1 Jim Story: former Disney Feature Animation Story Artist Instructor of Story at University of Central Florida, Orlando Q: What background skills do Storyboard artists need to be successful? What would you tell a student to do to prepare themselves for this profession? Jim Story: Let s put drawing skills aside for the moment, for me it s most important to be an interested observer of the world and the life going on around you. Story s boil down to human personalities in relationships, if you don t have any insight into different types of personalities or how human s interact by way of analytic experience, reading and observation then it will be difficult for you to create interesting characters through their behavior in relationship. Think of it as if you are an animal behaviorist writing about a troop of baboons without ever having observed the social structure of baboons. They are primates, I am a primate therefore I can write about them. Experience and observation has to be thought about, analyzed and broken down into motivation, action and reaction, then it can be translated into ammunition you can use is creating believable characters in believable relationships. Character is made evident by behavior posture, walk, clothing, and little pieces of business that are unique to the character and give the character dimension. Observation supplies us with this kind of business we can give to a character. For example in Sylvain Chomet s Belleville Rendezvous, Madame Sousa (who wears glasses) has an endearing habit of pausing, staring open-eyed for a moment
2 thinking, and then very quickly shoving her glasses back up her nose with her index finger and acting. This is a wonderful film to view over and over. It is entirely a Visual Story as there is no meaningful dialogue. Secondly, your brain is a computer, and the old saw Good data in, good data out holds true. No data in, trash and junk out is the result of not paying attention to this truth. A strong understanding of what story is about that is what it does for us beyond entertain us - and story structure is essential. Visual Structure goes hand-in-hand with Story Structure. See and read story in the form of film, plays and novels, then analyze what you read and see. Look at drawing, painting and illustration and analyze them, they can give you compositional, stylistic and dramatic input. Q: Training? Jim Story: I didn t have formal training; my apprenticeship was served at the movies, reading comics and the funny papers. Now there are lots of schools both public and private that provide training. Some studios provide internships but require a high skill level before being accepted and there is a great deal of competition the a few openings. Research the school programs carefully before selecting.
3 Q: Books? Jim Story: Books about story, both written and visual can provide the basis to help your analysis. Some that I think are important and use in my teaching: Joseph Campbell, Hero with a Thousand Faces Robert McKee, Story Bruce Block, The Visual Story Q: Lectures? Jim Story: Both Robert McKee and Bruce Block have lectures that you can attend. Q: Websites? Jim Story: ASIFA Hollywood National Film Board of Canada (Animation) Yale Film Analysis classes.yale.edu/film-analysis/index.htm Animation World Magazine mag.awn.com Q: Other Sources or kinds of experiences? Jim Story: Museums of all kinds (human art and artifacts and natural artifacts) are both a source and an experience. Travel, widely or locally, see environments experience places and draw while you are there.
4 Q: Are there special characteristics that you find professional story artists have in common. What makes the successful ones successful? Jim Story: The story artists I ve known are of all types. Some are good with humor, some with drama, some with action; some are extroverts, some are introverts but all are students of life, people and film. Success is made from talent, drive, opportunity and your skills as a visual storyteller. Q: Is great story telling ability or humor something one can learn or is it an innate skill that some people have and others do not? Jim Story: You can learn the principles of storyboarding and depending on your motivation, you can become very good, but it is a gift that artists have in varying degrees. Whether you have a little or a lot, like everything else it depends on what you do with it. My name is Story but that hasn t genetically endowed me with extra-liberal amounts of storytelling mo-jo. Q: What is your top ten list of must see movies to help a person understand good film/animation-film construction and story telling? (to make one a better storyboard artist) Jim Story: Being Visually Literate in both live action and animation is extremely important for a story artist. Film preferences are largely subjective. Here are the top 11 Animated Films of all Time voted by ASIFA members And compiled in Notice there is only one feature (Allegro Non Troppo)
5 on this list. Allegro Non Troppo, Bruno Bozzetto Cow, Alexander Petrov Creature Comforts, Nick Park Dnevnik Diary, Nedeljko Dragiç Jeu Des Cudes Elbowing, Paul Driessen Girl s Night Out, Joanna Quinn The Man Who Planted Trees, Frederic Back Satiemania, Zdenko Gasparoviç Street of the Crocodiles, The Quay Brothers The Street, Caroline Leaf To this I would add these recent features that are personally meaningful to me. They rekindled my faith in the future of animation: Spirited Away, Hiayo Miazaki Belleville Rendezvous, Sylvain Chomet Iron Giant, Brad Bird I also recommend a through study of the history of animation, now over 100 years old, and in particular Canadian (the Canadian Film Board has a wonderful site) Western and Eastern European animated film and Asian animated film. For live action, see the AFI s 100 Film List.
