by Anson Jew
I spoke with my brother Benton Jew about his experiences working as a freelance storyboard and concept artist on feature films. His impressive resume includes credits on The Phantom Menace, The Incredible Hulk, Men in Black and MIB 2, Ghostbusters 2, and Terminator 2 and 3. We talked a little about the advice he would give to storyboard artists just starting out.
What skills do you think are important to have going in to working on films?
I think you should have a good eye for film and know how to tell a story dramatically. But also I think you have to have a really good ear. You have to be able to listen to what a director says and what he means by it. And what questions to ask, to draw what he wants, and be able to translate it on paper. A good grasp of drawing—you should be able to draw anything and draw in perspective. You should be able to draw clearly and cleanly. Be able to see things from any angle that they might ask you to do and have an idea of what that actually looks like without a lot of trouble. It just means you have to know how to visualize things very quickly and confidently.
What are some of the typical problems that come up and how have you dealt with them?
You just have to be adaptable and clear. I’ve been in situations where the script doesn’t make any sense or the director isn’t sure what he wants. Or things that they want are contradictory. I’ve been in situations where I’d be asked to do something where the guy is driving and at the same time he’s punching somebody while talking on a cell phone – and you can’t do that because you don’t have three arms. You have to point out little logistical things that don’t make any sense and work your way around them.
Oftentimes you’re put in a situation where they want a lot of work in a short amount of time or they haven’t prepared the materials for you. You don’t have enough time to get stuff done in the time that they want.
What do you think is the most important thing that they’re looking for?
They want speed and accuracy. They want as much stuff as they can in the shortest amount of time possible. That only makes sense.
What’s the one best piece of advice would you give to students just starting out?
Work at your craft. Be as good as you can, but be as flexible as you can. Enjoy what you do. Learn to draw. Learn to draw really well and learn how to tell a story.
I’m asking all my interviewees to give two tips. First one that’s more a techie tip—a technical trick that you’ve learned that’s helpful.
One of the things that I like to do that makes things easier is to—if I’m assigned a sequence— lightly thumbnail the whole sequence out from start to finish as quickly as you can and make sure that it works right. Make sure that’s done before you start any of your drawings. Make sure that it’s designed correctly first as opposed to doing it one storyboard at a time. Because if you just inch along like that, you’ll never get it done. I find that if you do quick hen scratchings, that gives you the basic idea—the design of each frame and that will give you a guideline. So the rest of the boards you can just do. Just turn off your brain and just draw. Just draw, but make sure you have all your duckies in a row first.
Any tips that are more general, business related or philosophical?
It’s good to have good artist hands, it’s good to have good artist eyes, but it’s especially good to have really good artist ears and listen to what is being asked of you and execute it.
Anson Jew is a storyboard artist in Los Angeles, CA. Following a 9-year stint as an animator at LucasArts, he moved to Los Angeles in 2002 to become a freelance storyboard artist. His credits include Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Anacondas, Prince Caspian, Wolverine and the X-Men, and Scooby Doo! Mystery Inc.