Sunday, April 12, 2015

Red Dot Diva Chats With Will Simpson - Game of Thrones' Storyboard Artist!

Last year, Red Dot Diva had the rare opportunity to be able to sit down for a casual lunch chit-chat with Will Simpson. The talented storyboard artist of HBO's epic-ly popular TV series "Game of Thrones" was an invited guest speaker for Screen Singapore 2014.

Will Simpson has worked on the elaborate fantasy series since the beginning. He is also internationally known as a comic artist who have worked on titles like "Batman", "Transformers" and "Judge Dredd". About more than 10 years ago, Will entered into the foray of storyboarding and concept art, with his work appearing in movies like "City of Ember" and "Reign of Fire".

With an easy smile and amiable personality that would put anyone at ease almost immediately, Will Simpson began the session by talking about other stuff that he had been doing recently. In his musical Irish accent, he revealed that in between shows, he has been working on a 6-part vampire story comic strip.

"People have assumed that I haven't done comic strips in years, but I actually have. Just that most people haven't seen the stuff that I've done. We did a community graphic novel back home. We were teaching people about story-telling and comic artwork. And the whole big thing was to define people's style. Finding what people has as their own art style. I did 50-page linking story through the whole book. So the characters that were in my story... this was based on a certain area in Belfast, would go walking down the street, and as they go around the corner, someone will pass by, and they will lead into another person's story, for which they will do the artwork for. And this whole thing was about an entire day in the life of this particular street. It was good, it was an interesting idea and a good mix of art styles as well."

And as Will slowly devoured the "ta pau" (that's takeaway, for the non-locals) Hainanese chicken rice for lunch, Red Dot Diva posed some nosy questions.

Red Dot Diva: Is there any other genre which you'd love to do?
Will: I've done scifi and I've done horror and basic kind of thriller stories as well. I've done a little bit of superheroes stuff. So kinda touched a lot of different stuff. So these days, whatever genre I've done a script for, that's what I'd like to do at the moment. I've got a big science-fiction story that I'd really like to do, and probably have to be done as a book before it can be done as anything else. I wrote it as a film script, but it would cost an awful lot of money to do, and I don't think anybody would give me that money. I got a really creepy horror story that I'd love to do, and I also got a thriller which would be easy to make. I could draw them as books, but I wrote them originally as film scripts, so we'll see.

Red Dot Diva: What was the most challenging sequence that you had to do the storyboards for in "Game of Thrones"?
Will: The most challenging one was most probably the battle at Blackwater Bay. Because I had to do four different versions of it. It was a monster. It was one month in my life where I didn't have a single day off. It was hard going into the office every day when you did not have any work breaks.  
Red Dot Diva: That sequence was a fan favourite though!
Will: It was worth it. When you see what came out on screen, it showed how much everybody cared about what they were doing. It was a fantastic scene.

Red Dot Diva: Other than doing a sequence many times, what other components of a scene would make a sequence challenging?
Will: It is time factor that makes it challenging. You need to turn in the sequence within a certain time and there's a lot of it. Other than that, I don't actually find the work challenging in a bad way. I find it challenging in a good way. Time is the major hassle and it's always one of those pressure to do it looks the best that it can, for the limited time period.

White Walker (pic from Will Simpson's Facebook)
Red Dot Diva: I understand that you also had a hand with the look of the White Walkers, which I absolutely love. Where did you draw inspiration from when you were creating their image?
Will: I read the description that George wrote in his book, and I paid attention to what he'd written, and I tried to interpret as close as I possibly could. 

There is a life-sized White Walker that stands in the props department. He stands there with his hands like this and his eyes are closed. And he is at the backlot, on a wooden floor in the that is quite springy, and when the wind hits it, he shakes. If you're in there, and he starts to move and you expect his eyes to open. He is so realistic.
Red Dot Diva: I'd love to see that!
Will: That would be quite a trip.

Red Dot Diva: Do you collect ideas? When you see something, how do you record them? Is there a memory bank?
I do take a lot of photographs. And I'm never sure what they were be useful for. It's faster to take a photo than draw  or paint something. In a way, you are consistently making bits of artwork that you may need down the line. Certainly, like for "Game of Thrones", you are able to go to locations and sets and try to place characters in that. You take photographs of how light hits some things. I can't even tell you how many photos of skies that I've taken. I have take photos of bits of machinery, so that I could turn them into space stations. 

