Interview with Storyboard Artist James Doh (Captain America, X-Men: First Class, Drive)

 James Doh is one of the most sought after Storyboard Artists in the industry today. His imprint is on most of the top action movies in the last 15 years. In 2016 alone, he worked on “The Conjuring 2”, “Suicide Squad”, and “Star Trek Beyond”. He’s currently working on the upcoming blockbusters “Ghost in the Shell (2017”, “Aquaman (2018)”, and “The Predator (2018)”.

Go to his website at http://www.jamesdoh.com/

It was an honor to chat with him about his craft:

Matthew Toffolo: You have worked as a Storyboard Artist on over 30+ productions in the last 15 years. Do you have a favorite experience?

James Doh: It is sometimes rare to work with other storyboard artists, but through the years I’ve had the good fortune of having met some great colleagues.

That will probably be what I remember most from my work experience.

I’ve been fortunate to work with and meet some wonderful people.

PHOTO: James’ storyboard from X-Men: Origins:

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MT: The film DRIVE (2011), is a very stylistic film, but not the conventional action/thriller film that you work on. How was your experience working on that film?

JD: That show had a great crew from the top down. It was a low budget production, but the crew were all top talents.

Credit to the EP for bringing together such a great team.

They wanted to bring me in for the car chases and sequences that required production prep.

When I read the script, it was one of those that you rarely get as a storyboard artist. Hossein Amini wrote a great screenplay.
I was also a fan of Nicolas Refn’s Pusher series of films, so I thought it was an exciting combination of material and director.

Interestingly, Nicolas was batting around different ideas for that elevator scene where Driver stomps the hitman to death. He had me board a different version that certainly was more brutal, but I like the elevator because it works so well for the entire sequence.

MT: How important is the creation of the storyboard to the production team for the action and fight scenes?

JD: Storyboards have several key roles. One of them is a communication tool for the production. It’s a visual script of those sequences.

It’s important to get the sequence down, to allow various departments to prep.

Boards are also important early on for budgeting, and to start developing what the sequences will look and feel like.

There are amazing fight and stunt choreographers, whose ideas we will integrate into the boards if they are involved at the time.

Other times, the boards are a jumping off point for the stunt/action team and a way for the director to convey his ideas on action sequences.

By the way, 2nd unit also can have their own storyboard artists to plan out their sequences too. Again, for communication, a drawing is a fundamental tool.

They are especially important for VFX intensive films, where costs and feasibility have to be looked at and planning is vital. Storyboards put everyone on the same page.

On Furious 7, we had the tragic death of Paul Walker and had to go into some very specific VFX planning to make the film work. There was some innovative work there and the storyboards were a part in planning those shots and sequences.

There are a multitude of uses for storyboards, so it can be a very powerful tool for directors to utilize.

PHOTO: James’ storyboard from Fast & Furious 7:

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MT: What’s the general working relationship and process between a storyboard artist and the director? How early do you meet before production begins?

JD: Very early. Many times we are the first ones on the show, months ahead of production many times. Often they circle back in post, and need storyboards once VFX gets into the nitty gritty of creating shots.

The working relationship is different with everyone but it’s really about developing the ideas or getting the boards to convey what the director is looking for.

MT: What are you looking for in a director?

JD: Good communication, convey vision, intent, style of the sequence. I’m looking to get as clear a vision as I can for the sequence.

Sometimes it’s wide open and they want you to run with it, and other times it’s very specific. Many times it falls somewhere in the middle.

I have been fortunate to work with directors that love to collaborate, encourage creative contributions, and understand the process of storyboarding.

MT: What does a director look for in a storyboard artist?

JD: To translate their ideas into a viable sequence. Directors look to you to visually lay out the sequence with creative solutions, in a way that they can shoot.

I also think it’s important that you have a good working relationship, because you can spend a lot of time hashing out ideas.

For storyboard artists, the fundamental key is visual storytelling.

You need to hash out the sequence and make it work for the director.

MT: What advice would you have for people who would like to do what you do for a living?

JD: Translating scripts to visual sequences can take a lot of time. If someone wants to become a storyboard artist, 1. Watch a lot of films. 2. Think about where you are placing the camera 3. Be able to draw anything at any angle. I know that sounds so broad, but if you learn to draw the human figure, you will be alright with everything else.

Most importantly, don’t be precious about your work. Things can and will change often for a multitude of reasons.

Storyboarding is a process. Sequences are developed. Things are culled, new ideas crafted, budgets change… you have to roll with that and adapt.

Did you see the Amityville flashback sequence in Conjuring 2? Look at the basics. Look at how he staged and told the story inside the house. He had a house, and a few actors to work with.

How do you tell that story in a way that’s fresh? That is film school. The Conjuring and Conjuring 2 are film school.

I would tell people to look at movies, and see how they tell the story. See what it takes to make simple things interesting.
Ask a lot of questions while you watch a film. It’s about decisions. What setups are you choosing and why?

Push yourself to improve. Always be a student of film and be a good listener.

