Set design- exteriors

I grew up in a house that my great-grandparents built in 1936. Four generations of my family have lived in the house (only two at a time though); my parents and sister still live there. Its a Californian bungalow design, common in older suburbs around Perth like East Fremantle and Mt Hawthorn.

I remember snippets of visiting my great-grandparents when they were still living in the house. I was only 3 or 4. Great-grandma would take a tray of just-baked cupcakes out of the Metters stove. We would sit in the front room and eat, while family members with big white moustaches that I didn’t know the names of looked down from frames on the mantlepiece. Great-grandma was always smiling, at least I think she was- or maybe that’s a made up memory based on the only photos I know of her. I don’t remember great-grandpa very much. In his photos he looks kind.

great-grandma and grandpa

Pop’s house in The Last Viking is essentially my family home. Obviously my parents don’t live in a house with Viking ornamentation all over it, but the basic similarities are there.

The idea for the viking dragons and the ‘wishbone’ sticking out the front came from research sketches, right at the beginning of the process.


The layout of the driveway, backyard and back shed is based on my aunty and uncle’s old house in Wagin- here’s a photo I took of my brother by the back door, aged 4, where you can see the shed and driveway in the background.


And here’s my first design for Nan and Pop’s house (roughly the same as the final version of the house).

nan and pops house

I also did a cutaway, showing the internal rooms. The first storyboards had scenes in a few different places in the house, and I wanted to make sure that views out the windows were correct and consistent.

nan and pops house cutaway

You might notice that there isn’t a spare bedroom, which begs the question, where does Josh sleep? I figure there’s a spare room in the loft (see those windows in the roof?). Pity we didn’t get to have a scene in there. Maybe it will get to be in the animated movie version (wishful thinking).

Here’s an early version of page 7, where we see Nan and Pop’s house for the first time.


Our editor at Fremantle Press, Cate, suggested I change the angle for more drama- here’s a sketch in preparation for the final version.

p6-20100918-gestural-scanNow the house looms over the family, with the Viking details poking through the panel border. It’s been gratifying to have kids notice these little details when I show them the sketches.

Author: James Foley

James Foley makes children’s books for children who read books. If you’re a child and you’re eating his books, you’re doing it wrong. His books include Brobot, Dungzilla, Gastronauts, Chickensaurus, Toffle Towers, My Dead Bunny and There's Something Weird About Lena. James lives in Perth with his wife, 2 kids, and a labrador. He is a massive Marvel movie nerd and comes from a long line of queuing enthusiasts. Follow him on FB/twitter/insta/youtube @jamesfoleybooks, or at .

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