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Breathe Life Into Art Thru Storyboards


Storyboarding has come a long way since becoming an essential part of the creative process. The main goal of creating a successful storyboard is to show the director’s vision clearly. Coming out of Walt Disney Studios in the 1930s, the first complete storyboard can be traced back to The Three Little Pigs (1933). The history of storyboards goes back further to 1900s silent films; however, many have been lost or destroyed. Fast forward to the 21st century, storyboard artists are the glue that holds the foundation together.


Five storyboard artists share their vision and how they got to where they are now. “Between cartooning, design, storyboard, directing, and producing, it’s all about telling a good story. A great pitch is a story, too,” said Mark Simon.


 

Mark Simon


Known as the Godfather of Storyboards, Mark Simon has over 30 years of experience in the entertainment industry. He is currently the storyboard artist for “The Walking Dead” and provides animatics for the hit series. Mark has over 5,000 production credits, including Disney, Nickelodeon, Universal, Sony, HBO, FOX, and more.



When did you know you wanted to be a storyboard artist?

I wanted to be a comic strip artist growing up. Those are my heroes. I didn’t know storyboards existed until my 20’s. My family built custom homes growing up, so I grew up designing and building homes. I used that experience to enter Hollywood, designing and building sets. I got my first job as the construction coordinator at Roger Corman’s studio in LA. 2 weeks later, I was the art director on my first movie. I art directed for a few years, but I missed drawing. I had been seeing storyboards come across my desk in production and decided that was my next career. I started providing storyboards for my productions, as I also designed shows and movies to gain experience. When Steven Spielberg came to Orlando with his NBC series SeaQuest 2032, I decided to go full-time storyboarding on that show, and I’ve never looked back. This year I celebrate 30 years of storyboarding full-time.


What do you love most about your role?


I get to draw and tell stories every day. I work with amazingly creative people and on kick-ass productions on big and small screens and see my work come to life. What’s not to love?


Growing up, have you always been into drawing?


Always. When I took music lessons, I came home with cartoons on my sheet music. My homework had cartoons all over them. Every scrap of paper I could find, I would draw on. I drew my own posters of superheroes growing up. I drew for the school paper, the yearbook, and theater in high school. I was the school cartoonist in college and paid my way through school designing marketing for local businesses. There’s never been a time when I wasn’t drawing.


Did you have any mentors who helped you throughout your career?


No particular mentors. Live-action story artists never get together. We’re an independent breed. The closest I’ve had to a mentor has been some of the fantastic directors I’ve been lucky enough to work with who have taken the time to explain how to break down certain types of scenes. That was the best in film school. I would have liked a mentor, so I make sure to mentor other artists all the time through schools and associations.


What advice would you give to your younger self to get started in the industry?


My career in Hollywood launched pretty quickly, and I was able to use my existing skills to advance fast. So I wouldn’t have any new career advice for my younger self. As an artist, I would tell my young punk-self to use references to draw from. We’re trained in art class not to ‘cheat’ when we draw. As a pro, I realize there is no such thing as cheating. There’s only getting the job done in any way we can, as fast as possible.



 

Michael Gable Marynell


Michael Gable Marynell is a storyboard and 3D artist with a BFA in computer animation. Based in Atlanta, Marynell has been in the entertainment industry since 2011, working in TV, film, animation, and commercials. Michael’s credits include “Raising Dion,” Metamorphosis, Through the Glass Darkly, Dioscurio, and The Sentinel.



Take us through your average day at work.


When I get a job or project, I set up a time to meet with the director. I have a special process that I go through with them. I meet with whomever I need to, usually the director, to put together a shot list if they do not have one already. The shot list is the backbone of everything I produce. I have to think about the story, so I write my own shot list closer to an editor’s shot list. I have to think about how the story will visually transition and be paced. The shots that I come up with must reflect what the director wants to show the audience through film language. My whole job is knowing film language. The director and I go through the sequences they want me to board out, and we discuss the visual storytelling. I will start drawing the shots’ thumbnails to show the director. I do this, so we are on the same visual page. This process can take quite some time and will be broken up into multiple meetings. The average time for this process is about eight straight hours (per sequence) of discussing shots and drawing thumbnails. If the film is heavy on the imagery and metaphysical side, then this process can be grueling but worth it. The rest of my day consists of staring at the shot list, importing thumbnails for reference, drawing out every shot on my Cintiq, and putting them together in a PDF.


Growing up, have you always been into drawing?


My mother is an illustrator, so I’ve been around it my entire life. I can not think of any moment where I wasn’t drawing or in-between drawings. I had all of my mom’s art books and would copy everything I saw in there. I loved anatomy and figure drawing, so I would go through those books over and over again. My best friend’s mom was the head of the IT department, and she wanted me to paint a mural on the glass of the outside hall. That, technically, was my first art job. I wanted to try music as a career and went off to college for that. After two semesters and heavy influence from none other than my art professor, Ed, I decided to apply to Ringling College of Art and Design. I got into the same art school as my mom.