I think we all push ourselves every show to do better, and push ourselves creatively.

MT: What movie have you watched the most times in your life?

JD: Aliens (extended edition) and Heat (Michael Mann) are ones i’ve seen a million times.

I love genre films and Korean films.

Korean cinema is tremendous, and I would encourage anyone to give it a try.

So many films on heavy rotation in my library! Tony Scott’s work, Gareth Evans…

BTW, one of my favorite scenes of brilliant acting is Christopher Walken in Catch Me if You Can. The scene in the restaurant when his son (DiCaprio) tries to give him a Cadillac. That is just masterful. Every moment tells you a story, and within a couple minutes you deeply know this man. It’s amazing, most of it unspoken.

MT: Where did you grow up? How did you get into the film industry?

JD: I had always been interested in design and film.

My introduction to art in film was with my college teachers Tim Flattery and Warren Manser who are brilliant concept artists and designers in their own right.

They really sparked the possibility to enter the film business.

My first job was with RGA/LA (now Imaginary Forces) a main title company. I learned an appreciation for typography and graphic design there.

Then moved on to feature film storyboarding because that is where my passion was.

MT: Is there a type of film that you love to work on that you haven’t worked on yet?

JD: What is rewarding for me is working with great directors and crew. The projects rarely get me more excited than the possibility of working with great people.

It’s not so much the material itself as the director’s take on the material that gets me excited.

And by the way, it’s not just directors but all the other departments you interact with as a storyboard artist. Those professionals are at the top of their respective fields.
You are working with the absolute hallmark people in every department and that’s really exciting to see.

The challenge to board for these directors is in pushing the creative solutions and coming up with ideas that work for their respective visions.

PHOTO: James’ storyboards from Suicide Squad: 

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go tohttp://www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Story Artist Chris Paluszek (Robot Chicken, The LEGO Movies)

the_lego_movie.jpgWhat fun it was to sit down with the extraordinarily talented artist Chris Paluszek. In many ways his career is just getting started as he’ll be helping create all of the upcoming LEGO Movies in the next few years.

Enjoy!

Matthew Toffolo: What job has been your most valuable experience so far?

Chris Paluszek: I think the first film I ever worked on, “The LEGO Movie.” The crew was relatively small and I had a lot of opportunity to work with really smart, talented people who were very patient and answered a lot of questions I had about storyboarding, storytelling, and the film industry.

MT: How is the LEGO MOVIE experience? It seems to be a franchise in the making and you’re on board for the creative experience.

CP: The first LEGO film was a bit of an outlier. The franchise hadn’t been established, so there weren’t many boundaries on what we could or couldn’t do. So, we had a ton of fun trying lots of crazy ideas that you just don’t usually have the freedom to try on other films. Definitely a highlight of my career.

MT: Is there a type of film that you haven’t worked on yet that you would love to work on?

CP: I would love to work on a short film, like the Pixar shorts that precede an animated feature. Small, self-contained narratives like that are great opportunities for artists to push themselves and experiment.

MT: What is the typical job storyboarding animation movies?

CP: It can depend, but usually there’s a working script that is constantly evolving in conversations between the writer and the director, and a story artist “boards out” a scene from the latest draft. The story artist draws whatever the scene calls for, whether it’s a high speed car chase, or two characters talking in a coffee shop. Whatever case, it’s up to the storyboard artist to depict the action and decide on what shot language best tells the story.

MT: What’s the general working relationship and process between a storyboard artist and the director?

CP: The director has a vision for their movie, and as a story artist you’re there to support that vision. When you’re given an assignment you meet with the director, who lays out how they imagine the scene. You ask lots of questions and at the end of the meeting you should hopefully have a clear idea of what the director wants to see. Within that framework, you can bring some of yourself into the scene, whether it’s acting choices, or maybe a really cool composition that frames the action, or even a small comedic beat (if it suits the tone of the scene).

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve working on, have you watched the most times in your life?

CP: I’m always awed by Hayao Miyazaki’s “Kiki’s Delivery Service.” It’s fantastical, yet down to earth. It’s lighthearted and also deeply emotional. Everytime I watch it I see something new.

MT: Do you have a storyboard mentor?

CP: My first story position was an internship on a TV show, and the Story Lead for that crew really helped me out. He was patient and helped me with the basics, like maintaining shot continuity as you “cut” (draw a new shot) around the action.

MT: Where do you see the future of storyboards in the motion pictures?

CP: Most story jobs are within a tight crew of artists that work intimately with the director, so they can nimbly address major story changes in time for deadlines. However, some studios have made whole films by sending work out to freelancers, working from home. While I can’t say I love my commute, working alongside incredible talent has been the chief way I’ve improved as an artist and storyteller.

MT: Where did you grow up? How did you get into working in the film industry?

