Monday, May 18, 2015

The Seven Healthy Habits of Highly Effective Freelance Artists

So much has been written in career columns about how to survive as a freelancer, that it's daunting to offer any new insight.  How to stay positive amidst the slow periods? How to get things done when you're your own boss? How to say "no" to friends and family who think you're home on vacation?

While advice on these topics is valuable for the freelance artist, anyone who finds it a challenge to work independently at home will appreciate these SEVEN simple points as essential to your health and well-being.
1) Get 8 hours sleep.
In my twenties, I would deprive myself of sleep, thinking that I could accomplish more creative artwork if I could sleep less. Twenty-plus years later, this same behavior will threaten to kill me. Caffeine, Ginseng and 5 Hour Energy Drinks are no substitute for what your body needs.  With 8 hours sleep, I'm less cranky and more able to deal with adversity than when I burn the candle at both ends. Sure, I still pull the occasional all-nighter when needed. But having a full 8 hours sleep is the key to a productive day. For creative night owls like me, this reality was a hard one to accept. Listen to your body when it craves rest. You will enjoy the stamina you get in return.

2) Write it down and get it done.
I keep a "to do" list of things I must do every day, and star each in order of priority. In this manner I can balance my day and quickly recollect what I need to accomplish to stay on the success path. Write down your dreams, your goals, your plans. Make a separate list for today's goals, short term goals and another for long term goals. You are more likely to reach them once you can verbalize them and put a deadline to them.

3) What do you listen to while you work?
When I'm cranking out frame after frame of storyboards for my latest commercial spot, I've got to determine what background noise will make me most productive. Music sites like Pandora, iTunes, podcasts,  audio books (LibriVox has public domain audio books that you can download for free), or my CD collection all provide choices to complement my mood. TV show reruns, movies on Netflix or DVDs like Family Guy, Star Trek or Columbo are great for those late night deadlines. It's key that you've seen the program previously, so you aren't compelled to watch while working. Directors commentaries add an informative listening experience that will entertain you while conditioning you to embrace your workload. 

Listening effects your work speed and concentration levels. Know what makes you productive and what slows you down. What you listen to is as important as when you listen to it. Although I love BBC World News, I can feel myself shifting to slow gear after an hour or two. In this case, I'll change my state of mind and my physiology by jacking up some Blondie or B-52's.  In some cases, silence may be all you need. "Know thyself" and you will feed the artist within.

4) Break regularly.
I've learned that working long hours builds stamina and promotes artistic break-throughs.  But sitting too long in one position isn't good. Experts say a break every 25 minutes or so maximizes your focus. Get up and grab some coffee, take out the trash, empty the dishwasher… just step away for five minutes. If you don't, your neck, back, and hands will notice. Try hitting a deadline with a stiff neck, achy back, or cramped fingers…it ain't fun. Healthy habits will avoid that problem.  No matter how euphoric you may feel while painting your latest masterpiece, take breaks often. When you return to your desk you'll evaluate your progress with more objectivity.

5) Drink water.
Sounds boring doesn't it? That's because it is, at least for me. The only time I crave water is when I am parched with thirst. If that is your experience, your body is crying out for hydration. We all know muscle cramps can result from insufficient water intake, and who needs aching hamstrings when on deadline? If water doesn't tempt your palette, try adding a squeeze of lemon to each glass. It stimulates your metabolism and adds some flavor to natures' universal solvent.

In love with your favorite coffee blend? No worries. I love coffee and can drink it all day, and I would, too, if Chock-Full-O-Nuts wasn't so Chock-Full-O-Bad Breath. After one or two cups, wash those coffee beans down with a big glass of water. You'll feel a bit cleaner and healthier inside.

6) Exercise!
If you're anything like me, you let the exercise slip all too often. Jog, lift weights, jump rope like Rocky, shoot hoops, play Frisbee, rollerblade - whatever floats your boat. Stay active and hydrate. After a morning run or hike, I feel energized and focused for a day in the studio. And that habit from #5 is a heck of a lot easier to enforce, as your body craves water after fitness. If jogging is your latest thing, here's a tip: The app "Map My Run" is a free download for your mobile device that will help you track and measure your progress. You can share your results with other runners in real-time, which makes it more fun to exercise.

7) Motivate yourself.
How do you keep plugging away when you have an onslaught of storyboards to finish by midnight? Can't get through that dull bookkeeping or the next round of phone calls?

