Most of the artists I reached work on projects or have online platforms that I have followed for a while. Others were recommended to me. I wrote to fifteen people and received answers from eight of them.
After speaking with them, the main lesson was an obvious one: storyboard artists work in all of the fields of visual media. Adaptability is necessary to work on the field, because the size of the crew, the production needs and the resources vary wildly among short films, tv shows, feature films and advertising for different media. Even if my main goal is to be able to work in a studio based job, I know I must learn about the characteristics of freelance jobs, since they make up for a great percentage of the offer.
The questions I send to them where:
•What was your first job in the industry? How did you get to work as a storyboard artist?
•What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
•What kind of additional skills may help a storyboard artist working in animation?
•How do you approach scripts? is it any different for short projects than for big ones?
And in the case of the directors: how their role as storyboard artists influence their role as directors.
Key points I found are:
•Each project is unique, therefore it must be approached with a brand new mindset. The job of a storyboard artist is to figure out the specific requirements of the story and the clearest way to satisfy them visually.
•Each director approaches projects in a different way and the crew operates differently according to this approach. The storyboard artist must be able to adapt and take the best of every new experience.
•Type casting is a real thing in the industry. In some features, the storyboard artist is picked to plan a specific scene that requires high skill in action or drama expression, other times, it is more about the general feeling of the entire project.
•Related to this, it is vital that the storyboard artist and the director understand each other.
•Storyboard is all about planning and a storyboard artist needs to keep all the aspects of storytelling in mind for being able to deliver. Acting, colour, composition, cuts. All must be clear in the storyboard and come natural to the storyboard artists, which is why having experience in several projects is important. Storyboard notes come very handy.
•It is important to question everything that is going to be shown to the audience: why the director wants it to be like it is, which is the best way to show it, how will the material get clear enough to make the cut.
•The simpler the better.
•Mastery comes from practice and experimentation. It is essential to try different scripts, techniques and audiences, as well as studying composition and narration in finished products like movies, ads and TV shows.
•Most of the interviewees work digitally, using mainly Adobe Photoshop and Toon Boom Storyboard Pro. Some of them consider the proficiency in the latter a requirement to work as a studio artist in the industry.
•The length of a project can go from one or two days for advertising, to two or three years for feature films.
•Newcomers normally get jobs as revisionists, where they help tying up the storyboard artist’s work with the director final needs. It is a great way to enter the industry because one can see the storyboards from professional artists and listen to the director’s commentary first hand.
I looked up for the requirements big studios have for their storyboard artists, what do they want to see in a portfolio and which skills they appreciate in an animator too, because I got from the interviews that several storyboard artists also work as animators or even concept artists and character designers.
They definitely need that the storyboard artist understands the pipeline and commits to make it flow, since a production is a team effort to put a finished product on screen and the storyboard artist is one of the critical pieces in the functioning of this mechanism. The pipeline is the tool to understand the whole process and define who needs to work at every step of it. With it, the storyboard artist can manage to make the blueprints to all the departments in time and assure everything goes as planned and the studio can be sure their money is not going to waste.
Behind the scenes documentaries for feature films are great to see this in detail, since they show how the work of the storyboard artists intertwines with the rest of the crew and how different studios approach the challenges of production. Cartoon Network, Pixar and Dreamworks have information about this online for everyone to see
For being a successful artist in an industry means to be able to develop a critical eye on your own work and how it is serving to your purpose as a visual artist. For me, the way to achieve this was to realize that I am on an entry level on the industry and the people that would hire me knows that. It means that I have to be incredible perceptive and actively look for feedback from people working on animation. Many established artist on the industry count with years of experience to have a signature style, and knowing that even if that is one of the characteristics of successful artists, they also count with the time and experience to develop it and to keep growing as artists.