Following is TAG President BOB FOSTER’s column from the March Peg-Board, followed by a response from a member who wishes to be anonymous.
From the President
Max and Susan wanted to get some custom-made cabinets for their kitchen and asked if I could recommend someone. I knew a fine cabinetmaker named Al who had installed cabinets in my house a few years back. Al had been around for about thirty years and really knew his stuff. A friend of mine from the studio also used Al on a job and was equally pleased with his work. I invited Max and Susan over to check out Al’s work and they were impressed. So Max took Al’s number and decided to get a quote. Al sent them a brochure filled with photos of his work from previous jobs.
Another friend recommended a cabinetmaker named Gonzalo. Max and Susan were equally impressed by his work, also. Gonzalo had been in business for nineteen years. So they decided to get a quote from him, too. Max and Susan visited their friend’s home to see Gonzalo’s work. They looked at photos of his previous jobs and loved what they saw.
After the bids came in, Max and Susan just couldn’t make up their minds so they asked the two cabinetmakers to come over to their home and take a cabinet-making test to see if they could really do the work.
Al and Gonzalo were insulted. They’d never been asked to prove their obvious abilities as cabinetmakers in their entire careers and weren’t about to start now.
So they both decided to get out of the cabinet-making business and become storyboard artists.
Okay, so it’s a joke ... unless you’re one of those veteran storyboard artists who’ve been told you’ll have to take a storyboard test, even after your portfolio has been favorably reviewed.
How did this industry ever last until 2011 without storyboard tests? And why do we all of a sudden need them now? I think any test that requires lots of poses, everything on model and perfect perspective isn’t a storyboard test - it’s a layout test, designed to make everything easier for the less talented production artists at some offshore sweatshop.
A storyboard used to be a blueprint. Now it’s a house.
"Test” is just another word for "Audition” and some auditions are insulting and unnecessary. I’m reminded of the famous anecdote about an audition that Shelley Winters went to. An actress of her stature and fame would normally have a meeting with a producer or director; instead, she was asked to audition. She arrived at the director’s office carrying a big bag over her shoulder. She sat down, opened her bag, dug around in it and pulled out an Oscar® and put it on the director’s desk. She reached into the bag again and pulled out a second Oscar® and put it on his desk. Then she said, "So. Do I still need to audition?”
She got the part. (And I’ve heard raunchier versions of this story.)
I don’t really know who actually looks at portfolios. I don’t know if they’re artists, MBAs, writers, interns, HRs, PAs, PMs, producers, directors, accountants or the security guard. For all I know, it’s all of them and they vote. Allegedly, they all want to know if you can draw. Then they want to know if you can draw their characters. Then they want to know if you can draw their characters on model and in a well-defined time period. Who are these people?
Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to attach a name to the people who review your work? Wouldn’t it be nice to know if they’re qualified to judge your work? Can they draw? Do they know anything about composition, character acting, facial expression, attitude? If they can draw, can they draw on model? Do they know enough about layout and staging to be able to depict an image that incorporates all those requirements within a defined space in a series of images that comprise a storyboard?
And as if all those skills were still not enough to get a job as a storyboard artist, you also need to know the basics of filmmaking. You need to have an understanding of screen direction, acting, timing, editing, choreography, and dozens of other little things that go into making a movie. Then you have to be trained in various programs like Toon Boom, Photoshop, Maya, Illustrator, Flash, Rhino, SketchUp, Dreamweaver, etc., and be able to work on a Cintiq.
Artists in animation have more training in more skills and prerequisites than any other creative type I can think of. You have to be an accomplished artist, you have to be able to channel that training into specific parameters to support a script, to depict characters accurately, to draw those characters with good acting and expression, to work within a deadline, to think like a film maker, and to re-do work when changes are made.
Nobody works in this business for too many years unless they have those abilities and have performed consistently. And if they’ve done so for a long time, at a lot of places, why the Hell should they be required to take a test above and beyond their samples and resume? Ability, experience and results should count for something. If people can’t tell what an artist is capable of by looking at their portfolio, maybe they’ve got the wrong people looking at portfolios.
