The Season One script called for Ren to trade some of the produce she sourced from the forest for a coin. Her aim was to keep her dad, Dagron, believing that she had been washing with her friends and NOT learning all sorts of forbidden stuff from Karn.
Now, as a writer it’s very easy to write “Ren shows Dagron a coin” but when it comes to filming that sequence, you have to start thinking about that prop, that coin.
So Kate and myself turned to James Ewing of The Ewing Workshop, who was already working on designs for the Reather. James is incredibly talented and soon came up with the idea that, like in Norse mythology, animals would have a special meaning in Ren’s world. He suggested a design with a Boar symbolising Courage on one side and a dragon in an infinity design on the other.
This sparked the idea for the unique Alathian belief in reincarnation and we asked James to come up with a set of five animal designs to include symbols of Strength, Respect, Honesty and Wisdom. It also gave us the idea that each century in Alathia had a name (just like the Chinese years) and Ren therefore lives in the Time of the Dragon.
Furthermore it sparked Kate to come up with a Kickstarter pledge called ‘Your Face on a Coin’ that would complete the set with a Loyalty coin… the idea being that whoever bought the pledge would be depicted as an ancient King or Queen of Alathia. As it happened the pledge was bought by a lovely family in Germany, the Maschmeiers, and we decided to include all of them in the design so it would depict the very last North King and his family. Inspired by their real names, we called the Queen Vonnien, the son Aarlath and the daughter Larani.
As all this was happening and developing, James got very busy in his fantastic workshop and was unable to finish the designs. So with the Boar and Horse coins as a blue print I began the development of the missing four designs. It’s often difficult to take over in the middle of someone else’s process. First of all you have to get into the mind-set of the other designer and at the same time you also feel a huge obligation to do the work justice. Luckily for me the two original designs were amazing and very distinctive, so I didn’t find it that difficult to get there.
The one that gave me the biggest headache was the Stag. You should think that with such a majestic and beautiful animal it would be easy, but all the other animals were shown in profile and the antlers created a massive problem. In the end I decided to forget naturalism and simply create something that looked like antlers but more importantly fitted the brief.
The other coin that was a bit problematic was the Loyalty coin with the royal family. It had to be simplistic like the other designs, but it also had to look a bit like the real people who had spent a lot of money on the pledge. It took many attempts and I’m sure a few more grey hairs emerged as I was looking at the photographs of the family that they had sent us. Ultimately I think it ended up sort of half and half between likeness and design and I have to admit that I was worried that the Maschmeier family would be disappointed. But true to form, they were very happy with the design saying that other people might not exactly realise that it is us, but WE know it is… love them!
The last part of the process was getting the designs made into a real coin. With cost in mind we decided that we would start with the Boar coins and then build up the rest of the collection once there was enough money to do so. After all, the script only called for ONE coin to be shown.
It was however important for us that the coin was REAL and not just a prop, something I know the actors in those scenes really appreciated. Nothing brings a scene to life like handling real things instead of lightweight fakes. The process of making the coin was a bit difficult but in the end Kate found a coin maker in Germany that came up with the goods… and I still look at that Boar and smile because it’s one of the many things we created for the show that makes it look so good.
As an appendix I have to finish the story of the King coin… Even though there wasn’t enough money to mass-produce all the coins, we were determined to honour the Kickstarter pledge bought by the Maschmeier family. So we turned to another of the Ren production heroes, Hans Goosen, who amongst a million hobbies is interested in making casts and forging metal objects. Hans produced a wonderful set of King coins that were presented to the family in a lovely box. I hope it has pride of place over there in Germany!
With the Kickstarter for new episodes we can put some of the other Alathian coin designs into production at last. You can bag yourself a set by backing right now at kickstarter.com/projects/mythica/ren2.