Hell Week is over. I’m in recovery and I’ve promised this post, so here it is. Finally.
So far I’ve talked about Training for getting a job storyboarding professionally. Now it’s on to the portfolio.
What do you need for a storyboard portfolio?
Sorry to sound so obvious, but you’d be surprised how some people expect to get a job storyboarding without any good samples. This is especially true when they’re trying to break into the animation industry. “But I can draw, see?” Um, sorry but that’s not enough.
ON A GENERAL NOTE
Students tend to put a little bit of everything into their first portfolio. Animation, character designs, layout, life drawing, backgrounds, storyboards and maybe a few other things.
On one hand it could be good to show all you can do. But on the other, it can also look like you don’t know what you want. And that can hurt you. The person trying to fill a position might pass you by because they just don’t know how to classify you. So you could be doing yourself more harm than good by including everything.
So if you’re doing your first portfolio out of school, figure out what you’re good at. Then figure out what you like to do. If they’re the same thing…yee-ha! Why in that order? Because to get your foot in the door, being good at something will get you the job faster. Then you can explore another position on the next contract if you didn’t like that job so much. It’s the first one that’s the hardest to get, so use your talents.
GETTING ON WITH IT
Now onto building a portfolio for storyboarding specifically because…well…that’s what this blog is about. But something to have in every portfolio is:
Life Drawing – This one comes up again and again for every position in animation. It’s the foundation and important to building and improving your skills. Now here I go again with the “do as I say, not as I do” thing; I don’t enjoy life drawing. I don’t like drawing the human figure. I prefer to draw animals and cartoony stuff.
There. I said it.
But I have done much life drawing in my life…not that anyone’s asked to see them in a long time (and yes, these are my drawings). And I do believe it builds a strong foundation…especially for animation. And if you want to storyboard for film, there’s lots of people to draw…so go take some classes!
If funds are tight, some good practice is drawing the hands and feet of your friends (since I doubt they’d pose naked for you..but hey, you never know) . Sit in the park and draw kids playing. Lots of good, fast action there…perfect for storyboarding. There’s lots of ‘almost naked’ bodies at the beach or pool too. And I’ll let you in on a little secret: overweight people are more fun to draw! Sketch your pet too. Look around and you’ll find plenty of low cost opportunities to improve.
Once you’ve built a respectable storyboard portfolio, you may not need to include life drawings. The client will just want to see your storyboarding talent. But if you need to beef it up, add them.
REALLY GETTING ON WITH IT
If you’re just starting out, you’re going to need to create some storyboard samples. If you did some in school, use them. If you’re not happy with them, fix them and make them better. Otherwise, make up some short stories. Keep them simple and with one to three characters.
When I say simple I mean: one character showing another how to cook an egg (or whatever), someone getting bad (or good) news on the phone, a person having strong reactions while watching TV or the Internet, three kids fighting over the last cookie…stuff like that. You’re not making ‘Lord of the Rings’ here. Use your imagination, have interesting characters and keep it simple.
Even though these examples are simple, I don’t mean for you to do boring storyboards. If you want to work in animation you need gags. It should be fun and entertaining…go wild! So think; simple situation, really strong characters and funny stuff going on. If you can’t set up a good gag, you won’t be as valuable. Your ability to do that can save a weak script and it’s an important skill. Show me the funny!
Some Guidelines for Your Own Animation Storyboard Samples:
- They should focus on acting, action, composition and storytelling. Don’t depend on dialogue to tell the story by just having a bunch of ‘talking heads’ (as in too many close ups). The less dialogue the better…show what they’re saying.
- Have some variety in style. Cartoony, action-hero, animals, pre-school etc. If you’re going to make up your own stories, use your own characters. If you use well known characters, they might think you’re trying to pass off having worked on that show. Don’t let them think that.
- Keep the sequences to about 6-15 pages. Any shorter and it’s not enough. Any longer and they might not look at them all. If you’ve worked on an actual show, pick out short, complete sequences that make sense on their own. The most interesting ones. Again, a bunch of close-ups are not interesting.
