I dedicated my MA in Animation at the Bristol School of Animation to truly understand what it means to be a Storyboard Artist and how to develop my artistic career as one.
This is a reflective analysis I decided to publish in 8 parts about my personal and professional practice from the point I decided to become a storyboard artist and being part of the animation industry.
Having drawing as a central point in my practice, and not limiting myself to only learning about storyboarding but being able to adapt this existing illustration skills in different projects. I’ve been involved in layout, and editing my own animatics and final projects, also and more important, develop other set of skills to further my career in animation: I was able to learn about visual narrative and storytelling into a much deeper level. This skills I developed in different projects can be adapted in different aspects I am interested but was not sure how to develop during the MA, like comics and children stories as they all share the principles of drawing and storytelling.
Although it is clear that I still have room for improvement, nowadays I can say that I can perform professionally as a storyboard artist. I have gained and applied my experience adapting several skills to new environments and performing different roles in various projects while obtaining a better idea on what aspects I need to improve. A big part of the industry is about working on teams and relying on other people’s abilities to get the most of a project, big or small. and having a broad understanding of various keyponts to not feel at lost in different situations that may occur is a personal advantage since part of the storyboard artist job as someone who extinguish fires before they happen.
Drawing is still the axis to develop my career, and being able to develop skills that are useful in more than one way is important in the industry to keep the job, but also to develop a creative voice in personal projects. Storyboard artists work with the composition, storytelling continuity and establish relationships between characters and assures the flow of the sequence. They balance “strong drawing skills with good knowledge of anatomy, staging, acting and the ability to think quickly” (Levy, 2006) A storyboard is the drawings that illustrate a narrative momentum and it is after all a tool to help visualize the film, and like that, they are often discarded to create a stronger point in a story, it is, after all, thinking in terms of visual storytelling and quickly translating those thoughts so they can be pitched, revised and dissected. For the story.
The animation industry and creators have a need to share their work since it is the only way to get feedback from it. Online presence is beneficial for networking and may be useful to nail freelance commissions and/or studio jobs. As a visual storyteller, it also helps to build an audience that eventually could support personal projects. The animation industry has changed in recent years thanks to artists now being able to share their work online at all time, generating an audience and hopefully also captivating the interest of specific directors. This article from Anime News Network is one of the most interestings since it reunites the experiences of american, european and australian animators that have gotten into the industry by animating and sharing what they do in social media." Learn animation. Post your work online. Take feedback. Improve. Be recruited onto a high profile project as a key animator." The feedback from the public is as enriching as watching what other professionals are doing, which can develop the critical eye on own productions. And even further, having my work organized online can contact me with studios in other countries and widen my career possibilities.
Getting in contact with people in the industry is often the most important way to get relevant feedback and sometimes even the smaller tip can change the way of approaching the same work I was doing before. The only way to get into a dialogue with people in the industry is having some work done and be able to show it, even a little. Many of the animators and storyboard artists are really happy to answer any questions about being part of the animation industry, and they are often more accessible through their own social media.
It has been the tips from storyboard artist looking at my board that have gave me a big breakthrough on the job. More than often, as storyboard artist we are so focused on the board we are doing that those small tips, like paying a little more attention to the foreground or using the negative space in a character design, are often seen as tricks and are the most difficult to see when immersing in a specific script, but they speak more about the experience of working on different type of boards and having someone reviewing them directly.
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.
The main issue with wanting to be a storyboard artist is that getting started with storyboards is not exactly easy, since there is not just one way to do storyboards. They are made for the production you are in and they all change with the type of production. Between books like Cristiano, G. (2008) The Storyboard Design Course where he approaches different points about many different aspects of storyboarding such as director notes and the difference between storyboard for animation and shooting boards.
One of my principal fears of going all the way into storyboard from the beginning was the professional opportunities that it has in the local animation industry and in the international one, as I also have to keep thinking on where i am going to be in the future and what is my professional projection.
In general, looking for professionals currently working in the industry has been very enlightening and useful since I decided to focus on storyboard: getting in touch with people working on the field I am interested in is the best way to know what to expect and how to prepare myself for it.
The interviews I have conducted through my research have influenced widely my approach to storyboarding, because the different artists I have spoken with have told me about the discipline and the importance of order and continuous improving of one’s own process. These interviews gave me great insights on how it is like to work for different clients and formats, They also let me hanging on several aspects widely on how to get out there and get a job in the industry. The information they all gave me is mainly about their own experience when they started, be it several years ago, in other parts of the world or juts with other conditions to their first job. I was still lacking on that first step.
I learnt that their advice, even if well intentioned was at some extent not helpful completely, and for the same reason following it blindly would have been a mistake . The professionals with longer trajectories coincide that the use of specialized software is not really an important tool to get into a job, while a couple of canadian storyboard artists in starting jobs, even in the other side of the world, insisted it was one of the advantages they had. After that, my own experience getting a storyboard test in a local studio showed me that they were looking for someone who was already familiar with the software, since they were already using it. People on entry jobs have to easily adapt to their new studio environment and even if learning the software on the job is a possibility, it just makes it harder on new graduates to getting use to an industry level of work and on top of that, learn a software they have used just once. Being on top of the technology used in professional environments seems to be part responsibility of newbies and ignoring it would just make it more difficult at the moment to get a job.