Maybe it’s time to test portfolio reviewers to see if they’re qualified to look at portfolios. Do they know what they’re looking at?
— Bob Foster
Letter to the President
I read Mr. Foster's article in the Pegboard about storyboard tests, and I found more than a few misconceptions that I would like to try to straighten out.
I was a bit shocked to find out that the President of our union does not know who looks at storyboard tests or, further, that he didn't take the steps to find out. Instead he decided to propagate the widely held myth that MBAs or PAs or someone equally unqualified looks at them. Obviously he is against tests. That's fine. Just do the homework and find out what's really going on so we can all have a constructive discussion that might take some of the heat out of such an emotional topic.
I am a supervising director. Prior to that, I was a director for 4 years, and prior to that I was a storyboard artist for 12 years. In my duties as a sup. director, I still board an awful lot. So, I would like to think I'm pretty qualified to make judgements about "composition, character acting, facial expression, attitude...draw[ing] on model...[making sure the artist has] an understanding of screen direction." And do I expect the candidate for a storyboard job to be able to "...know the basics of filmmaking...have an understanding of screen direction, acting, timing, editing, choreography"? Absolutely. That and probably more. As for the comment about all the software a board artist needs to know, there's enough confusion out there, why add to it? Board artists don't use Maya or Dreamweaver or Illustrator (Rhino? Don't even know about that one, but I would have liked to have been educated about it, though.) The software used by board artists is pretty much limited to Toonboom's Storyboard Pro, Photoshop, and in rare cases Sketchbook Pro and Flash. And, yes, it's pretty much all on a Cintiq, now.
To answer the question regarding who are these people are that look at tests, it's usually the supervising director or producer (the kind that has some art background, if not years in the trenches.) All Human Resources does is field the portfolios, get them in front of the director/producer, at which time this director will narrow it down to a few artists that look good. Now, this is where the tests come in. Sometimes the style of the show won't be well represented in the applicant's portfolio (lots of comedy, but little or no action), or the applicant is a great artist and draughtsman, but can they do funny? In these cases the test provides a clearer case for "casting" this artist to the style of the show, and it hedges the bet of hiring him/her if there isn't quite enough evidence provided in the portfolio.
In all of my 12 years as a board artist, I have never NOT had to take a test. Even when applying for a job on another show IN HOUSE. I think Bob actually was right when he said a test is, in essence, an audition. I think auditions are a good thing. It gives the actor a fighting chance to show their stuff, and it provides concrete evidence to the casting director whether the actor can provide the TYPE of performance they are looking for. It's not insulting. It's just a part of the process. The example of an actor who got a job without needing an audition was not very helpful. She won two Oscars for God's sake. It's a neat story, but how is that applicable to 99% of the working stiffs out there? What are they supposed to pull out of their bags?
I'll use a story from my past experience to help illustrate my point. I was doing boards at Disney TV, and had a good 5 years under my belt, including being a storyboard supervisor on a movie version of the show I worked on. Theses shows were all your typical sitcom, kids in school type thing. Lots of dialogue; not too demanding in the dynamic filmmaking department. One of the action shows needed to fill a board position, and I was recommended by my old directors as well as some of the execs that worked with this director/producer of said action show. He still did not see any evidence in any of my work that I could pull off the typical action/fight scene stuff that populated this series. Neither did I! I expected to get passed over. Instead, he gave me a test, to see if I could do it. Was I indignant? No way! I was happy to be given the chance to prove myself. The director/producer liked my test and I made it onto the show. Without the test, I never would have got the job, because there was nothing in my portfolio to show him that I could do the job.
I know mine is not the most popular of positions on this topic, but I feel strongly about it. I have seen time and time again how a test has helped me, in conjunction with a strong portfolio, to get me the type of people I need to make the best show I can.