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Creating historical illustrations and reconstructions - interview with artist Bob Marshall



Artist Bob Marshall talks to us about how he creates detailed historical illustrations and reconstructions of some of the country's finest historic buildings.

Bob Marshall is a Scottish artist who produces detailed cutaway illustrations and historical reconstructions using computer-based 3D modelling and animation. His work has appeared in guidebooks, on interpretative signage and in museums and exhibitions. Here, Bob talks to us about his work, inspiration and research.

At what age did your interest in combining history and illustration begin?

I worked on a series of historical-themed illustrations in the early 1990s at the age of 19. At that time, I was using traditional illustration techniques and although I had an interest in emerging computer graphics technologies, the capabilities of 3D imaging software weren’t sufficiently advanced enough to be of much use to me for illustrative work. It would be at least another decade before that all changed.

The work that I have produced over the last seven years or so are the result of rapid advances in digital imaging technology between 2000 and 2007. It is at this time that my interests in historical reconstruction visualisation really flourished. Each project that I have worked on since then has taught me something new and different which has inspired me and fuelled my interests further.


(Reconstruction of Markinch Church [12th Century] produced for Living Lomonds Landscape Partnership.Image © Fife Coast and Countryside Trust 2015)

What does computer generated imagery offer you, as an artist, that traditional illustration doesn’t?

Digital techniques offer me the advantage of being able to work with and manipulate 3-dimensional models. These help me to quickly visualise and plan my illustration projects. It means that I am able to assemble very, very complex scenes rapidly and it makes it possible to accommodate major changes to my artwork at a very late stage in the project. I also have the option of moving objects around and changing things like the camera settings to produce more than one view of the same scene or subject.

The computer doesn’t do everything for me though. The modelling process is often a very challenging task in its own right, as is the work of creating resources and hunting for image textures which I apply to the models. I also have to think carefully about lighting, the environment and atmosphere and decide how best to connect a historic building with its surroundings. Adjusting and fine-tuning these controls and settings takes up quite a lot of time and a fair bit of experimentation.

The final stage of the artworking process is where I add in the rich details like interior furnishings, decorations and figures. Some of the most detailed illustrations I have worked on have hundreds of individually-made figures such as soldiers, horses and all their equipment. All of these have to be managed in large asset libraries. With thousands of objects in my scenes, things can get very complicated and so I have to create efficient ways of working with these assets so that I can find and manipulate them quickly.    


(Reconstruction of Eyemouth Fort (1558), artist: Bob Marshall, Image © The Friends of Eyemouth Fort 2016 – www.eyemouthfort.org)

Many of your illustrations include representations of people, how you research what they would have worn, how they would have interacted with the buildings, etc?

Much of this information comes to me from historians and cultural advisers who I consult at the beginning of a project, or I get it from reading books and academic papers or visiting museums. I have worked on several projects where I have had to study detailed reports on furnishings and interior decorations specific to an individual building. For the illustrations I produced of Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire - famed for its magnificent 17th century Riding House – I read about the art of horsemanship and the technique of training horses known as Manège. For the same project I also studied a very comprehensive report into food preparation and cooking methods in the 17th Century so that I could illustrate the castle’s busy kitchens preparing for a banquet. And a recent project involved the study of Medieval building techniques in order to illustrate a 12th century church under construction.

Can you identify a few of your projects which have been the most satisfying to work on and explain why?

The projects I enjoy working on most are always those where I learn a lot of new things from. The more challenging reconstructions I tackle are usually the most rewarding for me, especially those where I have very few references and historical information to guide me. Occasionally I go to visit a range of historic sites I haven’t been to before to draw references and inspiration from which is always a fun part of the learning process.

Is there a building you’d love to illustrate but haven’t done as yet?

I would love to illustrate an interior scene from a really big church like a Medieval abbey or a Cathedral. These buildings are the most technically difficult to model because of all the ornate decorations like tracery screens, stone carvings and statuettes. Buildings are not my only interest though – I’m keen to work on more ships and sea-going vessels like a Viking longship. 

For details of Bob Marshall's work, visit his website.

(Images: Reconstruction of Rough Castle Roman Fort artist: Bob Marshall, Image © Historic Environment Scotland 2014; Reconstruction of Eyemouth Fort (1558), artist: Bob Marshall, Image © The Friends of Eyemouth Fort 2016 – www.eyemouthfort.orgReconstruction of Markinch Church (12th Century) produced for Living Lomonds Landscape Partnership.Image © Fife Coast and Countryside Trust 2015)

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