CP: I grew up in Virginia, and always loved art as a way of telling stories. I went to school for animation, and moved out to Los Angeles thinking I could be an animator. Unfortunately my animation skills weren’t very good! But I was lucky to bump into someone at the right time, who took a chance and offered me a production internship at a small TV animation studio. While there I crossed paths with the Storyboard department, who were looking for extra help. I was able to become a full-time Story intern, which eventually led to an official job as a Story Artist! It was a strange path, threaded with a lot of luck and kindness.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca

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Interview with Storyboard Artist Yoriaki Mochizuki (The Lego Movie, Storks)

KFODHN_yorim.jpgIt was definitely an education chatting with story artist Yoriaki Mochizuki. He chats about working storyboarding animation movies and how it can be a much more creative process than working on live action films, and so much more….

Matthew Toffolo: How was your storyboard experience working on STORKS? When did you come aboard the film? Who did you mainly collaborate with?

Yori Mochizuki: I joined the Storks team in the spring of 2013. I collaborated primarily with directors Nick Stoller, Doug Sweetland and editor John Venzon. The story team worked in one open room which allowed us to discuss the story as a group regularly. We built animatic for the film with storyboards and temp sounds and tested it to ensure the story was working. Storks was a very special project for me because my daughter was one-year-old at the time and I used a lot of my parenting experiences as inspiration for my storyboards.

MT: You also worked as a Story Artist on the massive successful film THE LEGO MOVIE. What did that job entail?

YM: The LEGO Movie was one of the most creatively satisfying experiences. I collaborated closely with directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller as well as co-director Chris McKay. I was encouraged to come up with my own ideas and to create sequences, often even without a script. One of my favorite experiences on the LEGO Movie was when I storyboarded the live-action sequence. First I storyboarded it purely from my imagination. Once the set was built, I revised it with Phil and Chris. Then I worked side by side with editor Dave Burrows to create the animatic. Phil and Chris shot the sequence based on our animatic in the sound stage next door. It was one of the most harmonious filmmaking processes I have been privileged to be part of.

MT: What advice would you have for people who would like to do what you do?

YM: Being a story artist is like being a director, writer, cinematographer, editor, and actor, all at once. It’s important to study visual storytelling and to develop your own point of view. No matter what job you are working on – big or small – always do your absolute best because that’s the only way you can grow as a filmmaker.

MT: Would you like to storyboard and collaborate on a live action film?

YM: I enjoyed collaborating with Guillermo del Toro on Pacific Rim, but, generally in live action films storyboard artists can influence the story visually, but not necessarily the story itself. On animated films, story artists literally shape the stories. There’s a clear distinction between storyboarding live action and storyboarding animation and each requires different skill set. Personally, I enjoy working in animation because I get to create the story and find the process much more creative and collaborative.

MT: What movie have you watched the most times in your life?

YM: I grew up watching a lot of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. Star Wars, Back to the Future and Dead Poets Society are some of my favorites and I have watched them many times.

MT: What first attracted you to work as a storyboard artist?

YM: I drew my own comic books as a kid and I storyboarded all my student films. When I moved to Los Angeles, I worked as production assistant for a TV pilot and met storyboard artist, Joe Musso. Joe was generous enough to teach me how to storyboard and helped me land my first commercial jobs. That’s where my storyboard artist career began.

MT: Where did you grow up? When did you first start drawing?

YM: I was born in Tokyo and grew up in a suburb of Saitama, Japan. I started drawing before I can even remember. I still have some drawings from my early childhood of giant robots.

Selected Yoriaki Mochizuki Storyboards: 

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Storyboard Artist Robert Castillo (X-Men: Apocalypse, Star Wars: Episode VII)

Award winning Director, Animator and Illustrator and Storyboard Artist Robert Castillo discovered his passion for art and illustration at the tender age of five. Nicknamed “Sketch”, Castillo would draw his way through his difficult transition of returning to the US from the Dominican Republic, mastering English, and acclimating to the mostly white environment of Chelsea, Massachusetts.

It was an honor sitting down with one of the more sought out storyboard artists in Hollywood. In just the last year, Robert has worked on “Star Wars”, “Fifty Shades of Black”, “Ride Along 2”, “Keanu”,  “Captain America: Civil War”, “Bad Neighbours 2”, “X-Men: Apocalypse”, and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”.

Matthew Toffolo: You have worked as a Storyboard Artist on over 60+ productions in the last 15 years. Do you have a favorite experience?

Robert Castillo: I think that there are a few experiences but the one that sticks out to me would be working on the Ant-Man special features for Marvel. In the DVD extra example, they use my drawing of a Court room scene. It was great to do this job because I am a big Marvel fan and grew up with the comics.

Close second would be working on The Sopranos with Steve Buscemi.

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MT: You are credited many times as being a Storyboard Artist: Promo Team. What does promo team mean?

RC: The Promo team would be whatever company is doing promotional commercials and advertising for the film. networks like VH1, MTV, TRU TV, Viacom etc.

They have me storyboards any advertising for the Film or TV show.

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MT: You worked on three films that are about to being released for the 2016 summer movie season (Teenager Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, X-Men Apocalypse, Bad Neighours 2). Three different movies in terms of tone and genre. Did you have a positive time working on these films?