6 Q: Do you have any favorite sequences what are they? Jim Story: Shamus Culhane s sequence of the Dwarfs marching home from the mines singing Hi-Ho from Snow White. It was the sequence that galvanized my 8 year old mind and turned me to a life of the imagination. It still is amazing: eight different personalities; eight different walks; eight different pieces of business all choreographed so it seems to be absolutely natural. The sequence in Chomet s Belleville Rendezvous when the three sisters meet Madame Sousa under the bridge as she is playing the spokes of a bicycle tire and the sisters go into a very funny rendition of the title song. This brilliantly sustains a believable serendipitous moment that sweeps you up in the seeming spontaneity. This is what every story event should be like. Q: Have you looked at any student storyboards? What do you think is most often lacking in them? Jim Story: I have seen many as I ve been teaching storyboarding for the last four years. Here below are a few of the most prominent student stumbling blocks: 1. A tendency to lock down the camera and to view everything at the same size as if it were on stage. 2. An inability to be expressive with pose and with facial acting. 3. An inability to use visual contrast in line and tone producing story drawing that are hard to read.
7 4. A lack of visual interest by way of camera angle or staging that results in flat drawings. 5. An inability to use acting as to involve the viewer and to motivate the camera. 6. A lack of understanding of the role of visual continuity. These stem from weak drawing skills and not having been really engaged in looking at film or reading and thinking about its visual construction. Q: What were some of the big lessons you learned when you first began as a new hire story artist? Jim Story: Biggest Lesson Learned: When you pitch a board, don t describe what s there, it should be self-evident if you have done your job. Supply what s not there- the animation, energy, voices, sound effects. Q: How much freedom do you have to interpret how a scene is to be presented? Jim Story: That varies with the state of the story. I ve begun before scriptwriters were hired, with just the scenario and I ve worked from a script. I ve not been bound to the script and there is some back and forth between writers and artists. Q: Are you encouraged to explore unique and adventurous solutions to story telling problems or are you given very specific guidelines and expectations. Jim Story: At Disney, the door was always open to a different take on a scene or sequence.
8 Q: Can you describe your process? Do you thumbnails, what drawing materials do you use? Do you do key shots first and then work in between or do you work straight ahead. Jim Story: I like to begin with lists of things. I write down possibilities and thoughts and thumbnails until I have an approach firmly in mind. I then, write the continuity down drawing for drawing as fast as I can as I play the movie in my head. I may amend some of it as I replay the movie and review what I ve written. I then begin with thumbnails working down my list and revising as a go if I see the need. Lastly, I do the up-size drawings roughly at first and put them up on boards and view them as continuity. I will call one or more people in and go through the boards with them and listen to suggestions and revising before I do the final drawings. Q: What do you find are the main obstacles you have to overcome when you are storyboarding a scene? (in order to avoid the scene from being boring, confusing, too complicated, etc.?) Jim Story: Trying to make something more entertaining or interesting or funny than it needs to be. You can get much too carried away with cleverness.
