I would like to introduce you to Wendy Grieb. She makes a living as a storyboard artist. A storyboard artist’s job is to tell the story in pictures.
Usually they are given a script to read and then they draw how the cartoon will look. The storyboard is used as a type of blueprint for what the animators will do through the acting, staging, and camera moves.
Wendy has worked on the storyboard of a well-known TV cartoon (don’t have company approval to mention the name). Storyboarding is a part of the animation process.
As a kid I always loved drawing, The Muppets, Disney movies, and dreamed of illustrating children’s books.
I graduated with a BFA in drawing from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. I taught art to elementary children for five years; then moved to California where I began working as a storyboard artist.
I have worked on a variety of productions, winning an Annie Award for storyboarding in 2004. I have also served as an animation development artist, children’s book illustrator, and character designer for companies such as Nickelodeon, Sony, Klasky-Csupo, White Wolf, etc.
I am completing my Masters degree in Illustration at California State University of Fullerton and will be graduating this spring. Being in school has provided me the opportunity to refine my drawing, painting, and illustrating skills and to explore a variety of illustration mediums. I had the opportunity to design and create my own short animated film, “The Littlest Valkyrie”, which I also adapted into a storybook. I enjoy sculpture and created a maquette of the main character of the young Viking girl from my film as well as a sculpture of one of my monsters and a giant from Jack and the Beanstalk. When I draw, paint, or sculpt I want my illustrations to tell a story and involve the viewer emotionally.
I have also designed and had manufactured my own line of plush toys called Fuzzlelumps! Fuzzlelumps are cute little monsters that live in various nooks and crannies, in dark closets, and under beds. My husband and I have also written a story about the Fuzzlelumps for which I have created illustrations and put together a rough dummy book.
When I’m not drawing, I love to read books, play games and spend time with my family.
Here is the process:
This is an illustration from one of my stories about a boy and a monster he befriends. I do sometimes draw in a sketch book, but prefer to work out my illustrations digitally from rough sketches to finished illustration on my tablet PC or Cintiq.
1. Before I start an illustration, I like to work out the design of my characters. I draw them in various poses and emotions. Here are the final designs of the boy and the monster that I chose.
2. Next I create several rough thumbnail sketches of an idea I have for an illustration with the characters I have designed. I then take my favorite composition and sketch a rough drawing for painting. My sketches are done using a program called Alias Sketchbook Pro or TVPaint. I bring this sketch into Corel Painter and place it on its own layer on top. My drawings are usually rough and the refinement comes as I paint.
3. I then reduced the image in size, so that I do not get hung upon details, and create some color studies to help decide on color temperatures and lighting.
4. Once I have an idea of how I want to proceed in terms of color and light, I reduce the opacity of the sketch layer to 50% and begin painting. I work using many layers, the background on its own layer, the foreground, middle ground, characters, etc. will also be on their own layer. This makes it easy if I want to make changes.
5. When I feel I am nearly finished with the painting I turn off the sketch layer and finish painting.
6. After the painting is done, I add in details on a separate layers, such as the stitching on the blanket in this illustration, and the outlining of the boy, bed, etc.
I see you have your BFA. How has that helped you with the storyboarding jobs you’ve been doing?
Having a degree has not helped in getting a job, the drawing skill that I honed while in school and continued to develop has been invaluable in my job. Storyboarding is a demanding job requiring a high level of drawing skill as well as a knowledge of filmmaking, acting, etc.
What was the first thing you illustrated and got paid for?
When I was 13 I illustrated a poster for a lady at church and to my surprise she paid me twenty dollars! I was elated. It was the first time I realized I could get paid for drawing.
When you moved to CA, did it take a lot of time to get your foot in the door as a storyboard artist?
My husband and I made a trip to California one summer, staying with friends while shopping around our portfolios. We both found work as a result of this trip. I first worked as a character artist in the licensing department at Film Roman; 5 months later I was hired as a storyboard artist.
Tell us a little about the world of a storyboard artist.
I get to draw all day every day. Storyboarding is a very rewarding job; I work with interesting people and have had the opportunity to work on a variety of exciting productions. I love my job and the past 15 years have flown by.
Normally I work with an existing script, but sometimes have worked on productions which ask me to storyboard and write. Usually I have 5 or 6 weeks to complete one storyboard. A storyboard is usually about 550 drawings long. All the storyboards are drawn digitally on Cintiqs; we draw into a program called ToonBoom Storyboard Pro. The TV cartoon I am working on is premise based show, meaning the storyboard artists are provided with an outline of the story and they are responsible for writing and drawing the show. The first two weeks are for roughing out the story with drawings, which are next pitched to the director. The next two weeks are used to rough out the story with any changes they received at the first pitch. The final two weeks are for cleaning up the rough storyboard and making any changes. Once a show is completed, the process starts all over again.
My job responsibilities are somewhat different as I am the artist who specializes in storyboarding songs that occur in each episode. I am given a song and the lyrics and a brief description of what is going on in the story up until the point of the song and what the director wants to see happen in the song. Most of the songs I do involve dancing, which I can draw very well.
Was that an easy transition into animation?
I did not transition into animation. Storyboarding is one aspect of the animation process. Storyboards are the blueprints for the animation, they tell the animators what to animate. While in school for my Masters I animated a short film which was a lot of work and late nights. I learned a great deal and had a great deal of fun creating my own film.
Do mention you work in a lot of mediums. Which one do you enjoy doing the most?
I used to work traditionally on paper. In my illustrations I liked to use watercolors with ink outline. Now I work almost completely digitally. I sometimes will draw in a sketchbook I carry around with me. I do all my finished illustrations digitally using a Wacom Cintiq or my Tablet PC. I love to work digitally in Corel Painter for my color illustrations. I like to use the chalk tools in Painter. For sketching I love the pencils in Corel 11 on my Cintiq since you can tilt the stylus and it acts and looks just like the side of a pencil . I also like to sketch in Alias sketchbook Pro and TVPaint.
