The Self-Seers

“Self-Seers” original sketch, 2021, A3, white charcoal pencils on black paper

My extremely talented friend Matt Ridley wrote and directed a short film, in his adoptive country of South Korea. The Self-Seers is an atmospheric, melancholic and stark piece that sees a high school student struggle under the weight of educational expectation, the unique and sometimes repressive influence of the Christian community in the country, and the implacable feeling of a shadowy second self. See for yourself below:

After a successful run on the independent short film festival circuit, he has now released the film for general viewing. To mark this, he hired me to create a release poster, plus supplemental graphic material he could use to publicise its release. Having seen the film a few times and being super impressed with its stark, monochrome imagery (achieved with a remarkably small amount of equipment and crew), I jumped at the chance. During its festival run, Matt had been using a still frame of lead actress Song Na Rin as Yu Ye Ri, leaning her head against the window of a bus with her reflection fuzzed out by the scratched panes of glass. I knew this would be my key image, as the delicate, contrast-y lighting would lend itself well to my preferred method of working with white pencil on black paper.

Production still from “The Self-Seers”

I then took the disturbing nocturnal vision of Ye Ri’s shadowy other self wrapping around her, and intended to create a realistic pencil sketch in photo negative as a mirror image of that same frame. I liked the challenge of fighting against instinct to reverse how the eye sees light, to see whether I could draw the reference picture accurately. But, as Matt pointed out, this ran counter to how the vision appears in the film – darker, not lighter; a shadow, not a light. He shared a hazy, unsettling photo manipulation he had made.

Photo manipulation by Matt Ridley

I changed tack a little, instead using another image from within the film of the kids’ notebooks being filled with scratchy, threatening, hastily-drawn line images of these shadowy figures. This time, I only drew in the outline, and the facial features in sketchy, quick motions. I had already decided to incorporate another strong, key visual from the film – the neon cross that dominates the small town’s skyline. Taking from this the hazy corona glow that the cross kicks off, I added this washed-out light haze to the sketch lines to appear as if the apparition, while dark, was glowing, motivating the light source on Song Na Rin’s face. I also hoped that the light haze would make the void within it seem darker by contrast.

Production still from “The Self-Seers”

My sketch completed, I knew I would have to adjust the layout for the landscape format YouTube cover image. Because the sketch was made on black paper, and photographed at home using a lighting set up of two softbox lights at 45-degree angles to the sketch, I would have to photograph a blank sheet of the same paper to use as a blending tool. There’s no digital way to fully recreate the random nature of how each piece of paper will react to the light source – you can clearly see in the sketch, for example, that the top and bottom of the drawing is darker than the centre, as even on such a small surface, the lighting will always be inconsistent. A time-consuming additional labour, for sure, but one that is kind of essential when working in a purely hand-drawn medium. These pencil sketches really don’t integrate well in to digital environments.

A lo-fi solution

Matt provided his original titles from the film – drawn on Procreate in both English by Matt, and in Korean by the film’s producer Shin. While experimenting with the layout, Matt felt that the 2nd figure wasn’t quite capturing how he had interpreted it, and I felt that while the integration of both the English and Korean titles was a good idea, it was crowding the top half of the poster and diminishing the sense of space.

By layering the blank paper underneath the sketch and erasing and blending as needed, I removed the 2nd face from Matt’s final draft and replaced with the English title – this seemed to help the balance a lot. Matt’s idea was to add the Korean title at one corner, inspired by a DVD cover he had seen. I liked the use of it. We added 10 film festival laurels (there were many more!) and debated on including any credits. In the end, only Matt’s Scarious Artists production credit made the cut, in the interests of minimalism.

The final poster design

While editing the poster, I experimented a little by combining Matt’s preferred draft with my version that still included the ghostly 2nd face. I think it adds a layer of nice, weird intrigue, and I think it’s my favourite of the bunch. I added his ‘film by’ credit, and relocated the Korean Hangul title, giving it more prominence and filling some empty space. But I, of course, think Matt’s choice was the correct one for the film poster (it is, after all, his film!) as it focusses the eye more easily and showcases the title and the tone more successfully. Call this a remix.

My ‘alternative’ final design

Finally, I used the blank paper to extend the piece horizontally to allow for a different arrangement of the festival laurels for the YouTube still image, and then cropped down to 1080×1080 pixels for an Instagram post, including one 1080×1080 blank black paper square to include quotes or any other text as an image carousel.

YouTube preview image final version

Big thanks to Matt for entrusting this release to me, I hope you all check out his fantastic film!

One thought on “The Self-Seers

  1. Devlin’s professionalism, patience, and skill as an artist are surpassed only by his warmth, positivity, and kindness. He’s always a pleasure to work with, and his incredible, photorealistic renderings speak for themselves. I’m thrilled with the poster he created, and would collaborate again in a heartbeat. Highly recommended!


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