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 PG13 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

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