Drawing Evil

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As an illus­trator for nearly 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