Graphics wizard sets a fantastical challenge

Glen Southern with Priestley student Lewis Bibby.
Glen Southern with Priestley student Lewis Bibby.

WHEN it comes to creating fantasy creatures, Glen Southern is something of a past master.

His computer wizardry and imagination have added a touch of magic to Sky Atlantic’s Penny Dreadful and ITV’s Frankenstein Chronicles and his team have also worked on many other prestigious, international projects.

Now he’s passing on his knowledge to Computer Games Design students at Priestley College who, last week, were challenged to create their own fantastical beasts.

“They come at this kind of challenge with such fresh ideas that it makes it a lot of fun for me,” said Glen, of SouthernGFX.

“They already have the vivid imaginations and the great technical grounding developed at college so I am just helping them take it to the next level.”

Glen was piloting a new course with the sixth formers, which was partly developed by former Priestley student Matt Le Quesne.

Together they have imagined another world with its own extreme climates and biomes. The students’ challenge was to create creatures for this world considering how they would have evolved to suit their environment.

One of the visuals produced by Glen for a climatic scene involving Eva green at the end of series 2 of Penny Dreadful
One of the visuals produced by Glen for a climatic scene involving Eva green at the end of series 2 of Penny Dreadful

Using ZBrush – software used in the film, video and games industries – they had to build their beasts from the skeleton out.

“Everything has to work anatomically,” said Glen. “There isn’t a fantasy creature that isn’t created this way because they have to have some grounding in reality in order for people to believe in them.”

ZBrush aims to simplify the science behind generating computer graphics and gives users intuitive and visual control over the digital images they create.

After a day-long tutorial on the software, Glen was impressed by the progress made by the students.

“They really have got their heads down and created some detailed and anatomically impressive creatures,” he said. “We are going to print 3D models of their work once it is finished.”

Glen, who is originally from Northwich, counts a man who helped create Gollum for the Lord of the Rings films as one of his teachers.

He’s now running an international business with clients as diverse as the Royal Mint, Lego, Hasbro, Warner Brothers and Sky TV.

Some of their most eye-catching work is for TV shows including creating gargoyles for Penny Dreadful and zombie-like characters riddled with syphilis in ITV’s the Frankenstein Chronicles.

“We killed Sean Bean – again – in the programme,” said Glen.

Tutor Matt Wilson said Priestley College’s partnership with the company was invaluable for its students’ careers.

“To have someone with that kind of experience working with the students is a real privilege,” said Matt. “For them to see that a former Priestley student is now working for a company such as SouthernGFX is also incredibly inspiring.”

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