August 30, 2022


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  • All thumbs is all good in storyboarding

There’s a scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall where Paul Rudd’s character, Chuck (Kunu), tries to teach Jason Segel’s character, Peter, how to surf in Hawaii.

You know the one. It’s been a while (that film was 2008-ish, I think), but it was the source of much internet meme-fodder for a long time.

Don’t do anything. Don’t try to surf– don’t do it. The less you do, the more you do.” 

Let’s see you pop up. Pop up. … That’s not it at all. Do less– get down. Try less– do it again.”

Pop up. … Nope– too slow. Do less.

Pop up. … You’re doing too much– do less. Pop down.”

Pop up now. … Stop– get down. Get down there. Remember, don’t do anything– nothing.”

Pop up. … Well, no, you gotta do more than that.

Just do it– feel it. Pop up. … Yeah. That wasn’t quite it, but we’re gonna figure it out, out there. C’mon.”

This is kind of how learning proper thumbnailing for storyboards has gone for me.

I’m still figuring it out, out there.

I’d been drawing for a fair while before I decided I wanted to try my hand at storyboarding. I absolutely made the right call when I met with Sergio and signed up for the Mentorship Program at StoryboardArt, because as it turned out, I was coming into this with a lot of misconceptions.

Key among those being the difference between “for-show” art and production art, and the very important distinction between story and style.

I came into the Mentorship feeling like I had things to prove.

It’s understandable– I’m older, coming into this as a second career (and the first was not art-based), I’m for the most part self-taught as an artist, and I’m (shocker on shock street) sometimes a bit of a diva.

It’s also unfortunate– it was entirely unnecessary and created a very steep learning curve to work through, and I’m not there yet.

I came into this wanting to just draw the sh*t out of everything.

Blob figures and block shapes showing solid composition and a clear sense of story progression? Nah. Check out how I blew up this tiny little thumbnail real big, wrecked my hand, and went half-blind putting in these details pixel by pixel.

A couple of things I wish I’d understood much sooner (and, admittedly, sometimes still struggle to remember even now):

1. These aren’t being made for ye olde Etsy shop– they’re meant to guide a handful of folks through the next stages of production of the thing that’s actually going to be sold. And not one among them will care about the one-millimeter by three-millimeter bricks I drew. With grit on them. In perfect perspective.

2. If my images need to be reworked (and they will need to be reworked), I’m less likely to want to punch my drawing tool of choice through a wall and scream if I didn’t just waste a whole lot of time (mine and theirs) creating a handful of overdone “roughs.” (RIP my first iPad.)

Fact is, if I’ve failed to serve the story, there’s no amount of style I can paint over it to cover it up.

Even if I have properly conveyed the story, I’m probably still going to have to board it again– and again, and maybe even again– because script changes happen, the director’s vision will always override all others, and anything that can go wrong will go wrong, so it’s best to get used to the concept of “disposable art” sooner rather than later.

So I try to remember fewer lines thrown means more boards and less mess. 

I start with those blob figures and block shapes and work up from there, trying to remember there is a time to stop. I try to keep focused on what’s actually important– solid composition and a clear sense of story progression while I’m working a thing out– and keep style back of mind.

And if I keep trying, maybe one day I won’t have to try so hard.

A tip-

Start your thumbnails in a sketchbook– at some point in the process, you’ll have to take your drawing digital, but there’s nothing stopping you from kicking it off with pencil and paper. And work small– it’ll force you to think in shapes and staging rather than anything to do with detail, and there’s no ability to zoom in and noodle away here anyway.



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