Friday, April 09, 2010


More issues of Scorpion Fist by:
Vi-Dieu Nguyen

Next issue:

The next Chades Challenge (due in two Fridays on the 25th) is to design a unique evolutionary ladder. Could be the evolution of robotic life forms, or the mold in that coffee that's been sitting on your desk since Good Friday.

I've forgotten to interview folks for the last couple of Chades Challenges, but with the success of "How to Train Your Dragon" I thought it only appropriate to interview my old buddy, Dreamworks storyman Steve MacLeod of Clan MacLeod (caricature by Vi), who worked on the film.

Interview with a Genius III: Steve MacLeod

What attracted you to storyboarding over animation or design?

I love telling stories. It's really fun to get people excited, make em laugh or feel deeply about drawings and I think you mentioned a long time ago, that 'frankenstein' feeling of bringing things to life! It's magic! I love animation, I miss it, but to be honest, I never really liked inbetweening ;) So today's style of storyboards tend to feel like animation key poses, which works out great for someone like me who loves animation, but hates inbetweening! And for me personally, the design journey is painful and full of confusion and awkwardness. I'll leave that task to people who enjoy that process. I personally prefer doing story problem solving.

Would you like to direct some day? If so, are there any filmmakers you'd aspire to be like tonally or genre-wise?

I don't know. Again, there's so many other people better equipped and experienced people for the task. I think people underestimate what the job requirement is and they just want the throne and title. I think the dream would be to always be working for a director where you can trust their decisions and they can clearly communicate it. If I'm in that position for the rest of my life then I have no complaints. I love directors like Spielberg with a lot of fun, action, emotion, and story. I love the characters Frank Capra creates. I love the energy and innovation of directors like Fincher and Ritchie. I love the depth and richness of Kubrick. I guess it depends on the day, because I like everything from Remains of the Day to Tremors! I always tell people I wish I had directing credit for Willy Wonka (original) and Rocky IV.

Do you have any film-making pet-peeves? Anything that would make you walk out of a movie?

I'm having a hard time thinking of pet-peeves. I guess it bothers me when there's action and suspense and I don't know what the characters are going after. Confusion is never a good thing. The TV show LOST walks a fine line sometimes, which why may have fallen away from it. I HAVE found myself in the past turning off movies if I don't like being with the characters or being in the world, if that makes any sense. And the opposite rings true as well that if I like the world and the characters I can sit through almost ANYTHING!

Your Framefilter blog hosts an impressive collection of screen-grabs. What about these stills do you try to translate into your own compositions and storyboards?

I don't know. You know, someone I really respect chewed me out once for doing screen grabs of just pretty shots, making the argument that shots out of context aren't useful, or that making pretty shots is the easy part. I guess that makes sense, but at the same time, a single image can stand out in a persons mind for years and years. I purposefully made myself go through my movie collection (my favorites) and take a still of the image that most impacted me and i called the series on my blog 'favorite movie moments.' I put the links recently on the side links as a reminder for myself to look at them and think about how powerful a single image can have in telling your story and making it resonate with the viewer. Anyways, I guess the shorter answer would be to give myself visual stimuli and help me get ideas going. I also like making list and organizing, and looking for patterns. The cool thing is you can label each post and even categorize, so maybe you'll start notice patterns, way of shooting comedy, versus action or fantasy, versus suspense or drama. I think the site provides many things for other people too, like lighting and color decisions.

You also create comics on the side. What do you go for when you create your own characters? What type of worlds do you like to create/stories do you like to tell?

I like telling stories. I try to just get these stories out of my head to make room for more. Comics seems faster than making a film (at least in the crude style I do them in) or maybe even writing a script (at least for me). It's a good testing ground for me to work out story problems, get practice, push my draftsmanship, etc. etc. It also stands as a time capsule of sorts to gauge if I'm improving or not. I miss that about making student films every year, being able to see your progression or digression in certain areas. It keeps me in check and definitely slows my criticism of others and makes it easier to forgive a filmmaker of movie flaws when i suffer the same problems in my stories.

You worked on the recently released and quite awesome "How to Train Your Dragon." What parts did you board?

In a broad view, I think because of the accelerated schedule, everyone kind of worked on everything. We had a lot of group discussions and things, so ideas go to everyone involved, but scenes were eventually handed out to individuals and I was handed Bonfire Blues (scene of teens talking around the fire), Stoick at Sea (scene of looking for Dragon Isle), Zippleback training Day (final being Johane Matte's), Dragon Island (scene with reveal of big Dragon), Final Exam (scene where Hiccup has to kill dragon, final version was John Puglisi's), and a big chunk of Rise of the Monster (scene of vikings attacking dragon island) and a lot of odds and ends all over.

Can you talk about your process on those scenes or what inspiration you drew from?

We'd get really strong script pages from Dean and Chris (directors/writers) and then do roughs and then pitch and approve them, then clean em up if there was time! The show moved so fast that much of my boards were horrendous looking! I think everyone was inspired by the artwork, designs, and the other sequences that were being done. Tom Owens did some of the earliest sequences put into production (flying scenes) and everyone was so inspired as we watched it move to completion.

What was it like working with Chris Sanders?

Energetic and inspiring. He is passionate about everything. He cares about everything. He is easy to pitch to and responds really well to everything, even if he doesn't think it works. He eventually gets what he wants, even if it means he draws it himself, which he did for the bonding sequences. He and Dean drew quite a bit.

And lastly, what is your favorite film of all-time and why?

Hmmm...I always go to It's a Wonderful Life. It works so well. the characters and story. I feel like George Bailey so often. I feel deeply for him, his urges for adventure and longing to leave his small town and see the world, and his frustration/limitations with money and the idea of an older brother sacrificing for his younger brother so that he can be provided for, and so on and so forth. I love it. I love people and strongly believe in investing energy in relationships, which sometimes people take for granted, so when those people come in at the end and give back to George I'm always really touched. The story is so strong.

Thanks to Steve for all the insight! For preview Interviews with geniuses, see:
Daniel Miller
Vi-Dieu Nguyen


andre medina said...

your work is amazing. thanks dude!

Chico lim@ said...

Muito bom personagem!!! A fraquesa dele deve ser a conta de telefone não!?

Jeremy Bernstein said...

This Steven guy is cool! Great interview!