Contrary to what Morrissey believes, we love it when our friends become successful. Ryan Quickfall has been contributing to Sideburn since 2012; has produced event posters for virtually every country where they race dirt track; worked with blue-chip companies including Volkswagen, Snap-On, Timex, Harley-Davidson, Hebtroco, and many more, and now created the visual identity of a blockbuster animated video for one of the biggest rock bands of all time, Iron Maiden.
We asked Ryan a few questions about the process of creating the characters for the official writing on the wall video.
SB: This might be the highest profile thing you've ever worked on. How did you land the work?
RQ: Yeah possibly it is. It's unusual in that it was a big team that worked on it, where normally I work on my own, so to me it feels a little different in that way. But it is certainly a high-profile client and it was a big surprise when it dropped for fans. The band had been drip-feeding small cryptic clues on the lead up to the video’s release. Which certainly helped with the amount of eyes it had on it when it dropped. As I write this its at 8.1m views through the official Iron Maiden YouTube channel.
The work came to me through BlinkInk, a really great animation studio in London. The director for this project, Nicos Livesey, approached me directly having seen my Instagram and other work previously. I guess he thought I fitted the bill when he had the project in mind.
SB: Your role is credited as 'character development', can you explain ?
RQ: So basically my job was to bring to life all of the characters and also the backgrounds. Nicos had a storyline from Bruce [Dickinson, Iron Maiden's lead singer] to work to. Nicos' job is to bring that from paper to life on screen. My job in turn is then to take Nicos’ rough concept and to develop the characters into their final form. They actually had some stills sketched out roughly and some animatics as reference of the story visuals, but no look for the characters. We knew that some characters, like Daniel [the robed character, above], had to be in a robe as per Nicos’ vision, there was no reference for others at all. Like the King, all I knew was he had to have three forms: old man, young man, goat character.
From there it was a case of just brainstorming and throwing around some very initial concepts. These go back to the team and we scrap some and keep others. There was a LOT of back and forth at that stage to get things right. Then we might change the uniforms, hair, overall appearance etc. After this I throw some colour concepts to the characters and once signed off I move into producing turnaround frames. These are more well-rendered references of each character from all angles that that animators can take and start to animate with, they refer to these a lot. However for a lot of scenes, the characters had some very specific elements, like the four horsemen characters, so I ended off drawing a ton of keyframes from the animatic, that the animators then draw the frames in between these key frames. I hope I’m making sense here!
The process is pretty much the same for the backgrounds I designed. So, any of the scenery, apart from the palace, I designed. With a lot of easter eggs thrown in from Bruce and Nicos. So see if you can spot some hidden stuff.
SB: Had you heard the song when you were making the art?
RQ: heard it son as soon as all NDAs [non-disclosure agreements] had been signed. It was key to the whole project. I mean Iron Maiden have a very heavy visual presence and that's been built up over years and years. So, I knew pretty well what the look was to be, but the pace and feel of the song is also a key element to work out where to start developing the characters. I've heard the song hundreds of times.
SB: Did you use any specific references for the horsemen's choppers?
RQ. I don’t think so as far as I remember. The four horsemen play a key role in the whole video, they’re some of the first characters we see at the start and they needed to be right. I think honestly this is why Nicos wanted to work with me, because he knew I had built a career illustrating motorcycles, which, I’m sure most of you know, is a very specific subject to get right. If you draw something wrong it stands out like a sore thumb. So this is probably where my skills played most of their role. The general feel for the bikes I was looking for was that they should be some kind of V-twin chopper vibe, but at the same time they can’t be too specific or too detailed or the animators would struggle and the timescale would be blown out the window.
SB: What timescale was your part of the project?
RQ: I can’t really remember now, but I feel like once I was scheduled to start we had something like six weeks or so for me to complete my part. Which was a huge ask. As we went along it was clear this project was becoming bigger and bigger, certainly from my view anyway. I was in from the start, to design all of the characters, produce turnaround frames, and hand over to the animators. From then on my part was meant to be done. As with everything it didn’t quite work like that and I was hands-on with the project on and off from a lot of months. It was great to be part of and a challenge so it wasn’t a big issue. It’s just how things go. So I ended up working on key frames and drawing them for the animators to then animate with. Then I was asked to design the backgrounds too. So, the job sort of developed as we went along for me.
SB: Did you get any feedback from Bruce Dickinson?
RQ: Bruce was reviewing everything I and the team did. Nicos and Alex the producer would take my work for review with Bruce and feedback for amendments. But for the most part I think we nailed what Bruce’ vision was pretty quickly.
SB: It's had over 8 million views in two weeks. Was it strange to be working on an Iron Maiden video and an illustration for Sideburn at the same time?
RQ: Well I’m going to sound modest here, but not really, because I treat all jobs relatively the same. They all take time and care and a level of experience. I've worked with Sideburn for so many years now I feel like I know what we need to do, and I normally have a few projects running at the same time, so it's all in a day's work, haha. But I am so pleased to see where things started for me, that Sideburn, Iron Maiden, numerous design studios, Harley-Davidson, Snap-On and a lot more I can call clients. It certainly didn’t start like that! So thanks everyone thats supported me over the years!