After finding out you wanted to do storyboarding, what path did you choose to get there?


In my second year at Ringling College, we started to get into concepts and stories. With that came storyboarding, and I couldn’t have been more delighted. I had gotten into the computer animation department of Ringling College of Art and Design. They taught us 2D traditional animation first, and I loved the hand-drawn animation style. I was so happy when I was introduced to storyboarding because I knew I wanted to do live-action storyboarding for a living in that first project. After watching the first season of “The Walking Dead,” I moved to Atlanta. Atlanta is a city I have always known and loved, and I was born there. The industry is about to blow up, and it’s smaller and cheaper than LA. I got up here, and I networked my butt off for almost two years before my first movie with Andre Freitas of AFX Studios in Atlanta.


What is one of your favorite projects you worked on as a storyboard artist?


Through the Glass Darkly was a special project of mine. So much of my soul went into every scene, and I gained some real friends from it. “Raising Dion” on Netflix was truly an amazing experience with such amazing people. Finally, I have to go with working with T-Pain. He’s a pleasure to work with and a genuinely good guy with incredible talent.


What advice would you give to others interested in this business?


Networking. You are the only person helping yourself in this industry. Get online, and find Facebook groups for the film industry. Attend awards shows, film festivals, and anything to get your name out there. Practice your skills, go to figure drawing classes, buy anatomy books, and draw from life. Start breaking down your favorite scenes from movies and deconstructing them. You have to do the homework. During the decade it took me to become a full-time storyboard artist, I kept telling myself that time and effort lead to success. Now, it’s words I live by and tell other people.


 

Karyn Rollins


Karyn Rollins was born in Jacksonville, Florida. She started her career as a character animator and television storyboard artist. Rollins works across multiple industries as a senior multimedia specialist and content developer. She won two Gold ADDY AWARDS in 2017 for an Internet Commercial for the About Optym video and Branded Content & Entertainment Non-Broadcast for the Optym Onboarding Videos. Karyn’s credits include Cartoon Network, IFC, and HULU.



Take us through your average day at work.

My typical morning consists of touching base with my team to review any outstanding items on our current agenda, find out where we are in the pipeline, what bottlenecks there are, and coordinate solutions accordingly. Suppose a project is in its initial stages. In that case, I’m putting together reference materials, developing concepts, designing style frames, and putting together mockups to present to clients before they commit to production. For an ongoing project, I’m creating assets, animating, and building out environments. I’m prepping for delivery and distribution to various channels for projects that are wrapping up. Each day is different, and you don’t always know what to expect, but time management is key.


What do you love most about your role?


I love solving complex problems and being confronted with seemingly insurmountable challenges. As weird as it sounds, creativity is often what happens when you have no other choice. Project constraints can be stifling at times, but I feel like all my best ideas are born when I’m being told what I can’t or shouldn’t do. Nothing like a career-ending setback to really get the creative juices flowing.


What are a few projects of yours that you are most proud of?


My most recent project “Lightspace” is an immersive animated short film targeting virtual reality headsets. VR is a space I’ve been interested in for quite some time now, so I’m excited to be contributing to a growing medium and platform that has yet to be defined fully. I mention this because it has been my life for the past year and is set to be released soon (June) through online distribution.


Outside of that, I will be launching a platform focused on exploring the cinematic potential of extended reality. Animation falls under the umbrella of film, and that’s always been a passion of mine, so with all the excitement for Web3 and the Metaverse, there’s an opportunity to really push the medium forward.


What was your educational and career journey into your current role?


I was always into art and loved drawing, so when it came time for college, I decided to pursue a degree in animation, where I studied for about three years before accepting a paid internship with a studio in Atlanta. After getting some professional experience on my resume, I was hired by a production studio out in Midtown. I spent about four years working as a character animator and storyboard artist on television shows and commercials for IFC, HULU, and Cartoon Network. After four years of working in the animation industry, I transitioned to motion graphics design and started working my way through architecture, technology, and advertising. I had studied motion graphics design in school but was hesitant to stray from animation until I’d actually gotten a taste of the industry. Motion graphics made more use of my multimedia skills outside of animating and pushed me as an artist. I met people from all walks of life, worked on projects way out of my depth, and was given the opportunity to learn about industries I’d never considered. This led to my rebrand as a multimedia specialist. At my core, I’m still an animator, but my skill set has evolved beyond the flipbooks and doodles I started with. No matter where I go, I’m an artist, so establishing a solid foundation has given me the flexibility to thrive.


What advice would you give to your younger self to get started in the industry?


Commercial art is a business; there’s a creative side and a corporate side. The creative side may primarily be driven by passion and innovation, but it is not controlled. There’s so much behind the scenes, discussions, and decisions made before you walk through the door every morning. So, don’t take every setback so personally. It’s not a reflection of you as a person, your talent, or your prospects. That’s just how the machine functions. Life is a journey, and every place you get is just a stop along the way to your destination. Don’t get held up at the pitstop.


