Will Simpson has one of the very best jobs in the world: He’s a storyboard artist for Game of Thrones.
Before you start getting all jelly and stuff, know this – it takes no ordinary artist to render the Seven Kingdoms.
Simpson’s been working in comics since 1984, on titles such as Batman, Hellblazer and Judge Dredd, as well as movies like Your Highness (2011), starring James Franco and Natalie Portman.
I had the chance to sit down with Simpson when he came to Singapore back in December. Chatty and amiable, this is what he had to tell me about Westeros:
1) A storyboard artist is essentially a director’s problem solver
“It’s like a comic strip version of a sequence out of the TV series. The point is that you’re normally doing storyboards where you can see where the visual effects is going to come into it, or where there’s a particular camera move that’s interesting, or you’re trying to solve problems for storytelling that may crop up later on.
It’s like we’re solving the money problem before it comes up. It’s easy for me and a director to sit down and work something out. That’s the cheap end of it, working on a piece of paper, before you set up a whole crew to shoot something.
You know that whispering thing where a story changes so much as it goes down the line of people who are telling it? So it’s like we’re looking at it through a different set of eyes, but the information’s the same. So when I do stuff, in a way, I’m already in agreement with the director, because the director’s telling me the version of the story that they want to see.
So I’m interpreting that director’s version, and they then get it approved by David [Benioff] and Dan [D.B. Weiss]. Everything that we do ends up having to be, in a sense through David and Dan’s eyes, rather than George’s eyes.
2) He doesn’t actually get to go on set most of the time
“The fact is, I sit in a little box room in Belfast at the studios, and I have to use my imagination a lot of the time, because I don’t get to go into Croatia or Iceland or Spain or Morocco or Malta. I stay in Belfast looking at photographs of the sets from different locations, and sitting down and drawing from those.
The sets themselves, the interiors [in Belfast], tend to be a few steps away in the big studio that’s up in the Titanic area. But no, I’m not that lucky to get sent off to those wonderful, exotic locations. The whole lot of it is in your imagination. It’s a great way to spend your days – you don’t have to confront reality at all except when you go home at night (laughs).”
3) He loves drawing Tyrion Lannister
“It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the most interesting scenes to draw, it’s just that Tyrion’s my favourite character. I’m always interested in his plot line. Daenerys is always great fun to draw, but sometimes she’s just sitting in a throne room talking to people. I like all the action stuff, whenever you get into some kind of crazy battling sequence with Jon Snow and the people north of the Wall, it was always good fun.”
4) He thinks Peter Dinklage is “bloody good”
“There’s that brilliant scene where Tyrion is telling Shae that she has to go, because he’s trying to save her life, but all she sees is that he’s throwing her away, but he can’t explain why he’s sending his woman away, and then of course she turns against him.
I remember being on the set for that, because I had to talk to director Alex Graves about another scene. So you wait amongst the crew, and you watch the scene play out. I love those moments, because you’re watching actors that are so good at their craft, producing this epic work in front of your eyes.
So much of that is wonderful to see. There’s an intensity among the actors. (Do you get chills?) Absolutely. Absolutely.”
5) The Hound is very partial to The Rolling Stones
“One of my favourite things was when the Hound, big Rory [McCann], came down to do a rehearsal in the room I used to work in. Rory I’d met before in Belfast. I’m sitting at my drawing desk, and Rory’s got this kind of three-stringed lute instrument, because he does a lot of folk music and stuff.
Rory’s come over for a talk after David and he are finished, and he says, “Wait till you hear this,” and he starts playing this folk music, and it’s really beautiful. And then it suddenly changes into Jumping Jack Flash by the Stones, and he’s just blasting away at this thing, and he’s phenomenal.
You’re sort of looking at this guy and thinking: This is the Hound. If people could see him now!”