Alright, so this month’s piece should have been the 180 degrees rule and the screen direction rules but I’m gonna take a little break from the theoretical stuff and talk to you a bit about this great presentation I’ve been to last week, by great storyboard artist Steve Werblun.
Note that this presentation was held by the Motion Pictures & Television and Illustration Departments of the San Francisco Academy of Art University, so while my articles were a series of basic overview of guidelines that’d help you storyboard your own video, this speech was more addressed to the artists and filmmakers who wanted an insight about the industry.
Now, in my first articles I’ve told you guys that this is a ‘hidden’ form of art, so you wouldn’t expect most of the storyboard artists to be renowned for their work, outside the industry. And that was the case with Mr. Werblun for me, I didn’t know him since I’ve seen the ‘Guest Speaker’ notice mail by my school. So I did a quick research and his back catalogue was stunning! Especially for a comic book and movie geek like me. He worked in well-known high budget Hollywood flicks like The Day After Tomorrow, Contact, Con-Air, Equilibrium, Along Came Polly, Stigmata and Batman & Robin (to me, which was the most appealing one since all of the Batman filmography, even the campiest ones are more important to me than most of the great movies) to name a few, as well as a pile of low budget indie movies and a bunch of aborted projects.
He was also a courtroom artist which is something completely different. He was the man who, when not a single journalist or camera was allowed, was sitting in the courtroom during the trial, and capturing the moments by drawing quick sketches (which in a way reminded me a freelance job I’ve did for telecommunication company Ericsson a couple years back and believe me it’s not easy). He was working in LA, covering many cases including probably the most famous one – the OJ Simpsons trial, as well as trials including many famous faces like Michael Jackson, Madonna, Stevie Wonder, Steven Spielberg etc.
His presentation was a quick look back at his successful career, with q&a interactions which covered lots of insight and hints about the industry, as well as giving a thorough job definition of a storyboard artist for the unfamiliar minds. I’ll write down randomly some important points relevant to our case from his speech in q&a form.
What is the importance of the storyboard artist and his vision to the movie?
Well Mr. Werblun made it clear that directing a movie and being the storyboard artist goes very much hand in hand, since storyboard artist (or artists, depending on the budget and the density of the action scenes of the movie) is the first one to visualize the script. The preproduction team, the art department starts to work and they come up with the locations, costumes, characters, visual elements let’s say. But what about the visual storytelling aspect, since what you have is merely a written script? That’s where storyboard artist, in collaboration with the director comes into play. The script says ‘The man in long coat shoots 12 shots in the dark’ and that’s it. The camera angles, character’s gestures, the composition, all is up to the director and the storyboard artist.
How does one teach himself to become a storyboard artist?
That was a part of my question. And he answered this one with the story of how he got his first job. He went to art school but didn’t have any film making background. And in his first interview, when he was given an excerpt from a script and expected to draw storyboards out of it. That was his first time, he didn’t draw storyboards before. And he nailed it in the first time. How? Because just like me or an average movie geek, he used to watch his favorite movies not once or twice or three times. He used to watch them 20 or 30 times or more. And he knew every frame, every composition, every camera angle by heart in those movies. He basically applied what he has seen many times. The piece of advice I can pull out of this : Don’t just watch a movie. Try to study the movie, try to put yourself in the director’s shoes and see the frame from his eyes.
How to get a job?
Get an agent. Prepare your portfolio, be specific in what you want, avoid a mixture of different styles. Then hope your agent hooks you up with studios and directors. Once you’ve got an interview, you’re likely to be asked for a test run, you’ll be handed an excerpt of a script and will be expected to draw storyboards out of it in a given time. Do your best.
How many storyboard artists are hired in a movie?
It depends on the budget and the amount of complex action scenes mostly. For the most of the indie low budget movies he worked, he was the only storyboard artist. For a big production like Batman & Robin for example, he was one of the five.
The drawings should be refined or rough?
Again it depends on the budget and/or the director’s and studio’s expectations. He worked on movies both where he refined and inked the approved pencil sketches, and where he just left them as they are, in the penciled stage. But again, as I stated in the earliest articles, he made it very clear that once you have all the elements needed to guide the shooting in the drawings, you don’t have to make them look perfect. As long as it reads, it works.
Did he tell Joel Schumacher that his movie Batman & Robin sucked big time?
Again that was a personal question by me, and the answer is no, he didn’t want to lose his job:)
It was a very memorable, inspiring, informing and entertaining presentation so I wanted to take a break and share a few notes I took for those that are curious about how the things go in the industry. I thank him once again for sharing his experience with us, and indirectly with you guys of course.
We’ll go on with our regular schedule on next Youngsday. Catch you there!
(Visuals are courtesy of Steve Werblun and www.famousframes.com)