Freelance Alliance Spotlight: The freelancer with designs on fantasy

Lee Ray knew from an early age that he wanted to get into designing for the UK's entertainment industry. ***image1***

Whether they were for TV, movies or video games, the Wolverhampton University graduate was sure that his designs deserved to be lit up on a screen, whatever its size.

He left the former polytechnic in 1990 with a degree in Three Dimensional Design and, still sticking to his master plan, began marketing himself to employers as a product design specialist, exactly in line with his career blueprint. 

What he didn't predict, let alone allow himself to fantasise about, is what he's become today: the BBC's 'go-to' guy when the broadcaster is stuck about how something fictional or unearthly should look.

The Nottingham-based freelancer imagined what the BBC's light entertainment programming team probably say on sight of a new brief: "If there's something we don't understand in terms of what it's going to look like, then we'll give it to Lee."

***image3***Speaking to FreelanceUK yesterday, the dad-of-two explained how his bond, and familiarity, with cartoon and "childlike" characters, as well as those from sci-fi and fantasy worlds, have made him perfect for such a role.

Formally, this came up in September 2009, when a fellow freelancer already at the BBC as a visual effects artist let him know about a 3-month contract, up for grabs on Hounded, a visually-rich fantasy comedy series for CBBC.

Lee was hired on a freelance basis as the show's sole concept designer, with a brief to design, build and texture a dozen fantasy and sci-fi vehicles and characters for the 13-epiode series.

These included a sheep-shaped spaceship - the Starsheep Enterprise, top, an invading pizza-shaped space craft - the Death Pizza (see front-page) and a floating capsule based on a 1953 model by Hoover - the Death Vacuum, below.

"The bottom line for the BBC was that, while they had very talented computer graphics artists - in-house - who could build real-world items, they were unsure of how to realise fictional items, such as the Death Pizza," Lee said.  ***image4***

"Very quickly, the BBC got me a contract for the role as concept designer on Hounded, providing me the confidence to hand in my notice for an unrelated full-time job I had at the time.

"During the nights of that month working out my notice, I put together as much concept design work [for Hounded] as I could physically muster, working alone from my home-based office."

Despite an extraordinarily tight deadline, Lee says remotely supplying the Beeb with the desired concept designs was relatively stress-free, mainly thanks to one of the Web's most popular downloads.

"Once I got Skype up and running, every iteration of every design that I did would be sent over the application to the BBC, so they were able to review and understand my work as it evolved."

Even today, having finished the BBC contract, Lee's "very first thing in the morning" is to open Skype's instant message bar to tell his current client in Sweden that he's at his PC and 'on the job.'

"There's a huge amount of trust that a client has to invest in a freelancer if the freelancer only works remotely," he said. "In return, the least the freelancer can do is be pro-actively in touch with the client."

Asked what one thing freelancers should remember when doing business with an A-list client, he offered, "Don't be antagonised", adding: "The chances are you work is already good enough if they've already looked into hiring you.

"And if you've secured a freelance contract with them; well, even better - but above everything else focus on making sure you deliver."



11th August 2010

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