Production Blog


Leighton Hickman is the Art Director for Refuge and has been hard at work developing the visual language of the film. Leighton has spent the bulk of his career in visual development on animated features at DreamWorks Animation, including Shrek Forever After and The Croods.  

Q: What inspired you to become involved with REFUGE? 

A: I was drawn to the project immediately while reading the script. I couldn't help but visualize the movie playing out in my head: the rain falling, the characters caught walking through this horrible future, and the mechs looming in the mist. The emotional tone of the script was so strong I just had to start painting and create the world!

Q: What is your favorite painting so far?

A: My favorite painting is definitely the big reveal of the mech. It was inspired by a combo of Blade Runner and the T-Rex scene from Jurassic Park. Our idea with the mechs is to treat them as monsters looming in the shadows. I feel like a lot of movies, especially horror films, are ruined when you see the monster and I like that ours is more obscured and hidden, keeping them as a nearly abstract emotional quality rather than just a cool special effect. That adds much more strength to the fear of the mechs as we follow the mother and daughter through the story.

Q: Talk about any particular styles/techniques that you've utilized in your paintings and how you want that to apply to the visuals of the film.

A: We're looking at the art to support the story through the use of lighting, local color and the overall composition of the shots. For me the emotional quality of a piece is paramount and I use these elements as tools to convey it. Color especially plays an important role in the visual storytelling- in Refuge yellow is a comforting color that represents safety. It's the predominate color at the beginning and in the doll that the little girl is carrying. Throughout the story we'll start to lose that color, as the doll is muddied, to show hope and safety are being taken away. Conversely we're using red to show the violence and the fear, we'll introduce more reds as their world becomes more dangerous. The cold color of steel versus the earth tones of humanity. You'll see that the earlier images in the film are more stable, using strong horizontals and vertical elements, but as we progress further the view becomes more dynamic and angled, making it feel like the world is slipping out from underneath the characters, in some cases literally.

Q: What's next for you on this project? 

A: Next for me is tackling the interior. A lot of the early development work has been done to establish the world and the mech. Now that we've had opportunity to define that and have finished building some truly killer mechs, it's time for me to start focusing on the softer side of the story- the more emotional and intimate moments that happen between the mother and daughter as they try to survive in this perilous world.