What are these odd things, you ask? They’re storyboard sketchpads and they were heavily in use back in the nineties when a good deal of animated fare was created using old school tools. These sketchpads were a staple in most animated studios and it was how cartoon makers developed their stories. It was a very simple process, really. The story artist created a series of sketches using whatever medium they chose to tell the film story. It was tactile, hands on and an analog way of creating a cartoon story.
Of course, every motion picture had it’s own particular visual tone and the tools we used were chosen by what best fit the story. Back in the sixties, the storyboards we pitched to Walt Disney were created with large, blunt pencils called China Markers or grease pencils. Walt liked visual ideas that were presented simply. Our rough, bold sketches seemed to resonate with the boss and he didn’t care for drawings cluttered with too much detail. A drawing could be sketchy and rough, but if it communicated the idea, that was all that mattered to the Old Maestro. Speaking of rough drawings, we went for a rough charcoal approach in our story boards on the Disney film, Dinosaur. I often chose particular pencils that would appear sketchy. The rougher the drawings appeared - the better. The primitive world of the dinosaur seem to benefit from this artistic approach. On another project, I decided to create my storyboards with packaged felt tipped pens. A fiber pen from Japan called, Pentel seemed to be a perfect fit for the film I was working on. Over time, the fiber would wear down giving my drawings an even rougher texture. It was exactly the look I wanted in this particular series of storyboards.
Today, there’s hardly a studio around that doesn’t require young story artists to create their storyboards on an electronic drawing tablet called, a Cintiq. The Cintiq Tablet has moved from being a rather wonky tool to an effective means of creating storyboards electronically. I’ve no problem with this amazing tool, and it’s often been a real time saver when I’ve had to quickly knock out a series of storyboards in a limited time frame. I’ve used both the 24 inch tablet and the smaller 12 inch model. Both tablets have worked well for me, although I sometimes struggle with finding the right digital pen tool. However, that’s more my fault than the instrument itself. While the tablet has been an amazing new tool, I’ve recently been storyboarding on paper just for the heck of it. No, I’m not a luddite resisting moving forward in today’s world - I’m simply enjoying drawing on paper like we did in days gone by. There’s something special about pen and paper. It’s tactile and it’s tangible. Going against the grain, I was able to storyboard a television series using pencil and paper just for the hell of it. Surprisingly, the producer allowed me to do so. In another instant, this year, I created a series of sketches and actually pinned the drawings to a storyboard. This is something rarely done in studios today. I guess using the new digital tools is a lot more effective … or so they say.
I still use my Cintiq Tablet, but my real love is the simple sketch pad. I love the feel of pen and pencil on paper and there’s nothing like the special contact an artist has with an actual piece of paper. Today, we live and work in the wonderful world of ones and zeros. It’s the digital world of marvelous artificial art. Call me a Luddite if you will. But, I still prefer art that’s real.