|Francesca Adams at Escape Studios|
Chess showed some of her work at Blue Zoo, including scenes from Digby Dragon, made using PanelForge, an in-house storyboarding software platform that can be downloaded for free for student use.
We also asked Chess what tips she has for aspiring board artists hoping to break into the industry.
Breaking into storyboarding
I’ve always loved entertaining people and telling stories. I went into animation (and still enjoy animating now and then), but when making my own film at the NFTS I found the storyboarding process the most exciting part; it was the bit of the process where I could be the most creative, where ideas fly about – some stick, some don’t, and we get to argue about what works, and what doesn't.
The second reason is that when I started looking for work, a lot of productions out there were 3D CGI, and unfortunately I had had very little training in 3D computer animation. So, as a 2D drawn animator with a passion for telling stories, I presented myself as a storyboard artist.
Storyboarding Skill Set
A good storyboard artists needs (of course) a good sense of storytelling, a good sense of timing, and also the ability to draw fast (not necessarily beautiful drawings, but fast drawings). I’d say creative problem solving is important, and the ability to take criticism. The storyboard process is the section where we figure out what is and isn’t working, so it's not unusual to have to scrap and re-board sections until you find the what fits best.
|Chess boards Digby Dragon|
I saw Blue Zoo give a talk at a Skillset jobs fair. I really liked them, and I wanted to know more. I managed to get the e-mail of a director who worked there and asked if I could have a tour of the studio. While I was there, I gave them a copy of my portfolio (mostly filled with storyboards) and a few weeks later I got an e-mail asking if I would be interested in storyboarding on a small 3-day project. For the next year, I did a few short pieces for them - Adverts and promos, until they offered me a small series job.
My favourite project is probably the Digby Dragon series. It was my first big series and I was actually given quite a lot of freedom on it. I got to work with a few different directors on different episodes, which was really interesting because they each had different ways of approaching the job. I also got the chance to write an episode for the series too.
Advice for students
My advice for students hoping to break into storyboarding is to be friendly and approachable. Try and get as much experience as you can - small projects can be good for building a portfolio. Make sure your work is strong, easily accessible and don't be shy to seek out feedback and criticism if you can. Networking too, is important. There are a few studios which offer Storyboard clean up work which can be a really good stepping stone (as it pretty much leads straight to becoming a storyboarder) And if you want to work on a particular series - make sure you know as much about the series as you can. Do your research.
On most TV series we get around two and a half days to board one episode, so you have to board two episodes a week. It's not much time, and most boarders get paid per episode, so you have to work fast. You make more, the faster you are.
When you put a storyboard portfolio together, you must show your thumbnails (ie your rough sketches), because these show your workings. The studio will want to see your workings, because they want to know "can you figure out the problems?" Even though these thumbnails may be ugly drawings, they show your work flow and your thought process.
Learning to Take Rejection
Don’t take it personally if studios don’t get back to you. Often, studios won’t get back to you at all, and this can be dispiriting. But equally, don’t be afraid to ring them up. They won’t hang up on you.
Learning to storyboard
One great way to learn storyboarding is "reverse storyboard" a sequence from a movie, ie watch the sequence and then board it. For example, study the chase scene from WreckIt Ralph. As a sequence, it feels crazy, but the key thing to learn is that they are always maintaining screen direction. The characters are always going away from the castle, the screen direction is consistent, and the audience doesn't get confused.
The life of the freelancer
Francesca is a freelancer for Blue Zoo. That means no holiday pay, and no sick pay. But if you are a fast board artist, this can be a good way to go. In the UK it is rare for story artists to be employed as full-time employees; 80% are freelancers. Even the employed ones tend to be on short contracts.
To see more of Francesca's work, follow this link.
Chess is also our storyboard tutor for the upcoming evening class in storyboards at Shepherd's Bush.
To sign up for the Storyboard class, follow this link.
The Escape Studios Animation Blog offers a personal view on the art of animation and visual effects. To apply for our BA/MArt in 3D Animation, follow this link. To apply for our storyboarding evening class, visit this page here. For the next 12 week animation course, click here. And to apply for the next evening class in Producing Animation, see this page.