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Concept Artist Interview

7th February 2014

MI6 caught up with Corran Brownlee who, together with his brother Arran, provided storyboard artwork for the haunting 'Skyfall' title sequence

MI6 logo By MI6 Staff
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Can you tell us a bit about how you got started in the industry?
Arran [Brownlee] and I have been drawing forever. When we were little we'd make comics featuring our family members as evil villains getting their arses kicked, and we'd put them in everyone's stocking at Christmas. There weren't really any storyboard artists or concept artists in Calgary, Alberta in the late nineties - and there wasn't Google or YouTube or behind-the-scenes extras on DVDs. I had no idea what a storyboard artist did when I was hired to be one.

Arran was in theatre school at the time and was seeing a girl whose dad is Scott Dobbie, an art director on Disney's "Honey I Shrunk The Kids", the TV show. I was painting and Scott came to my art show and asked if I'd be interested in being a storyboard artist. I didn't know what it meant but I said, 'yes,' and faked it. There were a lot of things shooting in Alberta at that time and they all wanted storyboard and concept artists, so Arran started doing them too. After a while we decided to work together on. Ideas are always better when you have someone to bounce them off. Things are so different now. There are so many new ways to get into the business.

How did you come to work on "Skyfall" with Daniel Kleinman?
Danny has done the all Bond openings - give or take one or two - since "GoldenEye." He's made my favourites. If he likes collaborating with someone he will do his best to keep him or her around. Arran and I have worked on nearly 100 projects with Danny over the last ten years. We work really well together. We were thrilled that he brought us on board for "Skyfall." It was more than just a job on a film, it was the 50th anniversary of Bond. It was more like being part of an historic event.

Above: Concept art for the "Skyfall" title sequence. Copyright Corran Brownlee. Used with Permission.

How did the creative process work? What did you both bring to the concepts?
First, Danny and [director] Sam Mendes get together for a chat to make sure they're heading in the same direction with the broader vision. Then Danny calls us in for a chat and shows us a list of ideas he'd like to see drawn up and asks us to add other ideas that would fit the vision. So then we start brainstorming, making rough images and gathering useful elements. Then we send a pile of ideas to Danny. He tells us what he likes and where it could go. We keep doing that process until we narrow in on the sequence.

Then those images get sent to Framestore who put the images in an animatic, which starts to form the structure and timing. It gets shifted a few times and all those rough images are eventually replaced by the final elements. At the same time the song and credits are finalised and it all comes together in the final moments before picture is locked.

When working together how do you divide up the workload?
It's not always the same process. It's quite organic - trendy word alert! We usually have a coffee first and talk about it until we pick the first few images to do. Then we'll usually divvy it up, saying, "Okay I'll work on those fire dragon ideas and you work on these graveyard ideas." Sometimes we have tea instead of coffee... Sometimes it is scotch...

What materials did you work on to create the concepts? Was there a predefined palette you had to work from?
We were given some art department photos of sets and locations. We were exploring things like shadows and reflections, murky water, kaleidoscopes, paper lanterns, fire and ash, blood, ink dropping in water. As far as colour palettes those would all be narrowed down as the production went along. Our images were focusing more story elements than colour palettes. We explored mood. We stayed pretty dark. This was after all a journey into Bond's mind, which can be a pretty dark place.

Above: Concept art for the "Skyfall" title sequence. Copyright Corran Brownlee. Used with Permission.

What tools did you use when creating the artwork?
We usually work in Photoshop, drawing on Waccom tablets. Some quick and dirty 3D programs like SketchUp to find basic shapes and angles; all on annoying laptops with broken fans that make loud noises.

The director Sam Mendes talk a lot about the themes of the credits upon release of the film, did Danny convey this to you both?
Yes Danny and Sam had their ideas for the titles before we got there. There was enough for us to know which direction we were heading.

Did you conduct any research into the 007 franchise before starting on "Skyfall"?
We grew up with the films, played with the toy Lotus that turned into a submarine - we used it as a Christmas tree ornament for a while too - and played the James Bond RPG when we were teenagers.

Which credits sequence was your personal favourite?
It changes all the time but I think ultimately "Skyfall" is my favourite title sequence, for so many reasons, one being the experience. I like the song for "Live And Let Die" but that title sequence is kind of mad. I like the fire and ice dancers in "Die Another Day," especially the close ups of the ice girls, really well done.

What projects are you currently working on?
We've got a few things in development at the moment, mostly our own stuff. One thing is a dark fantasy comic called "Goetica," about a witch who is on a quest to save magic; a sci-fi script called "The Bangers Of New Detroit" about a gang of misfits trying to get off a shitty mining planet; "Space Heat," which is a cartoon about cops in space which we sometimes post stuff about on Tumblr. We're doing a couple little animations for the new "Cosmos" series, which is really amazing. We were fans of the first Cosmos series.

More of Corran and Arran's work can be viewed at brownleebrothers.com. Many thanks to Corran Brownlee.

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