 

Kevin Mellon


Kevin Mellon is an artist and musician from Kansas City, Missouri. He currently lives in Atlanta and is an art director for HULU and Marvel. Kevin’s credits include “Archer,” “Dicktown,” “The Vampire Diaries” (seasons 6-8), “Black Lightning,” “Legacies,” and “Dynasty.”



What are a few projects of yours that you are most proud of?

I’d have to say Archer” since it was the first show I worked on, the reason I moved to Atlanta, and why I’m a storyboard artist in TV. I’d also have to say “The Vampire Diaries” and “Black Lightning.” I was a fan of “The Vampire Diaries” before getting the chance to work on it. I was given many opportunities based on my experiences with the crew that led directly to working on season 1 of “Black Lightning.” It was a great experience working with such experienced directors on a show with a unique voice.


Comic book-related, I’d have to say my book Suicide Sisters, which I wrote and drew. Next would be a tie between Gearhead (co-created with Dennis Hopeless) and Heart (co-created with Blair Butler). Both are emotional and creative landmarks that have helped get me where I am today.


What was your educational and career journey into your current role?


I started drawing comics as a kid, and by the time I graduated high school, I had drawn hundreds of pages and worked on my craft. I went to college at The Kubert School in New Jersey. It’s dedicated to fostering and developing comic book artists. Before storyboarding, my career was creating and drawing comic books. I had no intention of working in television, but social media allowed me to apply to work on “Archer.” I storyboarded on “Archer” for seasons 3-10, which allowed me to grow as an artist and become the storyboard director in the company. I moved on to work as a storyboard supervisor and artist on America: The Motion Picture (Netflix), “Dicktown” (Hulu), and as the art director on Marvel’s “Hit-Monkey” (Hulu). I am currently working on season 13 of “Archer” while we wait to hear whether “Hit-Monkey” gets another season.


Did you have any mentors who helped you throughout your career?


I’ve been fortunate to have a few key people guide me along the way. Phil Hester and Steve Lightle were instrumental in encouraging me as a comic book artist at a very young age. Many years later, I was fortunate enough to collaborate with Phil on my second comic book series, Thirteen Steps. My teachers at the Kubert School were guideposts along the way, including the school’s founder, Joe Kubert. Neal Holman and Chad Hurd, my directors on “Archer,” were huge forces in guiding me to where I am today as an artist and director, aside from being great friends and sources of inspiration.


What advice would you give to others interested in this business?


Do the work. Even when you don’t have work, do the work. Much of the business and industry relies on people who are self-starters and self-motivated, especially if you are interested in being a story artist or director. Learn everything you can from everyone you encounter and work to know and form your own voice. Drawing well is merely a function of working to tell stories clearly. Don’t just learn anatomy and perspective like the back of your hand, but learn how to self-edit and be self-motivated. Learn to listen before speaking and allow space and room for others to speak and be genuinely heard. Oh, and be kind.


 

Brian McGee


Brian McGee was born in Mineola, New York. He is represented by Audrey Beharie-McGee for BRE Productions International, Inc., an Atlanta-based company specializing in film pre-production, digital illustration, concept art, storyboarding, and event management. Brian’s credits include Disney, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, MTV, Adult Swim, HBO, AMC, Fox, Marvel, NBC, Warner Bros, and more.



What do you love most about your career?


What I love most about my career is being an essential part of a film or television production.

Knowing that my efforts in creating visual narrative are needed and appreciated is what drives me.


What key skills should people work on to do your role one day?


I’ve loved drawing since childhood, so turning my passion into a career has been a great joy in my life. To be an effective storyboard artist, one should be efficient in drawing believable scenery. This includes drawing the human figure interacting with its environment or other human figures. Perspective drawing is crucial. One of the responsibilities of a storyboard artist is to communicate where the camera needs to be in any given scene. This can only be achieved with the understanding of drawing varying angles.


What was your educational and career journey into your current role?


While I was still in grade school, drawing was just something that I did. Still, I eventually attended the high school of art and design, where I studied color theory, perspective drawing, and editorial illustration. These are all skills that I still call upon today. I also went to the school of visual arts for about a year and studied illustration and photography.

After a few years of working as a toy designer, I was selected for an apprentice program at the Walt Disney company, which served as a continuing education for me.


Can you tell me a few Georgia-based projects you’re currently working on?


I just wrapped up Creed 3. It’s Michael B Jordan’s baby. I was able to help him visualize the script,

facilitating his transition into a first-time directorial role for him. Also, I worked on a comedy a few years ago called They Cloned Tyrone with Jamie Foxx, John Boyega, and Teyonah Parris. It’s due to air on Netflix soon.


What project of yours are you most proud of?


One of the most prized experiences I am most proud of was the time I spent in Miami Beach working on my second film ever, 2 Fast 2 Furious. I highly value that experience because the late director, John Singleton, took me under his wing and was instrumental in ushering me into my present career. He had faith in my abilities and took many chances on me. I was fortunate to have met and worked closely with him; may he rest.





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