Storyboard artists live in the space between script and show: what is written and what ends up on screen. Professional storyboard artist Darin McGowan has been “boarding” for 16 years, working on animated shows such as The Wild Thornberrys and Futurama. In this interview, he explains the storyboarding process, from sketching thumbnails and pitching ideas to cleanup, and shares his insights on the industry: the advantages of working on a premise-driven show, the pros and cons of computers over paper, and what to do during the layoffs storyboard artists inevitably encounter. Darin also shares his process for writing and developing original content?a great next step for artists who want to develop their own characters.
LEVEL — Appropriate for all
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Instructor’s Welcome Note:
– I’m Darin McGowan, a storyboard artist. I’ve been storyboarding for 16 years. Storyboarding is basically taking whatever a writer has put together and mapping it out, visualizing the story, the jokes, the acting. I’m in TV storyboarding, which is different than feature boards. There’s a lot of things that we can talk about with TV boards, but basically the most simple definition is taking what’s written and mapping it out.
That includes, like I said, acting, revealing a good gag, setting up the story, finding emotional beats. In television it’s difficult because there aren’t often very many emotional beats, but if you find one it makes the jokes even better. If you go highs and lows, you want to have a couple of lows, and that’s if you’re writing from a premise. If you’ve got a script, it’s already figured out. On a scripted show like Futurama, you basically get a script and it’s already done.
You thumbnail out the script, like when I get a script I go through it when I read it and make a few notes. If there’s a shot idea I have, I doodle it in the margins, but it’s basically done. When you get a script from those guys, the story is finished. You’re not adding anything. As a matter of fact, I don’t think they want you to, which is kind of a bummer, so when you’re working on a premise show– — What’s a premise show? — A premise is like if a writer comes up with an idea and maps out a story, like a paragraph and that’s how he did on Fish Hooks at Disney and I was there for just a second but it was like, here’s the story we want to tell, here’s where it starts, here’s a couple of beats, some ideas for you, and then here’s how it ends. So it’s like improv, or like playing the saxophone, you know where you want to go and you know where you want to end and then everything in between is just like figuring out where those beats are going to be, what the jokes are going to be.
The best thing about boarding a premise show is that you get to watch what you came up with when it’s on TV. So Futurama, this stuff that’s written, fine, if you’re lucky you can sneak in a joke here and there in the background or something else, but the best part about premise driven shows, is that’s you. If you hit a home run, like I was watching a show with a friend of ours who was like five and we were watching one of mine and he said, “Did you write this?” He’s a smart kid. I said, “Yeah, how’d you know?” and he goes, because it sounds like you.
So you’re writing dialog and everything. You’re actually coming up with jokes, and you’re storyboarding the jokes and stuff too but there’s nothing better than writing a good gag, coming up with some funny dialog, and then having great actors say your lines, and then having it on TV. Then you can sit back and enjoy it. Anything else, the script and stuff is fine, and it’s fun, but there’s nothing like, you really feel rewarded when you get to see your stuff written on TV. There is ground in-between. I’m on a show at Nickelodeon right now called The Loud House and this is, I swear to God, the thing about storyboarding and animation all together, I think if you’re lucky you find a great place where you fit and what I’m doing now on The Loud House is, it’s scripted so we get scripts, they’re gag shorts, they’re gag cartoons, 16 pages, sometimes 18 pages. So they’re done.
But the writers are so cool, they’re so cool that they let you play with it. So I’ve been able to, and Chris Savino who’s the creator of the show told me on my first day, he said, “Look, if you just do the script, you’re there. “It’s 100% there. If you want to add anything to it, it’s even better.” So the way that he approaches his own show is like let’s improve it, let’s come up with some stuff, let’s plus it as much as we can. Some people can, and some people can’t. That’s why you pitch your thumbnails to see if things are working or not.
That is a great in-between, because a lot of places will record the voices first and then you’re kind of l
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