I apologize for the length of this, but I was in a talkative mood – probably too much coffee or something. This is from 2004, but the information is still pretty much the same. I wrote this in response to some questions posed to me by a visitor to my web site. Hopefully this stuff is interesting or informative and I don’t come off sounding too much like an irritating know-it-all.
> How would you describe your job?
I am a storyboard artist / animatic artist. That
means it’s my job to turn the director’s
interpretation of the script into either drawings that
others can understand, like a comic book, or
computer-generated video that can be watched, like a
movie, so that everyone knows what the director wants
on the day of shooting.
> How significant is
> technology in the
> production of your artwork?
Technology is very important, especially in the
creation of animatic videos. I use LightWave 3d,
After Effects, sound editing software, among others to
create animatics. But even “traditionally drawn”
storyboards are scanned and manipulated in Photoshop,
and frequently now delivered via the internet though
FTP, web site or email.
> What is your current
> work environment like?
I’m currently working at Sony Pictures in Culver City,
California in an office just across from the directors
office. The last job I finished was done at my home
studio. The work can be done either way. Usually the
director decides how he or she wants to proceed.
> Why freelance? How does a freelance storyboard
> artist differ from a
> storyboard artist working under a company like
> Pixar, Disney, etc.?
Although I’ve done animation work, I am primarily a
“live-action” storyboard / animatic artist. Animated
feature films require much more time and therefore
those storyboard artists are usually retained as
full-time salaried employees. This is the case with
Pixar, Disney, etc. As a live-action storyboard
artist, I am usually on a job for a time measured in
weeks, whereas they are on the job for a time measured
in years. Freelance is the way for those of us in
> What is
> your personal insight or approach in handling the
> relationship? In my experience, something as simple
> as designing a team
> shirt can be challenging due to differing desires
> and expectations.
Luckily I only have to make one person happy: the
director. This vastly simplifies the problem of
“differing desires and expectations”. Occasionally
others on the crew will attempt to use me to get their
ideas to the director, but I have very little patience
for politics; my allegiance is clear. I work for the
director and only the director.
> Where do you stand in the art production department
> of a commercial,
> film, music video, etc.? What kind of relationship
> do you have with
> layout artists and visual art directors? What kind
> of relationship do
> you have with the director of the project?
The director is my boss and my supervisor. Storyboard
artists are thrown in with the art department, both
figuratively and physically (about half the time they
put our desks/offices in the art department), and we
are frequently hired by the production designer (the
boss of the art department) but we answer to the
> How do you handle international clients and what
> type of challenges does
> that present? I see that you have worked with
> Kodansha in Japan. How is
> communication conducted? How much traveling do you
> have to do and how do
> you feel about that when it comes to personal life
> and obligations?
I worked for Kodansha when I was creating two graphic
novels for publication in Japan about ten years ago.
That was different than storyboarding. In that case
we corresponded via fax and I had an agent who
translated in both directions. It worked out well
since the editors were awake in Japan when I was
asleep in Los Angeles, and vice-versa. So I could
send a fax at the end of the day and get a detailed
response first thing in the morning.
Storyboarding occasionally requires travel. A sizable
amount of production is done in Canada or Australia.
The storyboard artists who are single and without kids
tend to jump on those jobs, whereas I would prefer to
work locally so I can still read to my kids at night
and walk them to school in the morning. Sometimes
there’s no choice, as when I was working on
“Monkeybone” for Fox and had to fly to San Francisco
every Monday and back every Friday for seven months.
That was tough. Mostly, since the work we do is
PRE-production, we are not required to go on distant
locations at the beginning of a film, but as it rolls
into production and we are lucky enough to have been
kept on, travel is at times necessary.
> If applicable, do you have sufficient flexibility in
> your job so that
> you think it is possible to balance parenthood with
> your career?
Yes, it has to be done. There’s no choice.
Sometimes, as a freelancer, I’m unemployed for weeks
on end. These are simultaneously wonderful and
frightening times: lot’s of time with the family to
make up for time away, and nervousness about getting
the next job.
> What important changes are occurring in your field?
> How will these
> changes affect your career?
There is a digital revolution happening now. As
directors see what is possible to “previsualize” with
the computer and how much flexibility and power this
avails, they want more. Many people in my field now
want nothing to do with computers or don’t know how to
adapt their methods to their use. There’s a lot of
apprehension about this now.
> Have you considered any other related career
> options? What type of
> person, in your opinion, will get the most out of
> your field?
A storyboard artist works closely with the director
and facilitates directorial decisions in small or
large ways. Many storyboard artists go on to become
second unit directors or actual film directors. It
takes a director’s eye and sensibility to do the job
Having too much attachment to the work, to drawing, to
ego can be bad. Everything changes, your best ideas
can be thrown out on a whim. It’s important, for me
anyway, to love the work and the process of working
without becoming too attached to the end product or
one’s own drawings. We are to serve the director,
it’s a service job. If you get too full of your own
importance you will go crazy and be very sad and
bitter. Keep a great attitude no matter what.
> What suggestion can you give me for obtaining an
> entry-level position as
> storyboard artist? What ability and attitude would
> you look for when
> hiring a storyboard artist?
Here’s what I wrote to a teacher asking a similar
“To the would-be storyboard artist: In an interview
situation, keep your portfolio specific to storyboarding
and, if possible, specific for the job at hand. Only put
your best stuff in there and keep it on topic. If you’re
up for an animated film, show animation boards, if
you’re up for an action film, show action boards, etc.
Color is unnecessary for 90% of what I and most film
storyboard artists do, unless you find yourself
working in advertising. Know film terminology inside
and out. A director won’t stop to explain what a
high-angle tracking crane shot is. Know editing, know
the psychology of camera angles, know the 180 line and
why – or why not – to cross it, etc. In the beginning
storyboard anything you can get your hands on for the
experience. Just about all work comes in via
word-of-mouth, so work hard, impress people, keep a
good attitude, exceed expectations, don’t whine about
revisions, if you pull an all-nighter don’t mention
it, smile through gritted teeth if need be, turn
problems into solutions before anybody even realizes
they’re problems. Do this and, after the film is done
and the crew disburses to other films, you will find
you are remembered, called upon and hired again. Then
repeat the process. Everybody assumes artists are
flakes, so prove them wrong and be the most
professional person in the room. Never miss a
deadline: excuses only console the person giving them.
Draw clearly. Be clear. Storyboarding is first, and
foremost, a COMMUNICATION job. Listen well and
deliver what is expected.”