I asked Wendy to give us a little more detail on her job as a storyboard artist.
I draw all my storyboards using a Cintiq. My specialty is songs on the show. I am given a song and I draw everything that happens in the song; dancing, montages, what ever is required. For the most part I am usually given songs with dancing since I am very good at drawing interesting and creative dances/posing, and because I also have a good understanding of animation, I can pose out a dance short of actually animating it.
We are given a packet of art that has backgrounds, characters, size comparisons, props (ex. cars, beds, etc.)and we use these as reference when storyboarding. We need to draw on model as best as possible. I do draw the characters the way they should look.
The show is traditionally animated, meaning it is still handdrawn. All the work done here is completely digital. I draw all my storyboards using a Cintiq. My specialty is songs here on the show. I am given a song and I draw everything that happens in the song; dancing, montages, what ever is required. For the most part I am usually given songs with dancing since I am very good at drawing interesting and creative dances/posing, and because I also have a good understanding of animation, I can pose out a dance short of actually animating it.
We are given a packet of art that has backgrounds, characters, size comparisons, props (ex. cars, beds, etc.)and we use these as reference whenstoryboarding. We need to draw on model as best as possible. I do draw the characters the way they should look.
When did you decide you wanted to illustrate children’s books?
Since I was very young I have loved to draw. My favorite books were children’s books and their illustrations. Maurice Sendak and “Where the Wild Things Are” was my favorite.
You mention that you and your husband have written a picture book. Did you do it digitally?
Not initially. My husband wrote out the manuscript and I sketched out the dummy book. Later I redid the drawings digitally improving on the page layouts and compositions.
Do you ever touch up your illustrations in Photoshop or Painter?
I do all my illustrations in Painter. When I finish painting I take them into Photoshop, mainly to prepare them for printing.
Do you own a graphic tablet? If so, which one?
I own a Wacom Cintiq and a Tablet PC (Fujitsu).
Have you changed your approach or style, since you got your BFA?
My style has remained somewhat the same with the exception that my drawing ability and understanding of color and painting have continued to improve.
Do you think living in CA provides you with more opportunities to sell you work?
The entertainment industry is here in CA, providing me with many markets for the art I create.
What are you working on now?
I am completing a series of maquettes and completing my short film, developing the final look for the production. I am also continuing as a fulltime storyboard artist.
Are you represented by an agent? If so, who?
I am not currently represented by an agent.
Where do you do most of your creating? Do you have a studio?
We are currently setting up a studio in the house in a spare bedroom, but for now I sit at the island in our kitchen drawing or painting on my tablet PC, sculpting, or painting my maquettes. I also use the Cintiq in a small office space next to the kitchen.
You mention that you and your husband have written a storybook together. Tell us a little bit about how you got the idea and how it is to work with another person on a story.
I love monsters and designed a whole family of monsters. My husband thought they were great; he named them and came up with the idea that the monsters could be your friends and if you were to find a monster under your bed, he might be just as afraid of you as you are of it. Maybe if you caught it you could keep each other safe from things that go bump in the night or in the day. I wanted to create monsters that were soft, cuddly and friendly. We named the line of stuffed monsters, the Fuzzlelumps!. I designed five different monsters and had two produced overseas (500 of each). The two we had produced are named Bogwort and Boodlewink; We wrote the story about Bogwort. My husband and I work wonderfully together.
The illustrations below were done for a storybook I wrote based on my short animated film “The Littlest Valkyrie”. The story is about a young Viking girl named Anna and how she deals with the death of her father. These images were done in Corel Painter, from sketch to finish. I may eventually use a very limited color pallette to color the illustrations, or leave them black and white, I’m not sure.
How long did it take you to create your book dummy?
We had interest from Candlewick Press when they saw the stuffed monsters and they wanted us to send them a story. We put it together in about two weeks.
Is your husband and artist, too?
Yes. He has worked as a storyboard artist and has also worked as animator. Chuck makes his own short films, the latest of which is currently screening in film festivals. He is now an Associate Professor and Program Coordinator for the Entertainment Art/Animation Concentration at Cal State Fullerton.
I picked up your promotional postcard at the LA SCBWI Conference, so do you see your future more in writing and illustrating or do you think you will do more storyboarding and animation as you progress down the road?
I really love my job and I also love illustrating and telling stories. I would like to continue my work as a storyboard artist and also build a career as a writer/illustrator.
Do you have a plan to get published?
Yes. I hope to someday write and illustrate my own books.
Are there any marketing things you have done that helped you get additional work?
The postcard and attending various SCBWI conferences have generated some interest, but no additional work yet.
Do you have any words of wisdom for your fellow illustrators that might help them become more successful?
Draw, draw, draw. Draw what you love, excites and inspires you. Be open to critique and strive to improve and learn and be the best that you can be. You have to have a heart for what you do or it will just be another job. I love what I do, drawing is my passion and I work at it every day. And get your work on line! Join SCBWI, show your portfolio! It helps to get your work out where people can see it! Mine is at www.wendygrieb.blogspot.com and www.chuckandwendy.com
I enjoyed this sketch that Wendy did of Little Red Riding Hood before she encounters the Big Bad Wolf, so I wanted to share it with all of you.
Thank you Wendy for sharing your process and your unique background with us. Hope to see you name a nationally distributed film in the future and Chuck and your name on a children’s picture book. You can see more of Wendy’s work at: www.wendygrieb.blogspot.com and www.chuckandwendy.com .
I’m sure Wendy would love to hear what you thought of her interview and art, so if you have a minute, please leave a comment.