Whatever your task, find motivators to get you through each phase. Maybe 5 minutes of your favorite movie trailers, an after-lunch frappuccino, or a bite of that dark chocolate you hid in the freezer for special occasions may serve as a small motivator. The smaller and less frequent the reward, the more relevant it will be as an instant motivator.

It's important not to use motivators continually or they will lose their effectiveness. 
Dolphin trainers in parks like Sea World reward their mammals with a fish snack after every few tricks they perform. The dolphins don't know when their reward is coming, but the possibility of getting a snack any minute for their hard work keeps them motivated. This technique may be controversial, but it shows that the principle of random rewards is effective at bolstering peak performance. As a result, you are building good habits and experiencing a gratifying feeling of accomplishment. 

8) Socialize
I know, I promised SEVEN habits, but hopefully you aren't counting… .
Make it a habit to reach out to an old friend, acquaintance or family member on a regular basis. A five minute phone call to say "hello" helps reassure you that you are not alone in the world. Schedule a short lunch with a friend or colleague during the workday, or meet for a coffee break.

I have a daily ritual where I call one of my best friends  who I've known since fifth grade. We were clowns then and we are still clowns now. Although we have plenty of serious business and personal matters to discuss, every phone call is punctuated with seemingly pointless joking and humor. The light-hearted vibe that ensues reminds us that humor is present in almost any situation.

Old friends are like throwing on old pair of jeans, sneakers and a tee shirt. One always feels comfortable with them. If you haven't caught up with an old friend recently, make some time for it. Your soul needs it, your friendships will flourish, and your effectiveness at work will strengthen.

If these habits sound familiar, good for you.  If not, I hope you will find success with just ONE of them.
Ultimately, good habits mixed with talent and perseverance will lead to your freelance longevity and lasting career rewards. Good luck, and get busy! 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Art Directors: 5 Steps for Choosing a Storyboard Artist

In today's ever-advancing technology of commercials, film, animation, cable and video games, hiring the right creative for the job is more important than ever.

As an Art Director you may only get one chance to sell your intentions to clients, executives, colleagues or peers. While Power Point presentations, sizzle reels, and handouts are informative and explanatory, they don’t always satisfy emotionally. That’s when you need a Storyboard Artist.  

In my experience as a Storyboard Artist, the line-quality, value, color, design and stylizations of illustrated storyboards triggers a provocative, gut-level response in clients. 

If you are an Art Director thinking of hiring a Storyboard Artist for you next visual presentation, here are 5 Steps that will likely get you a perfect match.

1. Need a Pair of Hands or Partner in Creativity?
Some Art Directors know exactly what they want. Some don’t. Which Storyboard Artist you pick will be based on your needs.

Do you want someone who is eager to collaborate? Help solve story problems? Are you open to suggestions?
If so, find a Storyboard Artist who can help develop your shot list. They will sit with you and draw thumbnails (postage stamp-sized sketches) and roughs based on your ideas, and discuss solutions for any roadblocks that concern you.

Reach out and ask something like "Have you any experience brainstorming ideas with a director, writer, etc.? Are you good working with a team of creatives, in a conference room setting or similar set-up?

If they answer "Yes" then bring them in. Most Storyboard Artists bring their own supplies, but if you are dead-set on them using an Eberhard Faber col-erase #1280 pencil, please mention it. Very few of my clients ever get this specific. Most will ask for “pencil sketches” when what they really mean are “rough drawings.” What medium I choose matters little to them at this stage, as long as I am communicating the important visuals.

On the other hand, if you are an Art Director, Director, Producer, Writer, etc. who has every shot visualized in your head, you want to hire an artist who is comfortable interpreting your images literally, right down to hairstyles, wardrobes and camera angles.  You can give them the shot list with appropriate references and come back later to see their progress.

2. Style Counts: Door Number 1 or Door Number 2?
Unlike "Let's make a Deal", choosing a perfect storyboard artist need not be a frantic guessing game. It helps to know what kind of “look and feel” will sell your idea.

For instance, if you have a classy, conservative visual campaign for Mercedes, you may want a shiny style with lots of polish. A cartoony look may not have the sophisticated feel for your Mercedes spot, but it may be perfect for selling dishwashing detergent.

Office colleagues might refer you to a Storyboard Artist they’ve worked with. Colleagues don’t make referrals lightly, because if you have a bad experience with a referral, it comes back to them. In any case, make sure you review the artists work before you hire them, otherwise you can end up with a guy who does Bugs Bunny when you really want Norman Rockwell (both great, I may add).

