Hidden for centuries and only now gradually giving up some of its secrets, Orkney’s Neolithic Ness of Brodgar settlement has provided archaeologists with a gripping story of mystery since its discovery.

Now, the ancient remains and Orkney’s other intriguing monuments are to provide a magical backdrop to an animated feature film which could launch the story of the islands onto the international stage.  It’s hoped that Lugi – The Brodgar Boy could eventually become a major cinema release, helping to spotlight Orkney and, indeed, Scotland’s often overlooked Neolithic history, echoing the impact of Pixar’s 2012 animation Brave, and boosting tourism across the islands.  The feature-length film will tell the story of a disabled boy who must unite his people if they are to defeat evil forces, and is expected to take viewers on an animated tour of the Orkney Islands’ most precious heritage sites.  The idea originated from Orcadian illustrator and cartoonist Alex Leonard who has been developing the film with Belfast-based animation company ALT Animation.  It recently beat competition from almost 280 filmmakers in 32 countries to secure major development funding from Creative Europe. ALT Animation has also received support from Northern Ireland Screen.  Intended as a family-friendly movie, the story will use the boy hero’s adventures to explore some of the mysteries surrounding Orkney’s most ancient monuments, such as the famous settlement of Skara Brae and the Ring Of Brodgar. The sites predate Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Egypt, prompting suggestions that the islands were the epicentre of human existence 5,000 years ago.  Although strictly fiction, it will be woven around real archaeological evidence and understanding gleaned during excavation of the sites. Some early illustrations have been based on Structure Ten at the Ness, thought to be one of the largest stone-built Neolithic structures in Britain and built around 2900BC.

Measuring 82ft by 65ft, archaeologists believe it was abandoned around 2450BC, when hundreds of cattle were slaughtered and consumed during a huge feast. Leonard, who lives in Sandwick, was inspired to create the character and dramatic backdrop to the story after visiting the Ness of Brodgar settlement in 2011 and being astounded by its size and history.  “I couldn’t really grasp fully the scale of what they are finding in terms of the number of buildings and the size of them. I was captivated and couldn’t understand why more people didn’t know about it,” he said.  “I kept wondering what it looked like when Ness was in its prime. I went home and started to draw and sketch ideas.  “It was a labour of love that at first I thought could make a little kids’ book.”

The idea attracted the attention of Tim Bryans, writer and producer from Belfast-based ALT Animation, which has now secured interest from a number of award-winning studios around Europe keen to work collectively on the project.

Leonard said the focus is now on creating a screenplay and a trailer that showcases the story, and looking for a partner to take the film to full production. “We would love to think that it would eventually go on general release,” added Leonard.  “We don’t know who will come on board and don’t know yet if it will be computer generation, 2D, an arthouse project or have much wider appeal. We are just happy for it to have found its feet.

“Our inspiration is Pixar’s Brave which did so well for tourism in Scotland.”

Brave, which told the story of an adventurous princess and featured the voice of Billy Connolly and Kelly Macdonald, was a global hit and resulted in tourism agency VisitScotland spending £7 million on the joint marketing campaign with Disney.  The associated television campaign was said to have reached around 82 million people in the UK, North America and Europe, while written material reached 505 million people worldwide.

The film was estimated to have generated more than £140m in business for Scotland over 10 years.