Learning from Experience.
Every month I plan to conduct an interview with a professional artist. This month’s interview is with Story Artist Tim Hodge, former Disney storyboard artist, director for Veggie Tales, illustrator, author, and college professor. Tim Hodge continues to be a major player in the animated film business. His fingerprints are on several films, and his many credits can be seen on his IMDb page here.
I recently had the pleasure of asking him some of his thoughts about what up-and-coming artists should be aware of if they were to pursue a career in storyboarding or as a concept artist.
A Conversation with Storyboard Artist Tim Hodge
I know you always have your hands in many projects going on at the same time. What are some of the projects you are working on now?
I’m in the middle of a number of things now. I mostly do freelance for a number of different studios. I just finished a storyboard for a Russian studio. I’m working on a couple of episodes for a production called “Masha and the Bear”, which is very popular on youtube around the world and is now starting to gain momentum here in the US. I also did some work for “What’s New Scooby Doo” for Warner Brothers, and some independent studio work. Most of my big stuff I just finished, so now as I wait for new stuff to come in, I finally get to work on some stuff just for me.
That’s quite a list. It’s nice to be staying busy during this pandemic. Some of my students are getting antsy sitting at home. I’m always suggesting ways to keep things light for them, especially when it comes to creating good artwork. What are you doing to stay positive during this quarantine period?
I’m one of the lucky few that’s used to working from home, so it hasn’t been a huge change for me. I’m one of the rarities. I remember when I first started working from home, not being surrounded by people took some getting used to. And now when people are forced into this situation suddenly, and can’t go out to the theater or the grocery store, it can be tough for them. That’s why in March I started three or four times a week, “How to Draw” sessions on instagram and facebook. I was showing kids how to draw Disney, Dreamworks, and Warner Brothers characters. I’m thinking about starting it up again because the audience really liked doing it. I enjoy it because it gives people some relief, and a new channel they could watch for the day. I had some kids and their grandparents from different states join these sessions swapping drawings back and forth. I was just the conduit between them, and that was uplifting for me.
What a great idea. I hope you do start that up again. I try to keep my students laughing by suggesting art games to play, like pass the drawing, or What can you make from this shape?
Yea, I love those games. Where you make a squiggle and pass it to someone and see if they could make something out of it. That reminds me of my upcoming course, “Drawing Cartoon Mythical Creatures” I created a dice game for a “mix and match” section of my lesson.
You were telling me that the college where you teach, Lipscomb University in Tennessee, is currently doing Zoom classes but will be returning to regular classes in the fall. As a college professor, what do you look for in a portfolio for students interested in story?
You know I was on the review board when I worked at the Disney Feature Animation Studio, and now when I’m looking at portfolios for the college level, it’s pretty much the same requirements. We’re looking for quality life drawing, action poses, and good solid drawing. I come across lots of students who want to get into animation but don’t have good drawing skills. I guess they think that because it’s cartoony that you don’t have to draw that well. But you absolutely do.
For Storyboarding class, I especially look for poses that can tell emotion, tell an attitude, and ultimately tell a story in one or two drawings. Not that it has to have a plot. I just want to see what’s going on inside a character’s head, whether it’s a cartoon character or a life drawing.
When I was in school, everyone wanted to be a director. Now it seems that most of my students dream of pursuing a career as a concept artist. A career in this field requires a mastery in many disciplines. What advice would you give to these up-and-coming artists?
People want to do this for a couple of reasons. One: It’s one of few job positions where you are still drawing. Animation is so much 3D and you’re using a mouse and a keyboard. Concept art is still painting, even if it’s done digitally, so you get to use those hand skills. On the other side is that you get to do more of that exploratory work. You’re digging into your imagination. You are not necessarily having a job where you’re doing what’s handed to you. If you get a scene in animation, you have to draw the character like everybody else draws and follow the prescribed director notes. But the concept artist is always exploring. It’s probably the most self-fulfilling part of the film production food chain.