If the artsits’ on-line gallery is overwhelming, showing too much work to decipher, an artist rep may be of help.

Art reps may have anywhere between 30 - 50 artists that they represent, sometimes more. For help narrowing down your choices, call the agent and ask whom they might recommend. If realism is a factor, mention that. If the ability to work in loose sketches is more important, with a lot of changes along the way, then be clear that you need someone agile enough to take feedback without getting annoyed.  Reps invest a great deal of time working with their artists – they know their personality, work ethic, specialties and weaknesses.
They are a great resource, and will give you a fair market rate while working with your budget.


3. On-Site or Off-Site?
If you need to interact and brainstorm together, obviously working on site is ideal. Even if you have a shot list they are simply illustrating, you may want them near so you can review progress, or grab some colleagues to join the both of you to see if the idea is working. On-site allows you to build a presentation using the rough frames as placeholders, and gives you a chance to change direction quickly, deliver quick feedback, and even learn more about each other as you build a working relationship.
(Hint: Make sure you request a workspace from the office manager ahead of time, or they will be standing around while you deal with office protocol).

Perhaps you're very busy and don’t have time to direct another staff member. In that case, an artist working remotely from his home-studio will be perfect. Their home office/studio is probably customized they way they like it, with a powerful computer, back-up hard drives, monitor, tablet, scanner, printer, and/or traditional supplies. Add their favorite influences and inspiration like music, audio books, podcasts, and bookshelves of reference material, they can be briefed via phone and/or email, and begin cranking out frames while you tend to other matters. They can send you jpgs or a pdf that you can review while you eat lunch at your desk.

4. You Get What You Pay For:
Seasoned Pro or Storyboard-Wanna-Be?

If you are going to spend your companies tightly rolled greenbacks on a Storyboard Artist, they'd better be worth it. 

Does the artist you're interested in have a good track record? Do they have an impressive or reputable list of clients? Do they tell you something about themselves, why they do what they do? Or are they forthcoming or nebulous about their process?

These days it seems the pressure is to address costs first and quality second. Your colleagues' cousins' girlfriend likes to draw - and you can get her for cheap. But when the final frames come in, will your client love them? Will YOU love them?

One of the most rewarding aspects of my job as a Storyboard Artist is when someone walks up to my artwork and says "Wow! These are amazing, Tony!!"  I want every member of the creative team that worked with me to feel confident that my Storyboards enhance their pitch.

And that’s the way I would want the Art Director to feel when you pin up the storyboards, show the animatic, and walk in the door on three hours sleep to meet the client in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, wherever. If I can create that certainty between my clients and their clients, then I’ve done a great job as a Storyboard Artist.

Bottom line: ask yourself if the Storyboard Artist is going to elevate your pitch to the “Wow” level.

5: Clarify Expectation and Pipelines - for BOTH of You.
Define what you want and what you expect up-front, early in the partnership. Agree upon delivery times. Review production pipelines. Ask the Storyboard Artist what makes sense to them in terms of workflow and delivery. 

Are you both clear on what is expected? What size are the frames? What resolution? Will you look at thumbnails or only want to see rough sketches? Will you submit notes in writing for the artist to address, or discuss face-to-face? What time do you need the first pass, second pass, and finished frames? Do you want the final frames high fidelity (very polished) or just tightened up a bit? Or perhaps you want to let the process unfold organically, see how it develops and plan from there.

If your expectations are set early, it’s more than likely that your Storyboard Artist will meet them with flying colors. You'll experience a smooth production cycle and have a working relationship you can count on for subsequent campaigns.

Regardless of your Art Direction and leadership style, there is definitely a Storyboard Artist who best fits your needs.

What approach has works for you? I’d love to hear about it and share it in this column. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Fezziwig's Ballroom, from "A Christmas Carol"

"In they all came, one after another - some shyly, some boldly;
some gracefully, some awkwardly; some pushing, some pulling
- in they all came, anyhow and everyhow."
It's that time of the year. With my latest "A Christmas Carol" illustration, I emphasize the joy of Christmas through Fezziwig's Christmas Ball.  Dickens wrote his tale about a man who hated Christmas, but what we really see is a lesson in compassion and redemption.

