Animation Magazine

The Art of the Story

Online school CG Master Academy offers a rich selection of classes, including one on storyboard­ing for animation. by Ellen Wolff

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Online school CG Master Academy offers a rich selection of classes, including one on storyboard­ing for animation. by Ellen Wolff

“A storyboard artist has to be able to take a script — somebody else’s work — and not only internaliz­e it and

‘plus’ it, but then be able to take criticism and redo everything, and come at it with a new angle. Storyboard

artists can’t get too precious with anything.”

Ala carte is a term more frequently associated with restaurant­s than education, but that’s how DreamWorks Animation modeler Manny Fragelus describes the online art school CG Master Academy. “With an a la carte model, you can take any class you’re interested in,” says Fragelus, who co-founded CGMA three-plus years ago with DreamWorks colleague Ted Davis and artist Lilliams Garcia. “We have students from all walks of life — from high-school kids to doctors, and hobbyists to profession­als — who are thinking about switching careers.”

CGMA courses run eight weeks and are structured around recorded lectures and weekly assignment­s that are evaluated by working profession­als. Each week, there’s also a live Q&A session with the instructor that students can log on to, and it’s recorded and remains accessible to students online. Among the courses on CGMA’s current menu is “Storyboard­ing for Animation,” led by story artist Glenn Harmon ( Hotel Transylvan­ia) and featuring recorded lectures by Steven MacLeod ( How To Train Your Dragon, The Croods). The course includes exercises to help students visualize story ideas and build a starter portfolio.

“The focus of the class is not so much technical as it is about learning how to tell stories,” says Harmon, who works alongside MacLeod in DreamWorks’ story department. “You have to be able to draw in order to communicat­e. Even if someone is technicall­y savvy, they still need to be able to draw something so that it communicat­es a story.”

Harmon’s own storytelli­ng skills are notable,

— DreamWorks artist and CGMA instructor Glenn Harmon

having earned him the Gold Medal at the 2009 Student Academy Awards for Pajama Gladiator, his thesis film at Brigham Young University. Harmon then worked at Sony Animation before joining DreamWorks in 2011. Having been a student so recently himself, he expects that those taking the storyboard­ing class may be technicall­y adept with digital tablets and Adobe Photoshop. “But they could do their assignment­s on paper and scan them in,” he says. “Story has never depended on technology.”

MacLeod agrees: “All that students need is a computer where they can upload images.”

MacLeod’s recorded lectures build upon traditiona­l principles of storyboard­ing and reflect his own education at CalArts (he graduated in 2007) and his internship­s at Pixar and James Baxter Animation. MacLeod also has taught at CalArts as well as CGMA.

“I’ve structured the storyboard­ing lectures to maximize an individual’s authorship,” he says. “I try to remind students that everybody has unique experience­s to draw from. But I also offer different prompts based on my ideas if they want to use them.”

Based on his experience

teaching the course several times, MacLeod estimates eight out of 10 students are specifical­ly interested in storyboard­ing.

“Out of those eight, there are probably two that are pretty serious about applying for work.” He laughs when he considers, “I might be training my replacemen­t!”

Cleaning Someone

Else’s Dog

Harmon wants to make sure that students leave the storyboard­ing class both with drawing experience and the ability to break down script pages.

“A storyboard artist has to be able to take a script — somebody else’s work — and not only internaliz­e it and ‘plus’ it, but then be able to take criticism and redo everything and come at it with a new angle. As a friend of mine says, ‘It’s not your dog. You found this dog and you clean it up, but you’ve got to give it back.’ Storyboard artists can’t get too precious with anything.”

Harmon says that storyboard artists should look at their work with a cinematogr­aphic eye. For example, he says: “Subjects on screen are often much smaller than story artists like to draw them. We like to draw things nice and big, and very prominent. But that’s too much — especially if you’re thinking about a 60-foot screen. You don’t want an eyeball that’s the size of a drum.”

Given the fact that CGMA has teachers from DreamWorks, Sony, Pixar and Blue Sky, there tends to be a feature-film bias.

“This storyboard­ing class devotes time to industry routines and workflows. We show the process, but we remind them that this is just one view of the industry,” MacLeod says.

Fragelus, who has worked in animation for 15 years, fully expects that the focus of CGMA’s courses will broaden over time. “This is just a fraction of what online schools will be 10 years from now. The pool of students is so enormous.”

Fragelus says 40 percent of CGMA’s students are internatio­nal. “It’s fascinatin­g to observe dialogue between them in our Q&A sessions. We had a student from Austria who’s a sheep-herder taking a class with a student in Texas. As they were communicat­ing, some sheep in the background began making noises. The student in Texas had a dog that started barking when it heard the sheep. Then the sheep started reacting to the dog and the sheep-herder had to leave the class! That’s online teaching. You can’t make that up.”

For more informatio­n on CG Master Academy, visit academy.cg-masters.com.

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