For me perspective is the big one. I see a lot of kids who can draw, but once they try to put a character in a room, things fall apart for them. You have to know perspective! It’s tough but you have to learn it.
In my storyboard class, I teach the old-school Disney way of drawing on paper and pegging them up on bulletin boards, and also storyboarding on photoshop. Now all storyboarding is done digitally. What are your thoughts on animated storyboards?
I think they look really cool, but I’m against them. More studios are requiring that storyboard artists do more drawings and practically animate the boards and even cut animatics, but the deadlines haven’t changed and the pay hasn’t changed. You’re being asked to do more for the same amount of pay. The new kids coming into the field don’t know any different, so they think that’s the way it’s always been, but NO! We need to stop the studios from demanding that.
At the same time I know that it’s necessary now because so many productions are done overseas, and there’s not a contact between director and animators. The director might be in Burbank, and the animators might be in Canada, New Zealand, or Thailand. A director isn’t walking around face to face with the animators. So an animated storyboard communicates a lot more information and tells the animator exactly what the director wants. That part is necessary, but I think the storyboard artist should get longer deadlines and maybe a little more pay to do that much work.
It seems that the storyboard artist’s life has gotten more solo than what we had at The Disney Studios where you got to work together as a team. That team aspect of the business seems lost.
Oh yeah. So many studios only use freelance artists. I’m working freelance and I know a lot of people who do, and I never meet other storyboard artists working on the same project. I miss that aspect of the business, that chemistry, where you could bounce ideas off of each other and just walk around to see what other people are drawing. It’s really important.
Do you think we could have that aspect of a studio come back?
It all comes down to dollars and cents. Running a studio is extremely expensive. Especially on a T.V. show. You have 4 or 5 weeks to storyboard an episode and hopefully you have one right after that. (An entire half hour show takes about 4 months from start to final edit). Without overlapping production, a studio has to lay off a lot of people or pay them to sit around doing nothing which isn’t good business sense.
So a storyboard artist today needs to be a layout artist too?
I think that’s always been a part of television animation. In the 60’s and 70’s storyboard artists were doing a lot of the layouts. This saves a step in television production which has to be done so fast. This is another reason why the storyboard artist must know perspective. Your drawings are going to be translated into backgrounds. In a studio doing 3D animation, things are a little different. They would have a 3D model already set, and you could screengrab backgrounds to draw over. But you still have to draw the characters into the scenes.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this subject. I wish I knew all this stuff when I was in High School and College. I have a fun question for you now. Sometimes writing a second movie with the same characters can pose a problem for movie-goers. What’s your favorite movie sequel?
Ooh, that’s tough. Usually sequels aren’t any good. There usually isn’t more story to tell, the studios just want more money. But there are a few great ones. I would say “Toy Story 2” was fantastic. In some ways it’s even better than the first one, and the first one was great. The Godfather Part 2 was really good. Most of the Marvel sequels were really good, but there again they’re continuing the story. And actually, I really like “The Rescuers Down Under”. I know it didn’t do well theatrically, but I thought they did a good job relating more story to tell. I didn’t work on that one, but I liked it. These movies had a good reason to tell their stories, it wasn’t just about cashing in at the box office. Then there’s the third movie. I recently saw “Back to the Future 2”. That one was horrible, but the third one was good. Sometimes you gotta sit through the bad ones to get to the good one.
Many thanks to Tim for taking the time to do this interview.
You can check out his amazing work on instagram here. Send some good vibes his way!
His course, “Drawing Cartoon Mythical Creatures” and others can be downloaded here.
Also check out Tim’s book “Pith & Vinegar” with Shel Siverstein type poetry at StorEnvy here
and who could resist his print on demand book “31 Uses for a Zombie” on Amazon here.
Let me know what you thought of my first interview with your comments. And you can subscribe to this site from the tab at the bottom right of the screen. Thank you.