RC: Yes I did! I have the greatest job in the world! I read a script someone wrote and try to visualize what they are seeing in their heads. I get to use my imagination all day, as I am doing this interview I am working on a commercial. I am always drawing everyday and I can’t complain. Some jobs are tougher than others and more demanding but at the end of the day I am drawing.

MT: You have worked on a lot of action films. How important is the creation of the storyboard to the production team for the action and fight scenes?

RC: It is super important and crucial to storyboarding action scenes or fight scenes. It helps everyone to be on the same page. Storyboards also have a psychological effect in that when its on paper its just one step away from being a reality.

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MT: What’s the general working relationship and process between a storyboard artist and the director? How early do you meet before production begins?

RC: I wish I could say we always meet early but sometimes they call me a day before its due! It can be a very stressful lifestyle but I try and do the best job possible.

When things go right I meet with the director at least a week or a few days before I start drawing.

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MT: What are you looking for in a director?

RC: I look for a storyteller, someone that has a clear story in their mind and they know what they want to see on the screen but sometimes I get directors that don’t know what they want and it’s up to me to find that something they are looking for.

MT: What advice would you have for people who would like to do what you do?

RC: If you want to do storyboards for a living make sure that is what you want to do! Don’t do it just for the money! Take a lot of drawing classes or at least practice. Watch movies like Citizen Kane and Kurosawa films to learn composition and pacing. and practice everyday. I am still learning believe it or not after all these years.

MT: What movie have you watched the most times in your life?

RC: The one movie that I have watched the most in my life would have to be the first Star Wars movie, because in 1977 when i came back to the U.S. from Dominican Republic it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen on the screen.

Top Five Storyboards

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go towww.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Storyboard Artist Cristiano Donzelli (Ben-Hur, The Young Messiah)

A storyboard artist, or story artist, creates storyboards for film productions.

Storyboard Artist Cristiano Donzelli is a wealth of knowledge. You can feel his passion for what he does. No wonder all of the top filmmakers in the world who venture to Italy want to work with him. He simply makes all the films he storyboards better.

Cristiano’s credits include Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Rome (2005). Zoolander 2 (2016), The American (2010). Ben-Hur (2016), The Young Messiah (2016), and Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)

Go to his website at www.cristianodonzelli.com

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Matthew Toffolo: You have been the storyboard artist on over 40 productions in the last 20 years. Is there a film or two that you’re most proud of?

Cristiano Donzelli: First of all I want to say that I do this work because I love cinema, I’m very passionate about movies, so for me it’s not just a job, it’s more than that. After weeks of drawing the scenes of a film, developing it with the director and seeing it growing little by little, it becomes part of you. So each film I worked for, has been a unique experience, so I’m equally proud of all of them.

MT: Ben Stiller sings your praises. You just worked with him on “Zoolander 2”. What can you say about the Ben Stiller experience?

CD: Ben Stiller is an icon in the film industry and Zoolander is a cult movie so when they called me to work on Zoolander 2 I already knew that would be an important and funny experience for me. I worked with Ben Stiller for four months and we shared so many laughs while working. He’s a good person and such a great artist, always full of ideas and I can say he has the comedy in his blood. He asked me to use my creativity to imagine gags and re-write together the scenes of the script with the storyboards. He’s a very sensitive person and I can say the film business didn’t change his genuineness, enthusiasm and sincere approach to his work.

PHOTO: Cristiano with Ben Stiller:

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MT: Can you give us a teaser of what we’ll expect to see in “Ben-Hur”? How was it to work on the remake of such an iconic film? That’s seems like it would be a very daunting and overwhelming task!

CD: Too bad I can’t tell you anything about it, as you may know before starting to work in a film production, an artist has to sign an NDA so he can’t tell anything about the movie before it’s out on the screens. The only thing I can say is that it’ll be very spectacular and visually great. I’ve worked closely for months with the director Timur Bekmambetov, the second unit director Phil Neilson and with the VFX supervisor Jim Rygiel (3 Oscar winning for the Lords of Ring trilogy), creating spectacular action scenes especially for the iconic chariots race scene that won’t delude the old Ben Hur movie fans.

MT: You’ve also directed some short films, commercials, and music videos. Is directing something you like to do more professionally? Is directing a Hollywood feature film your ultimate goal?

CD: I’ve been second unit director for James McTeigue (V for Vendetta director) in his project “Caserta Palace Dream”, I directed over 40 tv commercials, three music videos and the 30 minute short film “Una Storia Di Lupi – aka A Wolves Tale” that stars Franco Nero as main actor that won two important film festivals as best short. I was born with a passion for drawing, then I realized that I had a great passion for directing too. When I was a child my father often took me to the cinema and since then I had this dream to work in the film industry and be a director. I’m developing different projects and writing treatments, so yes, directing a Hollywood feature film is my next goal.

MT: What’s the general working relationship and process between a storyboard artist and the director? How early do you meet before production begins?

