Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Storyboard tests ... an editorial and response

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

Storyboard tests

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.



Anonymous said...

Truth. Great post. You can always learn something new.

Anonymous said...

He wishes to remain anonymous because everytime he goes on and on about how his career has been greatly benefitted by taking a test for every job he's ever gotten he's gotten dumped on by everyone else that is in the majority of union members who know that tests are not warranted 99% of the time.

Guess what, I've directed, storyboarded and produced for years also and the only time a test has been given on any production I was working on is when there wasn't much interest in hiring that artist. Evry production I've worked on that is looking to fill a job doesn't have time to give tests. The job unsually needs to be filled immediately not after enough tests have been given and been reviewed.

In live-action no storyboard artist is ever tested becuase they trust portfolios and resumes and recomendations.

Tests are BS and everyone should be aware of that. If you're such an accomplished artist the look at the GD portfolio and makke a decision - if that's too hard for you then call a few peoiple and ask around. This is a VERY small industry and you';ll know withing a few phonecalls if the artist can do the work.
After that, if the artist still doesn't satisfy you then fire him and hire someone else. You have a grace period for just that reason.

Anonymous said...

someone once told me:
just as corporate makes you interview at least 3 people in order to fill any position even if you KNOW you're going to hire someone, storyboard tests are practically a requirement. It's a nice way for legal to point to something if someone sues. See? It's not age discrimination. You didn't do x on the test! Or so & so just did X better than you on the test.

don't know if that's true or not, but it's what I was told.

that being said, I once had to take a test to be an editor! it's spreading people!

Anonymous said...

It is true. I am also a Supervising Director and we need to test to see if the applicant is a good fit stylistically for the show. I see every portfolio and decide who gets a test. I have boarded for 10+ years and I have the final say who fills the position. Don't believe otherwise.

Steve Hulett said...

I don't have a problem with tests being given. Never have.

I have a problem with week-long tests being given. TAG swats down longer tests, studios agree that overlong tests are a no-no, then a new show-runner is hired on a new show and does whatever he wants ... including long tests.

The studio pays no attention. And we're back where we started.

To summarize: A test that takes a few hours, to see if a candidate can handle the style? Fine.

But a test that takes five days to complete, with the artistic lead wanting to see how the applicant does with multiple pages of a script? Not fine.

Floyd Norman said...

Some years ago, Johnny Bond gave me two drawings of Donald Duck and told me to do an inbetween. I did it, and I guess I passed.

That was over fifty years ago and I've never taken a test since, and never will.

The arguments given are B.S. and I don't buy any of it. The "big boys" know artists are easily intimidated. Keep taking tests and keep proving them right.

Anonymous said...

From his comments, I am almost certain I know the identity of the supervising director who responded to Bob. If I am correct, he is also a hypocrite. He recently refused to give me the same opportunity that had been given to him, a chance to prove that he could do a style of work that did not appear in his portfolio. He talks the talk, but he doesn't walk the walk.

Anonymous said...

I'd be shocked if he wasn't the same schmuck that got into a huge flamewar on LinkeIn when the same subject came up.
He failed to make his point other than "it's always worked for me and I've taken a test for every job I've ever gotten"

they want to ask me to prove I can draw their charcater fine (assuming they're too dense to figure it out from my portfolio fine, but if they can't figure out I can storyboard they can give the job to their friend just as they always planned.

Besides - THESE ARE STORYBOARDS! Who cres how off model the artist is?

Anonymous said...

It is obvious from the bitterness in these posts that Fox, while creating a small group of very happy WGA writers, has also created a very large army of very disgruntled artists. They should be paying more than they are.

Anonymous said...

To 3:44: Bingo. That's the guy.

To 4:56: No, not Fox.


Anonymous said...

"..they can give the job to their friend just as they always planned."

Oh, heavens no, not that. You can't have friends working together in this business.

Anonymous said...

You miss the point. Of course jobs come from friends, friends and established working relationships. It's always been that way and it will always be that way.

The point is, why put hundreds of people through difficult and time consuming tests when the slots have, essentially, already been filled?

Anonymous said...

I don't know. Why go searching for new people to hire that you don't know to hire? Why go out to try to find a job with people you don't know? Why? Why even get out of bed in the morning? Why would people do any of those things?

This thread is pointless. Same old bitter artist ranting. Typical TAG.

Anonymous said...

No, only your comment is pointless.

Anonymous said...

Let me just say this: I hate tests.

But I will gladly (almost gladly) take a test for a premise driven show. There is no way for a director to know how you think or problem solve from a portfolio or recommendations and for shows like that, the board artist should take a test.

For a scripted show, these studios can blow it out their ass. I've been in the industry for 15 years and I can very well draw what your writers put in their script. I'll draw it better than they imagined it - AND I'll solve all of the problems and inconsistencies they stuck in there too. You can see my abilities in my portfolio and you can call my references for the word on my work ethic.

Here's a little hint for studios with scripted shows: if you want a crappy crew, give out really long tests. You'll be sure to weed out people who are excellent at their job and hire people who are desperate for a job. Desperation does not equal competence and you'll have as bad a crew as if you took the first 6 people who walked in the door.

A scripted show...

