Vikings battle Zeppelins!
"Night. There's a castle on the clifftops above the sea. Castle is on fire. Top of massive Zeppelin is level with the battlements.
Crazy red haired princess on battlements is using magic to keep the zeppelin caught there. Meanwhile, Ranulph - shirt sleeves - and 2 dozen Vikings in mail are jumping from the battlements - magic assisted - to land on the zeppelin's back. They look kind of grim. Kind of Batman moment.
Airship is silk over ribs. There's an open machine gun post on the dorsal with a little fence around it. Obviously, it has a massive tale fin."
Whew. I mean, really, seriously, whew. I actually did that plumber-patented teeth-sucking thing. With a scene like that, where do you start? I did what every self-respecting artist should always do: I grabbed hold of the one thing that I thought I had a chance of getting right, and pretended the rest of it didn't exist. In this case, that was Maud, the magical princess.
I started by going to my Pinterest board to see if I could find a photograph of anyone that looked like they might be magically holding a zeppelin aloft. There were a lot of noble princess types, but in fact the photo that grabbed my attention was the one to the left above -- yes, she's half naked and holding a gun, which was not in the brief, but she has a very satisfyingly Bonnie and Clyde posture going on that I thought would work for our heroine. To the right you can see my sketch. I've replaced the gun with an outstretched hand, fingers curled up as if lifting, and (after some humming and hawing and trying out various options) I've brought her other arm into view: the perspective in which her non-working arm is completely hidden behind her back works in the photo, but it didn't translate well in my sketch. Looking at the two pictures side-by-side again I now also notice that Maud in my sketch has a rather imperious look on her face, and has lost the slightly knowing, "oh, you think you can mess with me?" expression of the original photo, which is a shame, but which in the end probably worked out well, as you'll see below.
Ok, so now we have the beginnings of a princess, but how is she going to fit into that gloriously insane scene in Martin's brief? Well, at some point when I was researching pulp book covers for SVT1, I rediscovered the fabulous Nancy Drew book covers of my youth, many of which feature a montage of different images from the book (like the cover above left), rather than one single scene. It occurred to me that with everything (castle! clifftop! fire! zeppelin! sexy knight! mad princess! 24 leaping vikings! partridges! pear trees!) that was meant to be included in the SVT2 cover, dividing it up into multiple smaller scenes might be the way to go. I sent an email with a quick sketch (above right) to Martin, and asked him what he thought. Answer came there back: "Awesome. But..."
But?!? Ah, but, the "but" wasn't anything to do with the proposed composition (that was the "Awesome" -- phew), but rather our lovely Maud, who Martin was seeing for the first time. Martin informed me that his Maud was modelled on the old Robin of Sherwood actress Judi Trott, "but completely nuts. Like she gets an unholy kick out of casting magic." And at that point in the message Martin inserted a photo of Miranda Richardson as Queenie from Blackadder (see below left) looking particularly bonkers. Fair enough, I thought to myself, let's just transplant Queenie's features on to Maud.
At this point I want to stop my little narrative to say that I really, really wasn't going to include this next set of pictures. My sketch is hilariously bad, and cringingly embarrassing, and other phrases meaning that I really kinda want to consign it to the dustbin* forever. But, in the interest of artistic honesty I'm going to put it out there. Because, let's face it, creating stuff never goes A, B, done. It's more like A, Q, H, monkey, blue cheese, roundabout, jam sandwich, C, close enough, done.
So there you have it folks. This is what you get when you try to shoehorn two images together without really thinking about it. Yes, Maud now looks crazy, but in a possessed-by-a-demon kind of way (or even a goosed-up-the-backside kind of way), rather than a perfect-but-slightly-crackers kind of way. Back to the drawing board I went.
Actually, I went back to the research first. I was on the hunt for Maud's face. She needed to be beautiful, of course, perhaps even delicate, but also look capable of totally cleaning your clock if necessary (or at least look as if she thinks she's totally capable). And the look that kept popping into my head was one that actress Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell in Game of Thrones, Irene Adler in Elementary) often has -- a combination of innocent and slightly frighteningly powerful. The trick would be to somehow capture that look.
If I had to pin it down, I'd say the look comes from the combination of the enormous, wide-set, doe eyes (very Disney princess), and the smirk-plus-canted-eyebrow (very Disney villainess, actually). The sketch to the top right was the first one I did; the lower one was altered at Martin's request to make Maud more elfin: I narrowed her face and emphasised the pointy angles. Natalie Dorman has a way of tipping her head down and looking at you slightly through her eyebrows, which makes her look rather cunning (Benedict Cumberbatch does that too, for anyone who's taking notes on this sort of thing). For Maud I wanted less scheming , and more accidentally-getting-high-on-her-own-power, so I kept her eyes quite wide open at the top, and slightly closed at the bottom, hoping to convey concentration and excitement.
In the end what we ended up with was something I described to Martin as a sociopathic Tinkerbell. And, as this post has gone on much longer than anticipated already, and I haven't even started getting to the digital stuff, I shall stop here and carry on tomorrow.
And just in case you haven't got your copy yet, go check out Swords Versus Tanks 2: Vikings battle Zeppelins while forbidden desires clash! And then leave a lovely review!
* US: trashcan, CAN: garbage, SCOT: bucket