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Into the Uncanny Valley with Body Horror Artist Molly Brown

Student work by Molly Brown

9 minute read

06/07/2020

By the age of 2 or 3, Molly Brown was drawing faces on her little magna-doodle. As she got older, the desire to create grew, and though Molly enjoyed designing creatures and telling stories, she viewed her art as more of a hobby more than a career. That was until she got her hands on the art book of one of her favorite horror games, The Evil Within.

Captivated by the character designs, environments and stories, she realized this was her calling. She enrolled in the Advanced Concept Art Diploma, and has been busy building an incredible portfolio of original art. As a body horror artist, her niche may not be everyone's cup of tea, but Molly's thousands of fans online can't get enough of her original creations!

Molly talks to us about body horror and the uncanny valley, how she organically grew a fanbase of thousands, and her current project, Harvested Hearts. Content warning: graphic images ahead! 

Thanks for chatting with us Molly! What is it about body horror that captivates you and others?

Body horror has always captivated me, since it disturbs me so deeply. It’s an art form that suggests your body is not always under your control, or doesn’t belong to you completely. Rather than relying on more common scare tactics, such as jump scares, paranormal activity, serial killers, etc. I feel as though body horror hits on something far deeper in the human psyche. Seeing someone of something that looks like you, yet be so distorted, stirs an unease I’ve never felt before.

Molly brown Zombie Flowers

Your work resonates so deeply with your fans; it's like you're tapping into their own hidden fears and vulnerabilities.

How do you use fear and vulnerability in your art? Have you overcome your own fears by exploring them in your work?

For the longest time, when I first started to get into horror art, I tended to stick to commonalities. I took what the media called ‘scary’ and put those features into my artwork. This included qualities such as sharp teeth, red eyes, spikes, claws, etc. However, I was unhappy with the results. I didn’t perceive my own horror artwork as ‘scary’. There was something wrong, and I decided that I needed to take a different approach when it came to creating compelling horror art.

In high school, I started researching things that I feared. For example, I came across the uncanny valley.

When I was little, a lot of movies like the 3D animated Polar Express horrified me, and it still makes me uncomfortable to this day. I never understood why until I looked into it. It was due to this uncanny valley, which is an unease that stems from entities that appear human, but something’s off.

This is what led me down the body horror art path. I started to understand certain qualities that made something uncanny in appearance.

Distorting the face subtly is so much more powerful than simply giving something sharp teeth and red eyes and calling it scary.

I believe this is the quality that resonates with others as well. My fans tend to state that rather than being plain out scary, they have to look deeper to understand what makes them so uncomfortable. The unease I’ve felt from the uncanny valley has lessened with time, but I still very much have the fears I convey in my art to this day.

Molly Brown Body Double

Let's talk about your current project, Harvested Hearts. It's amazing! How long has this idea been in your head? Did it grow from art you were working on, or did the story come first? 

Thank you so much! Harvested Hearts is actually fairly new, and I only started working on it about four months ago.

It grew from an art piece I created for CG Spectrum, which was a random zombie design. It was a zombie that was overtaken by flowers, and I couldn’t help but to want to create an entire world behind it. I started writing bits and pieces before presenting it to my mentor, Brian, who urged me to keep moving forward with it.

For four months straight, that’s really the only project I’ve been working on. I’ve created environments, characters, storyboards, some props, etc. There’s so much more I have to create for it, but thus far, the process has been extremely fun.

Molly Brown Harvested Hearts 001A selection of work from Harvested Hearts by Molly Brown

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You have an extraordinary imagination and you're an excellent storyteller too. You've fleshed out the environments and characters with interesting backstories, and have a great way of hooking in the reader and keeping them in suspense. Did you read a lot growing up? Does storytelling come naturally to you, or have you also studied it? What's your secret to keeping people in suspense?

Thank you again, that really means a lot! I was definitely a book worm growing up. I loved science fiction stories in particular. I started writing my own characters and stories when I was around thirteen.

I was told by my teachers all throughout my life that I had a way with words and was particularly good at describing scenes that play like a movie. I had a love for English and writing, so in high school, I went into AP English. I’ve been studying storytelling and character creation since.

I watch a lot of movies and games and tend to watch reviews and story breakdowns to understand what makes them so compelling and the kinds of twists and turns that the story takes to keep an audience captivated.

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Even though your work is mostly horror, you have a great sense of humor and a knack for adding in the unexpected. How do you find the balance between frightening and fun? And also the balance of realistic and not?

Haha, I’m happy to see you enjoying looking through some of my stuff!

As a person, I don’t think it’s fun to be 100% of one quality all the time. I grew up in a very fun, humorous family, and I tend to go about my life hoping to make people laugh.

Though I love body horror and science fiction, I love making light of some of the work I make as well. It allows people to enjoy my work on a different level rather than just the horror aspect of it.