Please. The majority of these scripts being made in this town are DEPENDENT on storyboard artists to reconfigure them just so they make sense. The pool of talent for board artists in Los Angeles is twice as talented as the animation writers.

That goes for Fox Studios. Don't take their tests. You AREN"T going to get the job and you are going to spend 4 days working for free. You'd be better off working on your web page for 4 days straight. Trust me, I've worked there and maybe 10% of the people are hired from the tests they give out. The odds are no in your favor and their scripts are horrendous. Go somewhere else. hose McFarlane shows are like a hazing for people who just got out of college.

Anonymous said...

anonymous at 9:59 brings up an excellent point. Why would you want to hire an artist that had the time to take a test? A couple of hours (at most) to prove you can draw a character should be sufficent if you, as a director or producer, can't figure it out from their portfolio.

Anonymous said...

Wow, whoever you are, Anon 9:59, that's a brilliant post and the gospel truth. Especially this part:

"if you want a crappy crew, give out really long tests. You'll be sure to weed out people who are excellent at their job and hire people who are desperate for a job."

Anonymous said...

It's simple. Don't take the long Fox tests (and tests from companies that have adopted for that sad production model.) But don't draw such a hard line about the practice so as to cheat yourself out of opportunities that might come your way.

Anonymous said...

What if one is contacted personally by the producer to take a boarding test? How would you guys interpret that? Might that person stand a realistic chance?

Anonymous said...

If one is contacted personally by the producer, then one should expect to be hired immediately. That's what happened to me whenever I heard directly from a producer. To take the trouble to recruit someone and then demand that they take a test is beyond bad manners; it's piggish. The contract, (and law, I believe), provides a generous probation period during which an employee can be fired without cause or recourse. When talent was a little more scarce, producers considered it a risk worth taking. That makes a lot more sense, and certainly more humane. Between us and our employers, who is more equipped to absorb the risk?

Bronnie said...

While I don't know who Bob's responder is, I do find it bothersome that he's chosen to do so anonymously. If you're confident in what you're saying,why hide who you are?

stevenem said...

You should know who it is, Bronnie. Don't you recognize his story from the Linked In discussion you initiated?

Anonymous said...

Not only doesn't he know what he's talking about as far as talent and tests he doesn't even have a clue what a small community animation is. He thought he could go anonymous and no one would recognize his BS "test are great" rhetoric?

Bronnie said...

It may well indeed be the same person, Steve..I had a pretty good idea, but I didn't want to make assumptions.
I don't have a huge problem with FAIR testing;and on the Linked In thread, this fellow(if it IS the same guy) was objecting to anything over a script page,which was why I was glad that he, as a director chimed in and defended my point. That said,I was somewhat amused that he was inadvertently denouncing a testing procedure practiced by the very studio he works for.

stevenem said...

Now I'm confused. This person works at a studio where they do all three: First, they review your portfolio, then, if, and only if they think you are worthy, (unlike this individual's previous employer), they deign to give you a test. If you pass the test, they invite you in for an interview, presumably to make sure (?)you'll be nice to work with and not too "old." It's easier to get a Nobel Prize.

Also, it's a little bit disingenuous for this person to claim that he had to test for EVERY job he ever had. I work at the same studio he had previously, at the same time, and I got hired on the strength of my portfolio and experience.

Anonymous said...

For those that think one page of script is fair for a test: a script page can translate up to 75 panels and can minimally take 2 1/2 days to rough and cleanup - especially on a gag or action show.
As a working storyboarder I sure don't have time to do that much work without any guarantee of money.
Anyone that does probably isn't someone you would want to hire.
I can understand tests for storyboard clean-up, (a half dozen panels should be adequate), but trying to give a test for storyboard is a joke and any prefessional storybaorder knows it. The only time a test is given by anyone of serious credentials is if you don't have any smples in your portfolio and they really don't think you can do the work. The chances of someone getting hired is pretty slim in most cases.

Anonymous said...

To poster 11:18:
So let me get this straight--If some one is between jobs and has time to test, that's an automatic assumption that they're no good? Seems like a pretty clueless way to throw lots of babies out with the bathwater.. I know someone VERY talented who was out of work for several months..She did take one of those really long tests for Nickelodeon, (almost killed herself to do it,barely making the deadline--) but got hired.

Anonymous said...

I have to a gree with poster @ 11:18 - and I'll guess you're the director/producer/genius/test taker blowhard that was the original anonymous speaking out of your ass.
If 'your friend' was that good she wouldn't need to almost kill herself to get work - and wouldn't have been out of work for several months. I've had to turn down 2 freelance jobs in the last 2 months alone. There's a ton of storyboard work out there right now for the VERY talented. None of the rest of us VERY talented storyboard artists take these stupid tests and if 'your friend' refused then maybe they would stop giving them out.
But thsi little story sure helps bolster your BS doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

To poster 2:42: Just curious; how many of the offers you turned down came from studios you never worked with before? I find your self flattery quite obnoxious. Your contention that ANYONE who is out of work for any length of time is untalented is childish and stupid. She did get the job, didn't she? In that studio, even getting the test showed that her portfolio was impressive. I'm sure you are good enough to deliver professionally, but, when you get a job offer, is it because your VERY talented, or just very well connected?

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