Animator and story artist Mike Morris has had a career that’s been… well, storied. Having spent most of his youth in California, it was a quick move for him to Los Angeles. In the City of Angels, he has developed a thriving career and is best known for his work on television series like Fox’s The Simpsons, Disney XD’s Future-Worm! and Disney’s DuckTales reboot.
Though the studios and shows may change, one thing always remains: his use of Toon Boom Storyboard Pro for preproduction, animatics and storyboarding. As a lifelong artist, Morris was naturally drawn to the software’s drawing tools. Plus, its ease of use and efficiency are invaluable when it comes to working on his own creative side projects.
Source: Mike Morris
Now, Mike Morris is a beta tester for new versions of the industry-standard software including our latest edition, Storyboard Pro 7. Curious to hear what he thought?
Hi Mike! How long have you been using Storyboard Pro for?
MM: I started using Storyboard Pro in 2008 or so. Originally I was training to be an animator and then a lot of those jobs dried up. I realized that I wanted to have that creative experience of figuring out what happens to the characters. So, storyboarding was a natural fit and I gravitated towards that. I started learning Storyboard Pro in like version two, so it’s been at least 10 years.
Where did you learn how to use it?
MM: Mostly on my own on the job, and with a little help from friends and internet tutorials. I started working in it professionally on The Simpsons, I think we were using Storyboard Pro 4 four at the time.
Why would you say Storyboard Pro is always your first choice now as a storyboarding software?
MM: Because it has everything I need from script to screen as far as storyboards go. I can essentially make my own little movie within one program — I can draw in it, I can edit in it. There’s obviously limitations to everything; it’s not a fully formed animation software like Harmony is, but it gets everything done that I need it to do to make a full-blown animatic or just paper board. It’s extraordinarily versatile.
Are there specific benefits you can find in Storyboard Pro that you can’t get in other software?
MM: I think that the camera is a huge benefit and I especially like some of the 3D features that you can use. Like if you’re storyboarding in Photoshop, you have to simulate the camera movement in your drawing. In Storyboard Pro, you could just move the camera. You also have the freedom to size things and zoom in and out, track and pan and tilt, and indicate things on a storyboard. You can actually make it all happen in Storyboard Pro — I think that’s kind of what sets it apart.
As far as digital drawing tools go, the drawing tools are great. It’s not the only software that you can digitally draw with, sure, and some people like to use other tools to draw with and then mash them together in an editing package. When you have your drawing software and your editor in one like in Storyboard Pro, however, it really makes the process a lot more streamlined.
Can you remember the first time or project that you realized Storyboard Pro was a game changing tool for your planning process?
MM: I don’t think there was any specific like A-HA! moment, it just formed over time. I realized early on working on The Simpsons that I can do a lot more with Storyboard Pro than with just using Premiere and some other drawing tool. But yeah, it just kind of happened over time with experimentation and further study into it. The deeper I got into learning the features and what I could do with them, the more I liked Storyboard Pro and the more it became my go-to for any kind of storyboarding that I would be doing.
And besides The Simpsons, are there other major projects that you can mention you’ve used Storyboard Pro on?
MM: Yeah, every project that I’ve ever worked on I’ve used Storyboard Pro for. I’ve worked mainly in television animation and Storyboard Pro is a mainstay in the industry; I’ve worked on The Simpsons and Disney XD’s Future-Worm!, and most recently on Disney’s DuckTales.
Is there a certain feature that you really love using?
MM: What excites me about Storyboard Pro is the freedom that it gives me as an independent creator — that you can do a lot of stuff on your own without needing a whole staff supporting you. As an independent creator, it’s especially important to have a tool that I can rely on to do everything I need to do to get the work out.
In a standard production process, you have a lot of people and that’s wonderful. I have friends in editorial and they’re great folks to work with, everybody brings something to the process. That’s part of the magic of making animation. Sometimes you just want to make something on your own though, and you just wanna go for it and do it. Storyboard Pro makes it a lot easier than having to break things up into a bunch of different jobs — even in your own workload. As an artist, it’s great to have the ability to get what I want to accomplish done without the tools making things more difficult.
Is there anything about Storyboard Pro that you find really streamlines the pre-production process?
MM: Yeah, the vector engine is definitely something that saves a lot of time and effort. Just the sheer fact that it’s so malleable — that you can move and tweak drawings, or cut in close on a panel and it’s not going to lose quality if you get closer or wider in the shot. I think one of the huge things that sets this software apart is that amazing vector brush engine.
I also wish that studios would take a look at Storyboard Pro’s editing features a little bit more. I know everybody has their own editing system that they’re using from whatever company that they will. To me, I feel like a lot of studios are doing themselves a disservice by not taking a look at Toon Boom’s native timeline and animatic building features. I feel like a lot of this stuff could be built a lot faster, even if they just did a first timing pass or something in Toon Boom and then exported with editing data from there when they’re ready to finalize. I think that’s an under-utilized feature in the studio system.
What new features in Storyboard Pro 7 were you most excited about?
MM: Oh, I love the new drawing features. The brush engine is better than it’s ever been. I feel like you get a lot more artistic input and it feels more like the natural media that I really like. I mean, I grew up with natural media — you know, pencils, paper, everything. Storyboard Pro 7 feels much more akin to that than it does like drawing with a Sharpie; I feel like in past versions sometimes you feel like you’re drawing with a big fat marker. This brings a more subtle nuance back into storyboard work. I feel like it’s bringing the artistry back.
As demand for animation grows, why do you think digital storyboarding solutions like Storyboard Pro are more important than ever?
MM: Speed and versatility — being able to easily change and iterate and go back and forth. I think this is especially true with some of the new features in Storyboard Pro 7 related to file management. I know file management sometimes kind of gets shorted as far as importance goes, but if you’re able to use copies of the same file and update one from the other, that’s gonna make your process a whole lot faster.
You know the old adage in any business, especially animation, is: “faster, cheaper, better.” And although that’s a little untenable, you can still get a little bit of that. I think being faster with digital tools is definitely preferable and cheaper in some ways too, and better in some ways too. Obviously the art is going to take the time it’s going to take, but if you have a tool that’s going to help speed the process along just by sheer virtue of being faster innately, why not? That’s what technology is for, after all.