CD: It depends on the project, sometimes they call me very early even before the pre-production just because the director and the producers want to have an idea about how the film will be and how much it’ll cost more or less for each scene. Other times they call me later, when the locations and the sets are decided so the director can give me more precise information about the scenes. The general working relationship between me and a director is also something different each time. Some directors have very clear ideas about what they wants, some others give you the script directly and ask you to do all by yourself. He assigns you the responsibility to take decisions choosing the shots, in some way it’s like if you direct part of the movie. Between me and a director there is an artistic exchange, you give something to him but you also get something from him, his vision, his way of tell a story and most important, you know closely a person and an artist.

MT: What are you looking for in a director?

CD: Maybe the question should be “what a director usually looks for in a storyboard artist?” I would answer that a director wants to work with a person who is able to understand his vision of a story, who is able to give ideas, understand the possible problems of a complicated scene and give solutions, be able to show with his drawings all the information that a storyboard has to provide to all the different departments in a movie productions. And above all I think a director wants to find a person to be comfortable with because he will have to spend weeks with him.

CD: I had the chance to work with so many directors, Ridley Scott, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Paul Haggis, Kevin Reynolds, Brian Helgeland, Ben Stiller and with many of them, besides a professional relationship, I cultivate a good friendship.

MT: Do you have a Storyboard mentor?

CD: Actually I have no specific mentor, I am a self taught, I learnt everything by myself. I spent hours drawing and watching movies, sectioning them, trying to learn the language of telling a story with images, the framing and the editing. There are a lot of good storyboard artists around and I like their work. Sometimes I take some inspiration from them as all the artists do with other artists’ work.

MT: You have worked on a lot of Action films. How important is the creation of the storyboard to the production team for the action and fight scenes?

CD: Very important. A storyboard is the translation of written pages in images, it’s the first virtual visualization of a story. So the director can see his movie before shooting it and explain to the producer, to the director of the photography, to the production designer and all the departments, what’s his idea of the film. Thanks to the storyboard you can also have an idea about all the problems you’ll have to deal with and find solutions before the shooting. In particular for the action scenes just because they can be very complicated to shoot, the storyboard can allow the team to prepare properly special effects, to coordinate stunts, to arrange everything that is needed, and most important to give to the producer an estimation of the costs for each scene.

MT: Besides the films you’ve worked on, what movie have you seen the most in your life?

CD: Once upon a time in America, Blade Runner.

MT: Do you have any advice for high school and university students who want to work in the film industry?

CD: As I said I am a self taught, what drove me along my life was my love for drawing and passion for movies. I can’t suggest any specific school because I don’t know it directly. My opinion is that first of all anyone who wants to work in the film industry has to have a strong will and passion for this work, no school or university can ever give you that. Of course the schools can give you the basics, the technique and teach you every other thing you need but what’s important to succeed in the film industry is the determination, the passion and the love for your job. And this is the best teaching for everything you care about in your life, always give it your best.

PHOTO: Cristiano’s Storyboards on KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. Director Ridley Scott:

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Art Department Interviews

Read interviews from top people working in the Art Department in the movie industry today. Production Designers. Art Directors. Storyboard Artists. Costume Designers. 

Interview with Oscar Nominated Production Designer Anne Seibel (Midnight in Paris, Bonjour Anne):https://matthewtoffolo.com/2016/02/19/interview-oscar-nominated-production-designer-anne-seibel-midnight-in-paris-bonjour-anne/

Interview with Oscar Nominated Production Designer Michael Corenblith (Apollo 13, The Blind Side):  https://matthewtoffolo.com/2016/02/04/interview-with-oscar-nominated-production-designer-michael-corenblith-apollo-13-the-blind-side/

Interview with Costume Designer Ginger Martini: https://matthewtoffolo.com/2016/02/17/interview-with-costume-designer-ginger-martini/

Interview with Graphic Designer Tina Charad (Maleficent, Fifty Shades of Grey): https://matthewtoffolo.com/2016/01/25/interview-with-graphic-designer-tina-charad-maleficent-fifty-shades-of-grey/

Interview with Storyboard Artist Stephen Forrest-Smith (Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Dark Knight): https://matthewtoffolo.com/2016/02/02/interview-with-storyboard-artist-stephen-forrest-smith-star-wars-harry-potter-the-dark-knight/

Interview with Art Director Jeremy Woolsey (Pitch Perfect, Million Dollar Arm, Dirty Grandpa): https://matthewtoffolo.com/2016/01/19/interview-with-art-director-jeremy-woolsey-pitch-perfect-million-dollar-arm-dirty-grandpa/

Interview with Storyboard Artist Kurt Van der Basch (Star Wars Episodes VII and VIII): https://matthewtoffolo.com/2016/01/23/interview-with-storyboard-artist-kurt-van-der-basch-star-wars-episodes-vii-and-viii/

The ART of ART DIRECTION and PRODUCTION DESIGN in the movies. https://matthewtoffolo.com/2015/05/13/the-art-of-art-direction-and-production-design-in-the-movies/

Interviews performed by Matthew Toffolo from WILDsound. 

