Talks about recapturing the magic
of the Railway Series illustrations
If you've had a chance to watch Mr. Perkins' Storytime segments on recent Thomas and Friends DVDs, you'd recall seeing the railway series story illustrations having a refreshing new look. These are the works of longtime Animation Illustrator Loraine Marshall. Here, Loraine shares her thoughts and insight on remastering the RWS illustrations.
~ with Callum Walker, June 16, 2014
DISCLAIMER: All answers and opinions expressed in this interview are solely those of Loraine Marshall, and in no way purport to represent those of HIT Entertainment
What made you want to become an illustrator for animation? (Did your interest begin at a young age?)
As far as I can remember I have always enjoyed drawing and painting. If I had paper and a pen or pencil I was happy. So I knew very early on that I wanted to have a career in art. My degree course at Kingston Polytechnic was in Graphic Design. I found the TV Graphics and animation part of the course more interesting as it involved movement and sound. After leaving college I worked in the TV Graphics Department at the BBC in London. Then went on to work at various animation studios in London.
What was the first animated film you contributed to, and how did you feel about it at the time?
I joined TV Cartoons soon after they made 'The Snowman'. Their next major film was another Raymond Brigg's book adaptation -'When The Wind Blows' . Which was very exciting as I am a huge fan of his books. I painted several background illustrations, Art Directed the 'Wedding Sequence' and was an assistant on the model shoot, making props and painting scenery. I loved every minute of it, I was so involved in the whole process of film making.
What other famous character brands have you contributed your artistic talents to? Do you have a favorite?
One of the first jobs I worked on when I started at TV Cartoons was a Kelloggs Frosties commercial, I had to go through the animation drawings and knock out 'Tony Tigers pointy teeth!
I also admire the work of author/illustrator John Burningham, and have been lucky enough to be Art Director on 'Granpa' and 'Oi Get Off Our Train', both half hour specials. I was Art Director on Raymond Briggs 'Father Christmas' another half hour special. I've worked on two feature films one based on Kenneth Grahame's 'Wind In The Willows' and one on William Horwood's 'Willows In Winter' for which I was awarded an Emmy. Other characters I've worked with are - Angelina Ballerina, Beatrix Potter's animations, Percy the Park-Keeper, Kipper, Heidi (Feature film), Ebb and Flo, Little Princess, Horrid Henry and Snowman And The Snowdog. I'm not sure I really have a favourite, some are more preferable, but I like the challenge of working on something new and different.
What have been your other creative interests in addition to being an illustrator?
Photography is one of my main hobbies. I used to like printing my own black and white photographs from negatives, I use a digital camera now though.
Example of one of Loraine's story illustrations for Thomas and Gordon
How (and when) did you become involved with Thomas and Friends in providing additional illustrations for this series of interstitials?
I was approached by the Producer of the current Thomas and Friends television series, Ian McCue. We have worked together for many years whilst working at TV Cartoons, so he was familiar with my work. I started working on the illustrations in September 2013.
Were you familiar with the original Thomas the Tank Engine books by the Reverend Awdry before contributing to the series?
Yes the books are still very popular in the UK.
How did you manage to capture the likeness of the original book illustrations so well? How long is the process?
Thank you, I'm glad you think that I did. I closely studied the original illustrations and had copies around me whilst recreating the new drawings. Once the pencil line drawing had been approved I would trace it on to watercolour paper (about A4 size, 30 x 21cm) and hand paint the illustration with watercolours. Next I scanned the painting into the computer and did additional work in Photoshop. The process of creating a new illustration varies depending on the amount of detail and complexity in the picture. It can take from two hours to a day and a half just to draw the illustration in pencil line, then an additional half a day to a day and half to paint the picture. So each illustration can either take less that a whole day or three days from start to finish.
Loraine at work in her studio illustrating a scene from Thomas and Gordon (seen above)
When remastering the railway series artwork, did you on occasion ever notice quirky little details added by the artists to the illustrations?
To start there is a lot of variation in the styles and techniques of drawing and painting from illustrator to illustrator. Even with the construction and detail of the engines and the rails. Also the human characters look very different from one book to another, but you accept it quite easily as you are following the story and you know the characters. This also happens a lot in animation as it is usual to have many artists working on the the same characters. I really like the period details of the costumes, luggage and station paraphernalia.
Has working so intimately with the original illustrations given you an appreciation of the Railway Series and of the artists who illustrated them?
Yes I enjoyed working on this series of illustrations as I really appreciate and admire the drawing/painting skills of the artists. I had to recreate different styles from the various 'Thomas' illustrators, some paintings I preferred more to others. I like the bold and graphic use of colour and the painterly quality, you can see the brush strokes on the paper and the underlying pencil line through the water colour washes, and the grain of the paper. It's a different feel to computer generated illustrations. Some of the scenic backgrounds - hills and foliage are beautifully painted.
Facial expressions were added to trucks and vans in your illustrations (i.e. "Pop Goes the Diesel") where they were absent in the original artwork. They're a nice personal touch making the scene that much livelier! Did you enjoy adding these additional little details to your illustrations?
The 'grumbling trucks' were fun to do. The addition of extra faces are there for continuity and story, as well as adding a little bit more character to the illustration.
A nice touch: Loraine added faces to the vans (right) omitted from the original artwork (left) for Mr. Perkins' storytelling of Pop Goes the Diesel
Having reproduced the Railway Series illustrations so faithfully, would you like to create your own alternate depictions of story scenes?
I have loved working with all the original 'Thomas' illustrations, but I personally find it visually pleasing painting snowy scenes, so maybe another winter based story line would be good?
I only worked on 9 stories and looking at some of the later books, there looks like there could be some funny other stories to get involved with.
Many fans noticed Sir Handel's and Peter Sam's change of livery in your illustrations compared to "red" in the original artwork. Sir Handel's change from red to blue, and Peter Sam's to green now match those of their TV Series counterparts. Can you tell us the story behind the decision to do that?
Yes, well spotted! These colour alterations were part of the initial brief from the Producer of the current TV series, they wanted the story book version to match the CGI version on the DVD. All the colour alterations were done in Photoshop using digital scans of the original artwork. There are also some original illustrations that have extensions added to them to the sides, so there can be camera moves across the paintings.
Peter Sam's livery from the original artwork (left) in Trucks compared to the remastered version matching the character's TV counterpart's livery (right)
What are the most challenging and satisfying aspects of your work?
I'm very lucky that I have a job where I enjoy what I do every day. I like to work in different styles and techniques. And I enjoy studying other peoples work, so love to go to art exhibitions and galleries, that can be very inspiring. I work from home mainly, which is good because I don't have to commute, but it is not very sociable, I miss working and interacting with the team associated with animated films.
Can you tell us about any current or upcoming projects where fans may see more of your artistic contributions?
I'm working on 'Horrid Henry' which is a children's television series for ITV in the UK at the moment and a half hour special animation for the BBC, which will be on at Christmas time.
We'd like to thank and wish Loraine all our best in her present and future projects. We hope to see more of her RWS work featured in upcoming Mr. Perkins' Storytime segments. Fans can see more of Loraine's work and interests on her website.
Fans can see more of Loraine's RWS illustrations featured in Mr. Perkins' Storytime segments from these DVDs available on Amazon's UK and US stores.