He's done a bit of television, but recently worked on the blockbuster film Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011). Mercer talks with me about working on the beginning and ending storyboards, has a great story about set etiquette and working on television versus film.
Q: Tell me a little about your involvement in the production of Rise of the Planet of the Apes?
(Image: Rise of the Planet of the Apes)
VFX [Visual Effects] producer Kurt Williams, whom I worked with on Medieval (2012), contacted me. I worked with him, the director and the animatics team at 20th Century Fox, along with fellow board artists.
My main focus was the opening capture sequence, and the ending in Muir woods, as well as very rough thumbnails for the escape.
Q: Was there a scene in particular that was especially challenging to board?
Just creating the layers needed for After Effects animatic work, resulted in some long hours
Q: What was it like working with director Rupert Wyatt?
Very nice bloke, he was calm and knew how he wanted the story to progress. He was open to suggestions and welcoming of ideas.
Q: Working on the storyboards early on, was there a big shift between what was in the script and the final film?
Well the ending changed a lot. Originally the lead would have been shot, which would have been great I think. Also, the opening was going to be much bigger. A lot of ideas and suggestions ended up on screen though.
Q: Do you prefer digital or traditional hand-drawn art? Do you have a favorite tool?
Miss my pencil,the texture. But, love my Wacom [interactive pen tablet]. Photoshop is my favourite medium now.
Q: When someone asks you "what's a storyboard artist do" what do you tell them?
(Image: GIJoe: The Rise of Cobra)
I tell them, at the best of times, its a way to communicate in a single 'voice' the look, tone and feel of a movie/or particular sequence. At worst is a roughly scribbled map that guides production through a thought process to reach choices.
Q: You worked as a production designer in the past. Has that role helped you work with production designers now?
I usually work with directors or VFX/Make-up guys, but it gives me an appreciation that what's drawn has to be considered carefully, as someone has to make it, or render it.
Q: You worked with Oscar-winning special effects artist George Gibbs at 18, what was the most important lesson he gave you?
On Labyrinth (1986) the Humongous monster (the city gates closed and he came out of them) was a fully operating 'robot', and had red eyes.
The cameras rolled and I noticed his eyes weren't on, I loudly pointed this out to George, in front of the whole crew. George taught me set etiquette which should not be underestimated.
It's more than drawing little pictures. Interacting with people, and knowing how a set works is important, and makes your work better.
Q: You've done a lot if work for television. What's the must surprising difference between working in television versus film?
Well, surprising? TV crews are more relaxed. The environment can be more fun.The biggest difference is pace. TV have no time usually.
Q: Where will we see your work next?
Silent Hill: Revelation 3D (2012). I worked for my good friend Paul Jones FX studio in Toronto creating concepts of the creatures, and make up fx. I designed for Paul also on the WB show Awakening some different kind of zombies.
Storyboard wise, I boarded action scenes for Rob Cohen's I, Alex Cross (2012), and just finished some work on The Muppets (2011).