Well, well, well. Look at me.
I’m writing a post! No lazy-ass video this time! Because I have one awesome interview for you!
I bring you Paul Briggs, Story Artist on Walt Disney’s ‘The Princess and The Frog’.
(UPDATE & CLARIFICATION: Oops, my bad! Paul was not, in fact, the Head of Story on ‘The Princess and The Frog’. He was a Story Artist. But he *is* Head of Story on a current, untitled project at Disney at this time. Sorry everybody! I’ve made corrections to this post since publishing it.)
I feel all special and stuff.
And there are original thumbnail and storyboard drawings from him! Feel free to drool on your screen.
But before we get to it, I want to wish all of you a very HAPPY HOLIDAY SEASON! Whatever that holiday may be for you.
If it’s nothing…well have a great weekend or something.
This interview is a juicy one, so I’ll be splitting it up into two parts. You get this one now to read at your leisure till 2009 is over. Then you’ll get the rest sometime in January 2010. (2010? My word, where does the time go?)
And the way I’ve been posting in my ‘Kid vs Kat’ haze, this could be the last thing your hear from me till June or something.
I kid, I kid! (Maybe.)
So without further ado, I bring you Paul Briggs, current Head of Story at Disney and proud new Daddy.
What is your background, education and how did you get started in the animation business?
In 1984 I was 10 years old and I was in a mall at a Walden’s Bookstore and came across ‘The Illusion of Life’ by Frank and Ollie. Even though there was no way we could afford it, my Mom bought it for me and I spent the rest of the day slamming into people, benches and planters because I couldn’t take my face out of that massive book.
That was the day I fell in love with wanting to do animation.
I went to college at the Kansas City Art Institute in Kansas City, Missouri but I wasn’t focused on animation at the time (even though I found out later that Walt himself as well as the great Marc Davis both went to KCAI!) I was focused on doing sculpture, ceramics, painting, and really solid drawing.
I was busy experimenting, having fun, and making a million mistakes and learning from them. A lot of my classmates were talented draftsmen so I was constantly focused on learning and trying to better myself as an artist. We had some amazing drawing classes –including one where we went to a medical university and drew from cadavers for a week!
One of my instructors pressured me to submit a portfolio to the Disney Internship but I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. He pestered me enough that at the last minute I threw a drawing portfolio together in a week and mailed it off. To my surprise and disbelief they called me a couple of weeks later to tell me I was accepted! I was 20 and packed everything in my Jeep and moved to Orlando to work at the Florida Animation Studio.
I trained under Pres Romanillos (supervising animator Shan Yu for Mulan) and David Tidgwell (Head of Effects.) At the end of the program they were hiring in special effects to work on Mulan and I was brought on as an inbetweener!
How did you end up as a story artist? Was that your original plan?
It was great being in special effects animation but I always wanted to do story. I always loved the development of characters and journeys to another world. In effects I saw how a sequence traveled from beginning to end through the animation pipeline and I was constantly examining why those sequences were in the film.
There were some sequences that I was really frustrated with and thought – “This isn’t working at all! I could do better than this .” So I decided “that’s it, either get into story or shut up!” So I really started to focus my learning. I started analyzing film, reading books, and showing my story tests to people I respected and admired.
It’s important to get advice from people who are constructive but aren’t afraid to be honest with you. Dean Deblois is an amazing story artist and a good friend and he gave me great honest feedback.
Story was a LOT more difficult than I expected. I failed over and over and over again but I never gave up and eventually with the right guidance things began to click. In 2001, I was accepted into a story training program and have been boarding ever since! Everyday is a challenge and it constantly keeps all my creative skills in check and I love it.
Can you give us a quick synopsis of ‘The Princess and The Frog’ without giving much away?
The Princess and The Frog is a really tender love story between two people that aren’t looking to fall in love with one another but the more they’re together they discover they were meant for each another.
How does a new film idea get to the production stage at Disney? Are ideas usually pitched from the directors? Do other artists ever get to pitch ideas?
The way films are developed at Disney now is filmmakers pitch 3 ideas to John Lasseter and he guides projects into development. He has filmmakers pitch 3 ideas because he believes the problem with creative people is that they often focus their whole attention on one idea.
So right at the beginning of a project, you unnecessarily limit your options. John is really sharp and he is amazing at finding the world in which a movie is made. I think if you have three really strong ideas John will listen to them whether you’ve directed before or not. He loves being entertained by great ideas.Click on image to enlarge.
When an idea is decided upon, do they move right to some preliminary story sketches and storyboarding? Or will a writer get hired first to write (or in this case, the director start writing) the script? What’s the usual process?
Once a project is moved into Development, the Director is surrounded with all the tools necessary to flesh out the world. He’s normally working in broad visual beats supported by Story Artists and Visual Development Artists drawing imagery and ideas and doing tons of research.
Lasseter is constantly checking in on the process and when he feels it’s at a stage that’s ready, a writer is brought in and starts to write the script. After John is satisfied with the script, we board! We normally screen 3 passes of the film before it ever goes into production.
It’s exhausting! But we do this because it’s never going to be right the first time – but we tear it down and figure out what does work and rebuild. There’s something about seeing the visual images that reveals all of the story problems but also starts to reveal the true entertainment of the film. Every time we rebuild it, we rebuild stronger and better.
The story is the base on which everything will be supported on. If it’s not right, everything will crumble around it in down the line.Click on image to enlarge.
What was the biggest difference between working with Ron Clements and John Musker compared to directors you’ve worked with in the past? Do they do anything in a unique fashion?
Working with John Musker and Ron Clements is an amazing experience.
First of all, these guys love animation. It’s in their blood and it’s inspiring to sit in the story room and hear them talk about animated films and their personal experiences working in the animation industry.
The next biggest reward to working with them is they have a very strong vision and the experience to carry it out. They’re strong leaders that really know how to craft a film. I learned an incredible amount by watching how they would shape a sequence for The Princess and The Frog through story, editorial and into animation.
The one thing about John Musker is you have to be careful what you’re doing. He’s known for his caricatures and you never want to give him material to draw from! There have been times I’ve looked up to see his keen gaze on me and I know something is being put to paper that I’ll regret later.
~End of Part 1~
Thanks Paul! I’ll have the second part of this interview with many more drawings from Paul in January.
Stay tuned and Happy Holidays!
Visit Paul Briggs’ Blog at:
For more information on submitting a portfolio to Disney Animation please visit: www.disneyanimation.com
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