 

 

Interview with Storyboard Artist Stephen Forrest-Smith (Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Dark Knight)

A storyboard artist, or story artist, creates storyboards for film productions.

I had a blast sitting down with the very talented storyboard artist Stephen Forrest-Smith. Stephen has worked on some of the most popular films in the last 15 years, including “The Dark Knight,” the last three “Harry Potter” films, and last year’s “Star Wars” film.

His candor in the following interview is educational and very entertaining. Enjoy:

Matthew Toffolo: When coming aboard a project on a Hollywood film, how does the process generally work? Do you start with a preliminary chat with the director about themes etc..? How early do you arrive before production? When do you generally exit the job?

Stephen Forrest-Smith: There really is no normal to my job anymore. Every project seems to be different now and asks for a different approach. A film project could call on a storyboard artist at any stage from pre-pre production, ( when the film is trying to get funding) right the way through to post production for VFX, (after principal photography has been completed). The bulk of my work tends to be early in the pre-production taking the first pass at sequences to get the ball rolling on them. Usually I’d start with a chat with a Director, though it could be VFX supervisor or production designer and then work on from there. I used to expect to finish when filming starts but now I might stay almost to the end of shooting then be called back for reshoots and post production.

Matthew: How was your recent experience working on the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast with director Bill Condon?

Stephen: Beauty and the Beast is shaping up to be a really beautiful and wonderful production of the fairytale. I didn’t work directly with Bill Condon but instead was briefed by Tobias A. Schliessler, the director of photography. This doesn’t happen very often but I like working with the DOP as I get to see more of the technical side to the filmmaking process. The film also has many amazing musical routines that were carefully choreographed which needed storyboards added to them. This was fun as I never work on a musical before. I think this is my favourite part of the job – getting to work with and learn from such a variety of very talented people across all the departments.

Matthew: World War Z is such a visual film. How many boards did you do for that film?

Stephen: World War Z was a very troubled production, which stumbled to the finish somehow! I think that film chewed up 5 storyboard artists over its run. I had two spells on that job. The first spell I worked on the escape from Malta sequence. I returned to work with the second unit director the battle for Moscow part which was cut from the movie.

Matthew: When you watch the final product, like Star Wars for examples, and you see your visual designs on screen in live-action, how does that feel? It must be a goose-bump experience.

Stephen: It’s always a strange feeling watching the films that I’ve worked on. Its quite a long time between finishing on them and seeing them in the cinema. I might have worked on two or three films in-between seeing the finished movie. This means I tend to sit there trying to remember what i drew for which part of the movie and if anything made it! Sometimes a sequence will run out just as it was storyboarded then you get a feeling of “deja vu”. Other times its nice to sit back and watch the response of the audience to see if a moment works or not.

Matthew: You’ve been credited as being a “Conceptual Artist” in films like Speilberg’s War Horse. What does that job detail?

Stephen: Conceptual Artist is a cover all title for film illustrators / 3d artists / designers who are involved in the initial visualising of the designs of the film. It can also include producing images on the sets as they are being designed to communicate them to the director and producer.

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Matthew: What’s your ideal working experience with a director?

Stephen: For me the most satisfying part of the job is seeing the boards being used on set and being shot from. Making movies rapidly becomes an insanely complicated endeavor and a good set of storyboards is the best way of communicating to all the crew what they are all trying to achieve. A director who’s invested in the boards and wants them to be used, and sent out to the crew is my ideal.

Matthew: You also worked on The Dark Knight, which ended up being an iconic film. Did you expect it to be so popular? What part of the film did you do boards for?

Stephen: I was very excited to work on The Dark Knight, Chris Nolan was my favourite director at the time. It was clear from reading the script that he had a great take on the Joker that Heath Ledger went onto realise. My friend Jim Cornish got me the job. Jim was booked to go onto Harry Potter and the Half blood Prince so he recommended me to come and finish off for him. He had done the bulk of the work when I started so I had amendments to make on his sequences. I then drew the Jokers attack on Bruce Wayne’s apartment and Batman and Two Face’s stand off at the end of the film. Yes I did expect it to be popular as Batman Begins and had been a big hit already.

Matthew: When is does the “I’m now allowed to talk about it” statue of limitations with Star Wars end? When are you allowed to talk about your experiences working on the film and put the storyboards that you worked on for the film in your portfolio?

Stephen: I think this is the most onerous part of the job now. We have to sign NDA’s for every project and they last forever. So I shouldn’t talk to you at all!

Matthew: Do you have a storyboard mentor?

Stephen: The person who not only gave me my break but was the best mentor ever was Stephen Sommers of “The Mummy” fame – His best advice was ‘ don’t give me hundreds of angles but show how few shots I need to shoot the sequence”. I’ve kept that as my philosophy since and i love the rigour of working in this way.

Matthew: What film have you seen the most in your life?

Stephen: The Directors I return to again and again are Alfred Hitchcock, Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone. So probably “North by Northwest”, “Seven Samurai” and “Fistfull of Dollars”. Not a moment is wasted in their movies – they are true cinema for me.

