Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Board Artists

At last night's General Membership Meeting, there was a lengthy back-and-forth on storyboard artists, their current pressures and current schedules.

Show schedules are too short.

Production people want way more panels than a "Bill Peet" style board. You have to almost animated the action for the animatic.

In features, they throw out part of a sequence and want you to reboard three new pages of script Friday to Monday, so you work all weekend.

There are feature supervisors who brag on-line that they're working on a show until 2 A.M.

Artists work unpaid overtime because they're afraid they'll get laid off if they don't keep the quality up and meet the show's deadlines.

New board artists come in and have no problem working late for no pay. They're happy to be working and have a job. ...

The issues that cropped up at yesterday's gathering are much the same as those here, a couple of years ago. Among the complaints then:

1) Cramped work schedules.

2) The general corporate/department rule (with exceptions) that: "There's NO money in the budget for overtime, so DON'T ASK."

3) The issue of multi-tasking. Board artists today often have to A) Design, B) Be layout artists, C) Work as animatics editors, D) Pose out animation. ...

Members noted that a lot of artists are frightened of losing their jobs, and so work uncompensated overtime to hang onto their jobs.

The Business Representative (me) responded that studios complain that they can't find skilled, experienced board artists now, so there is not a lot of truth to the fear of layoff.

(Another artist said that he knows of a slow co-worker who has been late with his assigned shows time and again, yet has never been laid off. In fact, the artist has seldom if ever heard of anyone being laid off because of slowness.)

My take: Evolving technologies have made storyboarding more challenging over time. Paper story and production boards are finit. Animatics (digital story reels with demi animation, layouts, sound effects, voice tracks) are the coin of the realm.

Production management expects a lot more drawing, acting and movement in digital story reels than it did fifteen years ago. The observations that a "Bill Peet storyboard" wouldn't work today is right as regards the number of drawings a modern board requires, but not right as regards acting and image quality.

What's needed in the workplace is:

1) A culture where no overtime is worked unless it's paid for. ("Forty hours means forty hours.")

2) Sharing of information: Production schedules, wage rates, etc.

3) Collegiality and support.

4) The knowledge that every studio (and every show inside a studio) is somewhat different. (The production manager on Show X is flexible and understanding about problems; the show creator on Show G wants the characters precisely on models and you'd better not be late turning in your work.)


Grant said...

"studios complain that they can't find skilled, experienced board artists"

One of the problems is that the people saying this have NO idea what they're talking about. The true interpretation of this is "we can't find enough young talent who will work cheaply and just do what they're told."

But the bigger problem is there are more and more people in production AND management who simply do not know how to read a storyboard, and need more and more drawings to help them figure out what they don't want. Is the skill of "mind reading" covered by the Guild? Those who can I bet are highly in demand.

Steve Hulett said...


I was with a show runner at one of our fine, signator studios YESTERDAY. He's an animation veteran of thirty years experience. An artist.

And he said to me: "All the people I usually get to do the type of boards we need done are working for one of our competitors. One of them is working at Amazon and another at DreamWorks TV. There's a lot more internet product, not just the cable and broadcast stuff, and people are taken. I'm having trouble staffing."

There are "cartoony" boards ... and super hero/action boards ... and there aren't a huge number of people who can do both styles to the exacting specifications of various show runners at the various studios. But if you have the right skill sets, you are in demand.

davidbfain said...

Id be curious to know how the board artists' feel about the additional timing they are asked to work out when using software like storyboard pro. As an animatic editor I have seen more and more of the work I use to do passed off to the storyboard dept.

Steve Hulett said...

Animatics work is under the Editors Guild jurisdiction, but some studios have no Editors Guild contract, so board artists end up building animatics.

In the past, some board artists have not been happy editing animatics together, while others have told me they like it.

However, NOBODY likes it when they're not paid for doing the work.

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