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.