that emerges from a fireplace. The evil spirit was to evolve into a horrible, dark, depraved figure that was the embodiment of the original owner and occupant of the mansion, during the 1800s’. He was a scourge that had committed a vicious reign of slaughter on men, women and children. The film was shot inside and outside a real gothic mansion in England, as well as on a movie set. Originally, it was to be filmed as a dark movie with a 17 and older Adult rating.
This was going to be a challenge. I had never illustrated evil before, and I really didn’t have a clear vision in my mind of how I would pull it off. I had three days to create over forty approved oversized storyboard frames in black and white. Phil wanted traditionally illustrated boards, rather than digitally illustrated on the computer. He felt that it would be more flexible, and more subjective.. and probably faster.
I told my wife about the job I was going to do, and that I was locking myself in my studio at home, until the job was finished. I explained that I would have to transform myself, and risk going inside the evil character, without becoming the character. I told her it might be too dangerous to enter my studio, so just leave my meals on a tray, in front of my door. She responded in a casual voice, “Ha, I doubt that I will notice the difference, Mr. Hyde.” Since I was so preoccupied with my new assignment, I never saw that one coming.
My first few sketches resembled a cranky old man, but not an evil shroud. Then I recalled a fine artist, named Francis Bacon, a kind of Edgar Allen Poe of the art world. He painted some ugly deformed and distorted people, in an effective unique way. I looked up some of his work, which began converting my brain from my normal thought processes to the dark evil side of the imagination. As my wife facetiously alluded to, I was (metaphorically speaking) stepping out of Dr. Jekyll’s shoes and stepping into Mr. Hyde’s shoes. Okay, so maybe that’s a little overkill. But, I did feel my brain stretching a bit, and perhaps the lack of sleep helped me hallucinate a little. Incidentally, unlike Dr. Jekyll, I did not use chemicals or drugs, just a lot of coffee to stay awake. At least I thought it was coffee.
The bottom line was that Phil Tippett and the movie people were very pleased with the evil shroud and the storyboard frames, but there is always that pesky fly in the ointment. The promoters decided to expand their audience potential, so they changed it to a PG-13 rating. Therefore, they had to tone down the dark portion of the movie when they filmed it, by cutting out some of the evil spirit visuals, as well as some other semi-violent scenes. We all were disappointed in the cuts, since a lot of work went into developing what they originally had envisioned.. but “that’s show biz.”
I attached some random approved frames that I did for “The Haunting”. These scenes were portrayed in a furious violent storm of negative satanic energy. I used a black prismacolor pencil on a semi-transparent layout bond stock, and added a computer generated gray tone on just a few, to indicate the shroud dying and fading back into the darkness.
by Tom Watson