From his flat in Portobello, a young Scottish artist played a pivotal role in the creation of hit new animation film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Sean Sevestre was the only member of the team working from this side of the Atlantic. While most of his colleagues worked out of a studio in Hollywood, he worked as part of the visual development team of the Hollywood blockbuster for nearly two years from home in Edinburgh.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was released in cinemas this month featuring stars including Seth Rogan, Jackie Chan and John Cena. 

As a member of the Visual Development Department, Sean was tasked with bringing the design of the characters into the film to fit its style and aesthetic.

Being in Portobello the 29-year-old’s daily routine working on the film was different to that of his colleagues in Hollywood: “Pretty much everyone else was in America, so I would have my meetings at a different time of day to everyone else. The morning meeting was my end of day meeting. I would get my new tasks at the end of the day - a new character that’s been developed to do the character paint or some colour script tests for.

"Luckily I work from home, so I would just have breakfast, make myself a nice coffee, sit down, and then first thing I'll do is gather a bunch of references for whatever the scene is, try to get an idea of get a bunch of information about what I could do with it. And then I'll do my best first take on something, and present it at the end of day at reviews with our production designer.”

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With the rest of the team being in America, the process could be lonely, but Sean explained: “I'm quite good at sitting, working by myself because I've done it my whole career, so it just feels normal. I did try to go to all the meetings I could, to feel like part of the team and see everyone else. I went over to America at one point to meet everyone and also went back over for the wrap party. But it's just what I know - I've kind of sat in my room practising making art for like twelve years, so it’s just another day.”

Working alone in a flat likely comes naturally to someone who is disciplined enough to teach themselves art and reach a level which caught the eye of Hollywood. Sean’s skills in art and animation building are completely self taught - as is his involvement in the hobby 'tricking' - a training discipline that combines flips from gymnastics and martial arts with break dancing.

The Herald: Sean worked on the character design for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.Sean worked on the character design for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (Image: Credit: Sean Sevestre)

His route into the industry was an unconventional one, teaching himself using online tools: “Like most people, when I left school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. The sensible thing to do seemed to be to do a normal thing, whatever that means. So I went to study product design because I thought that was normal. I was there about four or five weeks before I just realised all I was doing was drawing, and that's what I actually wanted to do. 

“It made it clear to me I actually wanted to do art. So I left the course and I just found everything online. All the information you could ever want to teach yourself about art is online. I just watched a million videos. I read a million things, I practised every day. I found certain people who were already in the industry because it was a lot smaller back then, even just ten years ago. It was easier to just reach out to someone who was pretty good in working in the industry and I would just message them directly and just ask for advice and show them my stuff and they'd be really nice and they'd help me out.”

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Sean first found paid work on an independent board game, for which he was paid £10 a piece. His career elevated over the next decade, and he began working on short term projects for various Netflix series as people discovered his work on the internet.

The artist, originally from Penicuik, credits his background in tricking with giving him the confidence to build a career entirely on his own: “What that taught me, really, was that I could teach myself things because it wasn't school, it was just me out on the grass falling until I landed it and just learning stuff and eventually getting pretty good at that. So then when I left school to teach myself art, it wasn't a completely insane decision because I kind of knew how to teach myself something and I'd proven to myself I could do that, so I was just going to do it again with something else.” 

Given his drive to self-teach, I wondered what school was like for someone so creative and independent minded: “School was fine, but I didn’t do that well in the art department or anything. I got a B in Higher Art, but I find it a bit weird to turn art into an exam.” 

Although he won’t give anything away on what’s next for his career, Sean does hope to work on creating more of his own films. And as he has proven from his work so far, the world is his oyster from the Portobello flat: “Growing up in a small town in Scotland I never thought I'd end up working in Hollywood, who does that? But thanks to the internet I was able to make a name for myself in the industry even though I felt far away from that world.”