by Kirk Wallace
Kirk Wallace, BoneHaüs | Freelance Illustrator & Graphic Designer, Boston Massachusetts
Cmrcl. Illustration / Design studio of Kirk! Wallace & Sküllboy
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Skülly Short Film Graduate Thesis Project

Kirk and Latham (and others) teamed up again to create something much bigger than either of us have ever attempted.

In 2016, Kirk started his MFA in illustration at the University of Hartford’s Low Residency program. The apex of that two year journey was a capstone project of whatever he'd like to create. After much discussion, we decided to make a short film together based on a character we'd already started to create a world around; Skully.

Latham ended up making a trip over to America to work in Kirk's studio for 2 months, in which time we crafted, created, gamed and snowboarded. Although we didn't get any where near finishing the project while I was there, we continued to build it separately, and by July of 2018, we'd finished.

 

Skülly Short Film

A Short Case Study

 
 

My capstone project to my MFA in Illustration was a trailer to the short story, “Rib Caged” which is a story about hero Skülly as he steps into an adventure of puzzle, confusion, self-doubt, and eventual resolution through a metaphorical meditation when he learns he can flip his head upside-down to see things from a fresh perspective and escape a magic temple.

Credits

Direction & Design
Kirk Wallace

Writing
Adam Danielson
Jeremy Lwamugira
Jeff Guerra
Kevin Wallace
Latham Arnott

Animation
Latham Arnott

Music & Sound
Jeff Guerra
Jeremy Lwamugira

Skullboy Trademark
Richie A Stewart

 

 

Design Frames

 

 

Story

When I started the project, I knew I wanted to capture mood and tone without much vocal narrative in the story. I didn’t want a narrator explaining what was happening, but instead wanted to take a silent film approach and rely on visuals to tell my story.

I asked my friends Jeremy Lwamugira, Jeff Guerra, Adam Danielson, and Latham Arnott to help me out with the writing of things. We met once a week about 4 times to slowly but surely write and rewrite what ended up being our final script and storyboard. Having a team of people working on this was extremely helpful because not only did it create a sense of accountability, it allowed one another to push each other further. Many times after finishing a version, Adam would recommend starting over from scratch, with more constraints, forcing us to the most streamlined and interesting story possible.

 
 
 

Character Design

The main character, Skülly, is based on the Skull Boy trademark created by Richie Stewart for my freelance studio, BoneHaüs created in 2014. I took the mark from the logo version and over the last few years slowly expanded on the design to create something of a muse for me to work on as a personal development project.

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For the sake of this short film, I wanted to create a version of the character that was highly recognizable and animatable. Something to the tune of Felix the Cat, or Mickey Mouse. Skülly being made of bones and in a whimsical imaginative fashion, was great for animation because he can squash and stretch to a point of breaking, which plays perfectly into his personality. In this story, his bones breaking, and general clumsiness is what ends up being the apex of the story about a lack of confidence, and later an accepting of self.

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Sketching

Sketches were done by both myself and Latham Arnott, based on the storyboard rough thumbnails. A lot of changes took place between the sketch and the final frame during the process of vectoring in Adobe Illustrator. For me, a sketch serves as a rough reference but when I’m working in Illustrator I am able to really play and move things around and resize them how I like.

 Various sketches by Latham Arnott and Kirk Wallace

Various sketches by Latham Arnott and Kirk Wallace

 

Illustrator & Photoshop PRocess

Background art is something I’ve avoided like the plague up until this project. Part of the challenge was to break that fear and dive into something uncomfortable. Relying on my everyday process has been helpful for this. Once the sketches were dialed in, I’d bring them into Illustrator and trace them with the pen tool and use Astute Graphics plugins to assist productivity. Like I said above, Illustrator allows me to change a good bit of things and just use the sketch as a jump off point. Assuming my sketch is nailed down pretty well, I can get meditative with this part of the process, embellishing on certain details, reposing characters, and letting loose a bit.

I’d generally create a black and white value study on each of these scenes to help with contrast and directing the eye where I want it and keep focus on the character. Provided the scene is the first of it’s kind (snowy, jungle, etc) I’ll come up with a rough and simple color palette, usually 4-5 colors to start and begin dropping that in and slowly refine until it feels cohesive.

Lastly some texture, color correction, and lighting in Photoshop gives it the warm quality desired. I used a bunch of Kyle Webster brushes as well as some from Syd Weiler, and Retro Supply. Using the Brushbox plugin made by Derrick Barth, I’m able to favorite certain brushes that I kept using over and over. Because I have hundreds of brushes, favoriting the certain 10 or so was extremely helpful to keep the consistency throughout each scene.

Below are a couple of process tear-downs from sketch to final.

 Shot 90 Snow Climb Process

Shot 90 Snow Climb Process

 Shot 13 Water Swing Process

Shot 13 Water Swing Process

 Shot 7-12 Jungle Run Process

Shot 7-12 Jungle Run Process

 Shot 41 Cliff Feet Process

Shot 41 Cliff Feet Process

 

Live Stream Video of Process

I had the privilege to stream my full process of the poster on Adobe Live in San Francisco alongside a cohost Kathleen Martin where we chatted and answered questions from guests. It’s pretty fun and maybe worth putting on in the background. The first video is a little nervy but the second and third get more confident and informative I hope. There are 3 days total for 6 hours of streaming, feel free to skip around.

 

Animation

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70 Page Thesis Paper Writeup

For anyone interested, I wrote an academic paper on the process and the journey of the MFA program and am happy to have people download the PDF for viewing if you’re really into reading.

 
 
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