By Francis Glebas
Art schools can teach you how to draw, about color, how to animate, and how to use 3D computer software, but nobody prepares you for the emotional journey of the film business. It’s a roller coaster ride wilder than a magic carpet. There’s the searching for a job and, then, when you’ve got one, there’s the constant need to excel and be entertaining with your work.
My first job in animation was painting cells on a night crew on Tubby the Tuba done at N.Y. I. T.’s Computer Graphics Lab. I hated being on a night crew, but I was paying my dues and I was in the door. I worked my way up over the years to become lead animator. After the release of The Little Mermaid, Disney was actively recruiting and I got a job in story and visual development. We would design settings, characters, and gags for the film. My first film was Aladdin.
A Whole new cast of characters…
THE SCREEN DIRECTION NIGHTMARE
My first professional experience of storyboarding was on Disney’s Aladdin. I had storyboarded before, but this was different–this was the big time. I was given the scene where Aladdin is supposed to distract a merchant while his accomplice, Abu, his monkey, steals some food. I had the script, paper, and pencils. I was all set–so I thought, until I realized that storyboarding is really the first pass at directing! My reaction? Total panic! I had tons of questions and no place to get answers. How many drawings do I use? What are story beats? How much detail do I put in? Where do I put the camera? Why? When do I cut? What will make it creative? What are they looking for? What’s my goal…?
What did I do? What could I do? Well, other storyboard artists made lots of drawings, so I just started making lots of drawings.
Then came time to pitch the sequence. It was a giant mess. You didn’t know where the characters were. The pacing was all off. Worst of all it wasn’t “entertaining.” In fact, it was boring and confusing. Then came even worse news: the director, John Musker, suggested that maybe I couldn’t storyboard. “NOOO!” I screamed. (The scream was in my head, of course.)
John and co-director Ron Clements had liked my visual development ideas and character designs so they took me off storyboarding and put me back in visual development. I was given a new task of developing the magic carpet ride. I had to prove myself…but how?
Once again, I had the script, paper, and pencils and I started drawing. No, it’s probably more correct to say that this time I started creating images. I found the key beats of the scene. I started to see a connection between images and began putting them in sequential order. I added drawings to connect ideas and make it flow.
I pitched the new sequence as continuity. This was the beginning of A Whole New World, and it became a whole new world for me. They put me back in storyboarding and the sequence went on to win the academy award for best song.
…check back for the rest of the story!
Francis Glebas, Phd. in Fantasy, is the author of Directing the Story: Professional Storyboarding and Storytelling Techniques for Live Action and Animation, an award-winning director, and an artist, teacher, and the world’s worst magician. He has directed Fantasia 2000‘s Donald Duck sequence, Piglet’s BIG Movie, and Gnomon’s VES tribute to John Lasseter and storyboarded on many iconic Disney features, including Aladdin, The Lion King, and Pocahontas. Francis is currently storyboarding for Blue Sky Studios and hard at work on a new animation book for Focal Press.