I put my personality into my pieces and characters. I take the jokes I make in real life about my characters and work and display them for others to see. Being completely serious is a lot of work, but I’m human and want to show my personality in my work as well, not just my technical skill.

I think the balance simply comes from being genuine. I don’t force myself to be funny in some moments and serious in others. I put myself out there and display my real self rather than just a perfect face for social media.

Molly Brown Charlie and Dog

Can you talk to us about your relationship with your fans, and why you use Instagram to share your work? 

I only started posting on instagram more seriously in college! The fact that my following grew so suddenly at all was completely beyond me. I never intended nor expected to see as many people enjoying my work as I do today.

I’m extremely thankful for my following; they’re all extremely encouraging, funny, and invested in the stories and characters I create. They give me all the more reason to continue pursuing this path and putting my best foot forward.

I only started posting on Instagram because some of my college peers were doing so to get their work out to the world. Again, I wasn’t posting with the intention of gaining followers. It was more so to build a place to showcase my work.

Molly Brown

Why did you choose to study concept art at CG Spectrum?

For a year and a half, I majored in Illustration at another school. I was extremely unhappy and wasn’t creating work that I was proud of. It wasn’t work I could put in a concept art portfolio.

My parents were the ones that found CG Spectrum. I researched into it and watched some of the free, short courses provided and thought it suited what I was looking to do. I withdrew from the other school and now solely focus on CG Spectrum and building a portfolio.

I’ve really been enjoying the course and the work I’ve been creating. I’ve learned so much about concept art in this short time, as well as techniques to develop my skills and workflow.

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What challenges have you faced with your art and how did you overcome them? 

My most recent challenge when it's come to my artwork is finding my confidence in it. As many artists must feel, I have a lot of doubts when it comes to my artistic future and career path. I’ve always feared that I’ll never make it and that all this work, dedication, and passion will be for nothing.

I’m trying to overcome these feelings and thoughts by focusing on bettering my skill and learning new programs, like Zbrush and maybe even Substance Painter in the future (when I can afford it)! I know nothing is certain, but I try my best to remain focused and optimistic.

Past challenges would definitely be discovering my niche. All the way up to college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do concept art, but I had no clue how to approach that career path. I’m still trying to find all the right steps, but I know I’m going to get knocked down a couple more times before I set my first step in the field.

Molly Brown Flower

What are the games/artists/movies that have had a big impact on you and your art?

A couple of games that helped me discover this career path would be The Evil Within, Dead Space, Crysis, Prototype, Silent Hill, Doom, and many more.

I was very into video games when I was younger. I don’t play as many anymore, as I’m wrapped up in work and portfolio, but I still see newly released games and I try to see what sort of standards are being set for concept art as time goes on.

Artists I look up to would be Vitaly Bulgarov, Raf Grassetti, Mike Franchina, Johnson Ting, and Max Verehin! Vitaly Bulgarov has been my favorite artist for years now, despite not being a horror artist. The functionality, anatomy, and design he achieves in his work has always been unbelievable to me. I strive to have even a quarter of the skill he has.

Molly Brown 4-1

What are your favorite digital/traditional tools? And you're exploring Zbrush too - are you keen to move into more 3D?

Prior to getting into digital art in late high school, I used watercolors! They were really cheap watercolors, but I think they allowed me to refine my hand and technical skill by working with materials not easily controlled.

In high school, Junior year, I finally got into digital art, starting with Photoshop. I picked it up pretty quick, and have been using it for about four years now. Only recently have I begun dabbling in Zbrush. Brian (my mentor) thought it would be a good tool to really accelerate my work quality and workflow! I plan on mixing 3D and 2D, using a base of 3D to get lighting and structure, but then painting over it and refining colors and texture.

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What personal and professional projects are you working on at the moment?

I’m still working on Harvested Hearts, but I just started another project specifically for practicing Zbrush. It’s a story that’s more focused on body horror and some religious elements. I’ll be releasing more about it on instagram as I produce more work!

What inspired you to want to become a concept art for games? What studios or projects would you love to work on? Where do you see yourself in a few years from now?

Playing various horror and science fiction games when I was younger was a huge inspiration for getting into concept art for games. With CG Spectrum, Brian has pushed me to also look into concept art for the film industry, which is where 3D comes in.

Some studios that I would dream of working for include Weta Digital, Ninja Theory, Sony, Capcom, and Techland! I’d love to be a part of large game and film projects, like Love Death Robots, Diablo, Lost in Space (2018), Alien, God of War, Metal Gear, Silent Hill, Resident Evil, etc.

I’m honestly not so sure where I see myself in a few years. I hope I’d be working for a studio at that point! I’m going to continue working hard on building a portfolio and getting my work out there and just hope that when time comes to apply, I’m accepted somewhere.

Connect with Molly and see more of her incredible work at @deadlymelodic or view her Harvested Hearts Rookies Award submission (a free Rookies account needs to be created to view).


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Tags:   Concept Art ,   Digital Illustration
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