Tuesday, July 2, 2013

FLIP on FLIP - Steve reveals the secrets of Despicable Me 2

Steve Moore is not just the founder of FLIP, the web's finest animation blog (well, we think so), but also an Oscar-nominated director and a highly accomplished story board artist. Most recently he finished work on the just-released Despicable Me 2. In this exclusive interview, Steve reveals the secrets behind this most successful independent animated film franchise.

FLIP: So, what did you do on DM2? Which bits shall we look out for?

Gru and Lucy get closer
Steve: I did a lot of storyboarding involving Gru and his new love interest, Lucy. Seeing your work on-screen as boarded is a treat. I say it's a treat, because it happens in fleeting moments. In the process of building reels, then laying out and animating a film, it undergoes a creative metamorphosis. For a storyboard guy, especially one working remotely like me, seeing the final film is like seeing a childhood friend as an adult - you still recognize them, but they've changed radically. That said, the sequence where Lucy has kidnapped Gru and drives her car off a pier and to an underwater lair - that's pretty much as I boarded it.

At the DM2 premiere party, I finally met fellow board artists Wilbur Plijnaar and Mark O'Hare. Wilbur laughed and said, in a Dutch accent, "I did a ton of work…..but nothing is in the movie!"

I said, "None of my stuff's in it either!"

Mark said, "Me neither!"

We paused, then laughed like the last scene of a CHiPs episode. Freeze frame.

FLIP: How do you manage to storyboard from New Jersey? Don't you miss the buzz of a studio? 

Steve: In 2004, I moved back to New Jersey to help out my dad after Mom died. Working remotely was not something I was looking to do, but thankfully, I have been able to do it. I bought a commercial building which I renovated as studio space and go to work just like I always did. My wife takes care of the business stuff and I draw. I do miss being able to brainstorm with other board artists, and pitch sessions. I do not miss the internal politics of certain studios I have worked for in the past.

FLIP: Are you still drawing by hand or working on a Cintiq?

Steve: I started using a Cintiq in 2008, while working on the first Despicable Me. I dragged my feet about switching over, because I didn't like the prospect of re-learning how to draw storyboards - which is what I had to do. I had developed my skills using Prismacolor pencils, but the Cintiq has a completely different feel. I hate - HATE- the big fat stylus pen and hate - UBERHATE - that goddam button on the side of it. It took a couple of years, but I have developed my skills on the Cintiq to where I like it. Since I figured it out on my own, I have no idea how my approach compares with other artists. I'm sure I'm missing some very cool bells and whistles. I still hate the pen, but love the technology.
Nancy Beiman on storyboards
FLIP: Give us some secrets of the story board business - reveal all!

Steve: Nancy Beiman gave up all the secrets in her book. I think one big secret to success in animation is to work on quality projects. It's much better, believe it or not, to be the worst artist in a great studio than the best artist in a hack shop. I spent many years being that worst artist, and learned from some of the best - guys like Joe Ranft, Jerry Rees, Kevin Lima, Henry Selick, Matt O'Callaghan, Frans Vischer, Bruce Smith, Darrell Rooney, Brian McEntee, Mike Cachuela, Chris Bailey…..all much better at it than me, but they helped me raise my game.

I was an animator before getting into boarding, and that has been a great help. Where live action boards map out compositions and direction, the primary use of animation storyboards is to indicate character acting. Having been an animator, I know what they will find useful in posing, and try my best to give characters their own "thing" and veer away from stock poses. This is the board artist's chance to inject their creativity into the film - why be trite?

At the DM2 party, while talking with Chris Meledandri and production supervisor Dave Rosenbaum, Dave joked, "The first question every board artist asks is - 'Do I have to follow the script?'"

"No, no no!" I said. "I follow the script, I just try to make it work in the telling. That's the challenge. If you try rewriting it, you're just going to get lost."

Chris said, "It's like pulling a thread out of your clothes. It falls apart."

Yes, this is the shit we talk about after a few drinks.
Just a few drinks - Steve celebrates at the DM2 Premiere in Los Angeles with his wife, Donna, and production supervisor Dave Rosenbaum, center.
FLIP: What do you need to do to become a terrific board artist?

Steve: I'll steal an answer that Milt Kahl once gave to how to become a great animator, "Observe everything."

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