- Don’t use live action storyboards if you want to work in animation. Both industries can have a little ‘tunnel vision’. If they don’t see their style of work in your portfolio, they probably won’t hire you. The opposite goes for film storyboard portfolios. You won’t get a live-action gig if you only have animation storyboards. Weird but true. If you have both samples in your whole portfolio, only submit the samples for that industry.
- No color. No shading. No cross hatching. They should photocopy clear and clean…think; coloring book (without the color). I’m focusing more on TV storyboards here. They may use those things in features, but if you’re new, you’ll probably start in television.
Some Guidelines for Live-Action Film Storyboards:
- Strong focus on storytelling, composition, action and more cinematic in style. Acting might be less in the forefront for film boards, but still include it. Same as for animation, don’t depend on dialogue to tell the story.
- Have some variety in film genres…action, comedy, horror, fantasy etc.
- Like I said above, don’t use animation storyboards if you want to work in film. Film studios want film boards. The odd thing is that if you have worked in animation, it can help you get in the union. That counts as TV credit. But once you’re in the union and looking for work, dump the animation boards.
- I have my opinions about working for free, but if you’re just starting out, try the film schools and independent filmmakers to build up a portfolio. They could be very open to the help. It’s much better to use original scripts and it’s a real credit on the resume. Just don’t do it forever.
- Mostly work in black and white. Production storyboards will be reproduced too, but clean shading is more acceptable for film boards. You can have some color samples if you’re interested in concept work too. (I’ll be having a guest poster in the near future…Adrien will be my ‘live-action go-to-guy’…yay.)
You can find free scripts online.
Here’s a few links to try: Simply Scripts, Drew’s Script-O-Rama and Scriptcrawler. I would advise picking scripts that you may have heard of, but where you haven’t seen the movie. This is closer to how you would really have to work; with no prior reference. More challenging. That’s good. You could use these scripts for an animation sample too…make up some characters and use a fun sequence from a live-action script…why not?
I would like to think this goes without saying, but don’t COPY storyboards from DVD’s, books, other artists (or anywhere) and put them in your portfolio!
Kiss of death my friends. And Karma is a bitch. Someone will find you out, trust me.
Now having said that; watching, studying and sketching from these materials can teach you about visual storytelling. By all means use them and learn from them. See the shot choices, the cutting, the continuity and all that. But don’t use them for anything else. My advice to you.
So a quick wrap-up for a storyboard portfolio.
If you have some experience (or are sure this is just what you want to do) include:
- Life drawings (best are 30 sec. to 2 min. poses)
- Storyboard samples (3 to 8 different ones)
If you’re fresh out of school and want to focus on storyboards but have other interests, you can also add:
- Character designs (and/or)
- Some color concepts (and/or)
- Background designs (and/or)
- Some comic book samples
Just include your best stuff. Quality over quantity. Like I said above, if your portfolio has everything, it could work against you. You can’t be amazing at everything, so if you want to animate, focus on that. And go find a good blog about animating (but still come back!). Here’s a cool one.
This post was more about the content for a storyboard portfolio. In a future post I may address presentation, resumes and online portfolio advice. And I do plan on posting up some of my work (I know you’re curious!). It’s just that it’s a time consuming process and time is limited while I’m working right now. It will happen though :).
The next post in this series will be about Professionalism.
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UPDATE: Here are the other posts in this series.
Getting the J-O-B Part 1: Five Key Things You Need to Storyboard Professionally
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on Training
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on Portfolios
Getting the J-O-B Part 3: Professionalism in Animation…or Anywhere
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on Professionalism
Getting the J-O-B Part 4: Contacts in the Industry
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on Contacts in the Industry
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on Contacts in the Industry-Part 2: Unions and Film Commissions
Getting the J-O-B Part 5: The Right Attitude
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on the Right Attitude