9 Q: How would you describe the difference between story boarding for film and any other kind of sequential artwork like comic books or book illustration? Jim Story: A storyboard deals with a moving image. You don t have the time to study the moving image that you have with comic or book illustration. A book or comic illustration can say many things at once because you have the leisure to look in every corner but a moving image is just about that moving image. Form Psychologists tell us that humans can only deal with one small portion of a moving picture plane at a time. So say one thing at a time and say it with clarity. Q: How would you describe the difference between story boarding for animation and Live Action? Jim Story: I ve not ever done a live action storyboard but I will venture my take on it. In live action, you have to exploit what s possible, but animation is the realm of the impossible. Q: What are some of the tricks you use to prevent pitfalls - to keep your ideas and images fresh and dynamic? Jim Story: I avoid convenient solutions. Convenient solutions don t take an audience anywhere. I always try to come at a problem from an unexpected direction; I don t say that I m always successful. The unexpected is what an audience pays for though.
10 Q: How do you research or find ideas when fresh ideas are not coming easily? How do you wake up your brain, get inspired, and solve that artist s block problem? Jim Story: Perhaps I m lucky, but my brain loves to generate ideas, but I need to give it something to work with. I give my brain plenty of visual information and think a problem through thoroughly, then I leave my brain alone and sure enough when I least expect it, the solution will present itself. My little organic computer, like every computer, does work better if it has plenty of data and I leave it alone to crunch. Q: How much do you do by yourself and how much do you work in a team? Jim Story: I work by myself until I want input and then I rely on others in the story crew to help me see what I ve done in a new way. Q: Do you think about story structure a lot or do you just work intuitively and refine things later? Jim Story: I analyze the story structure to understand the part my scenes have in it. Once I know what the focus of my scenes or sequence should be then I can structure them better. Q: Do you worry about editing transitions (fades and cross dissolves) or match cuts and pans at your stage of the process? Jim Story: If they are important to the continuity, meaning or impact. I use them when I need them are tools to help make a scene more effective.
11 Q: What would you say about staging? Are there any basic principles that you apply to your work? Jim Story: Ask yourself: What is this event about? What do I want the audience to see and get out of it? Then stage it clearly, being mindful of your answer. Make it unquestionable in the minds of the audience where they are to look and what they are to see. The moving finger writes and having written moves on! don t let the audience miss a word. Q: How many times are you likely to re-draw your original drawings in other words, approximately how many drawings do you actually make before you complete one 100 panel story sequence? Jim Story: This is before I show the scenes or sequence to the head of story or the director as they will both have notes to address and may continue to have notes that cause me to re-draw. On average, each of my story drawing is done at least twice. Q: Do you think of yourself as actor, cameraman, editor, designer and/or all of these things in your job? Have I left anything out? Jim Story: Yes, I look at each event from all of those perspectives. I d add lighting, art direction and set decorator.
12 Q: How much do you think about the emotional content of your story as well as the specific action or event? Jim Story: The emotional content is uppermost in my mind when I plan any action or event. I think of my job as chief supplier of that aspect of a film experience because it is more a visual and musical value that of dialogue. Q: How important is presentation? Do you refine your drawings a lot before they are presented to the bosses? Jim Story: My first presentation is extremely important to me. It s here that I validate the work that I ve done on behalf of the story. If I don t do everything I can to pull off a positive reception of my boards then I ve undermining my work and myself. Q: Who are your heroes (past and/or present) in the storyboarding world? Jim Story: The one and only Bill Peet of course Mary Blair, Vance Gerry, Ken Anderson and recently Brad Bird, Q: What about drawing? Do you draw any from observation, photo and film references? Jim Story: I draw from experience, and get photos and film reference when I need it to put over a drawing.
13 Q: Do you find you have to overstate the action, acting, etc in order for it to read in the storyboard or do you leave that problem to be solved by the animator? Jim Story: Pushing action is the essence of animation and of storyboarding. The drawing has to emote as much as the animation and more since it doesn t move around. Q: Same with issues like lighting and atmosphere and environment do you need to address these or is that Layout s domain? Jim Story: If lighting and layout are important to an event, I include my take in order to give my drawings clarity and visual impact. If layout alters it or ignores it later, I ve still done my job as a story artist.