• R Cipolletta

e2: Visual Storytelling - Iain McCaig

The Gnomon Workshop 18.09.20

VOL.1: Anatomy of a Story

I am writing this entry retrospectively a week or so after going through these videos as only right after finishing this volume did I realise that it would be best to note down my thoughts as I went along rather than 'in conclusion' after the fact. For the future though, I'd prefer to note down my thoughts in bullet-points and then possibly convert them to sentences, if necessary.


After speaking to my lecturer about my desire to weave story and concept art into one project, I was recommended the Gnomon Workshop Visual Storytelling, a four volume video series by Iain McCaig on the subject of creating industry standard work - from story beats through to rendered designs. Immediately intrigued, I dove right in and practically inhaled the first volume.


My biggest point to come away with from watching Mr. McCaig create his work on this adaptation of the little mermaid is that he doesn't spend as much time as I would focussing on atmosphere. In his videos he infers that this is because he is far more focused on putting the story beats down before he worries about cinematography - which is a fine point - however I personally feel that tension and viewer/gamer-experience should factor a lot more into the details of the storyline at a concept-stage.

For example, I might've created a more subtle introduction to the 'space angels' rather than using the omniscience of a dream, so as to preserve the feeling of wonder or curiosity in the audience through gradual discovery rather than this thinly disguised foreshadowing. Notably as well, he omitted to include two story beats that I couldn't have imagined leaving out - the moment the little mermaid realises that its only her reflection she's been in love with the entire time and the moment the sisters retrieved the dagger from the sea witch.

These very well could be things that Mr. McCaig polishes up in later volumes (perhaps into something genius that I couldn't even begin to conceptualise) however I'm intrigued to notice the difference between myself and other creators in terms of preference in priorities.


In terms of concept art - his work is phenomenal. Extremely minimalist in the sense that it boycotts all of the useless detailing that would typically over-saturate a piece and boiling it down instead to sketches entirely focused on mood and motion. His anatomy and composition is just lovely and where detail does factor in, he is able to make it whimsical and intriguing. My favourite of these was by far the image of lonesome sea king as it was both extremely minimalist and extremely expressive.


Only one image comes to mind in which his posing raised questions for me.

In the attack scene at the wedding I was confused to see the artistic choice of having the mermaid flying at the astronaut with her arm raised as opposed to gripping him in some way to deliver the blow.

I felt this choice removed some of the physical tension from the scene and opposes the rest of the massive momentum in the scene. However, this was easily ignored by the dynamism of the rest of the image.

I noted, in particular, his frequent use of the eraser - constantly re-posing his characters and environments - and am interested in this idea of fluidity in drawing. Sometimes I feel that when I've done something well that I absolutely cannot touch it or else I won't be able to replicate it. Conversely, I might fail to create something I like and then feel there's no redeeming it. Therefore, I like what Mr. McCaig is teaching me about fluidity and fearless sketching and will try to put in some effort to replicate it.


So far I can tell that I'm going to enjoy working on this project as Mr. McCaig's process seems to combine all of my favourite aspects of both storytelling and drawing. I've already begun to sift through some of my previous drawings, wondering which I'd consider developing into storylines to follow this formula:

An underwater creature, fascinated by the 'sky water'

[left]: A volunteer woodland maintenance officer finds increasingly disconcerting things in the forest.

[top right]: An underwater creature becomes fascinated by the 'sky-water'.

[bottom right]: An innocent little onion embarks on a treacherous adventure.


Tomorrow I'll be having a tutorial with my course leader, who recommended this series of videos to me, and will run these story ideas by him for feedback. In the meantime I want to begin watching volume 2 in the Visual Storytelling series and re-read the module handbook for some ideas on some sort of end-goal to align with my submissions. Additionally, I want to explore the topic of cryptography to see if it would be wise to consider weaving it into my work - however I'm not sure if this is over-scoping the brief.


- R. Cipolletta