The brilliant writer Charles Dickens published "A Christmas Carol" in December 1843. It was a critical success, gaining acclaim and praise in literary circles. It did not, however make the profit Dickens was hoping for, primarily because of his decision to self-publish amidst rising printing costs. Over time, the book's moral lesson of love, generosity and compassion has helped redefine the spirit and importance of Christmas.

You don't have to be a non-Christian to realize that the world's most popular holiday is based on tradition. The Catholic Church adopted the holiday as a way to compete with the ancient Roman Saturnalia festival. Originally called the Feast of the Nativity, by the end of the eighth century,  Christmas spread all the way to Scandinavia. Many of the old pagan customs were resurrected as Christmas became more popular. Hence the gift giving, tree trimming, and sending holiday cards.

Not everyone believes in God, Christ, Jesus, or even a Higher Power.  Our nation (I'm speaking as an American, mind you) was founded on principles of faith under "God," the prevailing dogma of the colonists and mother-England of the time.  For traditions sake, can't the sticklers afford to interpret our historical anthems and slogans so that we honor the tradition from which they were born? If so, I hope we can mention a "Merry Christmas" now and then without offending anyone. 

Regardless of what religion, faith or nationality we are, let's "lighten up" a bunch. Forgive me and other Christmas-philes for not wishing you "Happy Holidays" Season's Greetings, or "Happy Hanukkah." If we know each other, chances are I know which holiday you celebrate, and I greet you appropriately. If I am not aware that you are celebrating the "Festival of Lights", "Ramadan," "Kwanza," or "Boxing Day," know that I am wishing you the best of the season, glad tidings and Happy New Year.  I'm not mistakenly assuming you celebrate Christmas or believe in Baby Jesus by saying "Merry Christmas." It's my way of saying "I'm celebrating" Christmas. If you can enjoy the lights and carols on the way, then that's enough for me. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"The Red Tent" Pitch Art

I recently created the pitch art for the A&E adaptation of "The Red Tent" novel by Anita Diamant. With a period story like this, I used costume reference that the AD shared with me. I gained some design inspiration from movies like Lawrence of Arabia and used specific colors to indicate the emotional content of each sequence. 

For example, I wanted the tent interiors to be dominated by warm earth tones to represent the safety of the women's gathering place. I painted over a red backdrop for the violent shots, and contrasted the colorful costume of the queen against the drab robe of the subjected heroine.

Unlike visual development and concept art created for a green-lit production, most "pitch art" I've developed has a relatively fast turnaround time. In this instance, I work as quickly as possible on the roughs, submitting them for sign off, and producing the finished art immediately upon approval. It was more than a solid week's worth, as opposed to months of work producing images for bigger productions.

My entire process for The Red Tent generated many more images than shown here, but these frames were some of my favorites.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Adrien Brody Breaks Loose on History Channel's "Houdini" Spot

Recently, I caught the promotional spot for History Channel's "Houdini" starring Adrien Brody. The original idea for the spot used storyline montages to emphasize Houdini's greatest fears. As is common in this industry, the plans were changed to accommodate a revised schedule, resulting in the stylish spot shown in the above stills. 

Filmed in an abandoned power plant in Hungary (where the series was filmed, though don't quote me on this), the mysterious lighting from the fragmented window-ceiling panels adds to the alluring nature of Houdini's persona.
Erik Blair is one of my favorite writer/directors to collaborate with. He provides me with a script, and together we rough out a shot list and camera angles. We discuss my thumbnail scribbles, and work up the frames.  My storyboards for the full-up were loose and designed quickly with minimal detail.  What results is a psychological portrait of a man obsessed with his craft, whose fame is burdened with loneliness and his own mortality.

Some of the story moments from the original concepts are shown below. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"Planet of the Apes" Tee-Shirt Winners!

Thanks to the peeps who entered the POTA tee-shirt giveaway.
Congratulations to Candace Baker Leit and Ed Brickler who will be recieving their new shirts soon!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Summer on the Planet of the Apes

Apedoms favorite likeness of Cornelius (Roddy McDowell)
as painted by Ken Barr. Love the color choices in the face.

As the month of July blockbuster movies approach, the new entry in the "Planet of the Apes"} franchise opens July 11 with "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." Now is perfect timing for me to share my favorite POTA comic book art, published by Marvel Comics in the mid 1970's when Ape fever was enjoying a resurrection with comics, a prime-time TV series and a Saturday morning cartoon.

I picked up this issue of POTA magazine #12 for a whopping dollar bill, when that was a lot of money for a kid. Anything printed in black and white in those days struck me as sophisticated. One chance to flip through the pages showed me I was right. 

