Ness to take centre stage in new Neolithic animated movie

Concept art for Lugi: The Brodgar Boy. (Alex Leonard © ALT_Animation)

Concept art for Lugi: The Brodgar Boy. (Alex Leonard © ALT_Animation)

The Ness of Brodgar looks set to take play a major role in a new animated feature film set in Neolithic Orkney.

Lugi: the Brodgar Boy is the brainchild of Orcadian illustrator Alex Leonard, whose artwork will be familiar to anyone who has seen our open day posters over the years.

Alex, from Sandwick, has joined forces with Northern Ireland’s ALT Animation for the project, which secured funding from Creative Europe earlier this month – the only UK animation company to secure the single project development award.

The film tells the story of a young disabled boy in the Neolithic who must unite his people in order to defeat the evil forces that threaten to cover his world in darkness.

Aimed at a family audience, the producers describe the film as a “compelling, action-packed story within a truly unique setting that deals with universal themes of acceptance and self-belief which will be relatable to audiences all around the world”.

Interior scene, set in Ness of Brodgar Structure Eight. (Alex Leonard © ALT_Animation)

Interior scene at the Ness of Brodgar. (Alex Leonard © ALT_Animation)

Alex is perhaps best known in Orkney for The Giddy Limit – his weekly comic strip in The Orcadian newspaper – but this is just a small part of his work, much of which has a historical basis.

In 2008, as part of the Rognvald 850 celebrations – to mark the 850th anniversary of the death of Orkney’s Earl Rognvald Kolsson – Alex was instrumental in creating school packs outlining the story of the founder of Kirkwall’s St Magnus Cathedral.

Megalithic mage. (Alex Leonard © ALT_Animation)

Megalithic mage. (Alex Leonard © ALT_Animation)

A later visit to the Ness of Brodgar excavation site was the inspiration behind the forthcoming movie.

He explained: “With the Rognvald packs, I really enjoyed depicting Orkney’s history in such a cartoony, accessible way and realised I wanted to write a story – or certainly invent a character at least – that would bring Orkney’s past to life in a similar way.

“For a few years I toyed with various ideas set during what I guess was Iron Age Orkney purely because there was so much existing inspiration and reference to draw from. I’d read the Orcadian writer George Mackay Brown’s Vinland and really loved the dynamic of the central character being a young boy.

“I had my first tour of The Ness in 2011 and it all just clicked into place. I was just utterly inspired by what I was hearing about the sheer scale of the Ness site, of the size of the buildings – Structure Ten specifically, of course.

“At the time there was no artists impressions on site and in the days that followed my imagination was just in overdrive. I realised THIS was the setting I needed for my character. The mystery of it all, the scale of it … as I say, it just started falling into place.”

Concept art based on Structure Ten at the Ness. (Alex Leonard © ALT_Animation)

Concept art based on Structure Ten at the Ness. (Alex Leonard © ALT_Animation)

As well as the Ness, the film will explore some of the mysteries surrounding Orkney’s most iconic monuments such as Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar and weave fact with fiction to tell the story of Lugi, a boy born with one arm into a mystic and ritualistic world.

Early pre-production work on a building based on Structure Ten at the Ness. (Alex Leonard © ALT_Animation)

Early pre-production sketch showing a building based on Structure Ten at the Ness. (Alex Leonard © ALT_Animation)

But although it is a fantasy story, the team behind it are striving to be as archaeologically accurate as possible.

“The archaeological fact is important to (producer) Tim and I,” said Alex.

“It has almost certainly made things harder for ourselves writing this screenplay, but I feel the story needs some grounding in reality to offset all the fantasy we really want to weave into the tale.

“Don’t get me wrong: first and foremost our aim is to entertain audiences rather than educate them but even the most fantastical elements of the story have all been inspired by some piece of archaeological evidence.

“But, on saying that, part of the appeal of setting the story in prehistory is the number of ‘unknowns’ we are dealing with: the characters’ clothing is a good example of that. We just don’t know what the people of Neolithic Orkney were wearing.

Deer hunting with the Orphir hills in the background. (Alex Leonard © ALT_Animation)

Deer hunting with the Orphir hills in the background. (Alex Leonard © ALT_Animation)

“At first I found that quite an intimidating obstacle, but trying to develop an aesthetic to the designs for our characters that feels appropriate has turned out to be one of my favourite aspects of the project. It’s all still in development but the inspiration has come from some of the Bronze Age archaeological evidence of clothing we do have, mixed somewhat with little influences from various tribal cultures from all across the world, in truth.

Alex Leonard at work at his home in Sandwick, Orkney. (Sigurd Towrie)

Alex Leonard at work at his home in Sandwick, Orkney. (Sigurd Towrie)

“Paying attention to what resources they may have had available locally and possibly through trade has been an influence too. But at the end of the day they just have to look awesome and cool, so there’s always a degree of artistic license involved!”

And the role of the Ness in the story?

He added: “The Ness will play a central part in the story for sure. We’re developing the screenplay now so the story itself is somewhat in a state of flux, but ultimately the Ness has always been central to the inspiration for the project as a whole.

“As well as being inspired by the majesty of the site in its prime, we’re particularly drawn to the mystery of its apparent sudden demise, or its decommissioning as it’s referred to.

“There’s a story there to be told for sure. I really hope we can do it justice.”

Confrontation at Yesnaby (Alex Leonard © ALT_Animation)

Confrontation at Yesnaby (Alex Leonard © ALT_Animation)

  • To see more of Alex’s work, it features in two free-to-download Forestry and Land Scotland books – Into the Wildwoods and The First Foresters.
  • The Creative Europe MEDIA sub-programme supports European independent production companies looking to develop projects with international potential for cinema, television or digital platforms. In total, 278 applications from 32 countries were submitted in November 2019 with a total of 64 projects awarded grants.

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