The Art of Storyboarding: Q&A with Storyboard Artist Joe Bernados
Think about the last movie you saw. How many names would you say rolled over the screen during the closing credits? Did you even make it through the credits? Clearly, filmmaking is a collaborative process. Every project, whether a feature film, a brand video, or a product commercial, is a collaboration of a dozen or a hundred or even thousands of people.
At Corduroy Media, we’ve been thinking a lot about all of the different elements that come together to make a successful project. Of course, it always starts with a concept, but how do we take that seed idea and successfully execute on a final project? One of the greatest challenges is to bring our clients and their stakeholders along for the ride, ensuring we are all on the same page for virtually every frame. One of the key ingredients is pre-visualization or storyboarding. As vital as their contributions are in filmmaking and video production, theirs is a behind-the-scenes job that doesn’t receive a whole lot of attention. But this week, we’ve coaxed our storyboard artist Joe Bernados out of the shadows to talk about his work as a storyboard artist so you can get an idea of the depth of skill and knowledge it requires to do his job.
We’ve been working with Joe for about a year now, most recently on a project for Nominum. Not only can the guy draw, but he also holds a master’s degree in traditional animation with a focus on storyboarding. His work experience includes an internship at Pixar Animation Studios as well as a full-time job as Storyboarding Revisionist at Dreamworks Animation Television.
Beyond his impressive resume, though, Joe is just a straight up cool guy to work with. Read on to see what Joe has to say about the work he does as a storyboard artist and how it has ruined the purity of his movie-watching pleasure.
Obviously, to be a good storyboard artist, you have to know how to draw, but let’s talk about what else the job entails.
Well, you have to have a lot of film knowledge. You have to know about camera direction. You have to be able to communicate with the director. And you need to clearly understand the intent of each shot. I mean, you can have a nice drawing, but if it’s not composed the right way, or if it doesn’t contribute to the clarity of the scene or the shot, then it’s not doing its job.
You should really know about the psychology of emotion in filmmaking, too. For example, if the camera is looking down on a character, it makes you feel protective of the character, but when the camera is looking up at the character, it makes you feel like the character is more dominant. Knowing things like that helps inform a storyboard.
This understanding is inherent in everyone, really, but it takes training and a lot of studying to be able to identify it and to use it for the purposes of film and cinematography.
All the types of shots also serve a very specific role. Take, for instance, just a simple wide shot. It plays the role of introducing where you are. It sets the scene and the location. A close-up, on the other hand, helps you read an actor’s emotions. All those little things come together to help tell a story as clearly and as efficiently as possible.
These are things that are definitely taught when you study storyboarding, but as with anything, you have to understand it clearly, put it into practice, and find your own way of interpreting it.
What kind of information do you have going into a project and how much creative control do you have along the way?
Usually the director will have a script ready by the time I come onboard. So, I’ll try to sit down with the director and go through the script page by page. I might start sketching a little bit and conversing with the director about what kind of shots they want, or what sort of mood or emotions they want in the sequences.
As far as creative input goes, it usually depends on the director. There are some directors who are very loose with it, and I can add my own input. And there are other directors who are very specific about what kind of shots they want and where they want the camera placed. So it really varies. And that’s part of being a storyboard artist. You’ve got to be able to roll with the different directing styles.
For example, Carl is pretty loose with his directing. It’s a good balance, I would say. There are going to be a lot of different shots and directions and camera angles that are very specific that he wants, but he’s also open to suggestions. Whenever I decide to draw something different just to see if it fits, he’s very responsive and receptive to it. So, it’s a really good open working relationship.
What’s something about the job of storyboard artist that you think would come as a surprise to a newbie?
I think there are a lot of layers to storyboarding that most people would be surprised by. One important thing is that it’s really about story re-boarding. It’s about failing multiple times or having many different drafts of a specific scene. Storyboarding is about figuring out what works and what doesn’t, and then storyboarding it over again. Then you keep on repeating that process until it’s at that point where you feel like you’re ready to move onto the next step.
Do you have any favorite projects you’ve done with Corduroy Media?
I really liked the Nominum project. It was a lot of fun because I got to draw dancers and different kinds of people. One of the shots was of a father and daughter who were stargazing. That was sweet. It was really nice to draw them looking through a telescope and having stars everywhere. Whenever the work is a little emotional, I’m always a fan of it. I’m a big sap.
How is the experience of storyboarding for a commercial different from that of, say, a feature film?
When it comes to commercials, they have to be done with a really fast turnaround. You have to be really clear and in-sync with your director from early on so you trust each other enough to be able to make the right decisions as quickly as possible.
Can you describe the feeling of seeing the finished product come to life based on your storyboard?
There’s definitely a lot of pride. Not just of yourself, really, but of everyone who worked on it. And it’s always nice to see the shots translated into film and seeing how close or how far it is away from your storyboard. It’s such a treat. And it feels like you’re part of something.
Ok, last question. Has your own viewing pleasure been utterly ruined by your work?
Yeah. I do think about the different shots used and how effective they are. It’s definitely a way of watching that doesn’t go away. There are a lot of times when I watch something and I think, ‘I can storyboard a better way to do that.’ If I ever want to just enjoy a movie, I have to work hard to push that back. Of course, if the movie’s really good, it’s a lot easier.
Take a look at more of Joe’s storyboarding work here.