Insight from a Storyboard Artist Working in Live Action & Video Games
Matthew Taylor is a storyboard artist who has worked in live action film and television and video game production for over two decades. He is also a produced screenwriter, director and actor, and has worked in North America, Europe and Africa. Matthew adopted Toon Boom Storyboard Pro in 2013 and considers it indispensable to his work. Matthew recently worked on the TV show Hannibal using Storyboard Pro to deliver storyboard packages, as well as animatics for complicated sequences. He has also worked on EA's Need For Speed: The Run whose entire cinematic sequences were created and developed with Storyboard Pro.
At the start of my film and television career in the mid-90s, I jumped into television commercial production as a camera assistant. Working in Toronto, a place that liked to call itself "Hollywood North", there were a lot of opportunities to go either union or nonunion with both Canadian and American productions. This offered huge opportunities to learn on the fly, and to learn different skills for film production. It was a time when our industry was starting to grow in leaps and bounds and much of the American studio production processes were not only being adopted and offered but was successfully drawing all sorts of international productions to the city. I was a camera assistant to several commercial production houses, worked with directors from all over the world, while at the same time studying at the Ontario College of Art. When I left school, I entered full time into film and TV production, leaving commercials behind. Working with cameras while drawing for several years, both classical life drawing, but as was my major, studying interior and architectural design, I believe set up the foundation for me to become a professional storyboard artist.
At the end of the 90s, I moved to Ireland for a couple of years and it was there that I crossed over into working as an Assistant Director (AD). When I returned to Toronto, I found a great deal of work as an AD and I had a mind for production. I enjoyed the AD process, but didn't love it however. I had always wanted to be a film director. Acting as an AD paid the bills but being a few years out of school and itching for more creativity, I started taking life drawing classes again on the weekends for fun with a fabulous artist friend of mine who had trained in Los Angeles and in particular with Glen Vilppu, a well known artist-instructor in the animation world. My friend was interested only in short poses, gesture drawing, and it was here that I think the final stages of my storyboarding style began to take shape. I knew camera and dramatic framing from years of shooting. I was used to setting scenes as an AD and I had sketched and drafted spaces in three dimensions for four years at school and I was learning to use animation gesture drawing on weekends. All of these elements came together in storyboarding. All of these elements I believe are necessary to successful storyboarding.
While working on a TV show in a Toronto studio, the Director of Production (DOP) had seen my "sides" (scaled down versions of the shooting script for the day in live-action) and the sketches and doodles I used to do while standing around between set-ups and shooting. The storyboard artist for the show needed to be replaced and the DOP suggested me. That is quite literally how I started 15 years ago. Right place, right time, and of course, though unwittingly, prepared.
How I Work
Live-action film and television production is an asymmetrical beast at the best of times. But like all productions in general it has its system to reel in creative development issues (as in 'how the heck do we shoot this with this money and no time?') and of course it all starts with the script.
Usually it goes like this: I get the call from a production office. If I'm available, they send me the script (and sometimes director's notes and shot lists) and I read it and get a sense of the story before my first sit-down with the director. Once we're in the room together, we go over the scenes as the director envisions them. I thumbnail like crazy, sometimes even getting up and 'acting' out an unclear action. There are even times when we walk through sets or locations and develop a general first pass of rough boards. Often I go on location 'tech scouts' (director and all the key crew department heads for a shoot) and take notes, photos and thumbnail as the director pitches to the crew how the scene(s) will be shot. Once we cover the scenes that require storyboarding, I take it to my home office-studio, and I jump onto Storyboard Pro.
There are some large film studio productions that, of course, use several storyboard artists and they tend to work within the Art Department and generate fabulous, high-gloss detailed storyboards. They turn out close to comic-book level work, but rarely go to on set or location. But since I consider myself a filmmaker that happens to know how to sketch and storyboard (and my work is highly influenced by animation artists and the Pixar storyboard development methods) I tend to seek out jobs that give me face time with the directors I work for, and for as long a run as possible.
"With my background and the help of Storyboard Pro, which is now indispensable to my process and work, I have been able to generate 25 pages of storyboards (three frames per page) and more a day while working in this way. Also, the fluidity of the workflow with Storyboard Pro has pushed the nightmarish reality of "revisions" to a distant memory and now revisions are a pleasure and I get to see development and 'story' occur organically."
Transition to Storyboard Pro
For a number of years, the paper chase was the reality with storyboarding in live action for me. Countless pages of storyboards meant a great deal of precious time spent redrawing, revising and/or reordering if revisions came in. And revisions always come in. When I switched, as many did, to digital storyboarding in such applications as Photoshop, the options were stronger than paper of course. But in both, there was often a nightmarish rush to organize boards sequentially and numerically; in live action, many directors have their own preferences and habits for that.
I have found that Storyboard Pro has developed and refined not only almost all of the functions of some of the best digital drawing applications, but Storyboard Pro is also unique in the way its seamless integration allows the story artist to draw creatively, quickly and efficiently, while at the same time allowing an amazing freedom to reorganize, reimagine and publish a board for production. When directors ask for revisions, now it's a pleasure. In part, because this flexibility of options (including the numerous storyboard package output options and all the amazing video capabilities for animatics) allows me, as both storyboard artist and filmmaker, to work in a very comprehensive way. It can often be the finished project before the project is finished. Now when I pitch to get a job in live action television and film, I always include what Storyboard Pro offers. Eyes light up! This is because in live-action television and film, the one complaint directors and producers routinely have is receiving boards they "can't shoot". Clarity of vision in the intense pipeline that is live-action production is what I have been able to offer only with Storyboard Pro.
While working at EA SPORTS on the game Need For Speed: The Run, I started to work for the first time directly in the boarding-straight-to-animatics process. In what I believe to be a unique creative environment, I was teamed up with the games director, art director and cinematic director and the four of us worked under an extremely tight production schedule; only a couple of weeks to complete the game's cinematic and scripted material. During our story sessions, as the three key creative's pitched ideas from the script, and some not scripted, to one another, developing a plan for the game matrix and cinematic sequences, I would draw the sequences they envisioned with Storyboard Pro as they spoke them out loud, and while they used overhead shooting schematics to clarify action. Once I was done and the boards were rendered, I screened the storyboard animatic sequence on a huge plasma screen that my laptop and Wacom tablet were connected to in the studio to see how it played. If they passed, I sent the animatics to the editing department who then teamed with the game modellers. With Storyboard Pro, revisions took very little time. Need For Speed: The Run's entire cinematic sequences were created and developed this way. More recently, I have been working on the amazing TV show Hannibal. Several times I've delivered storyboard packages, as well as animatics for complicated sequences, something that is rarely done in live-action television to my knowledge.
About Matthew Taylor
Matthew Taylor is a storyboard artist who has worked in live action film and television and video game production for over two decades. He is also a produced screenwriter, director and actor, and has worked in North America, Europe and Africa. Matthew adopted Toon Boom Storyboard Pro in 2013 and considers it indispensable to his work.