Books

PREPARE TO BOARD! was written out of desperation. I was teaching a storyboard class at Rochester Institute of Technology, and there were no textbooks that covered feature-style animation boards. There were some good books on television boarding, as it was done at the time; but most were aimed at live action television artists.

So I made stacks of handouts for my students. Stacks of handouts that were as tall as I was. RIT’S management was getting antsy about the amount of handouts, especially since my classes weren’t all that big. But I really had no choice. Storyboard includes direction, editing, sound design, character design, and timing. We make animated films backwards from live action films. We edit the thing before we shoot. It was difficult to make live action filmmakers understand that. I actually had to make a chart in the first and second editions, describing how and when each part of preproduction and production took place. (It was cut from the third edition because I needed the space for something else.)  Live action shoots and shoots and shoots and edits the film into something with structure. Animation does its editing (post) first, and the actual animation shoot last. The animation camera really no longer exists; it’s all done with digital programs that can mimic the look of live action film, but (if they are done right) more closely resemble fine or graphic art.

So when a representative from Focal Press came to the college, looking for pitches for new textbooks…I was there with a neatly presented one right at the start of the day. I put the whole thing together in a few hours. I’d been thinking of doing something like this for years.

Writing it was another matter. I’d never written a book before of any kind. Editor Georgia Kennedy did a wonderful job explaining to me how things were supposed to be done. I wrote the entire first edition on paper printouts (I used hemp paper to be more ecologically sound…no, I did not smoke the outtakes.) And re edited. And re edited. And shifted things around. It was like making an animated film, only even more anal, and weirder since it had a completely different structure. One example: Was I to handle character design completely separately from the storyboard chapters and write the book in two parts? Disney animator Ellen Woodbury insisted that I had to do the two simultaneously, since they influence each other; so I interwove the chapters like a deck of cards. Literally. They were on paper, after all.

The first edition, with the red cover, was published in 2007. The complete original ‘commercial’ can be seen here. A second edition was published in 2012. Major updates were made to the 2012 and 2017 editions to reflect changes in technology and story emphases. The character design chapters have also been extensively revised with work from my own film and from some Sheridan student productions.

The 2017 edition is , I feel, the best of the three, despite its not being the most preposessing printing. Let’s just say that the first two editions’ production went a lot smoother, and were better printed, and I was sorry not to work with the original team. But eventually  I at least got the book to look the way it should. Here’s the cover, featuring my three cats, Gizmo (blue) Sam-E (orange) and Louie Bear (green.) Fuzz the Cat (red) is from a film I am making.

Gizmo, my little spotted cat,  has been my cover girl since 2005, when I started the book. She patted the page with her paw while sitting on my lap, and tried to ‘help’. So I put her on the cover, and since we use ‘board’ as a verb, and refer to our co artists as a ‘crew’, the pirate motif was a natural. Gizmo died in 2013 but  is still there, inside and on the cover of the books. She was a terrific model and friend and she is always going to be the cover girl. Fuzz, Louie and Sam-E are on the third edition cover  for the composition. Louie and Sam-E aren’t interested in art. Fuzz IS art.

What else is new for 2017? There is now a chapter on group productions, and it’s badly needed since story artists do not work in a vacuum. Recent ads for storyboard artists. actually specify that they are looking for people with good interpersonal skills. Storyboard is about change, and you can’t throw tantrums when someone doesn’t want to do things YOUR way. Kevin Richardson, a director friend, sent me a long list of what he wanted in his ideal crew, and it coincided with what I wanted in mine. I like to have other people write this stuff in their own words to show that I am not blowing smoke. And the book has been completely re edited. Subjects that were formerly scattered in several chapters have been consolidated into one chapter. There is a major update to the character design chapters, including artwork from a film that I had hoped to have finished in 2017…a little number called OLD TRICKS.

   OLD TRICKS is a film that I really, really wanted to make. And I was all set to do it, too. I was so confident that it would be finished in the fall of 2017 that I put some of the character designs (but not all) into the book. That’s Vera and Fuzz on the rough poster.

But then I met a writer named Thomas King, and that literally was another story.

I still hope to make OLD TRICKS. You can see a character progression for Vera and Fuzz in the book, along with some art direction suggestions (yes, storyboard involves art direction too.)

My other book is called ANIMATED PERFORMANCE. I felt that this was the better of the two books until I updated PTB in 2017. This is because ANIMATED PERFORMANCE is the only book on acting for animation that is written by an animator (as of this writing, anyway.)  It has had two editions. The first one was poorly laid out and it was hard to see the illustrations. The 2014 edition, from Bloomsbury Press, is far superior in every way. They are also a pleasure to work with. By the most remarkable coincidence Georgia Kennedy (who had moved on from Focal) also edited this book. Contact her if you want to write a book on animation, you will be treated very well.

Many animation books discuss HOW to animate, but not WHY. Why does a character move the way they do? What are they thinking, and how does this influence their attitude? Sure, actors do this sort of thought process, but not too many of them have to play a talking chair, or a three headed dragon that lives underwater. Most of my book does not describe human characters.

Humans, unless stylized, can be dull, and their acting ‘stock’ or predictable. Some animators  use live action reference as a crutch. I’ve seen entire features that do this. I like fantasy acting. It’s what animation does best. Try acting out the movements of a live fork, a spoon, and a curious monkey…all at once. Or,  a fish transforming into a man. You can’t. Animated acting is not like acting in live action. You have to perform the action of imaginary characters in your head, thumbnail them somewhere (paper, screen, I don’t care) then translate that imaginary performance to believable animated movement. I talk about a lot of stuff like this. Some interviews I got with legendary animators like Art Babbitt appear here for the first time.

There are also about 35 exercises, all but one of which I’ve actually used when teaching so yes, they work. (The exception that i haven’t used: The worm and the ball). I think that it is a logical way to show a beginning student how to use lines of action and show the effect of force with two simple characters. Try it out for yourself. I used a few of the other exercises in summer workshops at Sheridan. You can see some of the exercises done in my acting for animators workshop at Sheridan College here.   You will have to click on each student’s name to see their test. 

Unfortunately Bloomsbury’s site hides this material so well, that this is probably the first time anyone has seen any of these delightful exercises. All of the students who did these little projects are now working in the animation field.

The books are widely used, and people write to tell me how much they enjoy them. As I said in the About section, I am easily bored. I try not to write boring books. I hope that you enjoy them.