In July 2014, Paul Gerrard was approached by his friend and Director Jonathan Liebesman whom he had worked with many times. Asked to work on a ‘cool TV show’, and knowing what Liebesman did was always fascinating and widely imaginative, Paul had no hesitation signing up. The job was to concept the characters of The Shannara Chronicles based on Terry Brooks’ best-selling fantasy novels. What he hadn’t counted on is how close the world and characters would be to his own personal artistic interests—post-apocalyptic creatures and dark brooding overlords dripping in esoteric symbolism.
After the initial introductions, the team consisted of John Liebesman, Miles Millar , Al Gough and producer David Blocker. Character iterations and ideas would bounce around between the five.
Concepting characters and creatures
“I worked on a range of characters and creatures including Dagda Mor, his Demons, the Changeling, the Trolls, Reapers, Furies and one of my favourites the Slanter Gnome,” explains Gerrard. “With each character came a very short brief, nothing more than a heads up on their place in the world. This was intentional , the team where interested in my take on things, my version of said characters without too much ‘outside’ influence. Generally studios would do this, get my vision on a certain character. That vision would then become part of a larger process that leads inevitably to the end design. In this instance it was refreshing to know that my take on these character was subsequently damn close to the end design—in many cases near identical. As a concept artist you are part of a large process and it’s vital to understand that what you create is not always what ends up on screen, but that doesn’t make it a less important part of the process. For The Shannara Chronicles, I think everthing clicked just right and the guys knew exactly what characters to throw my way. I love the process, end design or not the process is the fun part and seeing the entirety or just parts of your creations come alive is what its all about.”
“In TV you get very little time to explore a character so you have to work fast, very fast,” admits Gerrard. “I love that pace. I work with speedy iterations—loads of them. I throw all kinds of crazy stuff at the client , then we hone in and refine . Dagda Mor got the full treatment though , as he is the main antagonist of the show he got most of the love with iterations exploring everything from Viking warrior to macabre demon and dark occultist. In essence he is a corrupted Elf , something I wanted to explore in a striking way with body deformation and scarring. I explored various uses of ancient relics as a means to deform the flesh. I explored the complex , the intricate then streamlined its interpretation. The best design in my opinion is one that can be imitated with ease! This often takes a refinement process that needs the artist to step away from the image, an artist can get too close and not see beyond the details. You need to transcend that in order to refine accordingly.”
Paul also had fun exploring Dagda Mor’s costume: “Before the creepy slim version you see in the show we did massive muscular warrior versions, armoured versions adorned with occult symbols and shamanic talismans, burnt versions and all manner of ‘corrupted’ metal. His Demons costumes were pushed ever further—maybe too far in some cases with bizarre bent metal interwoven through body segments, and armour that encased the head like some kind of medieval gimp mask.”
On the subject of process and iterations, Paul explains how it’s not always a slog: “I created a single pass at Slanter Gnome. The brief was to create a horrific version of a Gnome with striking white wisps of hair. I sent the first iteration of his face and multiple costumes. I had no feedback from that face so I presumed that I was too far off the mark and the task to create Slanter Gnome had been passed to another artist. I was on another image straight away so I never gave it a thought until later. Later I asked the guys about the Gnome concept, turns out they loved that design so much that no more versions where needed and it was sent straight to the prosthetic guys. Sometimes it work that way, you can nail an image straight away or it can take hundreds of iterations and many hours of work.”
The Shannara Chronicles debuted with a 2-hour episode on MTV Tuesday 5th January.