Choosing the projects I was going to work in I was in utterly loss about what to look in a project so it would tackle all the set of skills that would be part of the portfolio. This was in fact my major set back when I started to work on something
After completing my own exercise of animating a rotation of a couple of characters designs I realized on the way several specifics on other roles. As an animator, I had to realize by myself that the construction is essential to keep consistency. As a character designer testing how the design is fit for purpose was a really important practice. What at the beginning seemed like an exercise far away from my principal ambition became key at the moment of working in a more professional pipeline and understanding the roles of my future teammates .
Other of my main focuses on choosing the right projects, and what added some pressure at my decision, was the importance on getting relevant experience. My research had led me to know that most positions in studios require experience as storyboard artist of minimum 2 years or equivalent. So getting this experience was one of my challenges. Part of the interviews I did to storyboard artists touched this specific aspect and why experience in several projects is important. 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. Storyboard is all about planning, and a storyboard artist needs to keep all the aspects of storytelling in mind in order to deliver. Acting, colour, composition and cuts, all must be clear in the storyboard and come natural to the storyboard artists.
Lets go for what sboard artists in big companies do, and how it overlaps in even smaller companies
In my attempt to be a hireable and competent storyboard artists with a place in the current animation world I browsed the internet to find websites and online portfolios of storyboard artists that had graduated in the last two years, from around the world. I was mostly interested in people already working in the industry, but I also checked the ones made by graduates of Calarts, Gobelins and Sheridan, renowned schools that most of the big studios have as first choice for new jobs. I also grouped together the portfolios of full freelance artists and a specific category for British animation graduates currently working in the UK.
To see so much examples helped me figure out the industry standard, which will work in benefit of my own portfolio and my possibilities to position myself in the industry. I noticed that display order gives a strong sensation of professionalism. Having all the samples organized in a clean, straightforward way allows to appreciate the skills and strengths of the portfolio owner. Also, I saw that social media presence and relevance is essential to keep the network alive and find projects to work on. It is also useful to list the softwares one can work with and to have the CV available on the websites.
The other big characteristic of portfolios of professional artists is that, even if their main focus is storyboard, the majority of portfolios display more than storyboard samples: they show character animation and work on design, a lot of them also add comic and illustration samples to show their proficiency in visual expression. Storyboard artist for Dreamworks Animation, Kris Peran, points how his practice as storyboard artist for animation feature films is shaped by his ability to understand the animation process and how storyboarding is about solving problems before they happen in a more developed stage of production. He also mentions that storyboarding is the practice of “communicate with pictures as fast as you think”. (Peran, 2014)
In general, portfolios must be memorable, easy and fast to read.
Knowing all the requirements and qualifications for being a storyboard artist in the animation industry locally and internationally , I was able to fully understand my ultimate goal :
to Develop a Profesional Portfolio.
It is stressful to think that the portfolio should show everything you are capable of, without any backup, but if it achieves that, it will be a success. Thinking what you want your portfolio to transmit is key to go somehwere with it
There are two main aspects to consider while researching the career prospects of storyboard artists: the storyboard making itself, and the application of the skills in the context of industrial production.
looking for professionals currently working in the industry has been very enlightening and useful for my research
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 lot of the offer
Knowing the possibilities of an active storyboard artist career is one of my principal goals.
Deeper in my research on how to start in the animation industry lead me to ask myself how it works around the world. One of the paths on starting as a storyboard artist is to start on television since often, the position in studios requires less experience than working on feature animated films.
I’ve always knew I was interested in narration through images, being this the center of my practice for many years. This is why my research into the animation world started from knowing what role in the immense pipeline intersection my innate interest in drawing belonged to.
My final decision of becoming a storyboard artist for animation came after a long process of first, to understand how things actually work in the animation industry; second, to explore the scope that the different positions in an animation crew have, so I could see in which one I could really feel satisfied; and third, to identify the type of projects I would like to be part of. But it is, as alway,s a decisions that should be made alongside practice considering that in a creative career is not only important to know the aspects of the work but also to have the experience of doing it.
My initial research led me to find information first hand, communicating with storyboard artist from around the world via email, about what is to be a storyboard artist in the industry. WIthout leaving aside other tools like books such as Levy, D.B. (2006) Your Career in Animation, and even more online resources like Creative Skillset (2016) Animation Job Roles (animation) and the pages of the same animation companies, they usually have no secrets about what they aspire to get from someone applying to any of the different roles in their studios.
After coming through with my initial research on how the animation industry works ,my idea of storyboard changed and I started to perceive the possibility of a professional development in this area. For being a storyboard artist in animation, generating clear images for the rest of the team to work from is a priority. For this reason, as Richard Williams says in his book The animator’s survival kit (Williams 2001, p. 23) “Drawing should become second nature, so that the animator can concentrate on the actual actions and the timing of them and give the performance life”.