How did you recognize Guillermo? Had he come in before?
The first time I met Guillermo, I had no idea who he was - at first. He came up to the register with a shitload of DVDs and I hooked him up with some "buy ten get some free shit" deal. I recognized the name on his credit card and had seen Cronos and Mimic (which he directed) and genuinely enjoyed them and told him so. He took this to heart and shook my hand, highly recommending his new film Blade 2. So when I met him a second time, he remembered me.
Is that when you asked him if he needed any storyboarding artists?
Yeah, I told him that I really liked Blade 2 - again, genuine - and I told him that I'd heard he was doing Hellboy next. He shook my hand again and said they were just starting pre-production on it. That was when I asked...I kind of jumped on it like prey. "So, do you need any storyboard artists?" And he kind of looked at me and said I could email him some samples. I usually carried a portfolio of boards, but not that day. However, I did have some comic book samples and offered to show him those. After he looked he said that he could give me at least a week of work. On Hellboy. I was fucking stoked.
How soon after that did you start?
I actually asked del Toro about that a week before I quit Virgin - I had put in my two weeks because I was moving to Burbank. I had another job lined up, but told them I wouldn't be able to take it...and I waited, I think four weeks before I actually started at Hellboy.
So what was your first day like? How many other people did they have in there storyboarding?
I went in and met the other storyboard artist and a new concept artist, Paul Prischman and Jeff Rebner. They put us in a room to read the script. Now, I'm kind of a slow reader, especially with scripts - too much imagining and not enough reading. But this time it paid off. The other boarder finished before me and was able to choose his office first. Meaning he took the private nook and I was to share an office with two other guys, concept designer Ty Ellingson and the man himself - Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. It was super freaky, to talk to these guys whose comics I have read and admired for years. I got lunch, and del Toro assigned me a scene. Gave me some thumbnails to work with and off I went to pencil. It was nerve racking to have to draw a character with its creator right next to you.
Had you drawn Hellboy at all before you got the job, or were you going in fresh?
I practiced a bit during art history class in grad school when I wasn't paying attention, and I did a series of sketches in the weeks before I started, but I wasn't at all comfortablewith Hellboy. Plus, Guillermo wanted me to try to work with Prismacolor grey tone markers, which I'd never used at all.
Was Mignola sneaking peeks at your progress?
Mignola was one of the nicest guys I've ever worked with. He'd lean over and say "hmmmm" or "I like that." And I think he really came to appreciate what it was I was doing, drawing all these little boards, fully rendered, fast as hell. We got to be friends. One of those things I would never have believed if someone had told me it would happen. Just talking monsters and comics and movies with Mike Mignola. He even said that he suspected that, next to himself, I'd drawn Hellboy more than anybody. And he was OK with that. Cool.
So how was that first week for you? Did you feel like you were in over your head? Or did you start to relax and think you could pull it off?
Oh, I got really nervous at first, thinking I was going to fail miserably and have to shrink away. But I got the hang of the markers, and got a feel for what del Toro wanted to see, so that by the end of the week, he looked at my boards and said, "You keep drawing like this and you have a job on all of my fucking movies." True quote. And that just felt great as hell, considering I was only there for a weeklong trial period to start. Felt good finally having a job I loved and knew I could keep at least for little while. I honestly only thought I would be there for a few weeks.
And how long did you end up being there?
Eight months, give or take a week.
And didn't you kind of get a de facto promotion?
What do you mean?
Well, at what point did you become the sole storyboard artist?
Oh, that happened early. The other board artist left after two weeks and worked from home for another week I think, so it didn't feel like a promotion, but yep, it was just me cranking out those boards. Surrounded by big-time talent, little old Simeon - or Sapien, as del Toro liked to call me.
So walk me through the storyboarding process. How often would you confer with the director? Would he give you rough sketches that you then made better, or did you brainstorm with him about the look of shots?
Most of the time it worked this way: del Toro would call me into his office, and tell me what scene we're working on - not from script, he just knows what he wants. So he'd do some doodles and walk me through it. Then I go off to pencil out the boards - very loose and very quick. Once I run those by del Toro - he'd have to ok compostions and angles - I'd then render them in grey tones and finally ink them. Guillermo would then go over these and if there were revisions, I'd go do that. And thats how it worked most of the time. There was a short while, about two months, where del Toro didn't have the time to really work with me, so he'd have me work up my own thumbnails from the script, which he'd go over and say, "We'll use these." And then he'd add his own sketches around mine. Then it's the same as usual. So some of the shots I came up with, but only a few.
You must have gone in with some preconceived notions about how it would be to storyboard a major film, but what was different that surprised you?
The only thing I knew was that could draw scenes well, and make them interesting. It's so much like drawing comics, only the panel never changes. So I went into it thinking I had to do exactly what the director wanted so I wouldn't get fired. And as I'm told, Guillermo's a really special director and doesn't neccesarily do things like other guys. It was really laid back, and the art department was so small. So even though it was a huge deal, major motion picture, and my favorite comic character to boot, it wasn't overwhelming. A perfect way to start storyboarding.
Who or what was the hardest thing for you to master drawing?
Wide shots and long perspective. I was working on very small panels, something like 2" by 4". So wide shots with lots of detail and long perspectives, like alleyways, were difficult. Also, the repetition of action was a pain, only because I didn't have a computer and I couldn't photocopy grey tones, so I had to redraw things a lot. For example, if Hellboy was running toward camera, I'd have to repeat the background five or six times.
CLICK HERE for the entire interview as well as some great storyboard renderings from the film!