Stellar pencil work by Tom Sutton. Ballsy  then and still ballsy today.
In contrast to many of today's comic book artists,
it's obvious that Sutton was not a slave to photo reference. 

Writers like Doug Moenich and artist like Tom Sutton were ahead of their time. With innovative ideas for environments and settings, the story titled "City of Nomads"  takes an unusual POV, a far cry from the 1968 classic motion picture (starring my then-favorite thespian, Charlton Heston).

Top: (left to right) Maurice Evans, Heston, and the
strikingly sexy Linda Harrison in the 1968 POTA.
Bottom: If this is a spoiler, you need help.

On a huge ship akin to Noah's Ark, the city of Hydromeda is divided into two districts and beset by a class struggle. Orangutans rule, Chimpanzees work, and Gorillas revolt. Humans row the giant ship in an aimless struggle to navigate the seas. A masked assassin eliminates the ruling class, the Chimps wage war against the gorrilla uprising, and the human slaves break free to add to the chaos.

A monstrous fish makes a monkey out of the orangatan king
in Tom Sutton's simian fish fry.

Tom Sutton's pages boast black and white pencil art, a rarity for any comic magazine. His designs, characters and embellishments are complimented by the expert moody pencil rendering, making the story a tour-de-force of skill. Just look at the giant fish served at the Ape feast. After the assassin strikes his victim and the table is overturned, the jaws of the devoured carcass are big enough for the king to hide inside. Perhaps a comment that the gluttonous ruling class are about to be devoured by their own greed? 

Rennaisance apes and pirate gorillas.
I am guessing Sutton used the heavy lead of a
graphite or draghting pencil to punch up his darks and contours.

Tim Roth as Thade
in Burton's 2001 remake
In this dark vision of the Apes saga, the artist could easily have utilized the wardrobe and production design of any of the 5 original Ape films. Instead, Tom Sutton creates a look that any Hollywood production designer would be grateful to invent. It suggests endless interpretations of the myriad societies that may exist in an post-atom bomb century or centuries as portrayed in the POTA film franchise.  Sutton blends Northern Renaissance costume design, Robin Hood, Spartacus-style battles, pirate cutlasses and primitive constructs to make his pages a prolific entry into comic book history. The POTA films and TV series that followed merely reiterated the art and design of the original film, diluting its originality with each entry. The TV series in 1974 followed the same premise as the films, but with a fraction of the budget - astronauts fly into the future and land on an earth ruled by apes. The humans there are not as primitive as the humans in the first film. It could be argued that they are descendants of the negative zone humans from the last and worst Ape film, "Battle of the Planet of the Apes," which supposedly takes the POTA story arc full circle. Tim Burton's 2001 POTA remake explored something of a promising reinvention in costume and design, but nowhere near as unusual as Suttons pencils.

(L. to r.):Roddy McDowell, James Naughton and Ron Harper
in the short-lived weekly TV show which debuted in September 1974.

Today, audiences demand a reinvention, not just a remake. Why deal with astronauts at all when storytellers can choose to tell stories that take place anywhere at anytime on the POTA's. One can envision Apes in the jungles of Southeast Asia, Mexico, Russia, or the Congo. The visual styles can draw inspiration from Aboriginal art, Futurism, African Art, Art Deco, Islamic motifs, Japanese patterns, etc. Imagine a weekly cable TVseries with the budget of today's top-of-the-line shows like "Game of Thrones" or "Vikings," each week a different story somewhere on The Planet of the Apes. With this concept approach and various untested schools of visual vocabulary, the possibilities for production design are endless. 

"The first one to bring me a banana gets
two extra tickets to next weeks Simian Dance Recital!"
Above: Still from the upcoming "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes."

Enjoy the premiere of the July 11th film. I'm sure it will be an ambitious entry that will validate a retelling of the Ape saga and satisfy audiences. It will prove that we love our Apes any way we can get them...even if the approach isn't as original as the one dreamed up by Tom Sutton and Doug Moenich. The magic of the printed story is that one artist and one writer can create a universe unto itself in a matter of weeks or months. The resulting treasure is timeless. 


Leave a comment on this post to enter the "Summer on the Planet of the Apes" tee shirt giveaway. Winner will be chosen at random and will be announced on July 16, 2014. Winners must have a valid mailing address and will be contacted via email for shipping.