Matthew: Do you worked on over 30 productions in the last 17 years. Do you have a favorite working experience?

Stephen: I’m sure I’ve worked on more than that!!! My jobs can vary from a days world to years so I’ve done a lot now. “The Mummy” is still by far my favourite ever film experience as every moment was exciting and new. I’d also taken a big gamble changing my career from architecture to film and the Mummy was my first chance to make the gamble work out. I started with a two week trial then worked on for 9 months storyboarding the whole film on my own. I got to travel to Marakesh and the red sahara. Got to swim in a swimming pool with Kate Winslet and rode on camels in the Sahara. Not bad for a first job.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Storyboard Artist Kurt Van der Basch (Star Wars Episodes VII and VIII)

A storyboard artist, or story artist, creates storyboards for film productions that are generally for large scope scenes, actions, and/or camera movements. The artist visualizes the story in collaboration with the director and sketches frames of the story on paper.

It was an honor to sit down with the brilliant storyboard artist Kurt Van der Basch, who  worked on Star Wars: Episode VII. Of course he’s not allowed to talk about it, which is fine because there are so many other questions to ask him.

Please go to his website or follow him on Facebook and view 100s of storyboards from his various credits, including: Assassin’s Creed, Sense8, The Borgias, Chronicles of Narnia, and The Illusionist, to name a few.

Matthew Toffolo: I understand that you are not allowed to talk about Star Wars! No problem. Are you allowed to say that you had a creatively inspiring experience?

Kurt Van Der Basch: Yes, I can definitely confirm that it was a creatively inspiring experience and I loved the result as much as everyone else seems to have.

Matthew: Looking at your storyboard examples on your website your storyboards are so visual and amazing to look at. I see the story unfold by just looking at the images. They are like a graphic novel that could be published. Do you have any (or many) graphic novel ideas?

Kurt: Thanks a lot. Sequential illustration is sequential illustration whether it’s in the rougher form of storyboards (usually, at least) or in the ready-for-publication form of a graphic novel. We more or less tell stories the same way in both fields. It’s interesting too that with the growing popularity of graphic novels and the rise of DVD extras that storyboards, interest in storyboard art has grown a lot. Now lots of people know what they are and are keen to see them. As for graphic novel ideas – I have lots of but I don’t consider myself much of a writer. I’m still waiting for ‘the perfect fit’ with a writer who wants to collaborate.

Matthew: What’s the general working relationship and process between a storyboard artist and the director? How early do you meet before production begins?

Kurt: The storyboard artist can often be among the first crew mambers to start. I did a long job this past year where I was one of the first 3 people hired then slowly more and more crew joined the production. Early on, there’s generally a list of the most complicated scenes which the production need storyboarded for budgeting and planning purposes listed from highest priority to least. In these discussions the 1st Assistant Director is a key player and as the production goes on, it’s the 1st A.D. who always knows best what’s most urgent and what the latest developments are.

Usually the storyboard artist has daily storyboard meetings with the director (Often arranged by the 1st AD. As the production grows and the director begins to be yanked in a million directions these meetings may not be so frequent) and they sit down and discuss the scene. Often the director will start by showing some references, video clips or still images that they think could be a good style or tone guide. If there’s already a production designer then he or she may provide location photos or a model (either a white card one or, more commonly these days, a digital sketch-up model) so we have a geography to work with. Then the director will begin to describe shots of the sequence. While the director is describing the shots I draw quick little thumbnail sketches so the director can intercept and say, for instance, ’no, a little bit wider’ or ‘could it be a slightly higher angle?’ etc. until I am drawing what he or she is envisaging. It’s common dirng these meetings to draw a little plan view and indicate on it camera and characters too. Some directors will dictate every shot of each sequence that gets storyboarded, but, especially on huge action movies where it’s nearly impossible for the director to arrive with all the shots of each scene planned out in their head in advance, some directors encourage the storyboard artist to make suggestions or even ask them to have a crack at the whole scene as they see it. Then the director can react to those ideas and say ‘yes that’s interesting, keep that, but here I thought we could….’ etc. This can be a fun and creative way to work. Later in the production these meetings often include the DoP as well. As time permits the little thumbnails drawn during the meeting are taken away and the storyboard artist makes more clear and solid versions of them with directional arrows and shot descriptions added next to the panels, plus proper scene and shot numbering. Sometimes time doesn’t permit and it’s necessary to settle for the rough thumbnail scribbled out in the meeting. Sometimes the director insists on the storyboards being left at the rough stage so the crew won’t take particularities of the drawings too literally.

Matthew: When talking about the cinematic design with the director, is the overall theme and tone of the film always present in each storyboard you create?

Kurt: It can be but isn’t always. Sometime it’s very technical and the most important thing is just to clearly show a certain camera move + character action. If your drawing can convey a bit of the atmosphere in these instances that’s great but not if it takes away the clarity.

Matthew: How is the process different when doing a TV episode assignment in comparison to working on a feature film?

