Paul Gerrard on character concepts for MTV’s The Shannara Chronicles

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.”

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Dagda Mor concept by Paul Gerrard

Dagda Mor

“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.”

 

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Dagda Mor concept by Paul Gerrard

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Dagda Mor concept by Paul Gerrard

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Dagda Mor armour exploration by Paul Gerrard

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Dagda Mor shoulder armour explorations

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Dagda Mor concept by Paul Gerrard

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Dagda Mor armour exploration by Paul Gerrard

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Dagda Mor armour exploration by Paul Gerrard

 

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Dagda Mor: Variations on the facial scars and deformations. Incorporating different styles of adornments and how they ‘interact’ with the flesh.

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Dagda Mor: Paul explored all manor of adornment influences, from Celtic to Viking to contemporary fetish jewellery.

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Dagda Mor: Although scaring played a major part in his design Paul was careful never to cross that line between tribal and monster. It had to have purpose.

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Dagda Mor: An unused iteration (one of Paul’s favourites). Chains , skulls, bones , adorned with body parts and the faces of his victims. A chrome metal-plated bison skull for a helmet.

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Dagda Mor has an army at his disposal led by Reapers ( generals). For these Paul created a wide spectrum of armour and helmet styles—some using rustic artefacts, plates of armour, and others with more occult overtones such like bones. Note: a lot of the occult symbolism is evident in the design itself not just the detail. The shapes of the helmet, collar bones and armour form symbols and motifs.

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Dagda Mors’ Demons and the Reaper by Paul Gerrard

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Dagda Mors’ Demons and the Reaper: Iterations are what Paul does best, once the fundamentals of the character are in place he loves to blast out a mass of different versions , different armour, adornment , weapons and so on.

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Dagda Mors’ Demons and the Reaper by Paul Gerrard

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Dagda Mors’ Demons and the Reaper by Paul Gerrard

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Dagda Mors’ Demons and the Reaper by Paul Gerrard

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Dagda Mors’ Demons and the Reaper by Paul Gerrard

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Dagda Mors’ Demons and the Reaper: Paul admitted he could have gone on forever doing different versions of these guys but in TV you have limited time so he settled on approx 30 versions then took a breather.

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Dagda Mors’ Demons and the Reaper by Paul Gerrard

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Dagda Mors’ Demons and the Reaper by Paul Gerrard

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Dagda Mors’ Demons and the Reaper by Paul Gerrard

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The Troll by Paul Gerrard. A post-apocalyptic troll! You don’t get many briefs like this. Without giving away any spoilers, the design of these characters are function-driven and hold a few cool surprises. There are two distinct elements in his design that bridge the past and the future. The animal tusks and the gas mask.

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The Changeling by Paul Gerrard. A semi translucent changeling with mirror-like eyes. According to Paul, “Most of my designs for this one where a little too mental for mainstream TV . This is the tamest version I could find—some looked like an exploded slug that had been patched back together in haste. You have to explore in order to refine.”

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The Furies by Paul Gerrard. This first iteration was considered too blocky.

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The Furies by Paul Gerrard. “I took a step back after the first iteration and came at it from a different angle. I tried a traditional winged man then ‘broke’ his features up. Cracking open his chest and back—a motif I mimicked in his face—representing a broken man. From the holes grew tusks and teeth representing the inner demon of man.

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The Furies by Paul Gerrard

Slanter Gnome

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.”

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Slanter Gnome by Paul Gerrard. “Not someone you would want to see at the bottom of the garden that’s for sure. I honestly have no idea how this guy came about. I just started sketching and within an hour or so I nailed his look. I hope he makes it into future episodes, this character is my favourite after Dagda Mor. I got a sneak peak at the prosthetic version of this guy and he looks superb, even more gruesome and creepy than I envisioned.”

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Slanter Gnome by Paul Gerrard

The Shannara Chronicles debuted with a 2-hour episode on MTV Tuesday 5th January.


About the author

Daniel is the Product Manager for ArtStation.