How an episode of The Simpsons is made Part 2, the storyboard artist and his death clock.
THE SIMPSONS NEWS – Part 2. The storyboard artist and his death clock.
“If something’s hard to do, then it’s not worth doing.“–Homer
Tic, tic, tic, tic…as a storyboard artist, we may not hear the sound of a ticking clock once we’re handed our assignment, but we sure feel it.
In Part 1, I wrote about what happens at the Fox studios before the animation studio gets involved. This time, I’ll write about the first steps in the visualization of an episode.
Here it is in a nutshell.
- The script is given to the assigned director.
- Storyboard artists are assigned to the episode.
- The storyboard artists roughs out the storyboard.
- The storyboard artists presents the rough storyboard at a meeting.
- The storyboard artists applies notes from the meeting and cleans up the storyboards.
- The storyboards are sent to Fox and Fox sends back notes.
Let me elaborate.
The script is given to the assigned director.
Every show is assigned a director. Once the script comes in from Fox, it’s handed over to the director of that episode to read. Some directors know exactly what they want to do with an episode from their initial read through. Others like to wait and see what the storyboard artist comes up with.
Storyboard artists are assigned to the episode.
Almost at the same time, as the director gets his copy of the script, the storyboard artists get their scripts.
There are about six or seven storyboard artists working on the The Simpsons. All of which are veterans of the show that have been working on it for years. This isn’t to say that they’re old, just that they’ve been doing it for a while.
All these Storyboard artists are split into two teams of three. They rotate every other show.
When a team is assigned an episode, each storyboard artist is assigned one Act out of the four Acts that make up the show. Acts 3 and 4 are treated as one Act because they’re small and usually add up to one Act.
The moment this happens, is when the clock starts ticking.
The storyboard artists roughs out the storyboard.
Tic, tic, tic…
The storyboard artist has 18 days to turn in a finished board. This means the artist has to gauge his time wisely since he needs to get his rough board approved before he can finish cleaning it up.
He is usually given a deadline for his final roughs, in order to present them to the director for approval. This could be between, a week or two weeks, after he’s assigned his Act.
Tic, tic, tic…
Before the storyboard artist begins roughing anything out, some directors like to meet with the board artist. During this preliminary meeting the director and board artist talk over the script and put forth ideas and interpretations. Some directors just lets the board artist do his thing with out a meeting.
Most board artists (including myself) begin they’re process by thumbnailing out and planning the shots. Thumbnails are tiny little sketches artist use to work out ideas. They are a little bigger then thumbnails but we call them thumbnails anyway.
This is the big creative part of the job. This is the part where the storyboard artist is really more like a director than anything else. He takes the first pass at how everything might look in the episode.
Tic, tic, tic…
There’s a lot of interpretation that goes on, since there’s sometimes a disconnect between what the writer wrote and what the writer might have meant. Sometimes a description can be interpreted many different ways. The trick is to guess correctly.
It’s also the part where the storyboard artist might to have to make creative decisions and ignore some directions written in the script. Usually, this is done only if there might be a better way to present the visuals.
Even then, if the storyboard artist does this, he’ll need to get permission from the director.
This is also the part of the process where jokes can sink or swim, and it’s up to the board artist to make all the jokes funnier than they are in the script. The last thing a storyboard artist wants is to take a great joke on paper and kill it when he visualizes it.
Once the board artist has his shots planned out, he starts actualizing the shots in the computer program we use. In our case, TOON BOOM STORYBOARD PRO 2 (Affiliate link).
He does this in a very rough form. The rough drawings he draws, have to be clear enough to sell the idea, but rough enough so that he didn’t spend too much time on them. Just in case the shots are changed.
For a good example of what rough boards look like, you can see the rough boards I’ve done on my personal project, at the bottom of this post.
Recently, production has added one more step to the storyboard process. The board artist now does a rough story reel of his board. This means he needs to input the prerecorded audio, sinc it up to his drawing and roughly time out his Act.
This is done so that he can more clearly pitch his storyboard at the rough storyboard meeting.
Tic, tic, tic…
The storyboard artists presents the rough storyboard at a meeting.
The Simpsons have, I don’t know…about eight or nine directors every season. There is one director in particular who oversees all the episodes and keeps things consistent. He’s the Head Director and all the directors answer to him.
The rough storyboard meeting usually involves the head director, the director of the episode and the storyboard artist.
When the storyboard artist heads into this meeting, he needs to take his ego, leave it outside the door, and give it a Gameboy to entertain itself with. He then heads inside to a meeting that will last about 4 plus hours where all his hard work will be judged.
I have to tell you, this is by far, the toughest part of the job. Much tougher than dealing with the tic, tic, tic, in the back of your head.
This is where both directors, pretty much, takes a baseball bat and smash your work to a tiny pulp. Storyboards are such a subjective thing that the reason for a change in a shot can easily be because one the directors had an itchy ear.
The truth is, after the meeting is over, what you end up with, is a much better episode than the one you came in with. Our directors and our head director, really know what they’re doing. As brutal as these meetings can seem, they are great learning experiences. They’re also very creative session where some very inspired things happen.
The storyboard artists applies notes from the meeting and cleans up the storyboards.
Once he survives the rough meeting, the storyboard artist goes back to his desk, licks his wounds, cries and begins to apply the changes that were discussed in the meeting.
Once this is done, he’s ready to start cleaning up the boards. Depending on when the rough board meeting was scheduled, he might have three week, two weeks, or one week, to finish this task.
Tic, tic, tic…
It’s a mad dash to make a presentable board. This is where the board artist cries out wondering, “Why is the town rioting again?”
The storyboards are sent to Fox and Fox sends back notes.
The board artist finishes his boards and they’re handed over to the production people who get the boards ready to send to Fox. Getting the board ready to send off to Fox can be a pain. The board artist would not be doing the production staff any favors turning his board in late.
Once at Fox, the show runner, producers and writers, take a look at the boards and give us their input.
The director of the show makes sure to implement any notes when going forward into the next step. Which I will write about in two weeks.
Tic, tic, tic…NEXT week, I’ll write about the other things that happens while the show is being storyboarded. The designing of new characters and backgrounds.
Any questions about the process so far? Feel free to ask in the comments below.
VIDEO – Google Sketch Up demo
Speaking of storyboarding (or at least, something that help speed things up), Chris Oatley of the Paper Wings podcast and blog, created this very handy video. It’s for those artist out there who want to use the program Google SketchUp but don’t know where to begin once they’ve downloaded it. I highly recommend you take a look at it. Better yet, read the entire post he put along with it at the site:
ART- Storyboarding my personal project continues.
Plugging away at the storyboards. Getting nearer to the end of Act 1. It didn’t occur to me to brake the boards into acts but I think I might do that. I’ll have to think about it some more. It might not be prudent:
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