Kurt: TV production usually doesnt have the luxury of pre-production time that film has. From what I’ve seen TV directors tend to behave and are treated much more as regular crew members and in my experience TV directors tend to be extremely focussed and organised knowing how little time they will have to complete their block of episodes (on a series the directors usually trade off in ‘blocks’ of episodes so while one is shooting their 2-3 episodes the other is prepping theirs.) The TV storyboard process can be more intense – longer hours and more frames per day, and often less ‘finished’ in order to get all the necessary sequences boarded before shooting. Also there’s less scope for spontaneous ideas – a sudden brilliant suggestion of a shot from inside the microwave can’t just be thrown in in TV world without serious consideration of the extra time and cost etc. I really enjoy storyboarding for TV.

Storyboard from DEAD SNOW 2 (2014), Director Tommy Wirkola

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Matthew: What are you looking for in a director?

Kurt: Well the question is really what are they looking for in me because it’s me who is hoping to get hired. But if they do pick me then I look for patterns in how they describe things so I can get to sense what they probably will want as quickly as possible. For some directors articulating the shots they need isn’t as easy as it is for others and it’s the storyboard artist’s job to help with this. This is where the thumbnailing process can be great. Sometimes seeing my totally wrong scribble can be the very thing that helps a director get across the shot in his or her head. On the other hand I’ve worked with directors who draw beautifully and make perfect thumbnails that are a very clear guide that I then just have to draw up in a more finished way.

Matthew: Do you have a Storyboard mentor?

Kurt: The Engish storyboard and strip cartoon artist Martin Asbury essentially created a whole style and standard in the industry that influenced a whole generation of storyboard artists, at least here in UK/Europe. I’ve been lucky enough to work with him twice and both were great experiences. On top of being a huge talent he’s also a really funny and generous man.

Matthew: You have worked on a lot of Action, Fantasy, and Horror films. How important is the creation of the storyboard to the production team for these genres?

Kurt: In an action movie there’ll be two or three big sequences that the storyboard artist works on and sometimes just these scenes may be revised over and over the entire time on the job.

Storyboarding is more important for these genres than others because of all the VFX and stunts involved. Storyboards are neessary initially for making a budget because it answers questions like: In how many shots do we see the flying ship? How often does the camera tilt up enough to require digital set extension? Do we see the stuntman land or does he just fly off the roof? etc. Often it goes that once boards are made of scenes and compared with the budget then the producers then get out their sharpies and start crossing out shots that the production can’t afford. Then it becomes a discussion of where to use the VFX bdget to best advantage. Of course storyboards are also needed in these genres beyond just technicalities but to give an idea of a scene overall and know if it works in terms of drama and suspense. For this, sometimes the individual storyboard frames are plugged into editing software to make a ‘board-o-matic’ that plays the frames in order with timing and added music and sound effects. This can really give a feeling of the final sequence before it’s actually shot. There are some great examples of this on You Tube from Captain America.

Matthew: The film “Serena”, starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence is almost a lost film. Many film fans don’t even know it exists despite the all-star cast. The film is also a bit of a departure for you as it’s a straight up drama. Can you tell us your experiences working on that film and how working on a drama is different from the action/movement movies you generally work on?

Kurt: It’s the strangest thing isn’t it? I think it’s a good movie yet it took ages to be released and even then it was very limited. I was hired in this case by the production designer Richard Bridgland who I had worked for on Alien vs Predator. I did ink and marker illustrations of all his sets for presentation to the director Susanne Bier and then when my job was done the production asked if I could stay on as a storyboard artist as there were a few scenes where it moved out of the relam of straight-up drama and needed storyboarding. An accident on the cutting slope of a logging camp involving trains and falling trees and later a sort of chase scene and fight.

Storyboard from SERENA (2014), Director Susanne Bierserena_storyboard

Matthew: Besides the films you’ve worked on, what movie have you seen the most in your life?

Kurt: Definitely ‘The Exorcist’. But a close second is the annual holiday showing of ‘The Sound of Music’ which is a Canadian tradition since before I can remember. I also know most of ‘Mommy Dearest’ by heart.

Matthew: You have worked on over 40 productions in the last 15 years. Do you have a favorite experience?

Kurt: Working on ‘Cloud Atlas’ was probably the most memorable. It was just such a great group of people over in Berlin and the script is magic to me. So ambitious and crazy but they pulled it off. I also did a sci-fi short called ‘A Living Soul’ with the Swedish director Henry Moore Selder that was really cool. On a short there’s limited money and the storyboards make a huge difference to the production. We did about 400 frames in 2.5 days on that project and the result, I think, is fantastic.

Storyboard from CLOUD ATLAS (2012), Directors Tom Tykwer, Andy & Lany Wachowski

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Matthew: What director would you love to work with that you haven’t worked with yet?

Kurt: There’s a few. Maybe when Xavier Dolan makes an action or Sci-fi movie I’ll get to work on it. He’s a genius. And there’s also Ridley Scott!

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.