Lewis Gets Inked: Q&A with Sean Harland

Meet the creatives: Sean Harland

Lewis Gets Inked: Q&A with Sean Harland

A unique pool of talent has been brought together to create Epson’s new ambitious film, Lewis Gets Inked. Over forty people shared their expertise on the day including a special effects team, stunt supervisors, a movement specialist, lighting technicians, photographers, and more. We caught up with the people working behind the scenes to discover what they loved about the shoot, how they got started in their dream career and what other interesting projects they’ve been involved with.

Sean Harland, SFX supervisor, Machine Shop

Self-proclaimed goo specialist Sean has been working with Machine Shop since he left university. The special effects  team are renowned for delivering original and exciting sequences, and in particular, live-action liquid effects.

What role did you play in making this film?

I was involved with the planning, testing and carrying out of the special effects for the film. On the day, we dropped liquids onto Lewis Hamilton using various methods, including a big oil drum for the main shot with about 100 litres of blue liquid, and then there were some smaller rigs that I built with cyan, magenta, and yellow. We’ve done this sort of thing before, but we normally call it goo. It’s representing ink at this shoot. It’s the sort of thing we do quite a lot. We’ve dunked pretty much all of the Chelsea football team and there was a project for Nickelodeon, which had some pretty big stars.

The printer also needed to throw out paper at a really high speed to create the flurry of paper surrounding Lewis. I was sent the printer to design a rig. At first, I very carefully unscrewed everything, and then I realised there wasn’t any room so I ended up chopping out all the fittings with a saw.

I’d generally describe my role as problem solver. It’s always different every week, so you learn a lot but it’s weird because the things you learn, you might never do again. It’s hands-on, but I also design stuff on computers in CAD and SolidWorks.

What have you most enjoyed about working on this film?

Dunking the goo; you never know with celebrities what they’re going to be like. Lewis was great to work with and totally got into the spirit of things. He even made goo angels on the floor after the shoot. Maybe his dream growing up wasn’t to be an Formula One champion™, it was to get gunged!

What are the best and worst parts of your job?

It’s when you know that you’ve done a good job and that everyone’s happy. It can be nerve-racking. Other people’s kit is industry standard: the camera, the lenses, the dolly, the stands, the lights. It’s stuff that works and if it doesn’t work you get another one in. We have to bring kit that we’ve made on a budget in a short amount of time, so there’s the pressure of, is it going to work? There’s nothing worse than the feeling when you’ve built a rig that’s temperamental. You never get a chance to make it perfect; most stuff is only built to last for one day.

What’s the most dangerous stunt you’ve been involved with?

I did a cool shot for Harry Hill for Professor Branestawm. It was a Christmas special, and there was a stuntman on a bicycle that had to drive into a pane of glass with two guys holding the glass, with  one of them holding a pyrotechnic on the bottom.

I had to detonate it; not too early so it wasn’t obvious that he hadn’t hit it, and not too late so that he actually hit the glass pane. It worked out; it looked brilliant. But that’s not life threatening stuff like people in movies; people do much more dangerous stuff.

Who suits this kind of work?

There are different elements to it; there are people who just do pyros that love blowing stuff up. I consider myself like a problem solver; I create stuff. I enjoy the element of ‘can you do this’? Then you’ve got to work it out, build it quickly. It’s kind of like Scrapheap Challenge. Sometimes it’s stressful, but most of the time it’s satisfying to make something work, and people on set are like ‘oh wow! That’s brilliant’.

How did you get your first break into the industry?

I did an art and design foundation course. I wanted to be an animator first, but my tutor gave me some brutal, but good advice. He said: ‘you’re alright at drawing, you’re not the best. But, you’re really good at making stuff’. He told me about a course at the Hertfordshire University which was model design and special effects.  In my second year I did a placement at Machine Shop, which is where I am now.  When I graduated, I went back and got a job there straight away. It all worked out.

What’s the most interesting project you’ve worked on?

It was for Schwartz Spices. It was super slow-mo with sacks of spices exploding in time to music. Because it was slow-motion, in real time, all the explosions had to go off within half a second. We had a clever electronics guy design a firing system, which could fire pyros to within a millisecond of each other. I had to work out the other bits so that when the pyro went off, it blasted the stuff on top of the skin, up in the air. I had to work out the size of the bucket, so that it didn’t explode, but had enough force to blow the spices up in the air. I had to weigh out all the ingredients, so that everything ended up at the right height. We went on set and everything just worked. It was a motion control shot as well so we had to synchronise the explosions with a robot arm camera, and we got every shot, first time.

What advice would you give to people starting out in the creative industries?

Get your foot in the door and work on a good portfolio. I went through the university route, but to be honest, if I had turned up on the door when I was 16 with the right attitude, I could have done this as well. People won’t  pay a fortune for someone who doesn’t really know much, so to start off, offer yourself cheap and help out. Even though I had a degree, I still started off helping out and making cups of tea. But, eventually you start to pick stuff up, you get trusted with little jobs, and slowly you become valuable. Have a good attitude and be enthusiastic. It’s long hours so just be willing to put in the work and you should be alright.

Follow the link to watch the full video: www.epson.co.uk/lewisgetsinked