Red Dot Diva: Is there any thing you saw in Singapore, that you think could apply to your work? 
Will: For me, straightaway, it's the architecture. It is beautiful and different, and so futuristic. I've taken a lot of photographs of the buildings I've seen. At some point, you know that they are going to turn up in something, or a version of something that you will be doing. I was at the river last night and I was looking at the skyline and it was just stunning. I've been to a lot of interesting cities, but this place is unique.

Three-Eyed Raven (pic from HBO Asia)

As Will was finishing up his chicken rice, there was still some time on hand. The conversation turned to the topic of Comic-Con and other conventions in the UK, where the focus on comic creators have been less pronounced in recent times. Although, there had been good things mentioned about Thought Bubble UK by many participants and attendees the last couple of years.

Will proferred that one of the major reasons for the influx of TV/ movies in these conventions are the superhero films that have been all the rage recently. CGI had made these movies possible, and thankfully, many of these (mostly Marvel) films were superbly entertaining, like "The Avengers" and "Guardians of the Galaxy".

The chat then segued to TV shows and Will mentioned that he was really into "Gotham".

Will: I love "Gotham" as well. There seems to be people who are one of the other, but "Gotham", I love that gritty, dark element to it. And that guy who is playing the Penguin is incredible.
Red Dot Diva: Ohhh.. The Penguin.
Both Red Dot Diva and Will said in unison: He is sooooooo good.
Will: Yes, so baaaad!
Red Dot Diva: He's my favourite!

With that, Red Dot Diva and Will Simpson - both hardcore TV fans - geeked out and bonded over several other shows like "The Flash", "Arrow", "American Horror Story" and "Agents of Shield", where Diva told Will that there was a shot of the Singapore skyline in one of the episodes, which he did not know about. And then, not so surprisingly they also gushed about how fantastic "Penny Dreadful" was too.

Will: "Penny Dreadful" is really close to the the comic "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" and it is so worth watching. And it's dealing with the old horror characters as well. So the classic, Victorian stuff. It's great!

Red Dot Diva: Just to wrap up the session, what kind of key skills do you think a good concept artist should possess?
Will: First thing is, they have to have a good ability to tell a story. It is absolutely essential, and that they can tell it clearly. There are a lot of comic strip artists who do great artwork who can't tell a good story. It's the same with story boarding, it has to well-told and clear. You also need to draw very detailed, very fast and it's absolutely important that you can turn stuff around quickly. The other big thing is you have to be able to interpret somebody else's ideas as if they are your own. You have to get into the mind of the person or the director you are working with. You have to be some kind of a psychologist. You have to be able to read them. You also have to listen. You have to have that ability and allow them their say and taking all that information in. I think all of these points are essential for being a good storyboard artist. You have to draw anything at anytime and make it convincing.

Will Simpson signed my FUNKO Arya Stark!

The exciting premiere of "Game of Thrones" Season 5 is barrelling toward you very very soon! (Less than 7 hours from now?!)

While watching the visually captivating episodes and whenever you spot a White Walker, the Dragons, Direwolves or the Three-eyed Raven on your screen, take some time to appreciate and applaud the energy, hard work and creatively detailed imagination of Will Simpson!


Special thanks to HBO Asia for this lovely interview opportunity!


Join in the hunt for Drogon on Twitter! It's all for a good cause.

Lay some chose dragon bait from here, or make/ select your own... (Perhaps someone from the office that you detest most? Or your mother-in-law..? ) together with the hashtag #CatchDrogon or #CatchDrogonAsia.
Hopefully, Drogon will swoop in for a big bite.
If he does, retweet his appearance immediately!


"Game of Thrones" Season will air the same time as the U.S. premiere.
Singapore fans! Tune in to HBO (StarHub TV Ch 601) from April 13, 9 AM, with prime-time encore from 9 PM the same day. Brand new episodes will air weekly at the same time. The series will also be available on HBO ON DEMAND.

Share your tweets and posts about "Game of Thrones" Season 5 by using the hashtag #HBOAsiaGOTS5.

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